Hi Kristen. Who are you?
I’m an internet cryptid who sells her voice on the internet.
You’re an actor.
Specifically, this cryptid is Kristen DiMercurio, actor and writer. Smelted from the ore of the New York theatre scene, she arrived in the fiction podcast world in 2015. Since then, as well as working across podcasts, she’s been immersed in commercial, gaming, and audiobook voiceover.
She also happens to be a friend. My name is Felix Trench. Like Kristen, I am an actor who sometimes works in fiction podcasts. Therefore, when Simplecast asked me to interview her, I told her that next we hung out I’d have a list of prepared questions.
Kristen is now based in LA. I wanted to know how she got there, what she intends to do next, and what lessons she’s learned that I can steal.
For the duration of our conversation, I spoke to Kristen entirely in bold.
Yes, that’s true. I studied musical theatre in college and quickly realised that I can’t feed myself doing musical theatre, so have tried just about everything else since then.
Well, obviously, voice acting. And now that I’m out in LA, I’m slowly but surely chipping away at getting myself some on-camera work. It’s a weird world out here. Everyone calls podcasts the Wild West… I think everything’s the Wild West.
You came to voice acting through podcasting?
Yes. I owe a huge portion of my career to Mischa Stanton. Post college, I was looking for voiceover classes and I posted on an Emerson alumni board: ‘Hey, does anybody know of any good voiceover classes?’ and Mischa responded and said: ‘I don’t know any good classes but do you want to audition for my “audio project”.’ Turns out it was a podcast.
Ars Paradoxica is a sci-fi thriller which follows modern day scientist Sally Grissom (that would be Kristen). When Sally accidentally invents time travel, she tumbles back through the years to the 1940s. The show, which explores the intersections of science and politics, wrapped its third and final season in 2018. If you haven’t listened yet, it’s about time.
How would you describe your current career?
The first part of my career was very much focused on the fiction podcast sphere. And then I leaned into it being a survival job and doing more of the commercial/industrial voiceover work. Now that I’ve got to a point where I’m like: ‘OK, I have this career, I have my feet under me… remember when I got started so that I could do something fun?’ I have Brimstone Valley Mall which is definitely a creative outlet, but coming at it from a production side and a writing side, that also feels more like a job oftentimes. As an actor, you get to play and have fun and the work that actors talk about is still fun work. So, I’ve been taking acting classes. I’ve got a new manager. I just want to come in and work on other people’s stuff.
As of writing, Brimstone Valley Mall has just successfully funded its second season! Filled with comedy, demons, and late nineties mall loitering, the show is created and co-written by Kristen - who also lends her voice to the mall announcements. Catch up with Season 1 on your podcatcher or under the letter B at your local Virgin Megastores.
It sounds like you’ve learned that you miss the playful side. You miss the fun. Is that fair?
Yeah. The fun is a luxury, right? You have to get to a point where you are allowed to have the fun. For me, I did have to put the fun part aside in order to support myself and feed myself and build a career through my twenties. I’m thirty now. I want the ability to pay for my car. I want to be able to fly home to see my family. So I transformed voiceover into a survival job. I wouldn’t say it’s more important, but I’m at a point now where I’m like: ‘Now it’s time to find a place to play.’
As someone who’s worked cross-medium, is there anything working in the other media that informs how we work in audio drama?
It was actually a lot of unlearning. [...] Obviously you do the work. You stay prepared. You do everything that you need to do to not let other people down, but you have to let go enough, you have to trust enough, you have to be willing to be vulnerable enough, that what comes out is simple. Especially when it comes to an audio medium where you don’t have your facial expression to complement your voice. No, you just got to feel the emotion and say it. I don’t sit there and second guess and rethink.
In other industries – in commercials and so on – they don’t have time to sit there and dive into what emotion you need to really get across that Casper mattresses will help you fall asleep. They’re like: ‘Quieter. More Sleepy. Done.’ And you deliver. It’s about strong simple choices. [...] I’ve recently started on-camera acting classes and the thing that has helped the most is just hopping up to do a scene and being like: ‘Well I’m just going to see what this other person makes me feel, let’s go.’ And finding that willingness to go up and be wrong, the willingness to go up and give something a shot – it’s getting out of your own way.
I think that willingness that you describe is very important, and that’s a fear and confidence issue that often does only come with time and experience. If you get it wrong, you won’t die.
You don’t show up for a training day in data entry and have them expect you to know exactly where all the data goes. If you come into the arts being like: ‘I have to do this exactly right the first time otherwise I’m not a good artist...’ First of all, it cuts out all collaboration because you think you know what’s right. And second of all, it’s so much pressure on yourself that you’re going to freeze. You have to go in, be willing to do the wrong thing, and let them work with you.
