Dana Gaier, who provides the voice of the feisty middle sister Edith in the Despicable Me movies, talked to us by phone from Los Angeles, where she’s a third year student at UCLA. She reprises her role in the latest installment of the franchise, Despicable Me 3, which opens today.
How old were you when you got started?
I was actually only 11 and now I’m almost 20, which is crazy.
Tell me about landing the role of Edith in Despicable Me.
It was really good timing — I actually missed the first audition because I was on my sixth grade camping trip and then I came back from the camping trip and they said we still haven’t found the right voice, so I went in and they really liked me. I was really lucky.
Had you already done theater at that time?
Yeah, I’ve done community theater shows and school plays since I was really young.
Since you were only 11 when you did the first movie, when you came back for the sequels, did you watch the first movie to match how you sounded?
I kind of know at this point where to get back to, you know, how high to make my voice and whatnot, but definitely for the first sequel, they were like make sure you keep the highness in your voice. And that was the only reminder I needed.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a voice actor? I don’t know if you ever watched Hannah Montana but there was this one episode where she was trying to be a voice actor and it looked so hard.
I would have to say — and I loved Hannah Montana by the way, that’s a show I grew up on for sure (laughs) — I would have to say the hardest part is that there’s no one really there to react to. The directors are great and they give you some background context for the story and what’s going on in that scene but you have to manifest the emotion out of thin air. Like, I could be in one moment really sassy and happy and laughing and then in the next moment I could be screaming for my life.
Do you do one line at a time or do you hear someone reading the other lines and then you react to them?
I do them by myself so no one else reads the lines, just me. I usually take a line and I’ll do it a few times, like even if it’s just one word, like “come on,” I’ll say it a few times and then they’ll say, “Okay, we really like the second one, let’s try a few more of those for coverage,” or something like that.
You’re also a musician, tell me what instrument you play and do you plan to record?
I play the guitar. I’ve been playing since I was in third grade, so when I was about eight or nine, I went to sleep away camp and people were playing guitar and I thought, “Wow, that’s so cool, I want to be able to play” — to do that and to play an instrument and to sing with the guitar. I don’t plan on recording right now. I might lay down a few tracks of some of my songs. I also write my own music but I haven’t really shared much yet.
What’s your favorite song that you’ve written?
That’s tough. I don’t really have a name for it, but it’s kind of upbeat and the message of it is, even though this is happening, we have all the time in the world and it’s okay.
Have you also done commercials and modeling?
Actually no, I haven’t. When I was younger, I did some stuff because I was really, really tiny so they used to put clothes on me for sizing purposes I think, so I modeled in that way, but not much, just really the voiceover and this indie movie that I’m in that’s coming out August 18 in select theaters and on VOD.
I understand you play a role in the upcoming indie movie called The Ice Cream Truck?
Right. It’s about Mary, played by Deanna Russo, she is moving back to her old suburban town and she notices there’s something strange about the ice cream man. It’s kind of this horror comedy movie and it’s really well done, there are some really well-placed comedic moments and some scary moments as well and I’m really excited for people to see me in my first on-screen role. It’s coming out August 18 in select theaters and on VOD.
You’ve just finished your second year at UCLA — what are you studying and what do you plan to do after college?
I really want to graduate with a double major in communications and sociology and minor in film because I want to learn about the world and for film to learn about different parts of the entertainment business. In acting, I think it’s important to know what’s going on around you. I think it’s really cool to know from an acting standpoint what’s going on behind the scenes to make it happen.
What was the most fun about being part of Despicable Me?
You know what? I think the best thing about working on Despicable Me is just all the amazing people I get to meet. Whether it’s the rest of the actors, like Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig, or if it’s the creative team, like Chris Meledandri, or the writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, everyone is so great to work with and it’s just been overall, such an amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What’s it like being part of the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal?
That was really fun. It’s kind of crazy because I never could have imagined my voice coming out of a character and now it’s coming out of a ride at a theme park that I love, so that’s really strange.
What’s the ride like? Is it scary?
It’s really fun. I mean, there are definitely some moments where you’re like, “Oh no, what’s going to happen?” But the premise of it is basically that everyone’s being turned into Minions. It’s really cool because it’s a simulator and there are times where it feels like you’re on a roller coaster and you get a lot of different experiences. There’s a lot of different stuff going on.
What’s your favorite social media platform?
Is there a role you’d love to play either on stage or in a film?
I would love to play a role like, maybe some character from like Friends. Friends is my favorite TV show, they make such strong choices when they act and I admire them all so much. I’d love to play a really fun role like that because even though it is mostly a comedy, it definitely has its serious moments. I would love to be a part of any project, but I love Friends, I could recite every single line.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working or playing music or going to school?
I just love to hang out with my friends. I love yoga. I love hiking. I love watching movies and it’s just because I think it’s this crazy, cool thing that we’re able to do, to make movies, so I’m always in awe and I always try to think of different choices that actors made and different choices that directors made and it’s just a really cool way to look at film. I also love to read, and I’m in a sorority at school and that’s really fun because I made a lot of great friends. It’s great, because I love to go to school and it’s nice that I’m able to do both.
Photographer: Birdie Thompson and Hair/Make-up: Allison Noelle