Interview with " Lili Wexu"
For aspiring voice actors looking to get into a competitive yet ever-expanding industry, actor Lili Wexu’s e-book series is here to help
A true self-made talent, actor Lili Wexu has had a successful career in entertainment for over 20 years. Drawn to journaling and note taking from a young age, she was inspired to share some important lessons she’s learned over the course of her journey with fellow artists and aspiring artists alike. Then the coronavirus hit. The impact of the coronavirus has spared no industry in its rampage across the globe. The entertainment industry is certainly no exception. Musicians, theater, film, TV actors, and among many others are all suffering during this difficult and unprecedented time. Lili hopes her latest e-book series, Get Clever About Voice Acting & Announcing, will help aspiring voice actors take the leap, learn to improve their craft, record from home, and find work within a very competitive industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your new book?
I’d love to! All my books are like the ‘street kid’ version of the Dummies books: short, modern, and practical. The Voice Acting & Announcing series is actually made up of three books that teach people how to get into voice acting and how to stay in business as a voice actor. Each book goes over the three pillars of voice acting: part 1 is about thinking like an artist, part 2 is about working with voice acting gear, and part 3 is about making money with your voice.
People are always shocked when I tell them that making a living with their voice isn’t nearly as inaccessible as they think. You don’t need an agent or connections to make a living anymore. You can make a five or six figure income on your own, and if you work hard and apply yourself, the sky’s the limit because the voice sector is growing every year.
How do you think the pandemic has changed the world of acting?
Acting is a full contact sport, it involves being up close and personal, and touching, and being in each other’s faces, and basically all the things that will expose you to a nasty virus! So, from an employment perspective, it’s turned our world upside down and it’s been especially difficult for the little guy.
What’s happening on film and TV sets for actors is similar to what’s happening in restaurants for servers and kitchen staff (which is also unfortunate for actors since so many work in restaurants to support their passion). In restaurants, less attendance means less staff, so servers and kitchen staff get cut. In the case of film and TV sets, safer sets means less extras and day players. Many (many) actors get hired as day players. These actors usually go on set for one to three days to film a few scenes that move parts of the main story along. This type of scene is being cut out of the picture because it can easily be replaced. For instance, writers can simply have the main characters of the show talk about an event instead of actually writing out scenes that show those events. For example, if the main character in a movie has a health scare, it’s safer to get that actor to grab a phone and say something like “Really Doctor? I have nothing to worry about?” than having a scene with many other actors (usually day players) in a doctor’s office.
Stage actors are in the same boat as musicians, and still can’t perform live. It’s tough right now. Thankfully, filming and being on stage aren’t the only ways to make a living as an actor and in many cases, transferring those acting skills to the microphone can be more lucrative and even more stable than sporadic film or stage work (even considering pre-pandemic income).
This has been a challenging time for actors, how do you think they can benefit from your book?
I think being aware that you can make a good living with your acting abilities is empowering. This chapter in our lives is not a conclusion. It’s a new beginning. The voice sector is a booming sector of the economy, and as an actor you can find a lucrative home there and you can do that for years to come. And the best part is that you can go out there online and make your own money without even needing an agent and in some instances get hired relatively quickly.
Can you describe how you first got started in voice acting?
I guess I always had a connection with my voice. Even as a six or seven-year-old, I felt my voice was special and that is should be discovered and developed somehow. At some point I watched “Adventures in Babysitting,” a silly comedy, and there’s a part in the movie where the babysitter takes the kids into a blues bar, and I remember thinking “that’s it! I want to be a blues singer!” That dream got cut really short when my singing teacher in elementary school called me out for sounding like a buzzing bee. I shouldn’t have given up that easy, but I was devastated and put all my little 9-year-old ambitions aside.
