vanessa marshall interview

Vanessa Marshall has been a part of the Star Wars family for a long time now. As the voice of Hera Syndulla, she burst onto the scene with Star Wars Rebels and the character keeps making appearances. She featured prominently in the short lived Forces of Destiny cartoon, she has appeared in books like A New Dawn and the Alphabet Squadron series, she’s featured in comics and video games. She even made a vocal cameo (though her ship was seen) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. She’s popped up everywhere, so it’s still amazing that it came as a surprise that she popped up in The Bad Batch this last week. There hasn’t been any storytelling during this era of Hera’s life, as a child learning her way in a world dominated by the Empire.

/Film spoke to Marshall about coming back, what the role means to her, and being a Star Wars fan.

What’s it like getting the call to come back to play Hera?

It was an email that came in. I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. And the fact that I would get to explore her beginnings on Ryloth and that this show was even being made in the first place was mind boggling. I was so happy and I was grateful to be a part of it. Hera matters so much to me, the fact that she would matter in this portion of the narrative, just thrilled me to no end. I couldn’t wait to read what she needed to do, and then I was looking forward to exploring, vocally, what that might sound like. Of course, there’s her age and her accent, and I knew that I would bring all the inspiration to the session and that we would fine tune it and discover it together, and that’s exactly what happened, and it was amazing.

How did what we saw in the episode play out versus what you had in your head for Hera’s youth?

We recorded it so many different ways that I wasn’t sure what they would actually pick, so I had no clue where this was going to go at all, and I also wasn’t exactly clear who Omega was. I knew who she was roughly, but now, having seen all the episodes of Bad Batch, I adore Omega, and the fact that I got to watch a conversation unfold with Omega as a fan? That was quite a different experience.

In the moment, I was by myself in a booth in the middle of a pandemic, and really just having a jolly time discovering what the seeds of Hera’s rebellion might look and sound like. The fact that we got to do it together was just absolutely incredible, but it was very different to watching it. Watching it was… I had no idea what she would look like. I loved the way Hera looked, I loved the music, I loved her interaction with Chopper. I remember recording that one line when the bucketheads come up and she says, “Chopper…”

We recorded that so many different ways. And the one that they picked was perfect because I had to get Chopper’s attention, but I didn’t wanna scream it, but it was just… To me, it illustrated their level of connection, that all she had to do was just suddenly say, “Chopper,” and he was [mimics Chopper] right there.

I was so happy to just see Chopper too…

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What about the differences between your impression of what Hera’s beginnings were when you were working on Rebels versus what we’re finally getting now?

I found her to be a lot more talkative as a child, a lot more willing to form sentences that she wasn’t really sure where they were going at the end of the day… That’s not the case with Hera. In Rebels, as an adult, you know she was Spectre Two… And she chose Spectre Two, not Spectre One. Could have been Spectre One, but has the humility and foresight to know where she’s best placed and when to speak, and she was hilarious at times and definitely could cut it up, but she always had an inspiring word for either Sabine or even Ezra. We have hope that things will get better and they will. In that sense, she was very verbal, but I do think that she became so focused on the task at hand that sometimes—or maybe she would even say in season 4, after losing Kanan, that she wishes that she had expressed that love and been more in that moment of connection with Kanan as opposed to the severity and the necessity for her rigorous commitment to the cause at hand. I felt she had a lot more containment as an adult than she did as a child, which I thought was fun to show that contrast.

Can we talk about the accent? I know we’ve talked about it before, when it started coming out and when Hera was frustrated or mad in Rebels, talk about the reasoning behind it and what it felt like getting into the character completely in the accent…

Dave Filoni tested me one day in the middle of Rebels and said, “Do you think Hera would ever speak in a Ryloth accent?”

And I said, “Only when she’s angry.”

And he said, “Oh, okay.”

So I went in, did the scene with Cham Syndulla, and he said, “So remember what you said about the Ryloth accent?”

“Yep.”

“Do it again.”

So we did the scene again, and I’m fluent in French, took it for 14 years, never got to use it, not a word of it, but any-who, I have friends who speak French all the time, and I know exactly… There was one woman, she talks like this [imitates French accent.] That’s way too much. But I could take that as the furthest extreme of representation of an actual human who is from France who speaks that way and apply that to Hera’s ideology and so forth, and get the flavor of that. That’s what I did in the Rebels scene with her father. She just devolves into this teenage version of herself that has that passion and her hometown accent, if you will, so to then go back and be curious about how she might have lost that, just sort of put it back on, how far did it go back then, and so I read the lines many, many times prior to going to record them with thicker versions of it, taking it off quite a bit.

