The actor: You might not know Tara Strong’s face, but you’d definitely recognize her voice. With more than 600 credits on her IMDB page, Strong is one of the more prolific voice actors working in Hollywood today, giving life to everyone from Rugrats’ Dil Pickles to Batgirl. As Twilight Sparkle, she helped bring My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic into fans’ hearts and lives, and even executive-produced a documentary about the deeply supportive Brony fandom.
This year, Strong has been popping up in two very different places. First, as the voice of Loki’s Miss Minutes, Strong lent charm and omniscient eeriness to the all-important office of the Time Variance Authority. Second, as drug kingpin Tiggy Sullivan in the CBC and IMDB TV police procedural Pretty Hard Cases, Strong has stepped in front of the mic and camera with a fierce, take-no-prisoners attitude.
We talked to Strong about those roles, as well as a few of the hundreds of others she’s had over the course of her career so far, from Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham City to Melody in Little Mermaid 2.
The A.V. Club: Let’s start with Pretty Hard Cases, which is one of your most recent forays into live-action work. How did you nab a role in that series?
Tara Strong: Well, first, you’re right. I grew up in Toronto, where I really got the chance to do all kinds of different forms of entertainment. I did lots of theater, a lot of television, film, and also animation. When I went to Los Angeles, I had already a pretty substantial resume, which was very helpful. There’s a lot of great production constantly going on in Toronto, and I feel really lucky to be a dual citizen so that I can go back and forth.
The audition for Pretty Hard Cases came to me a few months before COVID, before anyone knew what it was like. It was just, “Here’s this audition.” I just fell in love with the script and the callback was a meeting with these two incredible women [Tassie Cameron and Sherry White] who are the writers and creators of the show.
We were all talking about our experiences being phoenixes rising, and coming out from under the shell of a misogynist. This show is a powerhouse, and it’s really rooted in women having power and taking their power back. So I was completely intrigued by everything surrounding this show.
And then everything shut down because of COVID. Eventually, they texted me to say that they were going to start shooting, and I was like, “really?” Because it was COVID, I got to bring my kids because everything was shut down. My voiceover agent said, “everything’s shut down here and you can work from home, so go.” Even though it was challenging, it worked out for me timewise to go to Toronto and shoot this show, which was an extraordinary experience.
Tiggy is the dream role. Everybody wants to be the bad guy and to play this very layered character that would do anything for her children and also rises from under the thumb of misogynists into her own power, so that was so rewarding.
It was a departure for me, too, because typically my on-camera roles are “cute teacher” or “fun mom.” Voiceover wise, certainly I’ve played a very wide range of characters, but on camera, there hasn’t been something that I could really sink my teeth into from an acting standpoint. And Tiggy, for me, was that.
Loki (2021)—“Miss Minutes”
AVC: Your other major role this year was Miss Minutes from Loki. Was that a straight-up audition? How did you find the voice of Miss Minutes?
TS: I didn’t know what I was auditioning for when I first got this audition. There were very secretive. I also wasn’t very clear on the character.
Normally when you have an audition, they’ll give you a drawing of the character. They’ll give you a character description, sometimes a show description, and then something called sides, which is a portion of the script.
With Loki, there was very few sides, very little character description, and certainly no show bible. I remember calling my agent saying, “Who is she? Is she sentient, is she this, is she that?” and they said, “We don’t really know.”
I laid down three different voices, one of them being sort of more Siri-esque. They wanted it to be somewhat robotic. Then I laid down one that was in between that and my voice, and then one with an accent.
I think they chose the accent because you have this character that’s delivering exposition like, “If you don’t behave, you will die,” but there’s this very sweet tone, like “Y’all come back now you hear?” and “Don’t hesitate to let us know how we’re doing!”
The whole show is this beautiful juxtaposition of old technology and new technology and old style with very modern situations. Miss Minutes falls right into that category where she is animated as sort of this old-timey animation exposition character. But suddenly she’s a hologram and what else can she do? It leaves everybody wondering, including myself.
