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Lauren Tom On a Lifetime of Voice Acting: The Nine Realms, Futurama, Batman Beyond & More
Actress Lauren Tom is the voice behind so many beloved animation characters from Amy Wong on Futurama to Dana on Batman Beyond. She shares stories about her unexpectedly animated career.
With the return of Futurama for a brand-new season and the ongoing adventures of the How to Train Your Dragon spin-off series, Dragons: The Nine Realms on Peacock, we figured it was high time to honor one of contemporary animation's voice-acting MVPs, Lauren Tom. If you're a Gen Xer, you might remember her from her first live-action television series role as Miko in the '80s hit, The Facts of Life, or as Lena in the hit film, The Joy Luck Club, or Julie from Friends. But aside from her long list of memorable TV and film roles, Tom is just as well known for providing character voices for an incredible array of genre, sci-fi and comedy animated shows. Tom recorded her first genre animation character voice role as Dana Tan on Batman Beyond, which was quickly followed by Angela Chen in Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996). Since then, she's never been out of the voice booth for long, performing roles in animated kids shows, adult comedies and superhero series.
With a resume that lists more than 200 on-camera and voice roles, Tom tells SYFY WIRE that once the animation world welcomed her into its proverbial arms, she's never looked back. "One of the blessings of my life that in all my years of voiceover, I've never really met one jerk in my entire career," she shares. "There's something about the voiceover community that just attracts really down to earth, nice people. I'm so grateful for that, because it's a joy to go to work, and it hardly takes any time. And being a person of color and of a certain age, the best thing in the world about voiceover acting is that I can really play anything and nobody would really know. If I can come up with it in my imagination or duplicate people I've known in real life, that's the key. It's kind of a dream job."
Curious about her memories about voicing characters for shows or films that we particularly love, Tom took us on a virtual walk down memory lane to share stories and lessons learned inside the booth.
Dragons: The Nine Realms, May Wong
Early in the series, Tom voices May Wong, the no-nonsense, Rakke Corporation Director of Operations at ICARIS (International Crevasse And Research Investigation Station). She's also the mother of Dragon Riders, Jun and Eugene Wong.
Lauren Tom: "With Dragons, I was so excited when I was offered that part. You know, everything's about your kids and they loved the movies so much. There are certain shows that really have meant a lot to me through my kids. So, I love playing May! She's like this tiny thing was huge hair. She has so much great energy just like my grandma and my mom. They're very much like that so it seems natural for me to be able to channel. I love that she's strong and no nonsense in business."
Batman Beyond, Dana Tan
Fresh from being cast to voice the characters of Connie and then Minh on Fox's King of the Hill, Tom was pulled into the world of DC Animation by WB voice casting legend, Andrea Romano, for Dana on Batman Beyond.
Tom: "Andrea's reputation preceded her so I knew that I was going to be in good hands, even though I didn't really know what the heck I was doing. I think that job was only my second animated series. King of the Hill was first so at least I had a little bit under my belt. And I had just come off Friends so I think that because my name was in the zeitgeist a bit that's why I got offered that role. I knew that Batman was this huge, iconic show. And I just was praying that I wasn't gonna screw it up too badly. I remember feeling like I loved the way they drew me because I was sexier in that cartoon than I am in real life. [Laughs.] Especially being the age I am now, to be able to still have certain cartoons that I've done, where the characters don't age. I can live vicariously through them. It keeps me current. These projects have lasted so long. Batman's gonna live forever."
Samurai Jack, Jack’s Mother
Not long after, Tom was pulled into voice for Genndy Tartakovsky's Dexter's Laboratory which turned into an on-going collaboration across many of his shows including Samurai Jack, where she was asked to voice his mother.
Tom: "'They just offered her to me, and I didn't have a lot of lines. But what was wonderful is that my friend Phil LaMarr starred in that. And then obviously, we spent Futurama all these years together."
Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia, Mary Wang & Nomura
The Emmy-winning hit series, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia introduced Tom to a whole new generation of younger fans with her roles of Mary Wang and Nomura.
Tom: "I mean, it's Guillermo del Toro! I was so excited to be associated with a project of his. I was also Nomura on that [show]. What was really fun about that is that Mary is just like this teenager and American. And Nomura was like this evil, evil badass. I just love playing that kind of thing because it's so different from what I feel like I am. But my mom and grandma is actually a badass. I'm just much more sensitive, so it's nice to be able to channel that energy through that and be able to play that because obviously, in real life, for whatever reason it's way too scary for me to come out like that."
Star Trek: Lower Decks, U.S.S. Vancouver Captain
A first in her career, Tom got to join the Star Trek world voicing two roles on Star Trek: Lower Decks: a female Areore and the voice of the Captain of the U.S.S. Vancouver.
Tom: "My brother is a gigantic Star Trek fan. I've been to two Star Trek Day events and I was able to bring him and to go with someone who's that big of a fan was really fun for me. I would love to do more. It's just always so thrilling to be part of a gigantic franchise. And I'd love to do Star Wars too."
Futurama, Amy Wong
A member of the original Futurama voice cast going on 24-years, Tom is back again with her Planet Express delivery family for the show's third revival where she plays Amy Wong, Amy's mom, Inez Wong, and various other characters on the beloved comedy.
Tom: "It's just the show that wouldn't die, right? It just keeps coming back. And that's amazing to me. I have no problem playing characters that have an accent, but it's always nice for me to alternate it with characters that are completely American like Amy so that I can feel like I'm really representing all of the Asian experience, rather than just one.The fact that Amy is so fun and ditzy and a lot sluttier than me, all that stuff was fun to do when you don't really live that out in real life.
Coming back feels like slipping into a cozy pair of pajamas. It's been so wonderful just to be with your family, and then just to be able to pick up where we left off. It is funny though, I said to [co-creator] David X Cohen, "I'm worried because my voice is so much higher than then than it is now." But he said, "We don't worry about that because we feel like the characters settle into where they should be, eventually, and it ends up being usually a little bit closer to who you are." So my natural tone right now is about where Amy is right now."