I had her voice quite high, I did every possible version of those two things, like a ton of Ryloth accent, a very young sound, age her up a bit, less French, more you know. So I was prepared to give the line readings wherever they felt it was most authentic for who she is at that point, and they let me know and we just kept going and going and going. And we landed where we did. We did record many versions of the lines with those variables, so I really wasn’t sure how this was going to come off, but that was the case with the scene with Cham in Rebels, I didn’t know they were gonna use the Ryloth accent take, ’cause that was the last one. But this is why I can still watch all of this content as a fan and still freak out and enjoy it, so immensely ’cause it is all new. And [Kevin] Kiner’s music obviously makes it just beyond… But anyway, yeah, it was fine to mess with just how young she was, and of course how much of this… The thickness of her accent is you’ll hear, her mom’s accent is a lot thicker.

But I chose to go a little less than that, and maybe she was already trying to get out of there, you know.

Tell me about aging the voice down too, so she’s younger because I almost couldn’t believe that that sound could come out of you without them fussing with it, but that was all you right?

When I would tell stories as a child, I would often imitate people for the sake of my little narrative, like, “How can you know who I’m talking about unless I do a voice?” There was a friend of mine who inspired the Mary Jane that I played in Spectacular Spider-Man. That took place in high school, and I thought, I can’t do this, but then I thought of my friend, and she has a voice that started up in here, [in her Mary Jane voice] and it’s just kinda that to me like, “Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jack pot.”

That’s Mary Jane for me, so I know I’m capable of that sort of 14-year-old female range, let’s just add some of Hera’s moxie to that and see where we land. And we got to create it together, so I guess the answer to your question is, I have no idea how it happened. But again, I get to play all day long.

I wanna ask about your experience as a fan on the outside, just watching The Bad Batch and how it’s working—

Working? It’s keeping me alive. I am so thrilled. I can’t stop calling Dee Bradley Baker. I call him probably way too many times just to say to him, “You are not even human.”

He is so talented. My mind is blown every single episode, the fact that Cad Bane showed up, I wish Aurra Sing could have been somewhere nearby, but it’s all good. I’m speechless. Every week, I just can’t wait to see what’s next. I mean, how is it working for you? I’m loving every moment of it.

This last episode that you were on just hit me between the eyes and I’m like, I’m terrified for what happens next, like absolutely terrified.

As a Clone Wars fan and, of course, as a fan of The Mandalorian to see these characters from other stories come into The Bad Batch as animated characters, there’s just… There’s no end to [my love]. My Friday nights are my sacred time, no one messes with it. I know I can watch it on Thursday, but I just feel like I can really focus on Friday night. That’s how it is for The Mandalorian. It’s like watching the Super Bowl for me every Friday, if you wanna come over, you can’t talk. Luckily, in the pandemic, it’s dinner for one, but yeah, I freak out every single week.

I know you were a huge Star Wars fan before you stepped into Star Wars and Rebels and Hera, and I know you have a sort of ownership of Hera… What’s it like for you? Has that newness of being in Star Wars worn off for you as you get to watch Hera interact with more and more parts of the universe?

Not in the least. Not at all. No, it’s new every time. I think for me, we go back to The Hero’s Journey and Joseph Campbell and how these things are so mythic and that I think we’re all called to discover our own inner hero and make these noble choices, then it happens again and again, and [Dave] Filoni always talks about balance in the Force and Rey came along to create balance, it’s just never ending, ’cause even the Jedi Council at the end of Clone Wars, there’s always a way that the scale needs to be tipped to create balance. It’s new and fresh every moment, the stakes are so high that it never gets old, ever. It’s just a great time to be a Star Wars fan.

I just feel so lucky to be alive.

In times like these, why are stories like this important to you?

As an only child, I had friends, but for me, this story, Luke’s story, his rising to the challenge at hand and ultimately forgiving his father; those to me, I mean—I’m gonna start crying—That’s what it’s all about. It inspires me now in the pandemic, I’ve been here by myself, I’m not crying because I’ve been alone in the pandemic, I just… I cannot tell you how much I love that scene when Luke chooses mercy instead of resentment, but I feel that these stories are exactly the kind of moral, ethical and spiritual soul food that we all need right now and forever to come, and I think it’s why it brings us all together, and I consider you to be one of my dearest friends, and it’s all thanks to the Star Wars narrative, so I’m very lucky.

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Star Wars: The Bad Batch airs on Fridays on Disney+.

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