She’s an extraordinary character but I didn’t know what it was until I was on the job, on the Zoom with Kate Herron and the rest of the MCU team. It was already shot, so I got to work with Tom [Hiddleston] and the other crew, like watching them do their pieces already on camera, which was pretty great.
Even after that, I didn’t know the show was going to be such a big hit. I didn’t know people would love Miss Minutes as much as they do, because you really never know. You have this animated character joining an already very highly respected, beloved universe. So I’m very grateful that the fans took her in so completely. And I’ve, of course, fallen in love with her, too.
AVC: You’re probably going to start seeing more and more Miss Minutes tattoos.
TS: I have a friend that already got a Miss Minutes tattoo on her wrist. I signed it and she got my name too.
AVC: When a casting agent or show gives you the bare minimum description of what they’re looking for, what are you actually getting? Like, “She’s female. She’s a nerd.” What are they telling you and how do you know what to aim for, voice-wise?
TS: When it’s less information it’s challenging, which is probably why I gave [Loki] three different choices. And even with that, you’re sort of taking a shot in the dark. Is this what production is going to want that to sound like?
Often you come up with a new idea that no one had thought of. That happened to me with Raven on Teen Titans. I was already playing five different, very tragic, realistic teenage girls at the time, two of them for Warner Brothers. I was playing Batgirl and also Shareena Wickett on a show called Detention.
I was a little worried about portraying this character and giving her something different than I do on every show. I’m very conscientious about not having the same character live in multiple universes. So I was like, “How am I going to make Raven stand out?” Plus, the character description for Starfire was a grown-up bubble. So I’m like, “I’m a grown-up bubble, so I’ll probably book Starfire.”
When I went in to do Raven, I just relied on my acting and and being in the moment of every scene. But I knew vocally it sounded too much like Batgirl for all the same people. I left the studio and then I had this idea. As I was passing the sound studio part where the director, the writer, the engineer sit, I said to Andrea Romano, “Can I try one more thing?” This idea just came to me to have this weird little roll in the back of my throat, no matter what she was saying.
As a performer, you have to pay attention to every detail you can, and then experiment a little, hope they like it, and then sometimes rely on a good shot. You just never know what’s going to book a part.
AVC: Some of those characters, like Batgirl, have existed for so long. You’re always working up against people’s expectations of what they imagined the character sounding like. How do you take a beloved character like a Batgirl or a Harley Quinn and make that yours?
TS: I think for me, the most challenging time that happened would be Harley, because the role was created for Arleen Sorkin, who I worked with alongside Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy when I was Batgirl, and it was the most exciting time ever. She’s such an extraordinary talent and so beautiful and so loved.
They brought me in to do the video games and said they wanted to do something different, but sort of inspired by her. I was very nervous that the fans weren’t going to accept my version of Harley. Thankfully they did, because those are some pretty scary shoes to put on.
I think as the performer, you always have to give it your best and be in all of those moments and actually become these characters and just hope people appreciate what what you’re doing. Thank god for the fans, because they’re the ones that determine the success of voice actors. Hollywood doesn’t really cherish voice actors as much as the fans do. The fans are the ones that really let us know that they’re there behind what we’re doing.
AVC: We did an interview with Bill Farmer, who’s done the voices of Goofy and Pluto and other iconic character for decades, and he said something to the effect of “I don’t have a contract.” At any point, your years of playing a character could go away, because it’s all project to project. “I just do a good job, and I try my best, and luckily I keep working because people like me.”
TS: It’s the fans. They’re really important.
I don’t know why, but it is true that voice actors are constantly having to prove themselves over and over. It’s very rare that I book something without auditioning. I’m constantly auditioning every day, often for a part I’ve already played. Sometimes I’m like, “You have 12 seasons of me doing this voice. Go watch it on YouTube if you don’t have it in the library.” It’s weird, but you really do have to constantly prove yourself.
