Nicole Fazio – Actress and Voice Over Artist

Back when I was in college I worked at a local department store and got to do the in store announcements promoting sale items for the week. I loved it, and ever since have had a fascination with voice over work. I have a great respect for voice over artists, so I was excited to be introduced to Nicole Fazio, who not only is a successful VO herself, but teaches others as well. While you may not recognize her name or face, you’re sure to recognize her voice from her national commercials for cars, beauty products, and more.

Nicole Fazio Headshot

First, how would you describe yourself as an artist?
I was the ballerina who danced in a bright purple hand-me-down leotard when everyone else in class wore blacks & pinks. I always had a song in my heart and for many years, thought I was Ella Fitzgerald. Planted in LA, I accidentally became a voice over darling. My remunerative flair for being peculiar.

What is your acting training/background?
As a teenager, I was cast in local plays. Finding auditions in the paper and photocopying sheet music from local college music libraries, I began my journey as a working actor by showing up. Having no money for acting classes, I instinctually knew I would learn how to act without paying for it. All it cost was my effort. My formula was simple: Get cast. Garner a stellar review. While performing in current show, audition for another. Get cast. Rehearse new show. Open. Garner a stellar review. Audition. Get cast. Close show. Repeat. I discovered I needed to be in three shows at once. The one I was performing in, the one I was rehearsing and the one I got cast in. With this cycle in place, I was always working. I learned immediately that work begets work.

In order to keep my audition material fine tuned, I researched  all the local theatre’s season and even their upcoming future seasons. On my nights off, I would read plays or see every piece of theatre in order to know future roles that were in my wheelhouse. This activity also yielded new audition material. I would tailor my outfits to the period, select 16 bars I could nail, and be off book in case they threw me sides after my monologue.

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I was not planning on going to college until a director suggested it. Here was another opportunity for me to continue acting, but I was frustrated. I came into the school working with kids that had never been in a play. I graduated from the University of Washington’s Drama School also studying in their Music School. My typical routine consisted of private classical voice lessons, practice rooms, dance or improv classes at Freehold or with whomever was locally teaching. Simultaneously, I was working in productions as an actress / singer in addition to my college classes.

After I graduated college, I was determined to move to LA and pay off my loan booking a national commercial. In LA, I met up with a man who used to run ACT, a regional equity theatre back in Seattle who now lived in Topanga Canyon. He shared with me what he knew about acting schools and gave me contact info for JAG’s casting director who also taught classes. I sat in on an acting teacher’s master class that he recommended, got into the program, and trained in the Master Class at Howard Fine during the season he brought Uta Hagen in from NY to document her life’s work. In the tiny audience I remember Jack Lemon sitting there too still learning. Howard personally asked me to be stage manager in exchange for classes.

When the school discovered I did voice overs, I was asked to record their outgoing message. I recently took hosting classes and two on camera commercial classes. Teaching VO makes me better because I am accountable to do what I tell my students to do. My thought process is sharp with the voice of my inner thoughts coaching me the way I mentor them.

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Tell us about your film and tv experience.
My television career is a bust. I have been to network, pinned, signed contracts as a series regular only to be recast at the last minute. I have experienced going in to read a co-star on Numbers down at LA Center Studios and asked back that afternoon to read for producers. Nothing. I was called in directly to read for a top of the show multi page guest-star on Criminal Minds. It went to the African American actress. You don’t get credit for getting in those doors when you are not booking. To be honest, it used to sting. There is nothing like the hurt of not getting something you believe and hope for. Looking back, I consider it pure joy that I did not land those roles. It has humbled me and given me so much to look forward to. Through this trial, I have learned that the way up is down.

My roles in film have been more encouraging. This year for example, I have shot three independent films. In the first film, The Last Word, I have a small cameo as a waitress, originally written as Lena. You will see me taking Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, and Anne Heche’s order at Eva Longoria’s joint, Besos. For The Magnificent Room, we shot at Capital Records inside the iconic Studio A. I play Joel, the label’s record executive. A disgruntled Grammy Award Winner Shelby Lynne forces me to sing “Strangers In The Night” on Frank Sinatra’s microphone. In a hundred year old Craftsman in 100* in Eagle Rock, I validate Rachel as Dr. Collin’s. We wrapped The Space Between last weekend. It is exciting to represent her relevant women’s issues frequently not discussed in film.

