The Legend of Zelda: The Voice Behind the Character
Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon are among the most popular, infamous, and memorable video games of the 1990’s. Initially released to positive reviews, it has since become a cult classic among gamers for its iconic soundtrack, voice acting, animated sequences, and gameplay. It was released on October 10, 1993 on the Phillips CD-I as part of a licensing agreement where Phillips would design the Super NES’s CD-ROM add-on. I had the privilege of speaking with Bonnie Jean Wilbur, who has the distinction of being the first actress to portray Zelda. She lives in Newfields, New Hampshire where she is active in regional theater.
Q: How did you get involved with the production of Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon?
A: My husband and I were part of a troupe of actors in Newburyport. Jeffrey [Rath] was part of our group, and he told us that some non-union actors were needed for a video game that was being produced in Cambridge. We auditioned and were hired. I think that almost everyone in the cast was from Newburyport. We have a dedicated and talented theater community here.
Q: What was your role in the series?
A: I played Zelda. My husband [Paul Wann] was cast as Gwonam and played other characters too. I had no knowledge of the franchise, so they gave us sort of an overview of the history of it.
Q: What experience did you have in acting prior to this?
A: I’ve been acting since I was a child. It’s an important part of my life. I starred in several stage productions, I did some voice-overs for commercials, and I briefly taught drama at the K-12 level.
Q: What would be a typical day of recording?
A: The first session was done at a studio in Boston, Massachusetts. We did the second session in a basement of one of the developers. We were given sketches of what the characters looked like, and the producers described what they wanted the characters to sound like. It was basically improv. Everybody was dedicated though.
Q: Who was your favorite co-star?
A: My husband and I were close with Jeffrey Rath. I haven’t spoken to him in years, but he was so passionate, disciplined, and talented during those recordings. I interacted with him the most because a lot of our dialogue was directed at one another.
Q: Were you pleased with the outcome of Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon? Do you follow the franchise?
A: I never saw the finished product. I’m not a gamer, and I never owned a Nintendo console. I occasionally get mail requesting autographs, which kind of gives me an idea of whether people like the video games. I never followed the franchise, but my niece does. She has a Nintendo Switch actually. I watched her play a recent Zelda game, and it was just beautiful. The advancements in technology are just amazing. I was impressed with the detail and colors of the graphics, and it peaked my interest.
Q: If Nintendo asked you to reprise your role as Zelda, would you do it?
A: I would. I love doing theater, but voice acting is more lucrative. We were contacted by someone who is doing a homage to the CD-I series, and he asked us if we wanted to reprise our roles. It’s not affiliated with Nintendo. We agreed to it, so that should be interesting.
Q: What do you do these days?
A: We run a company called Theater in the Open in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I do a lot of acting and directing. In fact, I’m directing The Game of Love and Chance, which will be opening on July 31st. Other stage productions we directed include A Christmas Carol and As You Like It. There’s a real sense of community in theater that you don’t see in film, and it’s a lot more challenging too.