The release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in 2017 brought with it several new additions to Nintendo’s long-running franchise. Not only did it mark the debut of open-world and crafting elements that most of the games industry had been using for years, it also brought in voice actors for the English cast. Earlier games employed voice acting for Japanese audio (or in non-canonical works like Super Smash Bros.), but Breath was the first mainline entry to feature voice acting in its cutscenes.
As a result, Canadian American voice actor Patricia Summersett has the distinction of being the first English voice actor for Zelda in the primary canon. Fittingly, that also means some changes to the princess herself: while she’s still Hylian royalty, Breath’s backstory posits her as more of a central character than previous versions, one who has a group of friends she loves and cares for that are supposed to help her save the world from Calamity Ganon. And when those friends are all killed, she becomes powerful enough to hold Ganon at bay for a century while series hero Link is in a coma and must eventually get back up to fighting strength. The throughline of Zelda coming into her own and becoming a key figure continues in the recently released Tears of the Kingdom and the sub-series’ 2021 spinoff, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
Though Summersett has voiced plenty of video game characters since she stepped into the voice acting scene—she’s Ash in Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege and its 2023 offshoot Rainbow Six Extraction—playing Zelda carries a different weight to it. And with Tears of the Kingdom now out on the Nintendo Switch, io9 got the chance to talk to Summersett about returning to play the princess for a third time, her growing relationship to the games, and her arc as a voice actor for video games.
It should be noted that this interview contains slight spoilers for the basic setup to Tears of the Kingdom, but is otherwise free of any story spoilers.
Justin Carter, io9: Patricia, this is your third time voicing Zelda. Hyrule Warriors was more of a prequel side-story thing, but Tears of the Kingdom is a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild. Do you view these as a trilogy for Zelda in some ways, since Breath and Hyrule have these throughlines about her coming into her own as a person, and she’s an active player in Tears’ story?
Patricia Summersett: I agree that these games have a similar trajectory as Zelda’s evolution, though I wouldn’t fully call them a trilogy. But as a voice actor, it can feel like one, since I’m evolving from one game to the next. I’m building from the foundation of what I’ve already done; so for me, there’s a learning curve and a chance to explore her. And even though the games are so different and have divergent timelines, they do feel connected, in a sense.
For me, something like Hyrule Warriors was very exciting to do, because you got to fight as Zelda, and her story and the lore were expanded so much. I felt like Nintendo really visited those aspects of the universe quite deeply. Any time she can become more strong or fleshed out and nuanced, I love getting to work with those evolutions.
io9: Through these games, we see how Zelda has proven to be a key figure in the past of Link’s life and the kingdom of Hyrule, while also still feeling like she’s a little displaced and trying to figure herself out. Was that an adjustment for you having to play her in these two different places in time?
Summersett: That’s a fascinating aspect to all this. When playing this character through any timeline, it’s always coming from the base of “Breath of the Wild Zelda.” For me, it’s not so jarring to move around in that space; it seems like a better chance to explore her in slightly different scenarios or contexts.
Zelda’s always coming from the same place for me. Since there’s similarities in themes, I also tend to latch onto those as a starting place with where I want to take her. When approaching these projects, it’s nice to now have Breath of the Wild as a foundation. Because of that, you’ve got more of a playground, one that’s become more richer and nuanced than starting from scratch.
io9: You’ve been playing Zelda for six or seven years now. How has your relationship to her changed since the beginning? What do you find yourself drawing on now as you continue playing her?
Summersett: When reprising a role for the third time... it’s amazing, because I’m now drawing on six years of previous experience. Questions you get asked by fans or other artists about your work can make you go back and reflect upon what you’ve done, what you’d like to do with the character if given the chance. I’m drawing from a variety of different sources, including my own as just a person in the world through a pandemic, an actor who’s had other roles in addition to this, all of those things. It feels like this really grand seasoning from which to draw inspiration.
In playing her across these three games, it feels very personal now. I’ve always been a fan of the Zelda series, for sure, but to have such a personal relationship with Zelda—the name, the character, this particular version of her—of course changes the way I view the whole franchise. I’ve got much more of an emotional connection with it, for sure, and I see it wherever I go now. I’ll just see the Hylian symbol, Triforce, or cosplay, and it all feels more impactful to me as a person.
io9: You’ve been in the voice acting field for over a decade. Do you consider Breath of the Wild as your star turn in any way?
Summersett: This is definitely one of the most high-profile gigs I’ve done, no question. But I’ve been acting for a long time, and did a lot in school (in Canada, the U.S., and England). So every interesting gig that I’ve gotten before this, you always feel excited by what you’re doing. It’s funny how a role like this can eclipse all the other things you’ve done or built up to, at least in the public eye.
io9: Yeah, I saw that you’ve been doing triple-A games since 2007 with the Beowulf tie-in video game. Outside of Zelda, you’re in a number of online games like Rainbow Six Siege, Arknights, etc. Is there any distinction for you in playing a character in a multiplayer game versus a single-player title?
Summersett: There’s definitely differences in the way I approach something that gets to have a throughline or character arc. Sometimes, you go into a room, and you may be given a few characters to do at once, with a handful of lines for each of them. At that point, from a technical perspective, it’s more about making a distinction between those characters and ensuring they each sound unique. It’s a much different experience from having a full script and being able to research a character and having the story expand over several years.
Multiplayer games can be a super different experience. So for example, I’ve been doing Ash from Siege for nearly eight years; she was a launch character in the game. At the start, the audition for it was a simple voice role, and within a year or two, it expanded. Now, it’s turned into full performance capture, and now also includes these offshoots with the character like animated shorts or Rainbow Six Extraction. These give me other opportunities to flesh out the character over and over again in different contexts—there’s changes to gameplay style, lore, timelines, etc. But the character remains rooted in those same initial principles and framework from their original incarnation.
At their base, though, they’re all acting.
Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is out now.
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