‘Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’ Voice Actor Briana White On Life, Death And The Beauty Of Playing Aerith; “She’s Fun And Playful Even In The Face Of Intense Fear”

Briana White would be lying if she said that sometimes carrying the weight of playing the iconic flower girl, Aerith Gainsborough, didn’t affect her at all. But miraculously, after metaphorically stepping into the character’s well-traveled leather boots these last four years from Final Fantasy VII Remake to its recent predecessor Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, she’s gained the strength to manage. “[It’s] really hard sometimes for me as an actor to let go of all the expectation and let go of what everyone might be thinking about or perceiving about a specific scene,” said White. “It’s one of the biggest challenges, but something that’s so crucial to the performance is being able to let go of everything outside the booth. I consider myself to be very resilient…I think that’s something Aerith [and I] have in common.”

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which serves as the second game in a three-part reimagining of the original 1997 game, follows everyone’s favorite ragtag eco-terrorists Cloud (Cody Christian), Barret (John Eric Bentley), Tifa (Britt Baron), Aerith (White) and Red XIII (Max Mittelman) as they make the perilous journey to The Forgotten Capital in hopes to stop the legendary solider and deranged superhuman Sephiroth from plunging the planet into chaos.

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Here, the actor speaks to Deadline about the fun and challenges of growing with the franchise and the nuanced intricacies of playing one of gaming’s most famous female leads.

DEADLINE: It’s been four years between the release of both Final Fantasy VII Remake and the recent release of Rebirth. Can you walk us through the journey of having played Aerith thus far? 

BRIANA WHITE: It was such a long time ago that we recorded for Remake, but I remember the first session we did, which was the very first scene where Cloud meets Aerith, and she offers him a flower. That’s why it’s one of my favorite scenes to date. It’s the birth of her character and the joining of our personalities for the first time. I look back on that scene fondly. For Rebirth, I can’t remember the first scenes we recorded exactly, but I seem to remember that we recorded loosely chronologically, at least to start. So, we would’ve started with some of the earlier stuff, expanding into the Grasslands region and, definitely, the Mythril Mines, which was some of the earliest stuff we recorded. And then, in between Remake and Rebirth, I was able to reprise my role as Aerith in Crisis Core and kind of learn a younger version of her, learn her backstory, and learn how she comes to love Zack. So, I really feel like I’ve been with Aerith for a lifetime.

DEADLINE: Having embodied this character, in what ways do you think you are similar or different from Aerith? 

WHITE: I have always been an optimist, and I think Aerith, at her core, takes those 10 steps deeper. I think that she represents hope. I believe that is the core of her character. I have always been able to see the bright side of things, and I consider myself to be very resilient. Whenever I have hardships in life, I am always able to bounce back, even though it’s difficult. And so, I think that’s something that Aerith has not only in common with me but she further inspires me to do. Recording for Remake, I felt like I was pushed into the deep end of the pool because I had never done any voice work before. Lots of acting but no voice work, and it’s very technically specific to do this project.

So, there were a lot of moments where I thought, “Gosh, I don’t know if I can do this,” but I thought about what Aerith represents and how that’s so much more important than my own insecurities. So, I relate to her in that way. And then there is the more day-to-day, I don’t want to say surface level, but simpler way. She’s very playful, and I really like that type of interaction with my friends as well. So, we’re always kind of teasing each other and getting under each other’s skin, and poking at little things, if someone’s a little moody. She and I definitely share that in common, too.

DEADLINE: Even though you’ve reached top-tier voice acting status in the gaming world, having snagged a coveted voice role in one of the most iconic games in history, you still have your Twitch account. To be fair, that’s where you came from in terms of content creation, but you still play games and chat with fans. How do you even manage to listen to yourself while you’re playing a game as yourself? A lot of actors can’t handle that. 

WHITE: There are a lot of people who can’t. And I know one of my fellow cast mates from Remake, Erica Lindbeck, who voices Jessie, she is one of those people who doesn’t typically like to listen back or watch back to any of her work. I wouldn’t say I have that issue. For some reason, I have always been able to separate any insecurities I have about myself from the performance I’m watching. And I think it’s even harder to do with acting because that’s your entire being. With voice acting, it’s more fun and easier because Aerith is a character who looks completely different from me, and she’s in a world that I wasn’t in, so I can just lose myself in the performance a little bit more.

So, when I’m streaming the game and playing, it’s a little bit more fun for me than watching a movie I’ve made because I get to immerse myself and lose myself. And sometimes I forget that I’m actually voicing the character until there are some lines where I hear a little bit more of my voice than her voice, which brings me back into it. So, it’s kind of a constant yo-yo between, like, oh, that’s not me, and then, oh my gosh, that’s me. Or some lines I totally remember recording, and some lines I totally don’t remember recording, so it’s a really interesting tension. It’s kind of fun.

