This Greenport voice actor is now in a galaxy far, far away


Tom Spackman doesn’t want his picture taken.

Sure, he’s been in a few television shows and performed in classic plays on the New York stage. He even has a devoted fan-base. If you search online for “Tom Spackman,” he admits, you’ll find a photo of him pretty quickly.

But Mr. Spackman doesn’t want to be known for his face. In fact, he’d rather you not recognize his face at all. 

So when The Suffolk Times asked for a photo during a recent interview at his Greenport recording studio, he politely declined.

Mr. Spackman’s voice — the voice of everything from commercials to national TV news programs to a starring role as the Bounty Hunter in the popular online “Star Wars: The Old Republic” video game — should speak for itself, he said.

“The people that play this game … There’s something about the fact that they don’t see me,” he said. “All they envision is the ‘Bounty Hunter’ and I like that. I don’t want to take away that illusion.’”

For the past 20 years, Mr. Spackman has worked as a voiceover artist for television stations like Showtime, NBC Channel 4 in New York and National Geographic. He’s currently the promo voice of “Dateline NBC.”

The guy on the commercials you hear each week before the broadcast? That’s him.

In recent years, Mr. Spackman’s work has exploded in popularity thanks to the “Star Wars” game. He even has fans who ferociously debate other fans that question his true identity online.

“It’s such great fun to play that kick-ass guy,” he said. “He’s very rugged. ‘Go ahead, make my day.’ … Think of it as Clint Eastwood in space.”

A Binghamton, N.Y., native who grew up in Detroit, Mr. Spackman enrolled in a pre-law program at Wayne State University in the early 1970s but discovered a love for theater after taking an elective class about Shakespeare his senior year.

After graduating, he went back to school — this time, to become a classically trained actor.

Mr. Spackman went on to become a leading member of an Off-Broadway stage company, but transitioned into doing commercials for companies like Audi and Estée Lauder after a mentor suggested he explore his voice-over career.

But around 2000, commercial gigs began to dry up. Companies started using celebrities more often; they wanted famous voices, Mr. Spackman said, not necessarily the best ones.

“There’s more to doing voiceovers than having a good voice,” he said. “You need to know how to read copy, how to act copy. Understand that it’s an acting gig, just not in front of a camera and not in front of an audience.”

Mr. Spackman voices one of eight playable characters in the game, which has become enormously popular since it was first released years ago. (Credit: courtesy)

As Mr. Spackman transitioned into reading promos for television networks like SyFy, Turner Classic Movies and HBO, he was also settling into his new Long Island home.

Mr. Spackman first came to the North Fork in the 1970s to help build a friend’s house. After a few months in the countryside, he fell in love with the area.

After visiting for several years, Mr. Spackman finally bought a cottage in Greenport in 1999 and completely rebuilt it. But most importantly, he moved the property’s one-car garage into the backyard, near the rear fence.

Inside, he built his studio, a nearly soundproof room where he records. The black, windowless space is small and sparse, about the size of a large bathroom. Moveable curtains are draped along the walls to deaden any interior sounds.

“The floor was floated on rubber gaskets,” Mr. Spackman said. “If there is a truck coming up the street, it doesn’t vibrate the floor … Helicopters coming over, I can’t do anything about.”

In a corner of the room, protected by foam columns designed to “catch” his deep bass vocal tones, hangs a $1,100 TLM 103 Neumann microphone. A metal music stand holds the iPad Mr. Spackman uses to read his lines.

Digital scripts prevents the sound of rustling papers, he explained. When it’s time to record, even the smallest sound matters, like the quiet hum of an air conditioner. So he takes every precaution he can.

“There’s always going to be [an audio] signature, no matter what you do,” he said.

When he’s not in his other studio in Long Island City, Mr. Spackman is here, recording the promos through a dedicated copper phone line that is piped into the booth at NBC’s Manhattan studio.

Recently, he’s been reading more lines for the “Star Wars” video game to keep up with the latest content.

In the game, Mr. Spackman performs one of eight character “classes” a player can select from. Each class is fully customizable, so the Bounty Hunter never looks, but always sounds, the same.

Mr. Spackman auditioned for the role years before the game was released. At the time, he had no idea what he was getting into.

To perform the role, Mr. Spackman had to read hundreds of lines, taking his character on adventures across 35 planets. But since the game features choices players can make, Mr. Spackman had to perform the lines for every possible permutation. Each “flashpoint” in the plot, he said, branched off in three directions.

But it wasn’t the sheer size of the script that Mr. Spackman found most challenging. Instead, it was the isolation: having to act without someone to act with you.

“When you’re working in a situation like that you’re not working with another actor,” he said. “When you’re across from someone you can see how they do it and change your inflection [to match].”

Mr. Spackman has also been shocked by the fan-base that has sprung up around his character.

“I didn’t realize when I started doing it how big the gaming community is and how intense it is,” he said.

He’s been invited to conventions to sign headshots with the game’s other voice actors, but Mr. Spackman politely declines. It’s all about keeping up the facade and making gamers believe the Bounty Hunter is a real character.

“That’s all that matters,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about pleasing them.”

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