When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild dropped back in 2017, it represented a major leap forward for Nintendo’s long-running action-adventure franchise. Among Breath of the Wild’s many innovations was the inclusion of voice acting during its cutscenes, with actor Patricia Summersett taking on the eponymous role of Princess Zelda herself.
A veteran of many live-action and animated film, TV, and video game projects, Summersett was the first English-speaking performer to voice Zelda in a canonical Legend of Zelda installment (the classic Zelda cartoon series doesn’t count, apparently). Since then, she’s reprised the role a further two times: in 2020 hack-and-slash prequel Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and Breath of the Wild’s newly released direct sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
In this interview with Popverse, Summersett reflects on how her portrayal of Princess Zelda has changed between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, unpacks the dynamic between Zelda and franchise protagonist Link, and weighs in on whether Nintendo should consider adapting the pair’s story as a movie.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Popverse: When did Nintendo first approach you about voicing Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?
Patricia Summersett: Well, that was back in — I guess roughly before the [Breath of the Wild] trailer came out for E3 because I obviously voiced [Princess Zelda in] that, but not long before [the trailer] they had put out auditions and it was quite late in the game. And then it happened pretty quickly after that. The quick, secret 'auditioning for the thing that you don't know what it is' [scenario], and then, boom, it happens and then the journey begins.
Princess Zelda is obviously an iconic role, but Breath of the Wild is light on cutscenes compared to other video games. What was your initial reaction to Zelda’s relatively small number of lines in the game?
It's funny because at the time [Breath of the Wild] came out and I was working on it I didn't think too much of [Princess Zelda’s amount of dialogue]. I just knew that whatever it was going to be was substantial because she hadn't previously had a voice, so anything that she would be saying would be pretty interesting and very specifically curated [laughs].
I guess in terms of working in video games and other projects in general it's not really the amount of lines [that matters to me]. It's a fascinating question — I actually haven’t ever considered that before. But it's true that cutscenes and things like that don't actually take up that much dialogue [in the Legend of Zelda franchise], whereas maybe in another style of game, they would be much more substantial.
After Breath of the Wild, Nintendo invited you back to voice Princess Zelda in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. What were your first thoughts when that happened?
Each game is a fascinating new adventure, and as a voice actor, I wait for a call, and if I'm lucky enough to get it, I celebrate [laughs]. Being called back for Age of Calamity was a surprise. I obviously didn't know that the game was being developed and then, boom, it happened. I find out about these things when everybody else does, right? So, the trailer came out in 2019 for [Tears of the Kingdom] and I went, “Oh my gosh, there's the possibility of a sequel!” So, then I wondered if I'd get that call and then finally did, so I was relieved and happy that they wanted to work with me again because you just never know.
What was it like reprising the Princess Zelda role a third time? Did you learn from your performances in Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity that you used when revisiting the character in Tears of the Kingdom?
I'm definitely building upon experiences that I've had in previous processes. I've had time to sit with this for six years after the original has come out. In a way, that can evolve a performance — you're always building upon what you've learned from voicing previous things as much as learning six years more of work in other domains, both TV/film and other video games. So, I take that with me as well.
There are a lot of things different about voicing her now, including knowing what it's like to feel associated with and connected with the character, even outside of the recordings. Because since [Breath of the Wild] came out in 2017, I've done a lot of traveling around and I've met so many fans and gosh, I have a special place in my head and heart for all the tattoos [of Princess Zelda]. There's all the tattoos that I've seen around the world and the incredible cosplay and just how much it means to people.
And so, without being too serious about that, it's really fun to meet people and celebrate that stuff together.
Do you think part of the reason Nintendo fans react so strongly to Princess Zelda is that she’s one of the only characters in the franchise to have spoken dialogue, while Link himself never talks at all? Is there a sense of responsibility you feel to bring emotional weight to a game like Tears of the Kingdom since its protagonist isn’t necessarily equipped to do so himself?
I don't think Zelda's character takes anything away from Link’s character in any way. Hold on, let me think about this [laughs].
