Exclusive: Ellen Dubin - From Zemons to Skyrim

Exclusive Interview with Ellen Dubin
Interview By Jamie Ruby
Written By Jamie Ruby

Ellen DubinEllen Dubin is probably best known for her work in science fiction and fantasy television, with roles on series such as Forever Knight, Lexx, and The Collector, but she has a list of credits in other genres as well, such as for her role in Napoleon Dynamite.

More recently Dubin has done voice work for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, and will appear on The Listener, as well as the upcoming film Dead Before Dawn 3D.

The actress talked about some of her recent projects in an exclusive interview with Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision.

Ellen DubinGrowing up, Dubin did not plan to be an actress. "Acting has never been my career of choice. It came by accident. I actually started out as a ballet dancer because I was a very shy kid, and my mother and father put me in dance class to help me gain confidence. At the end of each year our ballet class would do a recital, and it is there I fell in love with performing on the stage. I loved the immediate response of the audience - making them laugh or making them cry. On stage, I felt so alive.

"When I injured my knees in ballet, I started taking singing lessons because I had researched that a logical step from dancing would be to sing and do musicals, so I did that. I also realized that I couldn't just rely on energy and exuberance; I needed to learn some kind of acting technique when I booked roles in musicals. So I started studying acting and improv to make me an all-around better performer. And then auditions for comedy, farce, [and] Shakespeare plays started to take place, and then film and TV came about. So acting came about because of an injury!"

The actress looks to connect with the roles she chooses. "I like roles that have an emotional arc or something offbeat about them. I look for relationships with other characters - I love when roles have an edge to them - imperfect people. I also strive to find a character that surprises an audience - you don't know what they are going to do next. I am anxious to do an interesting villain in a sci-fi series again."

She does not care whether the role is comedy or drama, as long as it's good. "I prefer anything juicy in comedy or drama. I love both! Comedy is truly harder for most actors because you are either born with timing or not. I grew up watching comedy films with my parents - the old masters - Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks movies. It was great to see these hilarious films from an early age, so I always loved this style of film. If the role has an emotional arc like in a drama role, I am thrilled to do that as well, but [it is] so satisfying to create a wonderful comedic role."

One of Dubin's recent projects is Dead Before Dawn 3D. "Dead Before Dawn 3D is a comedy/horror film about a group of college kids that accidentally unleash an evil curse that causes people to kill themselves and turn into zombie/demons (zemons). I play Beverly Galloway, the sweet prim and proper mother of the male lead Casper Galloway, played by the wonderful Devon Bostick (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), who turns into an evil, wild, vindictive zemon. My role is a throwback to those old fashioned mothers of the 1950s'. It is a wonderfully funny 3D film directed by April Mullen."

The actress was offered the role. "The casting director of the film Stephanie Gorin phoned my agent Yanick Landry and offered me the role. What an ideal situation - not having to audition is a real treat. It is wonderful to have people believe in you like that. My favorite way to book a part!

Ellen Dubin in Dead Before Dawn
Ellen Dubin in Dead Before Dawn
"Also when they said the following – "Zombie and Christopher Lloyd," I jumped at the chance right away! Who doesn't want a zombie role on their resume? And to work in a film with the iconic Christopher Lloyd was enough to say yes before even reading the material."

Unfortunately, Dubin didn't get to film any scenes with Lloyd. "Much to my regret, I never got to work with Christopher Lloyd. That was one of the reasons I did the movie in the first place, and I told the writers I would come in on my day off and work with him for free, that is how much I wanted to meet him and work with him. I know there is one scene where both of our heads are supposed to be on the screen, in the scene, at the same time. I hope to meet him at sci-fi conventions in the future."

Even so, she was happy to do the film. "I am grateful to be a part of the first 3D zombie film in Canada directed by a woman. I have always wanted to be in a zombie film or TV show, so I am so happy I have that on my resume now. I learned that I continue to take risks as an actor. I never want to stop doing that. I love being a team player and the whole creative process on a film set."

In the movie, some things were shot different because it was filmed in stereoscopic 3D. "There were certain shots set up that had to be more specific for this style of filming. With 3D, it is best to have objects thrown towards the camera so when the audience watches the film, they actually feel that impact.

"Sometimes, we would have to deliver certain dialogue down the barrel of the camera to create a more distorted image which added to the comedy of the film. They would have monitors set up beside the set so the crew and the cast could watch the playback of the scenes with special 3D glasses.

"The lighting also had a slightly green tinge to it. Fascinating fun process [that] reminded me of doing green screen work with the same type of precision and focus."

As a zombie/demon film, the actors were required to wear special effects makeup. "The makeup artists on this movie are truly the unsung heroes. They were amazing - Kenji Sato and Monik Walmsley did an astounding job of transforming me from a very sweet prim and proper mother, to a scary, deranged looking zemon - pale face, veins, blood, and all. I can't tell you too much about the makeup because we are keeping the special look a surprise until the film is released. Let's just say that I was truly horrific looking! I didn't have to act - the whole look said it all!

Ellen Dubin in Dead Before Dawn
Ellen Dubin as a zemon in Dead Before Dawn
"The part of the makeup that was the most uncomfortable for me was having to wear the black contact lenses - they covered my whole eye. The process of removing them was very scary and time consuming. I didn't mind being covered in blood, food, gunk, and water, but the lenses were my least favorite part."

Dubin went on to say that the contacts were actually the most difficult part of the whole film for her. "The most challenging part was getting those contact lenses in and out while playing the role...it was difficult to see through the tiny hole in the lens and also to do very physical movements while wearing them.

