How I Became the New Voice of Barbie

Posted by on Nov 26, 2015 in Voice-Over | 0 comments

It was just a little over ten years ago that 23-year-old Erica Lindbeck could be found playing with her collection of Barbies. “I had the dream house, the Jaguar, and my mom made sure I had every ethnicity of Barbie too — my favorite was my Esmeralda Barbie,” Erica told Cosmopolitan.com. For the past year, the recent UCLA Theater grad has, in a way, resumed playing with the doll. A newcomer to the voiceover world, she beat out thousands of actors to land her coveted role as the voice of Hello Barbie, a joint venture between Mattel and Toy Talk that combines artificial intelligence and speech recognition technology so that Barbie can actually engage in conversation. Cosmopolitan.com spoke to Erica, who will also voice Barbie for commercials, DVD movies, and apps, about how she went from being a self-proclaimed underdog at theater school to the voice of America’s most iconic doll.

“I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and my family moved to Greenville, North Carolina, when I was two, for my dad’s job. (I never picked up a Southern accent because my parents didn’t have one. I felt weird about that as a kid, but it proved helpful for my career.) I have two younger siblings: My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is four years younger. My sister is mentally and physically disabled, she has a neuro-developmental disorder called Rhett Syndrome, which doesn’t present itself until about the one-year mark, at which point there’s loss of physical and mental capabilities. She reached nine-months and then she started regressing. It was heartbreaking; it was such a difficult time. I would go to [our] barn as an escape.

For five years I rode horses competitively — my horse, Dakota, and I were number-one in our circuit division. But when I was 10 years old, Dakota fell while my trainer was riding him, and it turned out Dakota had a really horrible issue with his leg. I remember brushing him and my mom came up to me crying and said, ‘I’m sorry, sweetie, but you can’t ride Dakota anymore.’ I was devastated. I decided right then and there to stop riding because I didn’t want to ride a different horse. And that’s when I got into theater. 

When it came time to apply to college, I was going to take my dad’s advice and study business and do acting on the side. But my drama teacher, who I’m forever indebted to, said, ‘If you want to do this, you should do it full stop. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed.’ So at the very last minute of college application deadlines, I decided to apply to theater schools instead.

I thought there was no way I was getting into UCLA. It has an amazing theater program and it’s difficult to get into from out of state because it’s a public college, but I got accepted. So at 18 years old, I moved to California. And I was terrified. 

I was never the favorite in my program. I was always the underdog. I have a thick skin now because of it. In this industry, you’re getting rejected constantly. All. The. Time. But there might be a million ‘nos’ then you get a ‘yes.’ I started to find my stride in my senior year,when I first started exploring voiceover work. My yesses started coming.

When I saw that one of my favorite anime voice actors Crispin Freeman was teaching a class I thought, I have to do this. I wasn’t very good at the beginning. My acting was fine, but I didn’t really get it. I was focusing so much on the voice and not the character. A lot people think, I’ll just go in and do a voice, and you’re so focused on making your voice sound weird instead of actually understanding the character. People tell me, ‘Oh I can do voices!’ But that’s not going to get your anywhere. The vast majority of people book roles in their natural voice. In fact, Barbie is really similar to my natural voice — her’s is just a little bit brighter.

I lucked out and got an agent through my teacher’s friend, a voice actor who was a guest lecturer for my class. He had so much faith in me. Even though I had nothing to my name he walked me into his agency, which is a top-tier voiceover agency, and they signed me. I was about to go get a job at a bar — I was literally taking bartending classes — before they signed me. 

I got a call in November 2014 from my agent asking me to audition for Skipper and Teresa. [Editor’s note: This was not to voice dolls, but to voice them in commercials and movies, among other things.] Usually I record auditions in my recording booth in my closet, but for this they wanted me to go into Mattel’s studios. As I walked in, I saw all these voice actors who are big deals in the industry. I still didn’t have much to my name — it was intimidating and I felt like such a baby among these veterans. 

A week-and-a-half later I got another call and it was my agent saying, ‘They want you to go in for Barbie.’ My response was, ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought I killed my Skipper audition! On the second [Barbie] audition they asked me to do a cold read in my natural voice. In huge block lettering I read a paragraph that began with: ‘Hi, my name is Barbie and I live in Wisconsin but we also have a home in Malibu.’ 

Christmas 2014 came and went and I stopped thinking about the part — you’d drive yourself crazy if you held your breath waiting to hear about every audition. Then, on a rainy day in January, they called me back to the Mattel offices, but this time they gave me a giant Barbie gift basket and welcomed me to the team as the voice of Hello Barbie! It was surreal. Of course life goes on as normal after these things happen —  it’s not like immediately I’m driving around Malibu in a pink corvette. I remember the day the New York Times article [about Hello Barbie] came out I was getting so much love from everybody. But I still had to take my cat to the vet.

When I booked the job I didn’t realize how extensive the project was going to be. Barbie has over 8,000 lines. There have been talking dolls in the past, but this is next-level. She explains the definition of ‘avant garde,’ talks about Hanukkah, and speaks in a French accent when we’re playing a game about fashion designers. We’ve been recording for months. We were trying to do about 60 lines an hour. That fluctuates because some lines are paragraphs and then others are just quick lines like, ‘Oh, you like the color blue? That’s awesome.’ ‘Oh, you like the color red? That’s awesome.’

She deals with some really intense stuff, too. You can say, ‘Barbie I’m sad,’ ‘Barbie I’m having a problem with a friend,’ ‘Barbie I’m sick,’ or ‘My mother or father passed away.’ She deals with this stuff. Obviously, if it’s not appropriate for Barbie to answer, she’ll default to ‘That’s something you should talk to your mother or father about.’ For me, I think a lot about kids who have disabilities or trouble communicating and how helpful something like this can be to those kids. I’ve seen some of the videos of the focus groups and teared up watching these kids talk to Barbie. 

It’s been such an incredible experience. The voiceover world is a good world. The entertainment industry can be very difficult and very looks-based. When you’re being judged 80 percent on your looks it can destroy you. Especially as a young woman in the industry it’s easy to be like, Oh my god, do I need to lose 10 pounds? Do I need to dye my hair? Do I need to get a nose job? Do I need to start doing botox at 23? I can’t tell you how many times I was told even in my theater program, ‘If you want to do film you’re probably going to have to lose weight.’ For the last year-and-a-half I haven’t had to worry about that. I was recording for Barbie in my Black Sabbath t-shirt that I cut up myself, ripped jeans, and my hair in a messy bun.”

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