Interview with Chuck Kourouklis


In The Devil's Playhouse, Dr. Norrington is a Lovecraftian creature of godly nature and disturbing proportions. Chuck Kourouklis, very much a human and not a blue tentacle thing, is the delightful gent who lent his voice to the character.

He kindly gave up his time to answer some questions about his life, career, and involvement in Sam & Max and other Telltale games. It was a pleasure to speak with him; you're bound to enjoy his interesting insight into the craft of voice acting.

Hey, Chuck! It’s a pleasure to talk to you. According to IMDb, you began voice acting for video games in the late 2000s. What were you doing in your career before this?

Pleasure’s all mine, thank you!

I came into voice-acting from a career in radio. More specifically, I was that rare knucklehead to take an ardent interest in the commercial production side of things, and management sure knew a proper live one when they saw him. So in the late ‘90s, as broadcasting deregulated and corporations started vacuuming up stations into market clusters, they figured me – correctly – to be just the clod to take charge of commercial production and some station imaging for a seven – SEVEN! – station group.

I’d write little scenario-driven commercials where they seemed appropriate and line-read receptionists, sales reps, and fellow disc jockeys into something resembling acting, and it was all generally good for a laugh and the occasional local advertising award. But this was the SoCal desert, a scant hour and a half from LA, and I’d hear the difference in what was coming from the major agencies.

And after watching Ford campaigns with a classic thunder-throat like Ernie Anderson go by the wayside, to be replaced by hundreds of regular-sounding people who seemed as if they were talking directly to me, I actually began to wonder if there were still a place in broadcasting for the more lazily pipe-riding bassos such as myself.

How did you make the change from that to voice acting? Or does voice acting sit alongside something else?

One of the things that radio makes you wonder – later if not sooner – is if there’s a way you can actually make MONEY using your voice. I’d listen to the Chalks and the Tates and the LaFontaines of movie trailer notoriety and wonder, is that really so far removed from something I could do? And I’d spend till the wee hours of the morning experimenting with what I thought at the time were legit VO demos, to see if I could find an exit somewhere along the radio road to nowhere.

But it would be my great fortune to meet a lady who had real answers to questions I’d been pondering for years. Her name is Samantha Paris, her company is Voicetrax, San Francisco, and anyone reading along who’s truly serious about a voice-over career should stick a pin in that.

What Samantha explained to me is that in the end, voice-acting is not about your voice, but your acting. And the hysterical thing was that after a childhood spent with wild enthusiasm on stage for any school play I could win a role in – straight on to college where I scored a lead role as a freshman in a graduate production – I somehow never drew the association between acting and working behind a mic, which is what voice acting essentially is.

Training at Voicetrax helped me sort all that out and marry those two skills. That school put me at the feet of some of the best talent and directors in the industry – Thom Pinto, Susan Blu, eventually Nancy Cartwright, Rob Paulsen, Townsend Coleman, Laraine Newman, Tara Strong, and Peter Coyote. Dave Fennoy, Chopper Bernet, Carlos Alazraqui; Voicetrax is like this quiet little nexus of the best voice actors anywhere. And it is thanks to Voicetrax that I eventually signed with Stars in San Francisco and got on the road to what I’ve accomplished in voice acting so far.

Did you like to experiment with different voices when you were younger?

Oh, I was a right pain in the ass. Yes, yes, yes, re-enacting classic Warner Brothers cartoons, imitating Rich Little’s imitations. For a time I sounded just like Billy Barty, but bear in mind, I was FIVE YEARS OLD when I did. My mother still jokes about my baptism and how I’d wail and bleat about an octave and a half lower than the other babies there that morning.

And you BET I liked to play with that little device. Some intermediate school administrator decided it would be cute to let students deliver the school-wide homeroom address, and oh, what I inflicted on grades 6-8 when my turn came up. And when my voice dropped at around 14, I locked into a Sly Stallone I don’t think I could duplicate today.

Have you ever done, or wanted to do, on-camera acting?


You also teach voice acting at Voicetrax in San Francisco. What’s that experience like?

It’s a continuum. It feeds my soul just as certainly as performing. And I don’t say this out of any particular altruism. If you help someone to a life-changing insight or a breakthrough moment, that’s a shot to your ego every bit as potent as nailing a performance yourself.

And Voicetrax sets a high standard in that regard. The class circumstances are by turns wildly creative and rigorously disciplined, and it takes a special sort of mindset to set the balance just right for the students who take that ride with you. The company I keep at Voicetrax keeps me on my toes.

Do you have any essential tips you like to give to your students?

Tips? Hard to narrow down… got plenty of quips. One of my favourites in class, especially for ladies who might find it a little ticklish to assert themselves that first time to an extreme where a patriarchal society frowns, is “this is voice acting! Nobody gets hurt.”