You could be replaced in a minute by someone on a big on-camera show that maybe production wants to use for cross promotion or somebody’s niece or they’re a big fan of someone on The Office or whatever it is. There’s no security in a character, even if you helped create it, even if the collaborative nature of what you did helped sell billions in toys, you’re still going back to scale as the voice actor, and it’s hard to be replaced when you’ve helped create a character.
AVC: Speaking of major motion pictures, you voice Unikitty in the Unikitty show, and that character was voiced by Alison Brie in the Lego movies. Did you listen to her voice and think, “Can I do this?” or do you think, “Let’s start from scratch.”
TS: It really depends on the project, because sometimes they’re going to want a sound. Oftentimes celebrities do a film and then don’t want to do a series or they don’t want to do a video game, and you have to voice match. But often they don’t want that.
For Unikitty, they didn’t want me to voice match her. I had seen the film and she’s a brilliant actress. But Unikitty from the series is its own unique voice. It’s not taken from the movie at all. Character wise, inspiration wise, certainly that’s where it started, but vocally, I didn’t try to sound like her. It’s completely my own version of Unikitty.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2010-2019)—“Twilight Sparkle”
Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans Of My Little Pony (2012)—Executive Producer
AVC: Speaking of cute things, you’re so well known and loved for playing Twilight Sparkle. How did you get involved in the My Little Pony world, and how do you think it became such a juggernaut?
TS: Lauren Faust—who created the version that exploded—and I worked together on Powerpuff Girls. She is married to Craig McCracken, and we had met many, many years ago many, many times. We are completely in love.
She came to my house and asked if I would help her with [My Little Pony] pitch. She had three characters to animate, one being Twilight, the other being Pinkie Pie and I think the third was Applejack. Of course I said yes.
She had these extraordinary drawings that she had done, and we just went in my little home studio and I laid them down for the pitch. She said the second she heard me do Twilight, she was like, “I knew you were my Twi the second I heard you do it.”
At that point, working on the show, I didn’t know it was going to be such a big hit. I didn’t know that it would cross countries and ages and, of course, sexes. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter who you love. It doesn’t matter who you worship, where you live. It’s really transcendent.
I think it’s like the most beautiful fandom I’ve ever experienced. The brony community is there for each other. Whenever I’m doing a fundraiser, they’re the first to donate. If a kid’s in trouble or being bullied, they’re the first to rally behind them. I had a friend who was being bullied come to Brony Con and there were all these super hot army guys with My Little Pony tattoos going up to her and saying, “You’re going to be fine. I was bullied as a kid, too.”
They’re just this this hilarious, beautiful fandom. The documentary had to be made because it was this unexpected fandom. I’m crazy about them. They’re my little love army.
AVC: Friendship Is Magic also premiered in 2010, which seems like such a turning point in terms of internet connectivity. Social networking became a much bigger world, and fans of something on the internet could get together online with hashtags and share memes. The internet really helped spread the gospel of Friendship Is Magic and help fans get together.
TS: It really did.
You know, a lot of the fans are horribly bullied because it should be a show for little girls or it shouldn’t be a show… it’s so ridiculous. A lot of the kids were tormented and the internet was largely a place where they could converge and be together and be there for each other. If someone’s feeling alone in Belgium, someone in Germany is contacting them and saying, “I’m getting on a train and we’re going to go watch the show together and play with some toys and have some fun.”
The truth is that there are also a lot of fandoms, My Little Pony included, where people are all over the spectrum. I think some or all of us are in some capacity, and a lot of them felt misunderstood. To come together and say, “Hey, I’m on the spectrum, too, I’m autistic, too. Here’s why I love it and you’re not alone and it’s okay and you’re okay,” was this huge heart love bubble of acceptance.
Because of the internet, people could really reach each other, particularly people who maybe are agoraphobic or don’t go out or who aren’t used to being social. There are people that never went anywhere that were suddenly going to PonyCons and and connecting with like-minded people. It’s really beautiful.