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What led to your interest in doing voice over?
I was open and wanted to work. Voice overs stuck. I went into my first VO audition not having a clue and read the Smooth Girl for Bud Light. I got a call back the next day. The same day they brought me back for Bud Light, they also read me for Hyundai. After the one was done, I walked out the door and thought, “I am never doing this again; that was horrible.” I booked it. I booked the campaign after that for XO Communications and I have never stopped booking campaigns since. If you have a campaign or you are the voice of a brand, you always have a job. Since that first commercial aired, my voice has never not been on television for 15 years. When I saw how much money I could make in such a short period of time, I became interested.

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What was your first voice over job?

The voice of the Hyundai Motor Company’s full line. I announced all their current inventory: Accent, Elantra, Sonata and Tiberon. I learned “how” on the job at Margarita Mix Santa Monica under union contracts. Training was taught by the copy right editor, producer, director, engineer and ad agency, BATES USA. They were on one side of the glass and I was on the other.

What are some of the highlights of your voice over career?
Without a doubt, informercials. It is a challenge to maintain and advance a signature once set. This specific field is what I am good at. Companies use my Bare Escentuals voice as a prototype when seeking their VO. With these gigs I introduced the non announcer sound by talking to someone as if the copy was a conversation. My style has become the industry standard requiring VO artists to be relatable, engaging and believable. Personalizing these particular brands has paid off my college loan, secured double pensions in SAG & AFTRA (prior to merger) as well as provided me with immaculate health insurance. My quality of life is incredible because I have time to live and do what I want. The traditional long form infomercials have been cut down to commercials with 800 #’s known as tags.

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As a voice over instructor, what’s the best advice you can offer someone who’s wanting to break into the industry?
If you want to break into voice overs, you are going to have to generate your own leads. Cultivate fabled service, build specific tools that make it impossible for targeted clients not to hire you. Do not depend on anyone but yourself. The person responsible for you booking work is reading this. Working internally organically injects your personality making the copy come off the page; then work externally to package your product to make you a stand out.

Don’t work backwards by “investing” in your business that you have no financial evidence will pay you. Instead, use other people’s money by paying a recording studio five bucks to process your audition. Getting in the door to these studios builds relationships with people who now know who you are. Your future employers are not on Twitter, they are on a deadline creating content that requires voices. If you are in your own home booth, how is anyone supposed to know who you are? If they don’t know you, they can’t hire you.

Never train with a voice over coach who is not currently working in the marketplace. When I went to the University of Washington for example, the head chair of the Drama School had to actually work in order to teach. I remember when she was back doing a show at The Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. It gave me reassurance that she was viable and active in her field, something to aspire to in my future. Her training had been tried and she was continuing to learn in order to equip us. I’m not sure how someone
who worked for Hanna Barbera in the 80s can empower you now. You cannot replicate an experience you have never had. How can you keep up with fast paced changing trends if VO instructors and students don’t know what they don’t know? My students work. And so do I.

Agents are not going to help until you have a roster and bring them money. You have to prove yourself trustworthy and figure it out based on what your strengths bring to the table. Some may develop but don’t count on it.

There is no magic method and what works for one doesn’t necessarily transfer for another. Get into VO workout groups, market to production companies, editors, get to know their employees and figure out who hires. If you want to break into voice overs, find ways to connect with people that need you. Cut out the middle man operating on a business model that no longer exists. Watch television and know everyone who to talking, casting, writing, directing… And ask yourself where you fit in. If there isn’t a space? Create it. That’s what I did.

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What are your career goals?
To finish my voice over book, establish my online voice over workshops, play Billie Dawn on the boards in Born Yesterday, get cast as a leading lady in motion pictures, a series regular on a sitcom that goes into syndication, and vocally animate characters in future Pixar as well as Laika films.

Anything else?
In five years, I would love to be the mayor of Burbank, launch the Fazio Foundation, and  digitally teach voice over in all the top drama programs across the country. Honestly, I am content. If I never get one more gig or go to another country, I am okay with that. When I lay my head on the pillow at night, I know that if I do not wake up the next day, I have had the best life.

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