STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — In a closet lined with felt blankets and pillows, Jake Phillips sits in front of a microphone reading aloud lines in a distinctly foreign accent.
Just before he finishes the prose, a crash rings throughout his home, followed by giggling and children's footsteps. His own personal noisemakers, toddlers Charlie and John William Phillips, are making mischief in another room.
Phillips is a voice actor, and his children have just put their own touch on his recording, forcing him to redo the script.
"Silence is hard to get in this house," Phillips said.
Despite the noise and the occasional distraction, Phillips said having a job that put him so close to his kids was a dream come true, even when they did their best to keep him from recording.
"It's all fun if it's allowing me to stay here with these kids," Phillips said.
Born and raised just south of West Point in Tibbee, in the heart of the Golden Triangle, Phillips never imagined he would one day make a living using his voice.
After being home-schooled, Phillips graduated from Mississippi State University with a scholarship from the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Phillips joined the Army following his graduation and eventually did a tour in Iraq.
Once he was stateside in Fort Riley in Kansas, Phillips said he and his commanding officer attended a theatre performance put on by nearby Kansas State University. That night, Phillips said he discovered a new passion after enjoying the show.
"I fell in love with the idea of performing in some way," Phillips said. "Right about that time, I heard the 'Magician's Nephew' on audiobook by Kenneth Branagh, and it was amazing. I kind of thought 'I want to do that.'"
Phillips said his appreciation for the arts and the theatre came from his father, who told him to be whatever kind of person he wanted to be without worrying about stigmas.
"My Dad always encouraged me to pursue the arts, and he was a football player back in the '70s," Phillips said. "He was one of those that was taught you would be sissy to do theatre, and he did not want me to grow up like that."
Using one particular example of a man who enjoyed the arts, Phillips' father was able to foster his creative side.
"He would also point to, in the Bible, King David was a warrior, but he wrote poetry and could play a harp," Phillips said. "He was a well-rounded fella. He could protect his family and entertain them."
Still, Phillips said he did not act on his desire to perform, choosing instead to secure a stable job in manufacturing. In the following years, he worked at the Mercedes Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the Yokohoma plant in West Point.
Voice acting lingered in his mind though, and Phillips said he would often find time to practice when he was driving to work each morning or chatting with coworkers.
"I would say a line from Shakespeare or a sonnet, something like that, and then play it back to myself and ask 'Did I believe me?'" Phillips said. “My team was always saying 'Oh, you're not going to be around here much longer.' And I wasn't.”
In 2018, Phillips left Yokohoma to pursue voice acting as a full-time career. The profession, Phillips said, felt like a natural fit.
"I think everybody, wherever it is, in the locker room, on the ball field, everybody imitates somebody at some point," Phillips said. "Everybody thinks that's funny."
Even with some natural proficiency, Phillips said he had to practice to set himself apart. He credits actor Tom Selleck's narration of the 2013 documentary "North America" as a vital tool during his development as a voice actor.
"I started imitating him, trying to sound just like him," Phillips said. "Then I started to develop my own style."
With his own style and a will to pursue his dream, Phillips was given what he called the "catalyst" toward success: a supportive wife.
"My wife was the biggest motivator for me to go from 'I wish' to 'I'm doing it,'" Phillips said. "She's been my biggest encouragement. She could have easily said 'No, you stay at the factory, and you just bring home the bacon, buddy.' She could have done that."
Instead, Phillips' wife, Mary Elizabeth Phillips, did the opposite.
"She told me 'You are really good at what you do. I know you love it,'" Phillips said. “She basically told me I was slowly dying in a factory and needed to get out.”
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
With everything he needed in tow, Phillips said focusing on voice acting full-time was more challenging than he initially thought because his voice was only half of the equation. He also needed to learn how to make his recordings sound professional.
“I was working on my artistic performance side but also the technical side of mastering audio and getting good sound quality," Phillips said. "It was kind of scary because you think of a sound engineer, like, you need a diploma from the sound university of something.”
Phillips ventured down a road filled with YouTube tutorials and trial and error in order to make his voice sound as good in a recording as it did in the flesh and blood. He said the availability of resources thanks to the Internet made his self-teaching possible.
Even as he learned more and more about the technicalities of voice recording, Phillips said he tried to approach everything as an artist first.
“I think now we have learning at our fingertips we didn't have ten years ago, certainly not twenty years ago," Phillips said. "I've learned a lot of time people who know a lot about something technical are not artists. A photographer can tell you the ISO, the lens, the light setting, but their work isn't emotionally moving. It's technically sound, but it's not moving.”
Taking an artistic and open-minded approach, Phillips viewed every interaction with anyone creative as a learning opportunity.
“Anytime that I meet someone who is in an artistic field, I try to pick up something from them, even if it's not my field," Phillips said. "Like an opera singer. I'll ask 'Hey, what do you do to your throat? How do you take care of your throat?'”
Regarding his own throat, Phillips said he drank a healthy amount of tea to keep his vocal chords warm and refreshed, though he admitted he drank a lot of tea long before he took up voice acting.
The best healthcare for his throat, Phillips said, came from church.
"Humming the tune to old hymns is one of the best things I've found because all of the notes are long, you hold them and they're kind of easy to follow," Phillips said.
Work started rolling in once Phillips nailed down how to best record his voice, and Phillips said the jobs were strange, ranging from voicing video game characters to narrating directions on videos for tourists in other countries.
One recent job came from a mall in China.
"They wanted an American voice for their resort," Phillips said.
Phillips also voices a good amount of safety videos used in factories to teach workers what not to do in the workplace. Phillips said he watched a lot of those videos in the past during his time working in factories and tries not to make them boring.
“I try to make it interesting cause I know what it's like," Phillips said. "I try to do my best.”
In September, Phillips voiced the introduction to "Sunday Night Football" on NBC for the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys matchup. As a lifelong football fan, Phillips said the job was particularly fun, especially since it was seen by so many people.
“Now, this doesn't mean they were all watching at once, but that game had like 24 million viewers," Phillips said. "On my resume, that's a good bullet.”
To find work, Phillips contacts media production companies asking to be added to their roster of voice actors. Typically, he said, it takes a while to hear back about jobs.
“It's kind of like being a farmer," Phillips said. "You plant, and for a while you don't see any payoff, but if you're always planting, there's always something coming in.”
As far as the ideal job, Phillips already has a gig in mind.
“I love animation," Phillips said. "I want to be in a Pixar film.”
Just being a character who says one or two words in a Pixar film would be more than enough to satisfy him, Phillips said.
For most of his work, Phillips said he tries to convey a mood or style of speaking rather becoming a character, though he said he enjoys the opportunities to do that as well, especially in the form of audiobooks.
However, Phillips said recording himself reading a book is exceptionally challenging due to the long amount of time silence is required, something his toddlers often make difficult. Phillips said his six-year-old Abigail will sometime help him out with the younger ones.
Even though they can be disruptive, Phillips said having the chance to record work then immediately take his kids outside to play was worth the occasional delay due to loud crashes or excessive giggling.
"I love having the ability and availability to hang out with them whenever I want," Phillips said.
Looking ahead, Phillips said he wants to take his voice acting as far as he can while still providing for his family.
“My goal is just to provide for my family in a creative way and have fun doing it," Phillips said. "Right now, that's my one month goal and 10 year goal. Who knows? I may end up back in a factory some day, but for now, it's going good. I'm loving it.”