Jen Taylor isn’t famous. Cortana, the purple hologram sidekick whom she voices in the Halo franchise, on the other hand, is one of the most recognizable and beloved characters in video game history. It’s an important distinction for Taylor. In the real world, Cortana’s celebrity “is not something I have to deal with,” she says.
Born in Burien and raised in Sammamish, the 42-year-old actress taught herself how to do voice work by listening to and recording the radio, and then imitating what she heard. In a video game hub like Seattle, that skill translated to lots of work—including voicing the scientist Dr. Halsey in “Halo 4” (she’ll return as Halsey in “Halo 5: Guardians,” out on October 27); Zoey, a gun-toting zombie hunter, in the “Left 4 Dead” saga; and a variety of characters in “Destiny,” an online sci-fi game released in 2014. She also performs in commercials, corporate videos, books on tape and theater—especially English period drama.
“Give me a British dialect, a corset and a disease—and I’m good to go,” she says.
Of course, nothing comes close to reaching as many ears as Cortana. Halo is one of the most valuable entertainment properties ever, and Windows 10 has brought Cortana, as a Siri-like virtual assistant, to tens of millions of computers. Still, Taylor doesn’t take herself, or the role, too seriously.
“The question I’m most commonly asked during interviews is: ‘What is it like to be Cortana?’” She throws up her hands. “I have no idea!”
NEED TO KNOW
1. Taylor voiced the characters of Princess Peach and Toad in the Super Mario series and its spinoffs for Redmond-based Nintendo of America. She jokes that she won her husband over by performing the sound of “Toad going around a corner” in “Mario Kart.”
2. A huge Jane Austen fan, Taylor has played Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett in three productions, and her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility for Book-It Repertory Theatre is about to be published by Sam French.
3. Of playing opposite 90210 heartthrob Luke Perry on an episode of the TV show Leverage, Taylor says, “His character bamboozled me.”
4. True confessions: Taylor doesn’t play video games. She says she learns about them from watching her husband play.