Voiceover actress Nika Futterman ’88 waves off fame while seeking a seat at the poker table
You may not have heard of Nika Futterman—this despite the fact that she has 254 acting credits, most of them voice characters, going back to 1991 and is a singer and a professional poker player (more on that later). Not being famous is OK with Futterman. Unlike many of her peers in Hollywood, she always wanted to be anonymous. Voice acting gives her something that on-camera parts don’t. “I can be crazy and wacky and weird and do a version of acting, but nobody will know who I am,” she said.
Her intonation and pitch change radically while she explained, “If you can do different voices, you can be anything. You can be a guy and a girl, an old lady, a young lady, or you know, whatever you can imagine. A monster!”
Voice actors are not limited by what they look like, how old they are, or what they’re wearing, she added. “You don’t have to be cool.” All these job conditions fit Futterman’s personality perfectly. “Plus,” she said, “I get to hide out behind a microphone.”
Looking back at her time in the Williston theater, she was the same way. “I would literally think, ‘After the show’s over, I’m going to walk out the back of the stage. I don’t want to go out in front. I’ll be too embarrassed, I’ll be too shy.’ But when I was up on stage, I was like, ‘Bring it, baby! Watch me!’”
She came to Williston because of the theater program. “EB. Mr. Baker—oh, I loved him so much. He was such an inspiration.” She described how she admired Ellis Baker’s seriousness about creating theater that was as professional as possible. “The facilities were so wonderful. I just wanted to do plays.”
Futterman grew up the daughter of a music producer in New York City. Famous people orbited around the family. “From an early age I thought, wow, that doesn’t look fun.” Even now, she said, “I kind of feel bad for my friends who are well known, and you know, walk on the street and can’t actually just be. And for me, nobody has any idea who I am.”
Finding a character’s voice is a challenge Futterman truly enjoys, and it comes somewhat naturally to her. From the time she was young, she imitated others. “I listened to how people sounded, and it was always fascinating to me,” she said. “I hear things. I hear rhythm. I hear timbre. I hear pitch. When I meet people, I’m listening to how they sound, how quickly they speak, how low or high their voice is. That’s something that’s always been just really interesting to me.”
Futterman was in her early 20s when she moved to Los Angeles looking for acting work. She began scoring television roles on shows such as “Chicago Hope,” “Murphy Brown,” “The Wayans Bros.,” and “Diagnosis Murder.” But right alongside these jobs were parts on animated series, like “The Woody Woodpecker Show,” “Maya & Miguel,” and “Hey Arnold!” She also began to mine a vein of video-game parts, speaking lines in blockbuster titles such as “World of Warcraft,” “X-Men Legends,” and “Grand Theft Auto.” She’s played Gridface Princess in “Adventure Time,” Gamorah in “Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.,” and Catwoman on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” She’s voiced parts on “American Dad” and “Rugrats.” Basically, if you’ve watched TV or used an Xbox in the last 20 years, odds are, you’ve heard Futterman’s voice.
And if your kids watch “The Loud House” on Nickelodeon, you’ve probably heard the pipes of Futterman as Luna Loud, a 15-year-old bisexual punk rocker. Most of the adoration Futterman gets on her Twitter feed is from fans of Luna. “The Loud House” premiered in 2016 and is about to start producing its fifth season—longevity that’s rare in animated series. It’s rated second only to “SpongeBob SquarePants” among the two- to 11-year-old demographic and received two GLAAD Media Award nominations for its depiction of LGBT characters. A Netflix movie based on the show is slated to debut in 2021.
Another current project is voicing Cuckoo-Loca, Minnie Mouse’s doe-eyed pet bird in Disney’s “Minnie’s Bow-Toons.” When she first read for the part, she veered toward the unexpected and imbued the character with a Joe Pesci-esque sassy voice. The show’s executives loved it, even though they went back and forth a bit on whether Cuckoo-Loca should be a “mob chick,” as Futterman describes her, or a sweet, innocent bird. In the end, show runners decided the edgy voice was the way to go.
Speaking of unexpected, Futterman has a second career: professional poker player. For the past 10 years, she’s made the circuit, entering tournaments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. This July, she came in third in Larry Flynt’s Grand Slam of Poker, raking in almost $12,000 at the $175 No Limit Hold’em table. Her lifetime earnings top $300,000.
Futterman said she often encourages women to enter the field of competitive poker. Women make up about 3% of professional players, but have certain advantages over their male counterparts. “It’s a really interesting thing to be a woman up at the poker table,” she said. “Men don’t like to play with women. Actually, I don’t like to play with women because you can’t figure out if they’re good, if they’re bad, if they know what they’re doing, if they’re actually really good, but they’re super sneaky. It’s typically very hard to read women. But men, I find easier to read.”
As with voice acting, Futterman has dedicated time and energy to honing her craft. “I spent the last 10 years just trying to get really good. And I think like anything you do in life, whatever your job is, you could get really good, but you have to be willing to invest incredible amounts of time.” While lately she’s been reassessing and pulling back on how much she plays poker, she was actually walking to a tournament while being interviewed for this story. “Oh, I got to the point where I was playing about 80 hours a week, which is a lot of poker. I love it. I’m obsessed with it.”