In Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood by Serial Box, Natasha Romanoff finds herself in over her head, even by Black Widow standards. The audio series is available right now on the website or through the Serial Box app.
The Beat caught up with Sarah Natochenny, the narrator of Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood, to chat with her about reading storybooks to children amid the pandemic, what being a voice actor has in common with being a superspy, and how she managed to record Bad Blood in the time of COVID-19.
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the practical recording process like for Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood?
SARAH NATOCHENNY: A little difficult, considering the lockdown. When I first auditioned for it, I auditioned at my director Amanda Rose’s studio, and everything was going to be fine. I was a little allergic to the cat there but that was totally fine, and then everything happened, and I had to build a booth, really for this purpose, in a hurry. I have other projects that I’m working on so it all worked out, but this was the primary concern, that we need to get this out really quickly.
Amanda helped me like no one’s ever helped me before. She lent me a great microphone, she taught me exactly how to soundproof and what to buy – she sent me links to everything and was on FaceTime as I was hanging foam in my mom’s closet (I evicted my mom from her closet… she loves me).
And now I sit in my mom’s closet and because they’re bi-fold doors, she has to prop the doors closed with these big ladders. I have to text her and tell her I want to come out. You know, it’s a little complicated, but we get it done and it sounds really good and now I have a booth at my mom’s house, and that’s cool.
KAPLAN: So this was a very different process of recording for you than any other recording you’ve done before.
NATOCHENNY: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s the same concept, you’re still in a booth and recording by yourself, with someone on the other side of something – usually it’s someone on the other side of the glass, but in this case, on the other side of the foam.
So we do it over Skype, [Amanda] just listens to everything I do, I have the input set so that she hears what’s going into the microphone and gets a pretty good sense of what’s going on. And she just stops me whenever she wants me to redo something and I redo it. And then I send her the file, rather than her just recording me in her own studio and actually doing all the engineering.
KAPLAN: What was your experience with Black Widow before working on Bad Blood?
NATOCHENNY: Well, I’ve never worked on a Marvel property. I’m familiar with the universe but I’m by no means an aficionado. I read the Serial Box story and I loved it and I understood it – it plays like a movie in your brain just by reading it, so I can only imagine how it’s going to feel when you’re hearing me read it – hopefully I did a good enough job. But the writing is so solid, and I pictured it so beautifully.
KAPLAN: Was there a process for finding Romanoff’s voice?
NATOCHENNY: It kind of clicked in immediately. Amanda actually cast me based on knowing me, she’s like, “I think you’re this person.” And also, I’m Russian-American, so that helped. And I speak Russian, so.
KAPLAN: Do you have any other hidden talents in common with Romanoff?
NATOCHENNY: Well, I move like a monster! I could probably do a lot of what she does. My stage combat training isn’t, you know, where it needs to be to actually play her on screen or stage, but it could definitely get there in a short period of time.
I used to be a rhythmic gymnast. I have a bronze medal in rhythmic gymnastics. So I have a long history of extreme physicality.
KAPLAN: In Bad Blood, you see more of Romanoff’s undercover work through Melanie, a persona adopted by Romanoff in Chicago. Is being a voice actor like being a spy?
NATOCHENNY: Kind of! Being an actor is like being a spy. That’s actually why I always wanted to be an actor, because I wanted to be all these different people all the time. I could never settle on one thing I wanted to be, I had so many different interests.
But I quickly realized that I’m not actually interested in pursuing law or pursing medicine, I’m actually interested in pursuing just the surface level interest, just enough to play it for a couple months or a couple years and then say goodbye to it and move on.
You can’t really do that in real life if you choose to be a doctor, you’re kind of stuck with it. So yeah, it is like being a spy.
KAPLAN: What was the process of finding the other character voices like? Were any of them particularly difficult or easy?
NATOCHENNY: I put a lot of care into all of them, it’s not easy, because I know that a lot of people who are going to be listening to this are familiar with another version of the character and I wanted to do some justice to that, but also while making it my own. So I didn’t watch anything to prepare for this, I just read the story and I got to understand who these characters are and what their motivations are and how they might be communicating with each other.
I come from an animation background, so she had to temper me down a little bit because I tend to be a little bit bigger. A lot of my characters sound like me, just a slightly heightened version of me. A slight shift in my tone, a slight shift in my personality. It is not me trying to do an impression of Colonel Fury. I didn’t want people to be distracted by an overt performance.
There are a lot of accents. I’m doing an Albanian accent – I’m doing an impression of my former super, where I used to live for fourteen years, I got to know his voice pretty well, so the Albanian characters are my super.
KAPLAN: Are there any other comic book characters you’d like to play, either in voiceover or live-action?
NATOCHENNY: I mean, Natasha Romanoff is taken, but… that would be amazing. That’s probably the one that I’d be most suited to play. I’d play Natasha Romanoff for the rest of my life if I could.
KAPLAN: Since 2006, you have voiced Ash Ketchum, and according to your website, you’ve also voiced 25 different Pokémon. Is there a Pokémon who is especially fun to voice?
NATOCHENNY: Buneary. Buneary is my favorite Pokémon to play. So cute, and has this whole storyline with Pikachu that was very adorable. It’s probably the Pokémon that I’ve had the greatest character arc with in Pokémon.
KAPLAN: How are you managing lockdown? Have you had a chance to do anything that you enjoy?
NATOCHENNY: Oh, absolutely, I’ve been doing a lot of things I enjoy, actually. I’ve been reading to kids, I did a story for “Voice Actors Read” on Instagram, and for an educational service. I read for kids at a hospital – all via the internet, of course.
And I’ve been renovating my apartment. I’m living with my mom right now, which is why my booth is in her closet, so that has been taking a lot of time. I have a spreadsheet for toilets, I’m going to sell it for $5 on the internet – people should know what toilet to buy, it’s really important!
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood?
NATOCHENNY: Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood is dropping on Serial Box.com and on the mobile app on Tuesday, April 28th. I’m the narrator, it’s an all-female team of writers and the director is Amanda Rose Smith – she also does the theme, the music, and all the sound design, she’s amazing.
The first two chapters of Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood are available now at Serial Box’s website or through the Serial Box app.