There’s an old joke that goes, “the key to this business is SINCERITY – and once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Whatever tips I offer go to the flip side of that joke; acting is a process of finding the truth in imaginary circumstances, and any tips I offer would be in service of that process.

Do you prefer voice acting teaching or performing?

It’s a continuum, and actually something more, a constructive loop – one makes you better at the other.

How do you decide what voice works best for a new character?

Illustrations are the BEST resource if you can get ‘em, and they’re included in most auditions. From an illustration, whether to place your voice at a more guttural or a higher pitch, smoother or more textured, human or more animal/alien… do you leave looseness in your jowls to indicate weight, do you flare and crinkle your nostrils to indicate snobbishness? And how do you physically hold yourself? Parade rest-upright with an open set of lungs, or hunched and bent with a more closed air cavity?

That’s all by way of skimming the surface of what you can mine out of an illustration, to figure out a voice that matches best. Sometimes there’s a clear attitude in the illustration that illuminates your best vocal option, and sometimes playing with vocal choices “backs you into” an appropriate attitude. All is well as long as you remember a character’s attitude is really the key and the voice you land on is more or less a consequence of that key choice.

Hey, maybe that’s a tip!

How did you get involved with Telltale Games and get cast as Dr. Norrington in Sam & Max?

Norrington was part of a character packet sent to me by Stars, The Agency – my representation in San Francisco. I seem to recall reading for several roles pretty late into the night with that packet, and I was quite pleased to land the good doctor.

Did you get to see Dr. Norrington’s unusual appearance before voicing him?

Oh yes. And I actually had something in my stable that seemed to suit him. I find sometimes a voice I’ve worked up actually covers a range; I have one that spans from Lee Marvin through Robert Mitchum to Ed Harris, and if you listen to them, you hear they’re similar. Drop your pitch and you hit one, change the air pockets you leave between your jaw and your cheeks and you hit another.

Norrington seemed to want the span I had between Jeremy Irons and Patrick McGoohan. And this was actually to play against his illustration a bit. The obvious thing might be to lean into those marvellous Cthulhu mandibular tentacles of his and splay his esses, maybe slur his diction some.

But the script whispered it wanted something different. The language had a posh and patrician flow. Back to the illustration: Norrington’s eyes had something of the prissy academic. And so, Norrington became the prim and proper professor – just the thing for an elder god stuck on someone’s torso, wouldn’t you say? Good DAY, Sir.

What were the recording sessions like for Sam & Max?

Damn difficult in one respect – like many of the best-written projects, you fall apart like Harvey Korman in a Carol Burnett skit (am I giving you all some wild stuff to Google and YouTube or what?) Seriously, you just break up and collapse laughing in the most inopportune moments, and Sam & Max was MURDER that way. I hope at least there was a writer gratified to hear how he wrecked my professionalism, somewhere in the creative chain…

You also had roles in other iconic franchises for Telltale: The Walking Dead, Monkey Island, Fables. What were those like? Is there extra pressure in voicing characters for series with an in-built audience?

As far as pressure goes, Monkey Island had certainly established itself as a legacy property by the time the Ferryman clattered onto the scene, but I was at the ground floor for the others – the audience hadn’t really built in yet. Or at least, not from my POV.

As far as performing in a whole new milieu, TWD and The Wolf Among Us were a revelation. Where lighter-hearted titles like Sam & Max and Monkey Island gave you the license to go broad and a bit more animation-style in energy, the more cinematic titles were a radical shift in stripping down and understating your performance. Even Mr. Toad, my dodgy nod to Guy Ritchie’s man Alan Ford and loud as he got, was a more realistic and toned-down study compared to the overtly frothier Telltale characters.

And it helps to have the steady hand of a director who grasps the continuity and has a clear vision of what the story needs. Julian Kwasneski was exceptional in this regard, and he’s a common element through these Telltale titles.

Do you ever play any of the games you perform in?

The Wolf. Other than that, no – but I do watch playthrough videos.

What’s your favourite part about being a voice actor?

Exploring what Chuck Kourouklis would do if he weren’t strictly Chuck Kourouklis.

What do you like getting up to in your spare time?

Sorry – what is this “spare time” you speak of?

Actually, where I can wedge it in, I have a passion for things automotive, in full scale and in miniature. I build car model kits and write reviews of them for Fine Scale Modeler online.

Thanks for your time, Chuck! What’s on the horizon for you?

Oh, a little ADR for a Netflix feature here, a little refining a new hybrid format between Zoom and live voice-acting instruction there.

And maybe something to do with the shortest answer I gave you, maybe not. Hard to say.

But thanks so much for asking!