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Chris Anthony Lansdowne holding a pink phone up to her ear, surrounded by all the toys she voiced. Photo courtesy of Chris Anthony Lansdowne

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Meet the voice of all your favorite Barbie toys and games

Chris Anthony Lansdowne spent years embedded in Barbies

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Super Talk Barbie, dressed from head to toe in denim and gold, has a lot to say. The computer chip inside her chest picks and chooses from a mix-and-match set of phrases — Let’s get together andgo dancing with Ken, get ice cream with friends, or sit around and watch videos. Put all those lines together and Super Talk Barbie has 100,000 different phrases, according to Mattel’s 1994 commercial.

It’s no wonder why Chris Anthony Lansdowne was in Mattel’s California studio every day for years; she’s the voice not only of Super Talk Barbie but of all ’90s products where you hear Barbie’s voice. From Barbie Fashion Designer and Barbie Riding Club to a Barbie flip phone and boombox, Lansdowne’s voice is embedded in all things Barbie. For so many kids who grew up in the ’90s, Lansdowne is Barbie, the voice of their childhood.

Polygon spoke to Lansdowne in June to discuss her iconic role, particularly in Barbie Fashion Designer, the first mass-market “game for girls.” Lansdowne spoke about getting the job to voice Barbie, the role’s legacy, and about how she told her kid — in Barbie’s target demographic — that she voices her favorite doll.

Polygon: Barbie Fashion Designer is the first Barbie video game you voiced, but how did you start in the role?

Chris Anthony Lansdowne: I had been doing voice-over work for many years. I was first an on-camera [actor]. You could see me in commercials and I was always a goofy blonde and a funny bank teller. It became so limited for me because I was this blond, blue-eyed girl and couldn’t do old women or crazy characters, which I’m really known for doing. And I thought, “Gosh, voice acting is so different.” You could be an old, old lady. And then you could be a little boy. You could do anything. And it didn’t matter what you look like. And I thought, Yes. Somebody just kind of freed me into this new world.

Talk With Me! Barbie doll, USA, 1997. Photo: SSPL/Getty Images

I started booking, you know, commercials and animation and stuff. By the time Barbie happened, it was 1994 and I had been doing toy voices, but Mattel was looking for a voice for Barbie. They didn’t really have an established voice. I didn’t know that I was auditioning for Barbie. I’ve got to tell you, this is probably the most crazy part of my journey as Barbie — how I got cast.

I was going to Mattel the next day not knowing it was for Barbie. And there was an earthquake — the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California, which was 20 minutes from where I lived. It wasn’t so bad that I was out of a house, but it was bad — definitely things flying off the shelves. I had never been in one before and I had my daughter, who was a baby. It was traumatic. And I thought in my mind — this is crazy — Oh no! How am I going to get to my audition? It’s the life of an actress.

I called the director and told them I couldn’t make it. He says, “Look, Chris, we’re under the gun. Can you just give us a couple of lines of something and we’re going to know if you’re Barbie.” I didn’t even catch that. I was so nervous. I said, “Sure, I can audition on the phone. What do you want me to say?” And he says, “Well, why don’t you say, ‘Hi, this is Barbie, welcome to McDonald’s’?”

Now I’m in an earthquake auditioning for Barbie. It was so intense. The Barbie. I thought about when I played with her as a doll. I wanted her to be kind of soft and sweet, like a little girl’s best friend. And so I went, “Hi, it’s me, Barbie. Welcome to McDonald’s. You look very cool.” I opened my eyes and I went, OK… that just came out of my mouth. That’s Barbie. The director said nothing. He took a few seconds that I thought I was so bad he wasn’t even responding. He goes, “Wow, Chris. Is there any chance you could come down to Mattel tomorrow?” And I went, “Sure. I’ll deal with the earthquake.”

I got in the car the next day. No running water. I put on my baseball cap. Very un-Barbie-like. You want to audition for Barbie wearing pink and [with] your hair done. In the lobby there’s a big gigantic Barbie, a statue of her. She looked like an Oscar. And I thought, I’m going to be her voice. I straightened my baseball cap and went back to the recording studio. There were 10 people in the booth watching. The director says, “Just do what you did on the phone.”

So I went, “Hi, it’s me, Barbie. You all look cool.” They laughed. It was dead silent. And then it happens, slow motion. The director put his finger on the talkback button and said, “Hello, Barbie. Welcome to Mattel. We start work tomorrow.”

We did toy after cell phone after boombox after CD-ROM. We went on and on and on, month after month, doing Barbie toys. Because suddenly, Barbie had a voice. I was in the studio nonstop.

Melissa Newton, executive team leader at Target, in the Barbie aisle. Photo: Tim Leedy/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

And next came the game?

