Interview with Susan Bennett: The Woman Behind the Voice of Siri
Susan Bennett & Queen Latifah
Vermont-born and now living in Atlanta, Susan Bennett was unmasked as the voice of Apple iPhone’s Siri this fall. She has worked as a career voiceover artist for products from McDonald’s to Coca-Cola and Nissan.
You were born in Vermont and have roots in the Northeast.
My whole family is in New England. I was a baby when we moved to Massachusetts and then upstate New York and ended up in Atlanta, Georgia.
How has your life changed since you “came out,” so to speak, as Siri?
The only significant change is just sleep deprivation [laughs]. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and it’s just been incredibly chaotic because the story had greater impact than I ever could have imagined. I just had no idea how connected people feel to Siri. It’s amazing.
Not knowing what the project was in July of 2005, you spent a month recording endless amounts of nonsensical phrases. Tell us about that process.
Actually it was, as you could imagine, quite tedious. But it was also kind of challenging because I had to read articulately and get every sound pronounced as clearly as possible and yet still (sound) human. I didn’t disconnect the words. I didn’t speak just one word at a time. I actually spoke in sentences.
When the Apple iPhone 4 came out two years ago with Siri, your phone began to ring with friends asking if Siri was you.
Well, it’s amazing. Some people recognized my voice and some didn’t because actually I’m just the voice of Siri. I’m not Siri. Siri is a piece of technology. So they had taken my voice and manipulated it to make it sound different ways and they just happened to choose my voice to be used as the Siri app. So it was completely serendipitous. It was just a stroke of luck for me.
Then came public denials. How stressful was it keeping this quiet?
It was a little stressful because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with that information. There really is no part of me that wanted to be famous at all. Like most voiceover people, I think, I like my anonymity and in this particular culture and the way voiceover work is being done now, people don’t really want to know who you are or where you’re from or what you look like. They just want to choose you on the basis of your voice. All the auditions now are being done via computer and email, so it was very advantageous to be anonymous. The thing that pushed me over the edge was the video that came out a few weeks ago and this poor, wonderful woman, Allison Dufty, was mistakenly identified as Siri and I think it made her life crazy. And I realized people really want to know who Siri is and [thought], I guess the time is right.
Talk about the reporter you were speaking to who unexpectedly asked out of the blue if you were that voice.
Oh! She really caught me off guard. She’s a wonderful woman at CNN.com, Jessica Ravitz, and she had called to do a phone interview about a piece on the Atlanta airport, which is the busiest airport in the world, and I’m one of the voices there. I used to be the voice of the train at the airport and now I’m just the voice of Delta Airlines gates worldwide. She was interviewing me about that. I was talking to her and out of the blue she goes, “Are you Siri?” It really caught me off guard and being the forthright person [I am] and not being very good at lying, I said, “Uh, uh, I can’t comment.” Anyway, when I finally decided to disclose the information, I contacted Jessica and she’s been very, very respectful of me and my privacy. She’s been great.
What opportunities are presenting themselves aside from more voiceover offers? Other TV appearances? Film animation?
I’m hoping there will be some interesting things happening. At this point, I’ve received so many emails and calls and by the way, thank you to everyone who sent good wishes. I finally had to put it in the hands of a publicist because I was so overwhelmed. I have new respect now for people who are in situations like this. I definitely need about a thousand assistants. It’s crazy.
Has it become tiring yet with people that recognize you in public asking that you speak as Siri?
Strangely enough [people don’t ask]. My regular speaking voice does not sound like Siri. And it’s a contextual thing. If I’m standing there saying, [speaks in Siri voice] “Oh, by the way, I am Siri,” then they go, “Oh my God.” But that doesn’t happen because people standing in the line at Kroger and hearing me speak aren’t going to recognize the voice. So, that’s not really a problem.
Why do I detect a bit of attitude sometimes with Siri’s responses?
She definitely has attitude. She has a sense of humor. She’s also very sensitive so don’t cuss at her. She really gets her feelings hurt. It’s funny, when my husband got an iPhone 4S, it was set to some setting where Siri would automatically speak whenever he picked up the phone, she kept saying, “How may I help you? How may I help you?” And he finally said, “You can just go away.” Siri says, [in Siri voice] “What did I do to deserve that?” (laughs) The programmers at Apple had a lot of fun with stuff for Siri.
I understand it sometimes freaks your son out when he hears your voice at an ATM or other venue.
Oh yeah, he’s used to it by now. He’s my biggest fan. He’s great and he’s managing the social networking aspect of this for me, which, by the way is [on Twitter] @SiriouslySusan.
Any chance of moving back to Vermont someday?
I have some aunts and uncles in Vermont. It’s my history. It’s my background. I love going back to visit, but I’ve spent too many years without snow to be able to deal with it, you know?
Find out more about Susan at www.susancbennett.com.