Tricia Helfer may always be best known as Number Six and all her different models in “Battlestar Galactica.” As a voice actor she also plays the voice of EDI in the Mass Effect video games.
Now she’s taking computers to the next level on Disney XD’s “TRON: Uprising” animated series. Not only is Helfer voicing a computer, but she is the voice of The Grid. The programs inside The Grid may be essentially digital humans, but The Grid doesn’t even have a body.
CraveOnline joined a roundtable of journalists with the cast of “TRON: Uprising” so we got to hear Helfer talk about The Grid, Mass Effect and “BSG.”
CraveOnline: What attracted you to this project?
Tricia Helfer: I was asked, I think actually they’d already voiced a lot of it and everything. I think I came into it a little bit later, which for me growing up without a television and without really access to movies, I’m quite unfortunately ignorant about a lot of things that I should know about in our society and pop culture and everything.
Obviously I’d heard about Tron but I hadn’t seen the prior movies and so forth. So to me this is my first introduction to it. I came and they sent me a clip of what they had so far of the graphics and everything and I just thought it was really quite phenomenal for series animated television. So I wanted to jump on board.
CraveOnline: Is it an odd task to be voicing a grid, as opposed to a program which is even sort of a human character?
Tricia Helfer: Yeah, because the programs do have, I watched “Beck’s Beginning” last night and they certainly have emotion. So with The Grid, the first session was kind of the most important for figuring out who it was because that’s when we tried, [director] Charlie [Bean] and [Producer] Adam [Horowitz] and everyone said, “Okay, we want this voice to be just this pleasant kind of voice.”
They explained a little bit about what it was so we tried it a few times, a little bit more sultry, a little bit more straightforward. Then they obviously direct me. What they finalize on is what we have obviously, just this very pleasant voice. Not my own voice, but this very pleasant kind of OnStar voice which can kind of be disconcerting. In one way that’s sort of the character to me of The Grid, what’s happening around, how this staying pleasant, how the audience interprets it by what’s going on.
You’re in a train crash and she’s got the exact same inflection in her voice as she does when she’s welcoming new programs to The Grid. You’re like, “Really?” To me it’s a little bit more the perception of the voice than necessarily the voice itself.
CraveOnline: You’ve voiced a lot of A.I. characters in Mass Effect, “Battlestar Galactica” and this. Is that harder than a more emotional person?
Tricia Helfer: [With] The Grid I’m quick in and out of the room because you can’t really change it too much. A couple of sessions further on, we tried a little bit. I keep saying the train crash because that was one in particular where we tried having her have a little bit more enthusiasm or something, a different inflection in her voice. And we ended up going back to just this pleasant kind of one voice.
So in one way it’s easier because you really are constricted more to a sound as opposed to if you’re playing something with a little bit more emotion and that and you can try it different ways. I also don’t have to do all the fight sounds and things like that which can be a lot of fun. Granted I’ve done them a lot with Queen of Blades and even some with EDI in Mass Effect 3.
Obviously the Sixes in “Battlestar” were a lot different so to me I looked at her as more human in many ways. EDI in Mass Effect I definitely looked at as more of a robot but then with a little bit of a cheeky side as she took on a body. With The Grid, I’m definitely feeling her more. To be honest, I don’t even see her as a person, as a being. To me she really is a computer voice.
CraveOnline: How close do you feel to geek culture at this point and how important has it been to your career?
Tricia Helfer: Oh, it’s been hugely important. I mean, “Battlestar” was my first job essentially. I’d been acting for a year. I think I got lucky getting that job because Syfy channel wanted to go out to a name and I certainly was not a name, a year into acting. None of the other people would take the job so I kind of got it because no bigger actors wanted it.
Then it became what it became and Syfy channel has certainly built [off it]. It was their flagship show for a while. I think it’s amazing. I love the genre. In some ways I want to smack myself when I go home from these things going, “You’re a hypocrite. You don’t play video games but you voice video games. You don’t watch all the things but yet…” But to me, you can’t have seen everything and I’m going into it as I’m playing this character.
Aside from having to know what’s going on in the room, as a voice, with voice acting, you’re often doing things before any graphics are even done. So you don’t have anything to base it off of anyway. A lot of the video games are just in somebody’s head at that point. So you don’t have anything to base it off of, whereas Tron obviously there was the whole history and everything like that so I do have to play a little catch up to know what’s going on fully.
CraveOnline: A lot of your projects have dealt with the digital world encroaching the human world. Do you think about that more than the average person?