You mentioned that before getting to the mic, you do the work and prep. What does that look like for you? Let’s say I’ve cast you in an audio drama. Congratulations, you’re playing Hamlet in Hamlet Investigates.
This is a dream role for me.
It’s a found footage horror about the Prince of Denmark. What do you do? Do you have a Kristen system?
A little bit. I will obviously read through the whole script, paying particular attention to things people say about my character and the way other people treat my character, as information of who they are. I try to find a motivation for every scene: ‘What’s Hamlet trying to do here? What’s in Hamlet’s way?’ Then I like to build a little backstory before each scene; they call it ‘moment before’, what happened right before he went in there. And really exploring the relationship of whoever I’m talking to in each scene. Am I talking to a close friend? A brother?
Another thing I pay attention to, with audio specifically, is where we are while we’re talking. Are we in a library? Are we in a lab? Are we outside a spaceship? Am I talking in a walkie-talkie? Spaces have always been a very activating element for me in a script, so I check out where they are and I imagine the place. I picture the whole thing.
And then when I’m actually recording it, I make sure I’m standing so I can do the movements of whatever the character is doing.
I try to give myself two or three basic adjectives about how this person speaks. For Sally Grissom, I used excitable. So that even when she was angry, she was excitable-angry. When the script made her feel things that were not excitable, it was very poignant. For Christine in Archive 81, I used tired. She was just always tired, always over it. Instead of doing a character voice for each person, I gave myself a little overlay of one or two basic adjectives that I would then play with underneath. You can be tired and angry at the same time. You can be tired, but also kind of intrigued. That gave me some very subtle low-key character voices. My first audiobook, I tried to do that kind of deep character analysis with each character and there were like fifteen characters.
You’re looking for ways to replicate what you’d get out of a rehearsal room without a two month rehearsal process.
Right. And there’s a director there, but mostly the director’s job is to keep you from saying the wrong thing. Or be like: ‘Hey, that actually sounded like Brandon. It’s supposed to be Bill.’
You talked about getting a new manager. Is it possible to market yourself as an actor without immediately throwing up on your shoes?
It is not. But you can then use that throwing up on your shoes as content that you can put on your TikTok.
Honestly, I’m new to it so it’s hard to say. It’s really funny getting into this side of things; I know several well-accomplished TV actors and all of them have had time in the industry where they’re miserable. And maybe going into it knowing that there’s miserable parts, and maybe marketing yourself being one of those things, you can look for the joy in it. If I know what I want to do is act and play and be a part of stories, then there’s more things that I’m willing to forgive. I love making stuff. How do I take a task that I dislike and make it a fun task? Not that I dislike social media, but how do I keep it from becoming laborious? And that’s finding the creative parts of it.
Do you have any misconceptions that you’d like to set straight?
The biggest thing I find with new actors is they are listening to themselves. Not after [you] record, going back and listening to it, but in the moment as you’re talking, as you’re performing you are listening to yourself, you are watching yourself. You can tell when someone’s acting to a mirror because they’re entertaining themselves. I find that the best way to get out of your own head is to drop any attention on: ‘How do I sound while I’m doing this? Is my head in the right spot when I’m doing this? Am I making the right expression? I practised to cry right here so now I’m going to cry.’ You have to get lost in the story instead of lost in yourself.
Kristen, what do you, an actor and writer, want? And if someone is reading this interview, how can they help?
I want to play characters again. I want new and exciting projects with passionate people. I think one of the reasons I got into theatre to begin with, even as a kid, was the people. Yes, I loved performing but I loved a cast, a crew. A bunch of people in a space together all working together on a project. We all want to make a good show. I’m looking for some of that.
In the age of the internet, especially during the pandemic, it’s become so solo. Your TikTok presence. Your Twitter presence. Your personal projects. It’s all these silos of content creators that just sit in a room and make stuff and then put it out there. There’s the person and the audience. And that’s it. And God, I miss a team environment.
I think there’s a lot of actors reading this who will relate very strongly to that. What’s next for you?
I’ve been doing some little mock TikToks at home and I’m like: ‘Oh this is fun. I actually am enjoying this.’ So that’s next. Brimstone season 2 is in the works. We have some exciting announcements for that coming up. I’m taking acting classes so maybe I’ll get better at acting and get on some screen stuff. Maybe you’ll see me eating a burger in a Wendy’s commercial.
I’m going to make that a pledge. 2023: Kristen DiMercurio will eat a burger in a Wendy’s commercial.
If I made a big enough social media stink about it they might consider me.