But you know, that little kid was onto something, because a few years later, when I was 19, my voice kind of became a thing and I was indeed ‘discovered,’ so to speak. That year, I worked at restaurant that also happened to be a local hang out for some DJs of a nearby radio station. They would always compliment my voice and invite me to the radio station, but there weren’t any real opportunities, so for a while, it was just a lot of talk. But then one day a unique opportunity did come up to record some radio liners (short radio station commercials that say sentences like “You’re listening to XYZ station”) and I guess the DJs thought I was the perfect fit for the job. So I went for it, and one of those DJs eventually took me under his wing and became my mentor. I ran with it from there (and been running with it for over 20 years)!
Can you tell us about your career journey?
I came up at an interesting time because when I started, in the early 2000’s, portable recording technology and the appetite to hire voice actors online was in its infancy. I basically cut my teeth and carved a large portion of my career out of those two trends, and as they grew, I grew with them.
The voice industry essentially gave me the independence I was so hungry for. I’ve only had a handful of real jobs in my life, save for one in which I was given a lot of freedom, I hated being employed. I was never good at being told what to do and I hated depending on one person or company for a paycheck. I also didn’t like having income barriers and as someone who never got a college degree, the ceiling was always going to be low and that idea just cramped my style and my ambitions.
From an employment perspective, I didn’t enjoy being an actor either because I felt so powerless to find employment opportunities. I come from a tiny market and there were so many brick walls. In the world of voice overs, I had the freedom of finding my own clients and when I did, they often hired me, so I was getting rewarded for my efforts and that really turned me on (it still does). I like feeling like the sky’s the limit and that I have room to expand. When you’re an actor in a small town, the playground can feel so small.
I also value freedom, so really young, in my early twenties, I thought: “this job is great because if I have a studio and a good internet connection, I can live anywhere in the world and be self-sufficient.” And that’s pretty much what I did. I’ve lived on the East and West coasts of Canada, in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a couple of years, and I’ve been living in Los Angeles for almost eight years now. I’ve been able to live in every place and work and support myself independently. Over time, you build a local clientele too, but you don’t have to accept bad working agreements and you can be a bit pickier about what you do. For the first 8 years, I recorded voice overs part time and about 14 years ago, when I lived in Argentina, I decided to go full time and I’ve never looked back.
Have you always been interested in writing? Was it something you have always wanted to pursue eventually?
Yes! I’ve been journaling and taking notes since I could hold a pen and could string words together. Writing is how I process, learn and get things done. And since that process is so helpful to me, I feel like the notes and observations they yield could be helpful to others too. Like when I moved to Los Angeles from Canada, I was learning so much about acting here and I just wished there was a guidebook to help me cut to the chase, so I thought: “Well, maybe I should create that for other actors who move here and are overwhelmed like me. Maybe they could avoid all those mistakes I’m making.” So I compiled my notes and wrote a guidebook about moving and working as an actor in Los Angeles.
Plus, in my personal life, my friends often turn to me from advice (I’m very solution oriented and I probably give decent pep talks) and professionally, voice actors do the same, so writing books about my craft just makes sense. I guess it’s always been a matter of when and not if.
Apart from actors, who else do you think can benefit by reading your book?
I think anyone who has a connection to their voice. Moms and dads who like making lots of voices when they read stories to their kids at night, singers, people who love speaking (from public speaking to teaching) and improvisers can all find a new outlet for their passion through voice acting.
What creative projects are you working on right now?
I’m creating series of very silly voice acting videos called the Do’s and Don’t of Voice Acting. Mostly it’s Don’ts because there are so many things you shouldn’t do in a voice over studio so it’s a pretty guilty pleasure filming myself doing them!
Unlike for books, whenever I write for the camera, I always end up writing comedy skits. Laughing really hard probably just helps me deal with the daunting world we live in. Whatever the reason, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed laughing while creating these skits. And when that process makes other people laugh, it’s priceless!
To learn more about Lili Wexu, her e-books, or her career as a voice actor, feel free to click any of the phrases above in blue. You can also find her website here.