Adult Swim’s Dana Swanson: The voice behind a virtual heartthrob

Move over, ScarJo. Before Her, there was Sara v3.0
Photograph by Josh Meister

In 2005 Dana Swanson arrived at Adult Swim’s Williams Street offices—a playground of foosball tables and life-sized Star Wars replicas—to be a librarian, of all things. One day, while technicians worked on a sound booth next door, they called on Swanson to test the mic. She cracked everyone up with silly renditions of old sitcom theme songs, which led to voiceover bit roles in Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies and eventually a regular gig as the voice of Sara v3.0, robot host of Toonami and virtual heartthrob to anime geeks throughout the universe.

Describe a day as Sara
I wish I could say I wake up, drink a bunch of egg whites, do a bunch of push-ups, and then come in and punch the mic. But Sara is sort of a minor part of my job [her full-time gig now is writing and producing ads]. When I do the voice, a producer will hand me a script, and I step into the booth. The producer and engineer will be in a separate room; I can’t see them but hear their voices in my headphones. I give a couple of line reads and throw in stuff. I like to say “boom” a lot. “Punch it” is a good one. Pretty much anything a sassy AI would say.

Any job stress?
I did lose my voice last year, and getting it back in time to record was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to do.

How’d you get it back?
Herbal remedies. I also stood in the shower for long periods of time for the steam. I was on vocal rest and talking through this speech command on my iPhone. I’d type something and be like: “Hello. Yes. If you. Could. Please. Get me some. Jerky.”

So the voice of a cartoon robot was using a real robotic voice?
It was amusing at first, but got old. I had generic responses like, “Saving my voice for Toonami.” In the moment, it’s hard to say, “Hey, look out! That piano is falling!”

This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue under the headline “Move over, ScarJo.”