Interview with the voice of Torbjörn: Keith Silverstein!

Hey everyone Maleok here! For my next interview I was able to chat with the amazingly talented voice behind Torbjörn from Overwatch! He is a man of many voices and magnificent vocal skill. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into his background and personality!







Maleok: In the most general sense could you tell us who you are and what you do?


Keith Silverstein: In the most general sense, I am a human male named Keith Silverstein. I pay my bills by providing voices for games, cartoons, movies, and anything else anyone is willing to pay me to do.


Maleok: Was your background in acting, or was this always your plan to get into?


Keith: I definitely didn’t have a plan. I knew in high school the things I didn’t want to do, but not necessarily what I did want. When I was really young, my brothers and sisters and I would do little plays when the family would get together for Thanksgiving or something. I got into theatre in school as I got older, as well as dance, choir, and all kinds of different stuff. When I graduated though, and was thinking about what I really wanted to do, I was over the place. I didn’t know if I was gonna be like, a professional break dancer, or a rap artist, or I was gonna be an actor, or an artist. I had no idea. I thought I’d do everything. But all that did was amount to me not focusing on any one thing. So I ended up waiting tables for a long time while I sorted things out, until I learned to focus on what I wanted.


Maleok: So at this point, you’re very much a veteran in voiceover, whether it’s video games or television. Was there a specific event or person that inspired you to get into voice-acting initially?


Keith: Yeah actually, my uncle Robert had done some amazing artwork, and he wanted some poetry he had written to go along with the artwork read in different tribal voices to match the artwork. SO he called me up and said “I know you’ve always done voices and whatnot. If you want, call me back, and read some of these on my answering machine and whatnot” and he emailed me this stuff. And I ended up doing that, and he cast me for a few of the characters in this. We went into an actual studio, and I got to watch another actress there work, and it was an amazing time. It was pretty eye-opening, that that was actually a career. I guess I always knew, but it was never something I had singled out, like “I’m gonna do that.” And I thought it was worth looking into, or taking a class or two, and doing some research. And that was the one event that kind of got me going on that, and just that.


Maleok: You’ve done a bunch of acting for television and video games. Do you have a preferred medium?


Keith: Even within each medium there’s a lot of variance. I’ve had video game sessions that were just wonderful, and everybody’s great, and it goes great. And I’ve had sessions where they go long, and directors are screaming and demanding. Generally speaking, you’re working with great people, and everyone appreciates each other, so it’s rare when you run into someone who’s just a dick. But you can have that in any medium. I think from a personal point-of-view, I grew up on cartoons. It meant something to wake up at 5 in the morning to watch cartoons, which you don’t have to do anymore thanks to DVR and 24-hour channels. But if you wanted to see a certain cartoon, you had to get up at the right time on the right day to see it. Very few people had VCRs of any kind early on, and it was awhile before they were simple enough for kids to use to record these things. Technology’s moved very quickly. But I grew up on that, and that’s a real world to me, the world of animation. So anytime I book something that’s animated, I feel like I’m lending my voice to that world, that somebody’s keeping track of somewhere.


Maleok: That’s a very interesting take actually. Most people have said they prefer video games.


Keith: Well were the others younger? Because you could say the same thing about video games if you’re at the right age to be influenced more by video games than cartoons.


Maleok: Do you consider yourself a gamer, and if so, when did you start?


Keith: I do consider myself a gamer, which is funny, because I’ve recently been a poor excuse for a gamer. I have kids, the youngest is a bit over a year, and my career thankfully is keeping me very busy. So between family, career, and trying to hang out with friends on occasion, recently it hasn’t been so much. But I’m old-school. I used to go to arcades and play Asteroids, pinball, Space Invaders, etc. I remember running around going “This is amazing! It looks like a cartoon!” because at the time the graphics were great. I still have an Atari 2600, which was the second system we had. I’ve owned most systems since, so I consider myself a gamer even though I don’t represent it very well at this moment in my life. But I’ll get back into it.


Maleok: Moving on to working with Blizzard specifically, how has the experience been working with them so far, in comparison to others like maybe Riot?


Keith: I don’t know much about Riot. I worked on Shen in League of Legends, and that was years ago, and honestly I recorded for maybe an hour. Everybody was great and cool to me, and I had a good experience. It was trippy though because that game ended up being huge, and to me it was just an hour of my life. I don’t play that game. It looks cool, but I don’t wanna get hooked. So it was surprising that it ended up doing so well, but I don’t have a huge relationship with Riot Games. Blizzard however, I’ve worked multiple times with them on World of Warcraft playing a number of villains, and on Hearthstone, and StarCraft. So there have been a number of things. When I booked Overwatch, I knew it was something still being created, rather than a game that already existed. I knew it was probably gonna be pretty big, because everything Blizzard does is big. And I knew if they decided to cut that character or change the game completely, they’d do it, because they only put out high-quality games. It doesn’t matter how much money they’ve sunk into it. So you go “I hope this makes it” because it’s only in beta and we’re just recording, but if it does make it it’ll be pretty huge. But my experience with Blizzard has always been amazing. They treat us incredibly well. I can’t overstate that. They really are a great company, and they really care about the actors.


