Voiceover artist Laura Summer has the kind of pop-culture cred that makes we geeks tremble in awe: not only is she the voice of Janine Melnitz in the classic The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, but look at these other credits: Mimi from Hello Kitty, Patamon in Digimon, heck, she was even Drusilla and Minerva on Garfield! You’ve also heard her ADR work in Beverly Hills Cop 3, Problem Child, Shallow Hal and so many more. We caught up for a chat over Zoom after meeting each other on Twitter.
Peter: First of all, I can’t believe I’m talking to Janine Melnitz.
Laura: That was the first cartoon I ever auditioned for! I never would have thought we were going to be talking about it all these years later. I got out of the voiceover part of the business for a long time and I had done a lot of on-camera stuff, but it was like, ‘Audition for this.’ ‘Okay.’ And when I got it, I was talking way more like this, not New York or anything like that. And then the first session, they just said to me, ‘Hey, could you do a New York accent?’ And that’s what happened.
Peter: That seems to be a common story I’m hearing in these interviews: a lot of people seem to start with acting and kind of branch out into voice acting then find they love it: a lot of people still do both at the same time but some ultimately chose voice acting exclusively after a while. But it’s clear to me that voice acting is obviously not just a voice talent, you’re using all of your person to do it, you know?
Laura: Exactly. I mean, you have some of the best actors in animation and video games because you have to be real. You know, as young as I was when I did Janine – and I’d never done it before – I’ve seen the episodes now because they’re running them here and there, and have a YouTube channel. And I had a Twitter account but it was private for years, but when the pandemic started I opened it up and now I’m having a ball with it. So now I’ll watch an episode online with fans, especially for charity events or something. I’ll sign some things and I’ll watch an episode with them or whatever.
Peter: Fun times, fun times! As you said, at the time you wouldn’t have imagined that all these years later we’d still still be talking about these things, but you know, people hold onto stuff, you know; this means something to people.
Laura: Oh yes. I get a lot of stuff from fans, like souvenirs and gifts and Ghostbusters gifts, or there will be like a 35 year old guy who’s watching it with his three-year-old. Once I did a birthday greeting for a kid and I sort of did it as myself, but it became this cross between me Janine and Marilyn Monroe or something like vocally. The guy is in the UK and he said as soon as his son saw me onscreen, he went ‘That’s Janine! ‘Because there is so kind of mish-mash of alter ego or something. I don’t know.
Peter: Every voice actor seems to be some kind of a pack rat who’s always like picking up voices from places: advertisements on local TV back in the day, celebrity voices, family members… What’s something specific that you’ve drawn inspiration from for a voice?
Laura: Well I would say Ghostbusters first with that New York accent. My mother had the thickest New York accent and she never lost it. It wasn’t as extreme as Janine’s but she really spoke like that, so it was a very easy slip for me. I also like films about World War II: they’re all all doing this transatlantic accent that people did back then where it’s not really American, it’s not really British, and I’ve used that.
Peter: Okay so let’s talk about the last year or so and how things have changed because you know, it really has been nuts! I mean, I’ve been teaching guitar from my music room with no students in it, and it takes some adjustment! What has this been like for you?
Laura: A lot of classes. I was doing a lot of ADR post work because you don’t have to audition for that, and I kind of just slipped into that for a lot of years because you just get hired, and I liked that! But since I wasn’t on the audition circuit there has been a shift towards home auditioning and better equipment and all that. And I had to catch up. And then when Source-Connect came, you had to learn how to use it. And technologically I am an infant so I had to take a lot of classes to learn these words. I didn’t even know what an interface was: that was just that thing on the floor with the knobs!
Peter: Yeah, people didn’t need to know all this stuff because you could just show up and do your job brilliantly and go home. Now you have to be an engineer as well.
Laura: Yes! You know, if you go to Warner Brothers or whatever, there’s headphones on the side and they’ll say ‘Suit up,’ you know, and you have to know where to plug the headphones in and how to use the microphone, but that’s very different than doing it from my closet!
Peter: Yeah. Well, that’s another thing that pops up a lot is everyone has converted a closet into a studio. EVERYONE!
Laura: It’s funny, I said to my friend who was directing me recently – because even when I’m working alone it’s good to have direction – ‘I really hate this closet today’ and he goes ‘Why?’ Well, I have to share it! I have to share it with my boyfriend, so I can’t leave the stuff there! I have to break it apart. And so I resent that!
Peter: I guess the next big thing is when conventions come back and you must get invited to a lot of those, right?
Laura: I do but I always turned them down except if it was like a friend, like I would do the Comic-Con in San Diego for a director or something like that. I didn’t think it was my thing, but now that I’ve engaged with the fans, like in meeting you on Twitter, it’s really fun. And I did a couple of signings from home this year to see what that would be like, just where they send me stuff. And I thought, well, this isn’t bad. I don’t know if that’s the business for me, you know and people do make it a business. And a lot of people have sent me artwork this year that I can use, because when you do go to conventions, they really like something original. And I’m part of the Digimon franchise also, which is anime. So they’re very different, anime and animation cons. So I’m going to Scotland in a year. I was supposed to go to last year but it got canceled three times. It’s a one-day Ghostbusters event and I thought, well, that’d be good. I’ll do one day and see how I feel, you know, and it’s limited to like 500 people. I can’t handle 5,000 people.
Peter: I mean, it seems like for a lot of creative people, we’re not necessarily wired to do that kind of stuff. You know, public-facing, people coming at you all day… I’m an introvert, get me on a stage and I’m suddenly a rock God, but get me in a room with people and I close right down.
Laura: Oh yeah. I think I’m much better with a bunch of people in a room now then when I have done it in the past because I just didn’t get the game. I just didn’t understand. Well, you’re there to be entertaining when you’re on a panel and I got very shy when I did it years ago, and I didn’t …it felt like bragging, you know?
Peter: Well thank you so much for the chat. It’s been really fun to talk with you.
Laura: You too Peter! Thank you!
Peter: You’re very welcome.
Laura: Bye. Have a good day!