Susan Eisenberg on Wonder Woman and diversity in entertainment

Susan Eisenberg has provided numerous voices for characters in animation and video games, but she's probably spent more time with one character than any other: Wonder Woman. For over a decade Eisenberg has given voice to the iconic superhero, who recently celebrated a 75th anniversary.

Eisenberg first became the voice of the DC Comics character in the Justice League animated series. She continued to give voice to the Amazon for Justice League Unlimited, Justice League: Doom and other animated projects, as well as video games such as Injustice: Gods Among Us and DC Universe Online. Spending so much time with Wonder Woman has allowed Eisenberg to get to know the character and her fans very well, giving her a unique perspective on Wonder Woman's legacy.

We spoke with Eisenberg about Wonder Woman, her career in the voice over industry, and more.

How did you get started in voice acting?

Susan Eisenberg: I started out pursuing an acting career. When I was really young I worked in my dad's business. He had a retail store in Rhode Island and I would do some of his radio commercials for the store. This was when I was really young, like in high school. So I think it was always there as a possibility for me, knowing that I could use my voice in some way, but I studied acting and was going to pursue acting in front of the camera. When I had the opportunity to do it and did it a few times I realized very quickly that I preferred a microphone to a camera. It just felt like a much more natural fit to me. Then I decided to switch gears and take some classes in just voiceover, and I did that once I moved out to California. Then it was just building it from there, getting a demo reel together, getting an agent, going on auditions, and still going on auditions. You don't ever get to that point, unless you're extremely famous, that you're not auditioning. That you're not trying to line up the next gig.

You've voiced many characters in animation and video games. What are some of the differences, if any, when you're voicing a character for one versus the other?

Eisenberg: Animation like I did with Justice League and things like that, we were all together in the room. It was a big room. We were all in front of our individual microphones, but the whole cast typically, and the guest stars, everybody was there. You could really feed off of each other and the energy in the room. When you do a video game, you're by yourself. You're often not given a script beforehand, so you don't know what you're going to be voicing or who you're going to be voicing, and you don't really have a context until you're there. Then the director will give you some background as to maybe what your character looks like and who your character interacts with, but you don't have that energy to feed off of like you do when you're doing animation.

It's a different experience, but in terms of voicing it, it's still trying to develop a character. That kind of is the thread throughout. You have to create that character whether you're in a room full of people or whether you're pretending to interact with other people. You have to use your imagination once the director gives you where you are. This is true in both cases. Obviously I don't know what it is to be on Themyscira as Wonder Woman, but that's your imagination. So it's the same with video games, whether you're in a dungeon or in the Alps, you have to use your imagination to create that for yourself and then go from there. But again you don't have the luxury of having a room full of other actors with you. You have a voice in your ear, the director, telling you what they're expecting in this next line and this next scene and things like that.

What was it like the first time you voiced Wonder Woman and has your approach to the character changed over the years at all?

Eisenberg: It was so scary. It really was, because while I had done some animation before Justice League I'd never done anything where I was such a primary part of the show and a series regular and playing somebody that iconic. People ask me about that. Was it daunting? Was it scary? The whole thing was daunting and scary. I always get a little or a lot nervous depending on the project. It's always daunting for me to go in. You want to do well and you're nervous and so it just magnifies when you're playing a character like Diana, but the first time it was thrilling. It was both thrilling and scary and terrifying, but the thrilling was bigger. But then the terrifying was still there. It was always intimidating to go and do it because you're going to Warner Brothers, you have this room full of extraordinary talent, and you're just trying to go in and do your best. That was very intimidating in the beginning and now having voiced her for as long as I have I do have a comfort with her. I just do.

I feel like she's been my companion for a long time and while she's clearly not mine, I've shared years with her so she feels like my best friend and somebody who clearly inspires me on a daily basis. There is much more of a comfort level now just because through osmosis if you will, I've just been able to internalize her and so it's much more comfortable as a process. I don't need to find her voice. I feel like I have her voice and it's something I share with my voice and then it's her voice and then together, there's Wonder Woman.

With Wonder Woman having celebrated a big 75th anniversary last year, there's been a lot of discussion about the character and her upcoming movie, as well as a lot of fans talking about what the character means to them. As someone who's brought this character to life and interacted with fans, how have you seen her impact? What legacy do you feel she's left?

