Misty Lee is an improv comedian who studied at Second City in Los Angeles. He is a wizard at the Magic Castle in Hollywood who is also trained in dentistry and is the voice of Princess Leia in Star Wars Battlefront. But he’s also the voice of one of the creepiest monsters in TV and gaming — The last of usclicker.
Lee is credited with creating the click clicker, a mix of screeching and echolocation, along with clicker voice actor and PlayStation Studios sound designers Phil Kovats and Derrick Espino. She and Kovacs—sometimes with their clicks mixing in—provided the eerie sound The last of us when it was released in 2013; Kovacs is back for The Last of Us Part 2, but Lee was not involved. HBO’s The last of us it gave her a chance to reprise the voice she helped create, bringing the sounds of sonar to the small screen. In an interview with Polygon, Lee talked about the original direction of the click voice, how things were different for the show, and even gave us a lesson in clicking ourselves.
[Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
Polygon: Your work is important The last of us and the game.
Misty Lee: Yes, I helped them create the sound. But the sound director for The Last of Us Part 2 it was a different team. They wanted to go in a different direction. One thing I’ve learned in this industry is that you have nothing — I taught Phil [Kovats] how to make that sound. And they taught other people how to make that sound. Anyone can make the sound. I will teach you how to make the sound.
I would love this. I actually tried to do it before this call and it didn’t sound right at all.
You can’t print it, but I’ll teach you. [Ed. note: Sorry folks, industry secrets!]
How did you get involved with the first game?
I was working on a project with one of the guys. Phil and Derrick [Espino] are two of the guys who worked on the sound design. Phil Kovats, who was the click guy, and Derrick Espino, who is the sound designer. They are wonderful men whose hearts were left in this whole game. I was working with Derrick on something else and I made a creature. And Derrick said, “Um, I’ll bring you to something else I’m doing.”
When I started, I walked into the booth and it was like, We are looking for some sounds. These are some of the creatures in this game we are working on. We don’t know exactly what they sound like. This is what they will look like, and this is what they do.
As a voice actor, it’s your job to leave everything on the floor. We started experimenting and I started doing things for them. When the clicking noise happened, they went, Wait a minute. Stop it. Can you change it? Can you do it over and over and over? We just found this sound.
So you were doing creature sounds before this?
Yes, there were very few women at that time. There are quite a few now making critters in Los Angeles. I didn’t know it was a growing market at the time though. I made a creature with Derrick and he was like, A lady… That’s interesting. And also, these are good noises. He makes things that are not typical. I don’t mind getting ugly. I think it’s fun. You have snot and water running down your face. Don’t wear makeup because you’re disgusting. You’re all over the mic and I love getting gross. It s funny. There really weren’t any others doing this at the time. It just wasn’t an issue. Because I don’t mind being obnoxious, and my background was in improv, it just became an issue.
I credit Phil and Derrick, and the success of the original game and their sound design, for bringing me into the scene. I credit them with changing the direction of my career a lot. I mean, it’s always been said that we rise to the opportunities we’re ready for. But these friends gave me a chance. I had no idea what the game was. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just having fun with some really cool people who were fun to work with.
How did you arrive at this sound? Do you remember what you rejected before you got there?
It started with acting. One of the things I was told early on was to imagine I was in a backpack with my body. You can see what’s going on, but you can’t control it. Your own hands tear apart the people you love. How does that sound to you? And that was it. That’s where we started. Answer this question. By answering this question, you make it a reality. You start to feel it and it starts to become real, then you see someone in front of you that you love very much.
You can imagine the pain and anguish. It started with crying and screaming and trying to stop my hands from doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and also something that breaks my heart. And it just started to transform and we just went with it. And I was in there, I think for three or four hours on the mic that day. And they just hit record and let it go.
They took notes when things were interesting to them, and they collaborated and jumped and went, This is very nice. Can you do it three times?
When you cry and moan and scream and cry, and you’re also a monster—you’re in there being a monster—you take on tendencies that aren’t quite human, that change your vocal signature. And what I mean by that is, for example, if you’re a dog, you don’t have a human skull, you have a long nose. You may want to turn your tongue to the side to make this shape, change the shape of your organ, based on body posture. When you make a creature, you’ll want to try to look like it, stand like them.
You start with this, and an image of the clicks. They don’t have a voice – they’re not really a voiced character. Their voice box has been battered, infected. We want to stay away from anything that sounds too human, but remember that they were once human. We don’t want to remove humanity altogether.
It was such a remarkable visual to give someone. It’s a great feeling for an actor. You’re tearing your family apart and you can’t stop it. What? Wow. It was an incredibly soulful emotional moment. We started from there. We changed shapes. He exhales, screams, cries. We found it.
Is recording for the video game and recording for the show different?
Yes. The video game was completely blind creation – they had an artistic image of the clickers. For the show, we recorded in the photo. And that’s where it really comes down to knowing where the sound lives and being able to play. When you have a clicker walking around or just randomly looking for something —
[Lee does an inquisitive clicker sound.]
– like, Is there anything out there? In contrast with:
[Lee does an alarmed, alert clicker sound.]
[which is] they find something. And now, an attack:
[Lee does an aggressive clicker sound.]
You must know the difference. There is a scene where Elli has never seen a clicker before, in the museum. Remember that;
The first thing we did was take a picture, and it was that click walking and walking away [Lee does curious clicker sounds] and like the clicks, the shake — he was moving, walking, and all you saw was his hand going [Lee does a clicker sound].
We were able to watch it and Craig [Mazin, The Last of Us showrunner] he made us watch it, the whole match.
They would show us the stage and then give us a beep on the stage. They usually put headphones on and play, very quietly, the sound without the music. There’s no click noise, so you’re making a live click noise when you watch it. Phil and I would each take turns and then do things together.
Does it hurt to make the clicking sound?
When I did that session with them, I was out for four days. The sound doesn’t hurt, but what it does do is deal damage. I will teach you how. I was down for the vocal rest count and had a sore throat. It is probably a serious vocal impairment. It didn’t tick, but I have to be careful. The game was one session. They got everything to me within four hours. For the show, it was twice — we went to the first time and did quite a few episodes, and came back to do some stuff that was shot later.
It was incredible vocal stress. But now, the union has put a moratorium on our vocal angst. Even if you’re just yelling, it’s hard. When you do something like Call of Duty, you have 300 lines that you’re supposed to get through in a couple of hours. And they are all, GRENADE! It’s life or death. You are at war and loud wars are heard. So it’s two hours now with union meetings that are vocally stressful. You have to protect these things.
Do people you know ever ask you to click the voice, like your friends or family?
I just had a friend here last night, he tweeted something about how much he liked the show. And I was kind of, Get your ass here and check it out with us. It came last night and I was like, Want to learn how to do it? And it was likeYes Yes. He came over last night, watched the show with us and I gave him a click lesson. He went home knowing very well how to do it and practicing in the car.
I would love to know.
[Lee instructs Nicole to make the sound. Nicole tries and fails. Misty encourages Nicole some more. She is embarrassed, but eventually makes a weak clicker sound.]
If you do it too much, you’ll go hoarse. Imagine hours of doing that and trying to make someone happy, because that’s our job as actors. But it was like, We just want weird noises. When he told me this, someone who likes to play and be gross — be careful what you wish for! But we got what we were looking for. Only when they got that click where they went, God, that’s it. Like I said, clickers don’t have eyes. They are not human, they are not anymore, because the fungus has taken over. What do they call the ultimate evolution of a Pokémon? He is more fungus than man. They look for things by sound tracking. What does a mushroom with an eyeball need?