Comedy

The voice of your childhood plays 'fearless' drug-lord villain in new CBC series

Tara Strong, beloved cartoon voice actor, channeled Harley Quinn and a notorious cartel leader for her role in Pretty Hard Cases.

Cartoon voice actor, Tara Strong, brings Harley Quinn and notorious cartel leader to Pretty Hard Cases role.

Tara Strong as Tiggy Sullivan in CBC's new series Pretty Hard Cases. (CBC)

With a career spanning over three decades and more than 500 acting credits, Canadian-born Tara Strong is now known by millions as the "voice" of their childhood. 

Tara Strong was raised in Toronto, Ontario, and had her first animated role at age 13 as the title character Hello Kitty. After a short run at Toronto's Second City theater company, Tara moved to Los Angeles, and went on to voice iconic characters like Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls, DC Comics Batgirl and Harley Quinn, and Timmy Turner in The Fairly OddParents

Strong is now starring as Tiggy Sullivan, a drug lord and "fierce mama bear with balls of steel," in CBC's new female detective buddy-cop series, Pretty Hard Cases. We talked to Strong about getting into the mind of a villain for her on-camera role. 

Who is Tiggy in Pretty Hard Cases?

The character Tiggy Sullivan is introduced as a woman who had big dreams, but landed on the rough side of Toronto. A mother of two kids from different dads, she runs her father's trucking business while barely making ends meet. 

"Tiggy is an actor's dream," says Strong. "She's smart, strong, and fearless. In many ways, where misogyny has pinned down a strong woman, she's had to push down the strongest parts of herself and abdicate her power to the men around her," says Strong. 

"The gift in acting is being able to step into somebody else's shoes, just for a little while, and living life as a bad guy without repercussions of going to jail, is pretty fantastic," says Tara Strong. (CBC)

"In Pretty Hard Cases, she starts to remember who she is, she picks up her weapons, and she starts to fight for her family, with herself in the steering wheel."

Every actor wants to be the bad guy. It's so much fun.- Tara Strong

From rough to glam: Developing Tiggy's character

Before the primary audition for Tiggy, the character was described as a haggard, tired mom, who would do anything for her kids—but Strong had a different vision for the character.

"You will usually see Tiggy wearing some sort of animal print," says Tara Strong , Tiggy Sullivan in Pretty Hard Cases.. (CBC)

 

Strong trained in acting at Second City in Toronto, which she says gave her tremendous confidence to be able to jump into multiple character roles and automatically come up with a little backstory: "How they'd laugh, who they talked to, who they'd have a crush on, where they go, how they'd handle each situation," says Strong. 

"Something in me said: I want her to be someone that is a powerhouse. Someone that will do anything for her children, but who knows how to use her female prowess, be in charge of situations and not let men manipulate her." 

That's why Strong, a vegan, went into her first audition dressed up with a faux fur coat on. 

"I got this character," says Strong, "she's a tigress." 

Tiggy is a combination of Harley Quinn and 'The Godmother' Griselda Blanco

"Harley is so crazy, she'll do anything for love," says Strong, who has voiced almost 40 different animated iterations of DC's sometimes villain, sometimes antihero Harley Quinn since 2011. 

Canadian-born voice actor Tara Strong has made a career defining the voices of two iconic DC characters, Batgirl and Harley Quinn. (DC; Getty Images; DC)

Tiggy and Harley mirror Strong's own personal journey, she says.

"Harley is also someone who lived under the thumb of an abusive man for a very long time," adds Strong, referring to DC villain The Joker, "and then found her wings and now has her own power."

Tiggy is sort of an on-camera, mom version of Harley Quinn.- Tara Strong

Strong drew a similar character reference from Griselda Blanco, also known as "The Godmother", the larger-than-life Colombian cocaine trafficker who reigned for decades, implemented drive-by shootings on motorcycles in Miami, and named her son Michael Corleone after the character in The Godfather.

Griselda Blanco (CBC)

"[Griselda Blanco] didn't take crap from anybody, set her own standards, made her own rules, and if you didn't like that, you were dead." 

Although Tiggy is a small-fry compared to Griselda, in the actress' mind, "Tiggy had dreams of grandeur, she had dreams of Griselda."

"Sometimes, right before a scene, I'd say 'Come with me Griselda'. I just wanted to take her power essence with me into certain scenes, so I would sort of speak to her spirit," says Strong. 

Like Tiggy, Blanco was also an "absolute genius" and survivalist, coming from a very challenging background of abuse, doing whatever she would for her children, including many murders and "all kinds of absolute madness," says Strong. 

"[Blanco] was able to compartmentalize what she was doing in order to provide for her children. Of course, ultimately, we know that's not the best way to protect your children."

Pretty Hard Cases characters Tiggy Sullivan (Tara Strong) and daughter Jackie Sullivan (Katie Douglas) in episode one. (CBC)

Voice acting vs. live action

Strong says voicing animated characters and live acting are completely different art forms. 

"I often explain to people that it is akin to asking a tap dancer if they do ballet ballet dancer if they do jazz. Many dancers do crossover and do different forms of jazz dance, but many are just a ballerina."

Strong says there is extra work that goes into an animated role. 

"In an on-camera series, if your character is falling off a cliff, you're gonna see some sort of cliff in front of your green screen," says Strong. "In the voiceover world, you have nothing in front of you and you have to use your imagination." 

You have to bring forth that action with your voice, and it has to be authentic or people aren't going to buy it.- Tara Strong

"When you watch an animated session, you'll never see [the voice actor] just standing still, they're moving around within the parameters of the microphone to feel the action," says Strong.

Strong brings this talent to Pretty Hard Cases

"Pretty Hard Cases is absolutely going down as one of my favorite experiences because the role is so juicy, so much fun to play, and the people around me all brought their A-game," says Strong.

"The show is written and run by amazing women. It felt like we were all there to support each other and lift each other up during what really is a chaotic time in the world, and to be in this little bubble of creativity was such a gift."

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