The computer game was called Barbie Fashion Designer. They said a little girl could sit at the computer and design Barbie’s fashion. They supplied some materials in the box [so] that you could print out the fashion and put it on your Barbie. Your Barbie could model the outfit you just made.

Boys had bazillions of computer games. Girls didn’t have anything. When this one came out, it was groundbreaking. Every little girl had to have Barbie Fashion Designer. I remember thinking, Wow, this is cutting-edge. It was so exciting because I kept thinking, I’m going to be in all these little girls’ homes. They’re going to be playing and I want to make sure she’s just a good friend. My whole thing was not to make her an airhead or dumb. I wanted her to be smart and sweet.

When they contacted me this year about Fashion Designer being nominated for the Video Game Hall of Fame, it made perfect sense. When it got picked, that was awesome. I thought to myself, Well, if I kick the bucket tomorrow, at least I’m going to be in the hall of fame! Well, my voice will, anyway.

Personally, I played the game as a little girl and hearing your voice… It was just a huge part of my childhood. Detective Barbie in the Mystery of the Carnival Caper was my favorite.

And then there was Barbie Riding Club, Barbie [Magic] Hair Styler, Barbie: Ocean Discovery. It went on and on. There were these days where I would finish recording and just get in my car and think, Gee, I want to stay as Barbie. I want to live in her world.

Is recording for a video game like Barbie Fashion Designer different from recording for TV or film or any of the toys you’ve done?

It definitely is. It’s in that toy genre where it’s a little more broken and chopped. In animation, there’s a story along with it. But video games are kind of like directing. In my world, and what we’re talking about with Barbie, it was directing kids and showing them how to play. But then as we got into more of a story type of computer game, it got a little more fun. Like when Barbie was Rapunzel. But yeah, it’s like toys for me where it’s got to be a little more directional, you know? But at the same time, I remember there was a line saying, “Oh, you look cool. I love your outfit.” You know, she was encouraging. That was really cool to encourage girls and encourage somebody playing. But yeah, it is a little repetitive because you have to repeat over and over.

A blond Barbie doll sits between an old desktop computer and a printer in art for the Barbie Fashion Designer game. Image: Digital Domain/Mattel Media

You mentioned this a little before, but did you realize at the time how important Barbie Fashion Designer would become?

Part of me felt that what I was doing is probably going to outlive me. Little did I know, I’m still around. But I had a sense of it. It’s hard because you get cast for something and you really appreciate what you’re doing. You have to live in the moment and appreciate what you’re doing. And I did. I felt that all the while I did it, until there was the transition of time when they started to do different sounds or make her hipper, cooler. I had this ’90s feel to me.

I remember when Toy Story came out and I thought, Oh my gosh, I’m going to be in this feature film doing Toy Story. At that time, Mattel didn’t want me to tell people I was Barbie. They wanted the magic and fantasy of Barbie. I couldn’t share what I was doing for a long time. It was hard because I wanted so much to share because I was so proud of it. I would have a bunch of kids at my front door coming by to ask if I could do Barbie. And there would be times I would call kids that were sick. Mattel didn’t know.

But anyway, Toy Story came out and for some reason, they didn’t want it. Disney wanted to use their own Barbie. I had been doing Barbie for eight years at that time. And I thought, What? You don’t want me as your Barbie? They decided to do their own thing. You can’t control a lot of the journey. They ended up using a beautiful person, Jodi Benson, who was the Little Mermaid. I thought, Does she have enough work to do? Let me have my Barbie back! But they did and she did a different version of Barbie.

I’m just grateful I got to be her for as long as I did.

How did people respond to eventually knowing you were Barbie?

My daughter was about 5 at the time when I was doing a lot of the Barbie stuff. My daughter was really into Barbie. She was playing Fashion Designer, she had Barbies in her closet, she had Barbie shoes.

She’s playing Fashion Designer on the computer… She must have been 6 or 7. I’m listening from the other room and I hear Barbie, she’s directing. And I thought, Does my daughter even know I’m Barbie? Do I tell her and completely ruin it for her? It would be like telling someone there’s no Santa Claus. I thought, I’m not going to tell her. I don’t want to ruin it. It was maybe a week later, somebody came up to her and said, “Do you know your mom is Barbie?”

I’m just worried she’s going to be on Dr. Phil. She looks at them and goes, “Huh?” And they go, “Yeah, your mom does Barbie’s voice. That’s your mom.” She didn’t play for about a week. At that age, she didn’t get it. But as she got older, she thought it was really cool. It’s like, “Do you know my mom? My mom’s Barbie.” Her friends would come over to the car and she’d go, “Mom, do the voice.” And I’d go [in the Barbie voice], “Go clean your room!”

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