AVC: You’ve done Ben 10 for a long time, and that show’s gone through video games and shorts and movies and all sorts of different things. How has that character grown and changed, or how has your relationship with Ben changed over time?
TS: That was a really fun show to do in the beginning. We did it for a really long time. I can’t remember how many seasons. And then it got canceled. We were really sad because we’re all really sad when anything gets canceled. Then they did another version with [voice actor] Yuri Lowenthal [as Ben Tennyson] and I was upset in the beginning, but I accepted him because he’s a really cool guy.
Then they came back to our version, and it’s pretty similar to the original in terms of tone and the age of everyone. I think some of the biggest changes were that Ben was a little bit less mean to his cousin Gwen, and there were some casting changes.
That show has a lot of legs. Not just a lot of alien legs, but it seems to be able to sustain a fandom for a really long time.
Also internationally, when I went to Dubai for a Comic-Con in London, I was really surprised. Kids have been holding on to their omnitrixes and merch for like 20 years. Stuff that I never even saw in the States. There were Ben 10 bean bags and all kinds of cool stuff. So it’s fun to see what catches fire globally.
AVC: Fairly OddParents also seems like one of those shows that, when you first went in, you probably didn’t think “I’m going to be doing this voice in 20 years.”
TS: You never really know. Sometimes you think, “This is going to be one season,” then it explodes. Sometimes you think, “This is going to go on forever” and then it ends.
For me, like the biggest example of that would be Sym-Bionic Titan by [Genndy] Tartakovsky. I thought that was going to go on forever. It was a brilliant, brilliant show. We had one season, so you just never know.
Certainly when I started Titans, I didn’t know I’d still be doing that show 20 years later with the same cast. We are a family, so that’s really beautiful.
AVC: There’s the sense that all the voice actors know each other and are very supportive and say, “If I can’t do the job, I know someone else who can.” “If I’m not the right voice, I’ll suggest Cree Summer.”
TS: She’s the number-one person I recommend for anything. We’ve known each other since I was 13. My very first job was Hello Kitty, and she was Catnip the bad cat. We both grew up in Toronto.
It’s a very collaborative world. It’s a very supportive world. It doesn’t matter what you look like, so compared to on camera work, you have fewer chances of catty behavior or backstabbing. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. It does. It’s just rare.
Most people that work all the time recognize that there’s plenty for everyone, and we’re blown away by what our cohorts do. Every single time we’re in studio together, someone does something that I didn’t know that they could do. So, we all love each other.
It’s a very small group of people that work all the time. And we’re a family. We know whether everyone’s happy or sad or divorced or married or having kids. We’ve been through our lives together and we really are family.
AVC: How has the explosion of streaming changed the voiceover industry or the animation industry? Are there more opportunities to work out there now?
TS: I think, in terms of performance, it hasn’t changed anything because if you’re performing a role, you’re in character. You are that role. You don’t think, “Now I’m doing this for a video game” or “Now I’m doing this for a streaming network” or “Now I’m doing it for primetime.” You think, “I’m in the moment. I am this person.”
Contractually, things have changed, of course, and have to keep changing and will keep changing. I’m sure there’ll be a new contract for when cartoons are holographic in your living room. The business side of it will always change. The acting side, not so much.
Certainly during COVID it was a great opportunity for shows to really take off because people were home catching up on shows. It’s nice to be able to binge something and watch something.
It’s certainly very exciting that all the major streaming platform now carry animation because, as we know, animation has no age. There are fans at Comic-Con that I meet that are in baby strollers and there are fans that are in their 80s and 90s. So, it’s nice to have plenty of places for people to go and watch some really good animation.
Rugrats (1997-present)—“Dil Pickles”
AVC: Speaking of changes, Rugrats is back. You were brought onto that show a few seasons in, when it was already pretty popular. How has your ride with Rugrats been?