Eisenberg: I think it's continual. The legacy endures and for as long as we're around I think it will endure. It's really something meeting the fans because their journey with her predates my journey with her. I was not a fan of hers per se. I didn't grow up reading comic books. I knew the television show with Lynda Carter. I had watched the TV show, but that wasn't my fandom before I got the job so I became a fan once I started voicing her and once I started learning more and more about her.

Now of course I just adore her, but the fans have been there the whole time. Whether it's the grandmother or the granddaughter or the grandson, the fans have educated me. They've told me about their relationship with her, how much she's meant to them. I have people who if I meet them at comic-cons and they come up to say hello to me they’re very emotional about the role she's played in their lives.

That's why when she was given the U.N. ambassadorship I really understood it, because her impact has been so huge and her inspiration has been so extraordinary and it being taken away is a whole separate conversation, but it made sense to me that she was given that because I think she has been this beacon for so many fans for such a long time. All the attention she's getting now in my opinion, the fans have always had it. That she's getting attention from the powers that be, if you will, like the movie studios and the merchandising and all of that followed the attention, so the love has been there and now all the attention's getting very rightfully and duly paid which I'm exuberant about. I think it's long overdue.

Speaking of the U.N. ambassadorship, the controversy surrounding it, and the honor being taken away, what were your thoughts on seeing that play out?

Eisenberg: I thought it was absurd that it was taken away. Everyone knows she is a character. That she's not a real live person, but there have been other characters before her. It's symbolic and I think that was lost. Also that people felt the character herself has been over-sexualized and so that she really is just this bimbo, this woman with big breasts and a skimpy outfit. That is not a fan. Anyone that perceives her that way is not a fan of hers and misses the point of who she is and what she symbolizes. She embodies female empowerment and female independence. She was created in that vein and so many of her followers and people who have loved her all these generations, they see her that way. I've come to know a lot of those people, a lot of her fans, because of what I do and I think people were overjoyed she was being given that honor. Then to have it taken away I think was just so hurtful and misguided.

Having said that, she endures no matter what. So whether she's given that honor or not, her fandom is only growing. It will grow even more after the movie comes out but it's strong even now so it was disheartening and it was just unfortunate I thought as a choice. I just didn't think it showed any strength of character by the powers that be at the UN to take it away. So some people had an issue with it. That’s okay. People can have an issue with it. Don't take it away. More people supported it, so it was just an unfortunate thing that they did that and so quickly. It's like, really? You're going to give it and then you're going to take it away so quickly? To me it was so foolish.

In the entertainment industry there's a lot of discussion about the need for increased diversity in front of and behind the camera. Often this seems to focus mostly on live-action and you don't hear so much about voiceover work specifically. Do you see the same need in the voice over industry for more women and diversity all around?

Eisenberg: Not even a question. You hear about this discussion a lot in comic books, the writers in comics [and] the characters in comics. And because I follow so many of those artists, writers, actors and directors on Twitter and other places, that is really a conversation that is happening. Gaming and things like that, needing more of a presence of diversity in all of those areas. I think that can't be overemphasized, the need for that. More women writers, more women directors, more female characters.

I've always maintained that the most important thing for kids is to see themselves in these books, in these movies, on these television shows. Once you've seen yourself, you become validated. I think there's just nothing more important than for children to be seen and to feel that sense of not being alone in the world whether you're straight, gay, trans, female, male, somewhere in between [or] you're not sure. I just think it could not be more important especially now with what's going on politically, to have a sense of being accepted and being told you're okay and that there is nothing wrong with you. I think if we can do that in the arts then that paves the way for other places.

It's like with Ellen DeGeneres. They were talking recently about when Ellen came out on her show and so many people knew Ellen from the show and she was so beloved as her character and as her that it really eased people into acceptance. I think we can do better in all these different various platforms. It's obviously not only women, but people of color and just all of us. America has all of us here. We're all here. So we should all be represented and I just couldn't be a bigger supporter of that.

But in terms of women specifically, that's why I'm so glad Patty Jenkins is directing the Wonder Woman movie. I could not be more thrilled that that choice was made and that she is in that position because I believe that the movie's going to be a huge success and it will just open the door for so many other women to do the blockbusters and more importantly to know that they can do any of it. Whether it's an indie film or a blockbuster, the capacity is there. The talent is there and it needs to be recognized.

Eisenberg will be the voice of Wonder Woman in the upcoming Injustice 2 video game and has more projects coming soon. You can keep up with her work on her website, Twitter and Instagram.

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