When my publisher, Next Chapter, contacted me to say a voice actor had been found for the audiobook version of The Phoenix Project, I was apprehensive. After all, how could anybody do justice to the book I had cried and sweated over for 10 years?
But all of that anxiety drifted away as soon as I heard the voice of Sunny Patel. He could not have been more perfect for the role.
So here is an interview with this talented voice actor. I give you Sunny Patel:
Interview with Sunny Patel – Voice Actor for The Phoenix Project Audiobook
- What is a day in the life of a voice actor?
It’s still a pretty normal life. The great thing about voice acting is that you are your own boss and I have my own schedule, and I try to be flexible with it. So for example, if I do discipline myself to do voice work between 9-3 everyday, and decide one day I want to meet my friends or play tennis etc that I give it a break and do voice work later in the evening. I don’t take my work too seriously that it takes over my life. Voice acting is meant to be fun and for me it is, so I try to stay relaxed and not ruin my voice by overdoing it. Of course you have to do the things like vocal warm ups and stay hydrated and watch what you eat, but again, I don’t let it suck the fun out of my life and I give myself a bit of a break at times.
- What, beyond talent, do you feel one needs to book work and keep working as a voice actor?
Self-belief, persistence and discipline. But I think self belief comes from persistence and discipline, especially for those who aren’t very confident about their abilities. I was sort of like that. It’s important first of all that you find the connections just so you can audition for work. E.g, join ACX, Backstage, Casting Call, voices.com (if you have the money), upwork, or even voice acting facebook groups (where you will occasionally get somebody posting a job).
It’s not getting the jobs that’s important, it’s about getting the chance to audition. Bryan Cranston said in his biography that as an actor the work does not start when you get the part. Your auditions are your job and you should treat it as such. So audition, audition, audition! And don’t worry if you don’t get jobs straightaway. You have to be persistent and keep doing it, and discipline yourself to keep going. My first paid gig took months of auditioning and it’s only now after 5 years of voice acting that I am getting more regular work. My self-belief grew, and I now know I will get paid work. It may not be every week but I know it will come as long as I persist.
- What in your life experience was most helpful to you in becoming a voice actor?
Well, I have to be honest, having a deep voice does help a lot. But sometimes having a baritone is not enough. You need skill to be able to voice many characters in an audiobook. To be able to understand what they sound like based on what the author has written about each character is important and it takes skill to execute that. For that you need life experience and to meet people. I have travelled the world, and have had different jobs, and grew up in a multi-cultural place where I heard many languages and people speaking English in different accents.
I was always a people-watcher, so naturally I liked to get to know people. For fun I always mimicked people (I still do), and tried to imitate their body language and their accents. I also used to watch a lot of movies as a kid. When I am voicing characters in audiobook or doing a voice-over commercial, I will just try to sound like a person, whom I know is exactly like the character in the book, or close enough. So travelling and being a people-person has been helpful, but the best part about it was that I wasn’t trying to be a people-person. I just was. Just put your phone down, and go out there and talk to people, or maybe let them talk, and just listen.
- Any classes, books or programs you recommend?
In all honesty, I did not read any books about voice acting, but I watched a lot of YouTube videos and I communicate with other voice actors on Facebook. I also have read a lot of articles on it and do listen to other voice actors’ work. So there’s a lot of books that people will recommend, but I choose not to confine myself to the opinions of one or two authors. I like listening to the experiences of a wide variety of seasoned and even amateur voice actors, and it has gotten me far. Social networking has helped but I don’t overdo it. I also try to give my own advice to other struggling voice actors where I can. One thing I would DEFINITELY recommend is taking acting classes. I started doing acting to help with my voice acting, and not only am I better voice actor but I loved my time on the stage, and being an actor is my main goal in life.
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
For work stress and pressure, I don’t feel it that much. The voice acting world is a lot friendlier than most professions. Clients can be flexible if you don’t deliver work within a certain amount of time, if you have good reason. So to be honest I have never had much to stress in that department. In terms of dealing with other life stresses, I find sometimes doing my work helps relieve some of the stress and pressure or I just go play tennis, or better yet talk to a friend.
- Why did you want a career as a voice over artist?
Voice acting is fun for me, and I was tired of doing work which I found non-creative. So I chose this route. I never thought about being a voice actor. Most people said I had a nice voice, so I thought I would give it a go. I did, and it’s fun. Voice acting for me is creative and storytelling specifically is a tough art. Every voice acting gig you do is you telling a message, and getting people to listen is a tough challenge to master, and I enjoy the challenge.