TS: I remember when I first moved to L.A., it was one of the shows I really wanted to do because the animation was so fascinating and unique and beautiful.
I first joined the cast as this kid named Timmy McNulty and his little brother. We were in the park with Angelica and her babies, and I was a bully to the babies. So, we kind of had this love-hate relationship and it was really fun.
They initially brought me in to guide track baby Dil. What that means is they’ll bring in a skilled voice actor to lay down some stuff so that they can start production and then bring in some big on camera celebrity. I had heard that they wanted Madonna to be baby Dil.
I had just gotten off a plane and I had to do some baby screaming and I started wailing and they stopped tape. I thought, “Oh, gosh, maybe they don’t like me.” But they said, “Tara, there’s a new mom in the booth and you made her lactate.” So I got to keep my job.
It was really fun. The first few seasons my lines were all in the stage directions. It was like, “baby Dil grabs Tommy’s toy, hits him in the head, and poops.” [Makes sounds to that effect.] I would always have a really wet script, and it was fun.
That cast is so fantastic and we all love each other a lot. It’s pretty exciting that it’s back.
AVC: It’s a lot of cool women doing the voices of little kids.
TS: It’s some really dope ass, powerful, strong women who have the ability to manipulate their voices and become these other characters.
Typically, if you’re going to hire a little boy, you have to worry about school. You have to worry about their voices changing and they do. With women, if we can accurately sound like a little boy, there’s no risk of our voices changing and they don’t have to worry about school and different things like that. So it makes sense to hire women.
There are some men that can do a little boy voices, but more often than not, a woman is going on more authentically like a little boy. I think it has to do with how we’re built in our vocal cords and that we don’t have to make it too forced to sound like a little a little boy.
With little kids, boys and girls all sound like little girls anyway. So it’s quite the gift to be able to do that and then to get paid to be like a little boy, which I would never get to play a on camera. That’s the beautiful thing about voiceover: You get to play all these roles that you would never play on camera.
AVC: The Proud Family is also coming back. Are you involved with that this time around?
TS: I’m not allowed to say what I have done, but I will say that production came to me pretty early on and said they were coming back and we’re going to have everybody in the show be Black. And I said, “Of course! You should!” In fact, I had a couple of friends auditioning and I offered to coach them so that they could sound exactly like Bebe and Cece.
Times have really changed and people are more aware of what goes on in this industry. Certainly if a character is animated Black, it should be played by a Black actor or actress. There are plenty who are insanely talented who should play those roles. So not only was I supportive, I offered to coach and we’re still really close.
I love everybody on that show. I don’t even know when that airs. I’m sure it’ll be a big hit. It was way ahead of its time. I was talking with Cree [Summer] about Susie on Rugrats and Proud Family and all these shows where young Black kids watching didn’t really have much representation. I think Rugrats and Proud Family were both ahead of their time, so I’m really glad that they’re both coming back.
Spirited Away (2001)—“Boh”
Princess Mononoke (1997)—“Kaya / Additional Voices”
TS: First of all, it’s like such an honor to be in [Miyazaki’s] films because they really are works of art.
Anime is a completely different animal. Oftentimes, they don’t do anime in Los Angeles. There’s a lot of it that goes on in other states. It’s a whole other world of people that do that all the time because it’s also a lot more time-consuming.
When we do an original animated show—Powerpuff Girls, Fairly OddParents, Rugrats—we go first and then they animate to our voice, which of course allows the actor to be much more creative, because we can do anything and then they’ll animate it.
When you have something that’s already done in another language, you have to dub it. It’s much more challenging because you have to fit the line in a certain time code, match the lip flaps and still do good acting. It’s meticulous work and it’s actually less pay generally. A lot of L.A. actors don’t even do it.
When you get the chance to do something really great though, it’s pretty fantastic, and Miyazaki films for sure are. Oh my god. It was so cool to be a part of them.