Maleok: Obviously, Blizzard is always bringing out new voice lines for events. How active are you with Blizzard still?


Keith: Not as active as people seem to think. People kept asking me about Sombra and different things, and I was like “They don’t check with us”. I have no say in that. We all record separately, even though we have lines that sometimes pertain to each other. But every once in awhile they bring me in, if they have new lines they wanna add to the game. It’s fun.


Maleok: Were there other characters besides Torbjorn that you auditioned for?


Keith: I feel like I have a bit of a reputation of getting parts where someone asks, “Who can do this?” “I dunno. Throw it at Keith.” I’ve been lucky to have a lot of different roles. I haven’t gotten pigeonholed. Many people have a sound that’s just in-demand, and they just mostly do that. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’ve enjoyed exploring different characters. I attempt to defy definition, but I do have some go-to things. I didn’t audition for a lot of characters on that, and if I did, I didn’t realize what I was auditioning for. It was just the one. It was sent to me. I laid something down and sent it in. And then I just forget about it. And I lucked out. I feel very lucky to have been able to work on this game.


Maleok: The reception for Overwatch has been amazing. How does it feel to be a living part of such a large game, since other games can be just a one-time experience?


Keith: It’s amazing. We do so much work we could potentially pour our hearts into, but it kind of disappears. You find people that happen to be a fan of a specific game, but most of it just goes away, even if your performance was amazing. It’s really nice to get recognition for something where people go “Whoa! You were in that?” I’ve never been to BlizzCon, so I’ve never seen a mass reaction. But at the wrap-party on the Blizzard campus, where they filmed those little skits we did quickly, that was one of my first tastes of how big it is, because that blew up on Twitter. I’ve played the game, and I have a lot of friends who love the game, and it’s the only project where I can run into other actors and they quote it to me.


Maleok: I feel like you’re a bit beyond the point of getting a role that propels you forward, since you’re sort of over that hump. But do you feel like Overwatch has done something for you as far as recognition?

Keith: Yeah I think it has. I’ve had many roles to my credit, but I think I’m still looking for those one, two, or three roles that propel your name out there. I love working with Blizzard, but it’s pretty cool that it’s helping with that. I think for some video games, I’ll definitely feel the excitement later, because some games and shows are for a younger audience, and in ten years people are gonna show up at cons and say “You were so-and-so from ten years ago? Wow!” So I think some of those are gonna creep up on me. So I’ll take anything if it puts my name out there in terms of getting more work, and better work.


Maleok: Do you feel any sort of connection with Torbjorn?


Keith: I don’t know, haha. I know some actors will find something they have in common with a character, but I don’t know that I do that very often. I usually just put myself in the place of that character. I’ve never had a character that was so far out there that I couldn’t fathom them. I feel a bond with the characters after I do them, once they’re out in the world. So I feel one now, I think, just because we’ve done this together, and affected each others’ lives, obviously not in a real sense, but it exists and it’s out there. So Torbjorn lives out there now in our world of mythology, and for the next seventy years or so, I’ll be able to mention him, and he’ll exist in some way in people’s memories. So we do have that bond. But it wasn’t like I thought “This guy is totally me!”


Maleok: How have fans treated you when you do interact with them?


Keith: Fans are overall great. It’s really cool to get to interact with the fans. But you get all kinds. 95% of them are just really cool. But you have a small percentage that get star-struck, which is silly to me. And you have a small percentage, that are just really rude to you. But they’ll wait in line to meet you, and then say “Well who are you anyway?” And I’m still cool with it. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t ever want to get big-headed. And then there’s some that bring me script and say “I made this game. Can you give this to someone?” like they’ll just make this game. But like most of the con-goers are really amazing people. These cons are a safe place for them. They’re with like-minded people. Only in the last five years or so has nerdy become cool.


Maleok: I always love exploring this next train of thought with people, how does it make you feel that tens of thousands of people hear your voice every day; So many people love Torbjorn and have him as their favorite or main character, how does that prospect make you feel?


Keith: I don’t know. I’m kind of soaking it in now as you’re saying it. That’s crazy. Again, the weird thing is that we’re disconnected from that most of the time. Even if I go online and play Overwatch, I’m not gonna be privy to popularity. I’m just playing one game at a time. It’s difficult to experience that big picture. It’s only when people tell me that that I go “Really?” And it’s not because I don’t believe it, but knowing it and experiencing it are different things. If you go perform on stage, you get an immediate audience reaction to everything you do. You feel that right away. But video games are so different. You do the best you can, and then you just hope that the gamers like it.


Maleok: Finally, my traditional last question is, do you think you will be doing this for the rest of your life?


Keith: I sure do. I love my career, and I feel very fortunate. So as long as I’m able, and people are still willing to hire me, I would love to keep doing this. I don’t think it’s something I’d ever want to retire from. You can do it at any age. So I think at the most, if I were successful and secure enough, I would maybe turn down some of the more vocally stressful roles someday. I enjoy those now, but twenty or thirty years from now, I might not want to scream all day. But I don’t think I’d ever want to stop.

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I'm a video game journalist and I love what I do. Interviewed more people than I can count on both hands (and feet) Including: Imagine Dragons, Liam O'brien, Nicki Taylor, and more!