- Is it your only job?
I have another side-hustle. I work in a call centre as market research interviewer, where I now have the luxury of working from home due to Covid lockdowns. Saves me the journey to work, and it also means I can do both my jobs at the same time. Which is incredibly convenient. I also am an actor, so if I get an acting gig, that’s a bonus.
- What type of character/genre do you prefer working with?
I have no genre preference. I have done sci-fi, fantasy, spy thrillers, action, memoirs and I am currently working on a book that is an epic fantasy, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. I prefer to stay open with my genre preferences because I know I am versatile. I would however like to do some children’s stories. As for favoured characters, alpha characters suit me, but I prefer the challenge of being a beta. Or even being a comic sidekick.
- How do you feel about doing accents/genders etc?
I was always pretty good with accents, but I have improved in that department. The fact that I have booked work including audiobooks with US, Caribbean, Indian and Middle Eastern, and Scottish has helped. But there is still room for improvement. Genders has been the challenge for me since I have a deep voice. Doing a child’s voice too. I can’t remove the baritone voice for their parts, but there are some tricks that I have seen from my youtube videos or just listening intently to women (and even mimicking them), that has helped me to alter my voice when doing female characters, and I have improved drastically.
- Have you ever been asked to voice a character you have truly despised?
Not yet. But that time will come.
- What about one you’ve completely fallen in love with?
I wouldn’t say fallen in love with. But I have felt a deep connection to some. My favourite was Mehran in True Lover’s Knot. A very realistic portrayal of an Iranian man, who fled to America after the revolution in his teens, whose hardships and losses were difficult to fathom. But he still remained a kind and caring person after all that. There are people who I have met like that and have read about who really leave you dumbstruck, considering the vast majority people who face such trials end up embittered and angry. They really remind you of how powerfully complex the human spirit is. The body can die, but the ability to be so forgiving and kind despite the incredible cruelty they face is just beyond impossibility. I don’t get inspired easily, but Mehran’s compassion really left me thinking. Mehran’s character was so well written and his adversities and how he overcame them was utterly believable. And I have used his ethos and principles in my own everyday life.
- Where do you see your career heading in the next five years?
I don’t focus on a specific vision on the future of my career. Whether that’s five years, or ten or twenty years. Like I wouldn’t say I see my self doing voice overs in a Hollywood Studio, replacing Morgan Freeman as the voice of “Through the Wormhole”, or playing a Pixar character. All I know is that in five years, I will be in a much better position than I am now. If I end up in Hollywood then awesome, if I don’t, then I won’t be disappointed because considering the trajectory of my career in the last 5 years from where I started, I am doing tremendously well, and I can only see myself getting better in the next five years, and most importantly I will be happy and really enjoying my work. And hopefully other people will be enjoying listening to it. I will only keep getting better and one day, I will get a job that I never even imagined I would get. It’s going to happen, and I can feel it. All I have to do is be persistent.
- What would be your ideal booking?
Narrating a wildlife doc for the BBC.
- If you could narrate any famous classic, which would it be?
Maybe Lord of the Rings I guess. It’s not just an action-packed fantasy, there’s a lot of things going in there that takes you on a journey through the human emotional spectrum. A story of friendship, love, struggle, sacrifice, determination, betrayal, the power struggle between good and evil. Depending on how you look at it, it’s an allegory of tiny little allegories that maybe we can draw some value from to change modern life for the better. It’s a great story, and I would love to give it a go. Plus it has a lot of incredible diverse characters, so I imagine I would have a lot of fun doing it.
- Can you share with us what you are currently working on?
I am currently working on a book called “Legends of Agenor”. Some of the characters in there really remind me of Lord of the Rings, but the storyline is of course different, and it’s brilliant. Every character has depth and enough detail for you to feel them around you. The great thing about it is that, unlike Lord of the Rings, this epic fantasy crosses over to the Eastern world, so there are Indian, Persian / Middle Eastern characters, even Caribbean pirates. A truly diverse novel. Which is refreshing as epic fantasies tend to be western-centric.
Interested in booking Sunny Patel for voice over or acting work? You can find out more about his work, and contact him on his website HERE.
Inspiration for The Phoenix Project
How was The Phoenix Project inspired by D.M. Cain’s love of geek culture?
The Phoenix Project second edition