Interview on Summer Glau about the audiobook Alternis by Den of Geek in 2019
Summer Glau’s most recent project won’t show her on screens pitched in battle with Terminators, Reavers, superheroes, or advanced human beings. Instead, the actress best known for her work on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Firefly, who has also appeared in television series including Dollhouse, The Cape, Arrow, and Alphas, is lending her voice to Serial Box’s newest serial, Alternis.
In a near future, Tandy Kahananui realizes that someone has stolen the game she created, but she has no idea how high the stakes are. World powers are secretly using the standings of an MMORPG to determine which countries receive wealth—and which go without resources. Team USA realizes that Tandy could be exactly the edge they need to raise their standings in the game, and the world. We chatted with the writers behind Alternis in an exclusive cover reveal, and now that the series has launched, we had a conversation with Glau about the project.
“I am an audiobook and podcast junkie,” Glau explained. “I had just been imagining, ‘How can I work my way into this party of the industry more? I enjoy it so much. I’d like to stretch and do more audio work.’” Serial Box reached out to Glau with samples of several of their other serials, asking if she’d be interested in narrating Alternis. “When this came across my desk, I was so excited."
Glau, who lives in Texas, connected with a studio not far from her home to record the individual episodes of Alternis’ first season. Amanda Rose Smith, the Serial Box producer, traveled to Texas to meet with Glau and coach her through the process. “She helped me lock in all the characters and story lines,” Glau said.
Although Glau has a long history with science fiction, she is not a gamer, so Alternis became an introduction for her to the world of MMORPGs. “I felt like I was opening up a science fiction genre that I had never been in before. It was thrilling for me. Amanda, who was coaching me through the first few episodes, was able to paint a landscape for me for how VR works nowadays. It took me a few episodes to really start to understand the lingo.”
Each episode features an entire cast of characters, including Tandy and the other members of Team USA: Dante, a professional gamer and Internet celebrity with a huge ego; Ben, a grouchy soldier who takes everything seriously; and Etta, the team diplomat, whose soothing interactions are so much part of her job, it’s hard to tell if she actually means what she says. All of those characters, and several others, appear in the first episode, which released on May 15, 2019.
“I feel like they’re my friends,” Glau said of the characters. Performing the entire cast of characters was different than the voice work she’s previously done on projects like Peter Panzerfaust and Superman Apocalypse, where she played a single role. “When I got into the studio, this all was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I knew I would be narrating, but then as I started along the story, I kept meeting new characters. It was a great exercise for me as an actor to throw caution to the wind and really get into it.”
As the season progresses, characters from Team Russia also become important to the story. Glau has played Russian characters previously, particularly as a villain on Arrow, but the inspiration for her voices for the serial came from much earlier. “It was like a blast from the past,” she described. “I envisioned myself back in ballet class with one of my Russian ballet teachers yelling at me. It all just comes flooding back.” She also has a reference closer to home: “I’m married to an Eastern European, so that doesn’t hurt.”
When asked about her favorite character to voice, she confessed: “Dante was the hardest in the beginning, but I love his humor. There’s a lot of intensity in this story, and there’s some sad moments, so I really long for Dante to cut the tension with his funny one-liners. Ben, I kind of channeled Gerald McRaney. I thought to myself in the studio, when am I ever going to get to take a role from Gerald McRaney?”
She also has an affinity for Tandy. “I feel like Tandy is such a great mirror for me. I love that she’s trying to do something unique and she’s constantly coming up against people who are making her doubt herself and doubt her voice. She, at times, really struggles to express herself and to trust herself. In the end, she has to—they need her. This is why she’s been recruited by Team USA. She’s the only one who can step in and be this key to their success. I relate to her, and I find it inspiring in the story. It’s cool when, as an actor, you come across characters that really bring out a question in yourself and inspire you, and kind of make you laugh at yourself.”
Each episode of the serial runs a little over an hour, but Glau wouldn’t record all of that in one go. “I aspire,” she laughed. “I’m thinking now I want to be a fulltime narrator, so I’ll work up to that. In the beginning there was a lot of stopping and starting so that I could take a moment to get into Dante, or get into Ben. As you go along, you just really start to feel flow.”
Glau does three-hour or four-hour sessions, and her team makes notes as she goes, so that, once she gets her momentum, she doesn’t have to stop. The recording schedule is a nice relief from more chaotic acting schedules, where she might have to go in to work at four in the morning, but by the end of the week be coming home at four in the morning.
With two young daughters at home, that type of schedule made parenting a challenge. But, with recording, Glau described: “I can go to the studio for a set amount of hours in the middle of the day, my mom can watch my babies, and then I can be in the routine. When I go into that little sound booth I can live out my fantasies and act out different characters, and then as soon as I leave I’m back in momming mode.”
And although she’s just spent hours reading aloud in a studio, she still enjoys reading to her kids (and performing another variety of voices) once she gets home.