Tifa (Britt Baron) and Aerith (Briana White) in Costa del Sol in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
Tifa (Britt Baron) and Aerith (Briana White) in Costa del Sol in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

DEADLINE: You touched upon this a little bit, but Aerith sometimes gets a bad rap for being a little sassy. I absolutely love it. Specifically, in this scene at the beginning of Rebirth, after they are done fighting the Midgardsormr, Aerith teases that Cloud is only doing side missions for money so he can save up for one of Madame M’s sensual massages. She’s so playful and fun, but what is your take on Aerith’s personality? Is she too overbearing or not sassy enough? 

WHITE: I discovered she was sassy as soon as I got the audition. But in that first scene, she interacts with Cloud in Remake, which I mentioned was my audition material, she teases him a little bit about how much she doesn’t want to take the flower and about how much she might charge him. And he goes, “How much?” to which she responds, “Well, that depends on the customer.” She’s been playful since that very first moment, and I immediately picked up on that and took that into the audition. In Rebirth, she deepens her relationship with all of the other characters. So, she can poke, tease, and prod even more because she knows them, and they are more comfortable with each other. And then, of course, as she gets to know Tifa a little bit more, Tifa plays along too, and then they’re both teasing Cloud together, which is a fun dynamic. If I could inject more sass into everything she does, I would. But sometimes, the voice director has to pull me back a little bit.

DEADLINE: I’m obsessed with that scene when Cloud gets a chance to look through Tifa’s wardrobe in the beginning of the game, and Tifa and Aerith both call him an asshole as he’s rifling through. 

WHITE: Yes. I love it. So fun.

DEADLINE: Speaking of restraints, though, what was the most challenging thing to convey for Rebirth regarding Aerith? 

WHITE: The most challenging thing is being able to approach the scenes in the moment because this is a remake of a very iconic game with some very iconic scenes, some of which are portrayed really similarly to the original. Voicing scenes that have a lot of meaning and value nostalgia-wise to a lot of people…so when I’m in the booth, one of the biggest challenges is if we’re coming up on a scene that I know people are looking forward to, like some of the scenes in Costa del Sol, the Gold Saucer, or as we approach the Forgotten Capital, that is really hard sometimes for me as an actor to let go of all of the expectation and let go of what everyone might be thinking about or perceiving about a specific scene. Is it going to be similar enough to the past? Or is it going to be different? All of these debates don’t really matter when you’re an actor saying the lines and trying to portray the truth of a character. So, I would say that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges, but something that’s so crucial to the performance is being able to let go of everything outside the booth, of everything outside the character, and just live in the moment as the character and give the best performance you possibly can.

DEADLINE: Do you have a favorite scene you recorded versus one you encountered while playing the game yourself? 

WHITE: I haven’t finished playing the game yet. I’m still pretty early on, actually. But the Gold Saucer date is probably the most specific one I remember while recording because I knew people were really looking forward to that. I just felt the magic of it all over my body while I was acting because it’s such a beautiful moment, and I remember coming out of that scene thinking, that’s so Aerith. They made that date between her and Cloud so true to her character that it’s such a delight and so fun. I haven’t gotten to see it in its full glory yet because I haven’t made it to that part of the playthrough, but I can’t wait. The things that I’ve heard and seen from other people, they love it too. So, I’m really glad to have been a part of that.

Aerith singing No Promises To Keep by Loren Allred
Aerith voiced by Briana White / Singing voiced by Loren Allred

DEADLINE: The Loveless theatrical scene is also popular on the gaming streets. But more importantly, I’d like to know, on a scale of one to “thank God,” how relieved were you that you were not singing that operatic number? Did you get to hear the song while you were recording? 

WHITE: No [laughs]. We really get the bare bones when we are recording. They don’t bring anything in there that we don’t absolutely need in order to give the performance. During recording, I remember that we recorded all of the lines before the theatrical performance, and then there was some reference in the script to singing a song, because she’s writing the lyrics in the game. And I’m thinking to myself, “Are they about to make me sing? Am I ready for that?” I don’t think I could handle that. I’d give it my best. I did musical theater growing up, but I am not a trained singer, so I was very nervous. And then it never came back up. And, like I said, we recorded over many months, so I completely forgot that that was a thing. I put it out in my mind, and I completely forgot until the trailer dropped with the theme song being sung by the incredibly talented Loren Allred. And, of course, it’s such a beautiful song, and it’s so emotional. Of course, I’m tearing up and going; I could never have given that performance. She does an incredible job. I wouldn’t have it any other way, truly.

DEADLINE: Sometimes there are games that are just vibes and fun. And other times, a video game comes along and defines an era. Final Fantasy VII is certainly that. In Rebirth specifically, Aerith gives quite a few speeches in the game, but I’m thinking about the one at the Temple of the Ancients regarding how life and death are two sides of the same coin and how we shouldn’t use our sadness and trauma to keep us from moving forward. I thought that was so beautiful. What are some things you learned about yourself, perhaps, or some lessons you take with you having played this character? 