Tricia Helfer: I guess maybe I do think about it. I don't know if I necessarily think about it more than other people. I think in one way, I look at it in the reverse. I find it funny that I play a lot of these roles but I’m a complete tech idiot. Honestly I’m just new to the iPhone and I have to have a computer tech set the bloody thing up for me.
I’m really a computer idiot so I find it very funny that I play all these advanced mechanical characters that are either threatening to take over our human society or really what we’re going to be relying on in the future. Obviously with technology growing and growing and growing every day, yeah, I do see the convergence continuing.
That’s one of the things about “Battlestar” that I actually thought, I hadn’t really seen much of it but fantasy type stuff, but what I liked about “Battlestar” was to me it was very realistic of what could happen in the future because it wasn’t funny headed creatures and things like that. It was technology and technology trying to overtake at some point. So I think we could very well end up in a “Battlestar” type situation. Long down into the future hopefully, or a Tron type situation or something.
CraveOnline: Well Tron would be cool. If we went inside the computers, that would be awesome!
Tricia Helfer: Maybe I’d finally get to figure out what makes it tick then.
CraveOnline: How do you relate to playing The Grid if you’re not computer savvy?
Tricia Helfer: Well, with all the characters that you play, even if you’re playing a robot, you have to attach something to it. It’s a character, it’s a being. With The Grid, that is the first character that I’ve actually played that I don’t see as a being.
To me she is a computer voice so I haven’t figured out quite what she is but to me she is just a computer voice that somebody else has programmed which is probably not the right thing. As opposed to EDI in Mass Effect, even though she was a robot, and more in 3 than 2, but she was kind of evolving and growing.
To me there’s some learning as a being, as this being that she was. There’s a learning so she’s a thing to me. The Grid isn’t a thing to me. The Grid is that part of the computer that thinks and does everything but I don’t quite know what it is.
CraveOnline: As a voice and not someone who plays it, what did you think of the controversy over the Mass Effect 3 ending?
Tricia Helfer: I think every ending is always not going to make everybody happy. Every ending always upsets a certain part of the fan base. But there was enough backlash from that obviously that I heard I think it’s made them go and do a little bit more onto it. So I don't know exactly. I’ve actually got to play it tomorrow.
CraveOnline: Is that a weird thing that since it’s a game the ending can evolve as DLC?
Tricia Helfer: You can. You can keep adding. I think the thing was they said that was going to be the last game of that series, right? I think that’s part of why there were such backlashes. They were like, “That can’t be the end!” But yeah, with games, you can kind of keep evolving and keep going as opposed to the finality of something else.
CraveOnline: What stays with you about “Battlestar Galactica” and your other roles? Is it scenes, mannerisms, what?
Tricia Helfer: That’s an interesting question. There are different things that stay with you, either something that surprised you, maybe some emotion that came out. There was a scene in “Battlestar” in particular, there’s a scene in Pegasus where you meet Gina for the first time. She’s the beaten up tortured one chained to the floor and she’s trying to reach for food that Baltar brings her.
We had originally thought of it as she’s just too weak to do anything. Something came over me and I just started heaving sobbing one I grabbed the apple. I just started bawling. It brought something to that scene. I think they cut out of it fairly quick too but the director, Michael Rymer, came into me right after. He said, “Did you plan that?” I’m like, “No, it just sort of came out.” And it’s weird how that can sort of tap into something. James Callis was crying, so I think things like that that nobody knows about unless you’re on set that day, because they didn’t necessarily make it to the final airing.
And then funny stories and things that happen and then more when people talk to you about their experience with it. A lot of our servicemen and women, “Battlestar” resonates with them. So to hear some people come up to you and say, “You really helped me get through a tough time” or somebody that was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could relate somehow to the Gina character having been beaten and tortured and somehow it helped them get over a tough point.
You’re like wow, I just played a role. That’s I think more what sticks with you than necessarily seeing yourself on the screen or something like that. It’s hearing those odd stories of how it helped somebody or just made somebody get through a tough time in any way or just made them laugh. I think those are the things that stick with me.
CraveOnline: Now that it’s been a few years since “BSG” are you getting the feedback from people who went back and watched the whole series again?
Tricia Helfer: Yeah, and also people that are picking it up now for the first time because they were too young maybe when it started coming out eight years ago, or that have discovered other things in it that then they rewatch.
I think that’s one of the things with science-fiction over maybe just a lawyer show or whatever. You can go back and quite often you will see things that you didn’t see the first time because the worlds are so vast and there’s so much more going on than in just your typical lawyer or doctor show.