My kids are really big into anime now, so I love that I got to do those and The Animatrix and people still give me a lot of love for Final Fantasy too. Anything that they’ve had to dub that they recognize the artistry of it coming from Japan or wherever, it’s pretty exciting to be part of.
National Lampoon’s Senior Trip (1995)—“Carla Morgan”
Sabrina Goes To Rome (1998)—“Gwen”
Sabrina Down Under (1999)—“Gwen”
AVC: You were in National Lampoon’s Senior Trip and you were in a few Sabrina The Teenage Witch specials. Have there been points in your life where you think, “I’m really going to go hard on live action” or are you always out for both?
TS: I’m always down for both, and I feel really lucky that I get to do both.
I will say doing Pretty Hard Cases definitely ignited that bug again. I want to really focus on doing on camera. It was so much fun playing off these brilliant actors and having Kim Coates put a gun to my head. It was pretty life-changing, and dream-come-true work.
Sabrina was so much fun. I got to travel to Italy and Australia with Melissa Joan Hart and her family, who are just the most loving, supportive people.
Senior Trip was funny. It was shooting in Toronto. It was the first thing I booked in L.A., and I had to go back to Toronto to shoot the film.
It’s not like when I got to L.A., I made the decision to do primarily voiceover. It’s just sort of happened. I booked booked Batgirl and Powerpuff Girls and 101 Dalmatians all at the same time, and I think [the voice] world was like, “who’s this girl?” Because it’s such a niche world, once you get in, you keep getting used over and over, and it’s wonderful because you’re working.
With that said, you can get put in a box there and they do it to writers and directors too, like “That’s the commercial guy, that’s the animation person.” So sometimes that happens and sometimes it takes one good role to remind them, “Hey, I’m still here.”
I do both because not everybody wants to do both. There are some voiceover people that really don’t want to do on camera. They don’t want to wait for hair and makeup and lighting, and they like that life. But there are plenty of us that that still want to do both. So I’m very blessed that I get to have that opportunity.
TS: I mean, my dream was The Little Mermaid. I used to run around impersonating [voice of Ariel] Jodi Benson and who wouldn’t want to be a Disney princess? That was the dream job. Just like with Rugrats, I had initially been hired to guide track that movie and they fell in love with me, thank god, and so I got to do that role.
When I stepped into the studio and Jodi was there, I shook her hand and I burst into tears. She was like, “Are you okay?” and I was like, “I’ve just loved you for so long!”
It was really, really beautiful to sing in the studio with her. It was like a dream come true. I definitely could have died the next day. That was the most amazing job. And that was one of the first things I really did where they filmed me and then put my face on the mermaid.
I remember talking with Rob Paulsen because often they’ll replace the singing with a big Broadway star or a big singing star, and we didn’t know we were being kept as singers until we actually saw the final product. I was so happy.
I remember I called Bambi Moé, who was doing music over at Disney, and I said, “Oh my god, thank you so much for keeping in my songs. They were so cute. I did notice there was like a little tweak that you fixed on one of those notes, though, so thank you for that.” And she said, “Tara, do you know that we fix everyone? We fix everyone! And nobody’s ever thanked me.”
The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills (2014)—as herself
AVC: You were on three episodes of Real Housewives as a “friend of.” What was popping into that world of reality television like?
TS: It was so funny. I was very good friends with Carlton [Gebbia] before she did the show. Our kids were in class together in elementary school and we would be at those parties anyway. She asked if I didn’t mind being on the show with her and taking her to my workout class, which at the time was a pole-dancing class. And I was thinking, “Here’s Tara Strong, Disney and Nickelodeon star dancing on a pole on primetime television,” but it was a very short little run. I was there really to support Carlton.
It was an interesting little fun thing. I don’t know that I would ever do reality again, but that was fun.
AVC: Reality TV is never really real, anyway.
TS: Yeah, is it reality? Because if you know the camera is on you, it’s not really real. I think if you’re a performer, you’re going to constantly be performing. So I might as well read some great scripts and do it that way.