Anthony Mendez is one of the most successful actors on TV right now and you don’t even know it. That’s because he’s a voice actor. Sure, his face may be unfamiliar, but I assure you, his voice is not. If you’re a Jane the Virgin fan, Mendez’s voice is one of your favorite parts about the show. He plays the Latin Lover Narrator for which he is nominated for a second Outstanding Narrator Emmy. He’s voiced many commercials and promos. He’s even done cartoons. In this interview, Mendez lends his voice to explain how he’s reached great success behind the microphone.
MC: When did you realize you wanted to pursue voice acting?
AM: In 2004. I left my day job in 2002 to pursue audio engineering and editing in the music business, but that led to producing radio spots to try and make ends meet. Following that, I was asked to voice my own productions. I wanted to break away from nightclub spots and break into the major leagues of voice-overs. I knew that the only way to do that was to train as an actor, so I started acting classes (scene study and audition technique), improv classes, and voice-over classes in 2004.
What did you learn in your voice-over classes that’s helped you have such a successful career?
I don’t think that what you learn in voice-over classes helps with voice-over as a career, per se. You learn the craft—acting and mic techniques, etc.—but voice-over as a “career” comes from learning to run a business and being savvy, as well as having the chops to bring it on every audition and session. So I made business mistakes along the way, but eventually figured it out.
What were some of those mistakes and how did you learn from/fix them?
Two mistakes I made were (1) counting on money from completed jobs before getting paid — basically, using accrual accounting instead of cash accounting—and (2) not setting aside enough money for taxes—particularly self-employment taxes. Basic business principles, that’s all. Had I studied or been taught business management, or had I taken a business course, those mistakes were hiccups that I could’ve avoided instead of learning as I went.
The way people speak is a reflection of their identity and upbringing—who they are. How do you bring your individuality to your work?
I stopped wanting to be liked. After you’ve trained and have been doing this for over a decade (hopefully sooner, but that’s about how long it takes to feel comfortable in your own skin as an artist), you just know that what you bring to the table is enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone and so you own your space. You own the copy and, as a result, your confidence and ease is reassuring to whomever is hiring you. You can’t worry about if they like you or not.
What does an audition for a voice over job entail?
Nowadays, it’s all emails from my agents on both coasts. They send me an email, I record it when and if I have time, then I send it back and forget about it. Eventually, they’ll either call me to tell me I booked it, I get a check in the mail or I see my work on Youtube. For movie trailers, it’s usually directed by the vendor (aka the trailer house). For everything else, auditions are self-directed. I prefer being directed. You do your best work when you can give 100% of yourself to being the actor.
Do you physicalize what you’re saying when you’re recording Jane the Virgin to tap into a certain emotion or tone? Or is it all about vocal flexibility?
Yes, of course. If I’m referring to different characters, I’ll glance over to them as if they’re in the room or, at times, point at them, smile at them, smirk at them, and I sometimes even cringe. As physical as I get, though, my mouth and head remain in the sweet spot of the mic. Where the sweetspot is varies from mic to mic—shotgun mics, large diaphragm condenser mics, small-diaphragm condenser mics, different brands, etc. But with experience you become familiar with the most common mics and don’t even think about the sweet spot anymore. It’s like an actor knowing where their mark is and which camera is on them.
How much do you think about your character when you’re recording, if at all?
By now, I don’t give him much thought. The Latin Lover Narrator is pretty much set in my brain as to who he is and what his relationship is to the other characters, particularly Jane. My focus, rather, is on the individual scene, the episode’s theme and the story. What’s my intention and objective? What’s happening on screen? What’s the energy or possible mood in the room when two characters are in a scene (since I don’t get to see any footage)? Is it daytime? Is it nighttime? Where are we? Is it loud in the scene? Am I doing a call back to a previous idea or theme? I think about all of these things, not necessarily the character himself.
How do you keep your voice healthy?
I don’t smoke and I don’t like parties because they make me raise and stress my voice. I drink tons of water every day and, most importantly, I never jump on the mic without having warmed up. For hard-driven spots, like boxing or MMA or wrestling narration, I use specific, varying tongue positions that I learned from my singing teacher, Jeanne Donato, to preserve my voice. While voice-over is not singing, the basics of producing very controlled sounds for speech or exertion sounds are very similar.
He’s a taste of Mendez’s narration on Jane the Virgin
Congrats on yet another Emmy nomination! What’s most significant to you about that recognition?
Thank you! This second nomination means that the first time was no accident! It’s even more important to me because this year I can afford to invite my showrunner, Jennie Snyder Urman; the writer of the nominated episode, Madeline Hendricks; our producer and my main voice-over director, Gina Lamar; as well as my wife, Marivel, to celebrate! All women who have done so much for me, my career, and, of course, my family.
What’s your advice for aspiring voice actors?
Train! You’re not as good as you think you are without training. Trust me! Voice acting has nothing to do with the sound of your voice. It always boils down to acting. You have to be the best storyteller in the world – whether the story is about an accidentally, artificially inseminated virgin or about two boxers that are going to go head-to-head on pay-per-view, you have to tap that primal desire for a story within the listener. The only way to do that is through training, practice and perseverance until you are no longer in your own way: no longer in the way of the writer’s precious and precisely-crafted words. Oh, and don’t starve! ♦