"...I am used to being in very uncomfortable clothes and makeup. I did five hours of prosthetics on the Disney/ABC miniseries A Wrinkle in Time, and in Lexx my sci-fi series I was in many uncomfortable costumes. So I am kind of the go to gal for unusual makeup and costumes."

Regardless, the actress enjoyed being turned into a zemon for the show. "I loved the whole experience of making the film, but my favorite was when my character turned into a zemon. As an ex dancer, I loved creating the special movement - the unique walk of the zemon. I loved the transformation of being a crazy, deranged zombie - the walk, the look, the physicality, the voice, everything. Because these characters were zemons, a creation of the writers, I could invent something a little different than the standard zombie walk and voice. Loved that creative process!"

Dubin has also recently been doing some voice work, such as in the video games Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; however, she hasn't done motion capture yet. "I didn't do motion capture for these particular video games, but I really look forward to doing this kind of work in the future. It is one of my goals. I am actually starting to do some auditions for these types of games in LA and Toronto. I think it is a logical progression for me having worked on video games and my work as an on camera actress."

The actress got these roles by auditioning. "Both Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim I booked by auditioning. Guild Wars 2, I was away on a family vacation and brought my sound equipment with me and lay on my belly under a blanket and taped about 16 different characters. I didn't hear I booked the roles until about eight months later. Guild Wars 2 has a special place in my heart because it was the first video game I booked ever - with Blindlight and ArenaNet.

"I then went to meet them in person and auditioned again and then finally booked the show. Five years later, Guild Wars 2 just came out."

Ellen Dubin in Dead Before Dawn
Ellen Dubin becoming a zemon in Dead Before Dawn
Voice acting is of course in many ways different from traditional acting. "Great acting is great acting; however, in voice acting you have to create a character without the aid of costumes, makeup, and hair. We also have to establish a relationship with the player and other characters which are not around when we tape the dialogue for the game.

"Most of the time, we don't see any of the worlds so we have to also invent that whole setting by just the use of our voice. And we may get to see a picture of our character, or not, so a lot of imagination is used.

"But a lot of the creators of the games hire well trained theater actors like myself and guide us about our characters' backgrounds. We have to get to the emotions of the characters quickly, whether it be a comedic or dramatic moment.

"Also one of the biggest differences is we never get to see the dialogue before. We have to think quickly on our feet and make the dialogue come alive. If an actor can't cold read fast, this isn't the genre for you. You are sometimes dealing with lots of language and unusual names. This is where a strong theater background comes into play because you sometimes have to deal with unusual complicated dialogue or dialects."

[quote]When they said the following – "Zombie and Christopher Lloyd," I jumped at the chance right away! Who doesn't want a zombie role on their resume?[/quote]
Dubin enjoys acting that way. "I love this "fly by your seat" type of acting. Unlike film or television, voice actors don't get cast on how they look, so I can play someone 15 years old or 85 years old. I can play short, round, tall, skinny. I can play different creatures with a high range and/or a low voice range and anything in between. And I can work in my pajamas!"

Often in voice work, actors will play multiple characters. "I loved the challenge of creating three different characters in Guild Wars 2 - Might Grika the Asura, Torrun the Norn, and Tyrana Taskjaw the Charr. The creative team was on hand to guide me and tell me about the character's backgrounds and traits, so that was very helpful. There were slight, subtle differences in the voices but it was more about attitude.

"A lot of people have this idea that voice acting is about putting on a funny voice, but with the sophistication of the gaming audience and the fact that games are getting better and better, most of the voice work we do now as actors is basically a variation on our core voices - very cinematic type of acting, which I love as an all-around actor.

"You think the same thing when you do voice work - who am I talking to, what is my relationship to the other characters, my goals, my obstacles etc.

Ellen Dubin in Lexx
Ellen Dubin in Lexx
"If you brought a camera in to my sessions, you would see me move in front of the microphone, like I was on camera especially for battle scenes - I am jumping, kicking, punching, etc. It all contributes to the reality of the scene.

"I also loved creating the voice of Common Woman in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, because it is very rewarding to create an original character from start to finish. [I am] also proud to be in the world's biggest multi award winning game like Skyrim."

The actress is not a gamer, but she would like to play those she has worked on. "I have never played a game in my life, but I hope to get Guild Wars 2 and Skyrim soon and start. I am learning about this wonderful world every day from the fans. They are the best fans, so devoted and passionate."

Never a dull moment, Dubin still has some more projects coming up. "I am working on two other huge and exciting video games in Los Angeles right now. My episode of The Listener will be airing sometime soon on Ion in the US. I hope to be doing MegaCon 2013 in Orlando, Florida. Dead Before Dawn has been sold all over Europe and we are waiting for a release date in North America. Rumor has it, it will be in October."

Meanwhile, Dubin still looks to the future; she has thought of some roles she'd love to take on and people she'd love to work with. "There are so many. I would love to work with Liam Neeson or Jeff Bridges in a film. I would love to work with Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, a lot of the new upcoming filmmakers. I would also love to do Broadway. Theater is the true test of great acting - no editing. You are live and you are in control of your performance."

The actress would also be interested in guest starring on television in the future. "Time to get back and do a sci-fi show! True Blood, The Walking Dead, and Fringe! Series regular roles would be fabulous [as well]!"

For now, be sure to check out Ellen Dubin's work in Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as well as in her upcoming film Dead Before Dawn 3D, which she describes in three words as "hilarious, fun, and messy."

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