WHITE: Gosh, I don’t know if I want to talk about how much I think about my own mortality now [laughs]. It’s such a real thing. When I got the audition, and I Googled Aerith’s character, the first thing that pops up is her fate in the original Final Fantasy VII and how iconic of a moment that is, what a legendary moment in gaming that is. It’s on all sorts of top 10 biggest moments in gaming lists. So it was like, OK, I’m going to take on that legacy? And she teaches a lot of… her story represents what it means to lose someone you love. And so being able to take on that character as part of my own story and know that that will always be a part of the conversation I have whenever I’m talking about this character is pretty heavy. I do carry that sometimes, but I think it brings up a lot of beautiful conversations because there is no life without death. It’s something we all experience, but it’s something we all really struggle to deal with and talk about, and yet it’s inevitable.

And so, there’s a lot of moments where you kind of have to accept two truths, that life is beautiful and precious, and you should enjoy every moment, but it’s going to end, and sometimes it’s going to end too short, and that’s really hard. And you have to find a way to move forward through that. And I think Aerith’s character is really just proof of how to do it right because she does embrace every single moment. She is fun and playful, even in the face of intense fear. That’s absolutely something to take inspiration from.

Briana White
Briana White

DEADLINE: In what ways do you think you changed your approach playing Aerith in Rebirth versus Remake

WHITE: With Remake, like I said, in my first big voiceover role, I’m pushing in the deep out of the pool, and I’m trying to learn how to swim while I’m working, and there was a lot of anxiety. I was very stiff and nervous in the booth, asking myself, “Is my performance going to be any good?” I was not sure of the process. I’d never worked with any voice director before. A lot of the process is that I give them raw material, I give them three takes, and if they want more, I give them more. And then they kind of piece together things like absolute magic, you wouldn’t believe. I have no idea how the final product is going to turn out. There was a lot of anxiety in Remake. I don’t think that came through in my performance to the voice directors’ and audio engineers’ credit.

But in Rebirth, I really got to have a lot more fun on my side of the mic and have the courage to try different things. And I think that does come through in the performance because in RebirthRemake is so serious and very condensed, and taking place in Midgar, there’s lots of dark tones, but Rebirth is a lot of fun. There are so many brilliantly silly, goofy, fun moments, which Remake has too, but I think Rebirth expanded that. And so, I got to really have fun with voice acting in Rebirth. And that suits Aerith’s character, I think. It matches her character arc. She spends a lot of her life in very difficult situations, in partial captivity even. And so, when she heads into the wider world, she gets to explore and have fun for the first time in her life with these people that she’s grown to love so much. So, it’s really like a party for her, and I hope that that came through because I felt like it was kind of a party for me to be able to enjoy the voice acting and the process of it without being so nervous about how it was going to turn out.

DEADLINE: What do you think is something that would surprise people about what they don’t know about the process of voice acting, but more specifically, the way that you do it? 

WHITE: I warm up in the car on the way to the booth by singing Disney songs, specifically Disney princess songs. I think that they have a sort of clarity to their vocal quality, but also a lot of highs and lows, and so that’s how I warm up for recording. And what’s interesting is, I thought that I was completely alone in that, but that’s actually quite a common thing for voice actors, is to warm up for speaking with singing. The other thing about it is it is really good for breath control. When you’re voice acting, you kind of have to maintain your breath through the very end of the line and don’t let it kind of trail off at the end, depending on the character, of course.

When I’m in the booth, I have to have one hot tea and one room-temperature water because they serve different purposes for whatever my vocal cords are doing that day. Hot tea really nourishes if it feels dry, but room-temperature water clears the mouth of all those mouthy sounds. I don’t know if people know how sensitive these microphones are, but they pick up everything, especially those little mouth-smacking noises. If you’re a little phlegmy that day, or it’s always a special level of embarrassing when you go into the booth a little hungry, and your stomach makes that “brrr” noise, and the audio engineer, because he’s so funny, decides to play that back at full volume for everybody, and is like, “Oh, what kind of monsters are in the booth with you, Briana?” [laughs].

Aerith in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
Aerith (Briana White) in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

DEADLINE: OK, wait. But now I like the idea of Aerith being a Disney princess. Who should she be friends with? We need to make this happen. 

WHITE: Well, I think she actually has a lot in common with Rapunzel, and she also has the connection of Aerith has been voiced by Mandy Moore in the past, and Mandy Moore voices Rapunzel. But Rapunzel spends most of her life in captivity, and her big arc is being brave enough to go outside and explore the world and see the beauty that it has to offer. She always looks on the bright side. I mean, the connections, they’re totally there. I think they would be best friends.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

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