I’ll reframe the question slightly: how does Princess Zelda build up Link’s character? Because when they’re together, she’s doing the talking and a lot of the emoting, as well. He’s the strong silent type in a lot of ways.
He’s a strong, silent type! He’s so quiet, he has very expressive eyes, so I’ve always felt like I was speaking to somebody who's very much listening in those moments (or imagine I am). He’s a great listener. I mean, speaking of the games past, I feel like a lot of characters do have developed personalities and speak, so I don't think that Zelda’s alone in that, but it is fascinating representing a titular character, and certainly I do feel — of course, with any role that I play as a professional actor, when you're given a meaty role such as that, you want to put everything you've got into that role, for sure.
I've certainly tried to do that with each iteration, based upon what I've learned. And, also, I feel a role modelship outside of the games as well, just in terms of the fact that she's a strong female character who has a voice and that means certain things to different people, and I love to honor that where I can and try to just be reticent about the fact that I'm carrying that around when I walk into certain rooms and stuff. So, I found that a really interesting thing that has been a residue of doing these games is me bringing that into certain rooms — whether or not I have the intention to, that kind of happens.
Building on that, how do you convey Princess Zelda's personality and her relationship with Link? Are there any subtle cues you use to communicate the dynamic between them?
Hmm, that's a great question. I don’t think I've ever actually been asked anything like that before.
I mean, I come to the character through the script initially, of course, and everything is built upon the script — building it up from there and then understanding the context in which she's speaking. And then you're breathing life into a dub, which has its own technical challenge and its own music to it.
So, it's your impulse marrying up with the rhythm that comes to you from a cutscene, for example, and then those things get approved by multiple people before they get released into the world, so there's a certain amount of that that I let go of, but I try to come into a room as prepared as possible. You know, I warm up. I try to just keep in shape as an actor and I bring whatever acting chops I can and life experience.
Has the combination of what you bring to the role and what’s already in the script changed the way you approach Princess Zelda’s personality and her relationship with Link in Tears of the Kingdom? (Without getting into spoilers, of course!)
Yeah, I’m trying to — how do I word that without going into spoilers at all, or even alluding [to Tears of the Kingdom’s story] or anything like that?
We wouldn’t want to ruin it for people (or get in trouble with Nintendo).
We certainly wouldn't! [Laughs] I think over six years revisiting a character who I've felt inside of me for a long time or can at least imagine — I mean, obviously she's not a real person — but to me, there is a place in me where I feel she is quite real because I give to the character.
It has been an incredible six years, obviously, for the world. It's fascinating to revisit anything after this span of time where so much has changed and I think a lot of people carry around a certain weight of experience that they didn't have six years ago. I'm no different and probably the team working on this is no different too. I think probably everybody's coming back to this with I'd also say a certain degree of appreciation for getting to revisit material that's so rich and wonderful.
And to go back into a character and re-explore it, it's just such a gift. It's so rare to be able to do that with any character, much less a character of this size and scope and complexity. Not that there are 20,000 cutscenes, as you're saying, but more that it's just [about] how do you ask questions for a character whose regal/royal, has this weight on her? And then, as an actor, asking yourself how you give a natural and genuine, connected voice to an iconic character. So, that's a question I should always be revisiting and updating and learning from.
Before we wrap up, let’s look beyond the Legend of Zelda games to the wider franchise itself. Nintendo has just had a huge amount of success with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Do you think an animated Legend of Zelda movie could work and is it something Nintendo should set its sights on?
[Laughs] Whoa —
Don’t think of this as being put on the spot to make a sneaky audition tape.
Right! I mean, I'm going to trust that Nintendo knows what they're doing there. They clearly made some moves that have led to a lot of success with [The Super Mario Bros. Movie], indeed. It's a funny one. Obviously, if anything Legend of Zelda [happens], I want to be involved in [it] whenever I can and hope to be asked to be involved in any capacity, because it's awesome. But whatever direction that goes, whether they decide to make a film or not, I have no idea. I'll probably find out when you do [laughs].