We interviewed the delightful Linda Larkin, the speaking voice of Jasmine in Aladdin as the film readies for a Diamond Edition Blu-ray release on October 13th, 2015. Larkin still has the very youthful voice of a young Jasmine, which has allowed her to continue with the role for movies and video games since Aladdin first debuted in 1992. She never expected the one role to lead to over 20 years of continuous work, and we discuss that with her in a segment of the interview. Unlike other voice actors we’ve spoken with, she wasn’t always alone while working – often spending time with other actors on set, including the late comedian Robin Williams (whom she calls a “generous actor”).
MS: How did you earn the role of Princess Jasmine?
LL: Well, I auditioned for it in Los Angeles. I was one of hundreds of girls auditioning for it. It was just a little room with a microphone and a casting director, and I went in and recorded the scenes. He said “Very good, thank you” and I left. I didn’t hear anything for months. And then I got a call saying, “They’d like to see you again”, and I said “great”. I went back, and there were a few more people in the room. And then we were in a more sophisticated recording studio. Every time I went back over the next several months, there were more and more people on the engineers side of the glass and fewer people in the waiting room auditioning for it. So…I knew that it was getting narrowed down, and I still was in the mix. And eventually it was just me, and a lot of them. And I got the job.
MS: And you are still playing Princess Jasmine almost 25 years later. Was that something you ever expected?
LL: Absolutely not, I had no idea! Of course, you don’t think about anything 25 years later when you are a young person, you just don’t think like that. But I also didn’t know that it was going to be a classic movie, I didn’t know there were going to be sequels and a cartoon series. These are the kind of things that we were kind of breaking new ground for Disney at that time. So…the princesses even as a group were not really…it wasn’t really marketed like that. We were all just sort of individual stories, and somebody came along at some point and said, “Oh, no – the princess are their own thing. We need to have princess stories and princess math games”…a lot of new things developed that I couldn’t possibly have imagined.
MS: Did the Little Mermaid come out while you were filming Aladdin?
LL: So The Little Mermaid came out just before I auditioned for Aladdin. Beauty and the Beast had not come out yet. So, The Little Mermaid had just come out, and it was a really good movie and everybody was really excited about it. I remember I loved it too, but it just seemed like its own thing. We didn’t realize that we were part of something that was…an era of Disney films, because nobody had seen Beauty and the Beast yet. And I was just seeing some of the in-progress stuff of Beauty and the Beast and it looked really cool, but when I saw it, I was like “Oh my gosh, this is an incredible movie. I’m part of something really big here and I hope was really good too (laughing). And of course, when I saw ours, I was like “Oh, wow, they are really doing something right here”.
MS: Did you have a bond with Jodi Benson and Paige O’Hara or were the films just really separate entities back then?
LL: Well, back then we didn’t really know each other. I didn’t know Jodi or Paige, because they were both musical theater girls and I was not. I didn’t sing, I wasn’t in that same world. So I didn’t really know them then, I know them now because years later we were made Disney Legends together. We had this really beautiful experience together where we were all inducted into the Disney Hall of Fame at once. And now, I have a closer relationship with Paige, I keep in touch with her, she’s really close to Jodi and we are kind of…forever tied together in history.
MS: We were actually there when you became a Disney Legend. What did it feel like to receive that honor?
LL: I was really nervous, I had no idea that there were going to be so many people there. I did not understand before I stepped into that room that there was going to be 5,000 people in the audience. And I was a little nervous, but I was really honored and excited to be there and to share it with my family and my friends and to be able to publicly thank the people that made it possible for me, Ron (Clements) and John (Musker) – the makers of the film. They were there, and I got to say out loud what I’ve been saying privately for years, that without them I wouldn’t be able to do this. And I’m grateful for it.
MS: When you were in the studio, what was the process like? Did you work with Robin Williams or any of the other actors on the film? Or were you on your own all the time?
LL: Both. I did everything by myself, and I did everything with the other actor I was in the scene with. So I would have days where I recorded alone, and then I would have other days where I would record all day with Jafar. Or all day with Aladdin. Or…the one day I got to work with Robin Williams.
MS: What was it like working with Robin Williams?
LL: I was really intimidated going in, and the minute I met him I felt completely at ease. He was the warmest, kindest, gentlest person. He was a generous actor – so exciting and inspiring to work with, and it was just a really fun afternoon. He improved a lot of stuff, and we had to follow the improv because whatever the Genie said, Aladdin had to repeat and then Jasmine had to repeat what Aladdin said. It was a really fun and silly afternoon, and it was great.
MS: Most of your work through the years has been through voice acting. Is that what you planned to do from the beginning?
LL: No, I didn’t really have a plan from the beginning. When I first moved to New York, I was a dancer. That was my plan. I really didn’t think about what I would do after the age of 25, when dancing wouldn’t be a career anymore. And through a dance teacher, I was introduced to a kids manager, and that manager started sending me out on acting jobs. I didn’t even know I wanted to be an actress, I was getting really positive feedback and I was getting jobs. I said, “I better start studying this so I know what I’m doing”, and I just fell in love with it that way, but I didn’t really have any grand plan for my life. It sort of seems that it was something that happened without me focusing on it. Some of the best things in my life seem to happen like that, when I just sort of let it be. It really is better than something I could have imagined if I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I could never have dreamt up a job as good as Princess Jasmine.
MS: Your voice still sounds very young. How did you end up doing video games too?
LL: One of the things..and I know my voice sounds young…and at the time I did this job (first playing Princess Jasmine in Aladdin), my voice was naturally higher pitched than they wanted it to be for this character. So I remember at the time, it was a bit of a struggle to lower the pitch of my voice because it wasn’t where I naturally spoke. So, that was such a gift too, because I don’t have to try to speak at that level. My voice naturally is more at that level now that I had to keep it at when I was 20. So that part is really fortunate. The video games we get to do because everything goes through Disney, and Disney character voices is very…adamant about keeping the voices of the characters consistent throughout all media. So any toy, or video game or new product…they really try to keep it consistent with the original.
MS: What advice would you give if a child wants to have a career like you have had?
LL: Well, for me…following my original dream of being a dancer led me to a world that I could not have imagined. It’s been very rewarding, and I’m very grateful for it. So, I think to find what you love and to follow that. You don’t know where it will take you, but just following it will sent you on the right path.