What do Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Spider-Man 2 all have in common? An amazing voice actor behind every single character that brings them to life. Jacqueline Piñol is one such voice actor who voices Rio Morales, mother of Miles Morales.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the lovely Jacqueline Piñol and ask her all of our burning questions about her role, her thoughts on the cultural impact of Miles Morales regarding representation within the industry, and some tingling Spider-Man questions.
You have been the voice of Rio Morales since 2018, and she has been on quite the journey. What would you say is your favorite aspect of her character?
Jacqueline Piñol, Rio Morales Voice Actor: “I think playing Rio Morales excites me because she’s based on being very real. I think to a lot of women, mothers, and just overall humans, she’s relatable and she’s likable and she still has ups and downs just like we all do. So, I think having the writers bring that to life, and seeing it on the paper, it’s easier as an actor to bring her to life because she’s like you and me and everyone else. So that’s my favorite part about this character.”
Spider-Man is generally perceived as the most down-to-earth and relatable superhero. Do you get that vibe, and as a mother does that make the role of Rio relatable?
“Yes, because they live in this really grounded environment where things are happening in their city left and right. But the element of having him be such a superhero and of doing good on that level that we all wish really existed in life is what gives us that excitement. I really like that. Although Spider-Man is technically a fictitious superhero, a lot of us can still relate to, and wish there was somebody like that in our lives because then you feel safe, you feel like there’s hope and that’s all brought into the story so nicely that it makes you feel like that could really exist.”
The character of Rio in the games differs from the comics, how much freedom did you have in choosing how you wanted to portray her?
“You know, it was already in the writing the way that she comes across in the game. So, I didn’t have to go too far to find her. I really credit the writers every time, because every script we’ve gotten since Spider-Man 1, Miles Morales, and now Spider-Man 2, she’s solid on paper. And when an actor steps into really great writing, we just elevate it by working on the nuances of it, but it wasn’t that hard. It wasn’t a stretch, and I had freedom in playing [with Rio Morales] by bringing the accent and authenticity by being of Latin American descent. So that was really nice. They took into consideration that they could come to me as a Latin American person to give those bits of authenticity to her.”
Miles is a much-loved character, and it has been great to see. Do you think Miles has paved the way for continued representation in the video game industry? And as someone who has worked in the industry for many years, how have you perceived industry representation to have changed over that period of time?
“I absolutely do think he [Miles] has paved the way. The characters of Rio and Miles opened the door for other characters in the game. And I just love that it’s a representation of the melting pot we live in, in this world, and not just the country of the United States because they happen to live in New York. So that’s what’s relatable is that they could be anywhere in the world. And there are still ups and downs, and trials and tribulations, and good and bad, and joy and heartache for all of us. So that’s really what I love about the story. And I do think that just based on the reaction that I’ve gotten from the fan and the messages, it’s very touching to see that people feel included. So that sense of inclusivity has really increased, not just in our game, but I’ve seen it in other games as well.
I have many friends who are voice over actors who represent characters that bring people together, and it also takes us into that fantasy world, which is really nice. So, I have seen it grow in the past decade or more, when I first started and, I’m aging myself, but it’s been at least twenty years of work here. I did not get to audition for leading lady roles that were either positive role models or women with strength and a voice that was heard and respected. I didn’t audition for [those roles] because they didn’t exist as much. Those roles when written were for a different ethnicity or age bracket. And, I see it now, we’re ageless. Timeless. We can be from anywhere and we can all relate to each other. So, it’s really promising and wonderful to see the video game industry open up those doors to more actors and inclusivity.”
Now that Miles is sharing the spotlight as Spider-Man, do you think that the space Rio exists in is similar to that of Aunt May, in the sense that they both influence Spider-Man? How can you see this influence specifically in Rio’s relationship with Miles?
“I do, I think that Rio almost has a little bit more responsibility, and whether it’s subconscious or just in my character as I am playing her and trying to carry out her journey as an actor. I felt that in my few exchanges with Peter Parker that I have a responsibility to guide him, to support him, because it’s like it’s going down the line, right? He’s lost someone that was his mentor, a mother figure, a support system, a family member. And I know that. So, I know that if Miles didn’t have me and not having his father, I realize it’s a big burden on them [both], and they carry so much responsibility to do good and everybody’s looking to them as superheroes. So, they always have to deliver on a certain level. And I like that as Rio, whether the gamers see it or feel it or not. I’ve always felt that to Peter, I have to offer support and be hard on him. I have high expectations of him because he should know better, but I only do it out of love and out of caring for him and of course, Miles because I want them both to always be safe.”
What’s been your favorite moment working as Rio Morales? Are there any particular scenes that stand out to you?
“Yes, so from the second game [Miles Morales] with Miles, I think the most personal and emotional moment was the first time that we shot the scene when I’m walking down the hall and I discover him in his suit for the first time, and I’m making the connection that he’s been Spider-Man, and I didn’t know it. I remember doing that scene and it just clicked for me and Nadji in a way I couldn’t explain with words when I saw the game in the finished product. I had tears in my eyes only remembering that we really felt this, we really had that chemistry.
And then the latest game Spider-Man 2, there is a moment where it wasn’t with Miles, it was with Peter, and it’s a short exchange; almost just warning him. As an actor, you’re playing a role, but you have to go there [into the mind of the character]. You really have to be present. And so, I think if I lose my son, I have nothing. Life is meaningless. And I almost feel like my son’s life, Miles’s life is in his [Peter Parker’s] hands all the time. So that scene for me personally spoke very loudly and I felt a very strong connection to those words on the page.”
What you were just saying regarding acting a role, makes it sound like you come away and it’s almost like a lived experience, something that you’ve gone through together with the other actors. Would you say that?
“That’s true, it happens to me. You know, I’ll leave a set, or an audition and I have to get in the car, and I use the car ride home (or moments after I’ve left set) to decompress and come out of that state of mind. Those feelings that run through you because you are living them truthfully on set and every time that camera is rolling. We’re human, we feel these emotions and we go through these feelings, and you don’t just turn them off, they do stay with you and sometimes they were heavy scenes. So, I’d have to definitely before I got home, just take some deep breaths, decompress, sort of just let it go. It’s just the way that I work but I also think that I’m not one of those actors that just turns it on and off. I have to really take my time to feel everything and to know where I’m at, because we might do the scene ten times, and if we do each scene [multiple times], each time is going to be different, depending on where that life is.”
That sounds difficult, but at the same time, it speaks to the authenticity of the character. You know, you’re going in there and you are feeling the same things that she’s feeling.
“Yes, we have wonderful directors for the games. I’ve felt very lucky because they direct us like they’re directing a movie. So, we really do have time to explore the character, talk about the plot, and talk about the scenery. As well as what is really going on, what happened before [this scene], what’s going to happen after, as a lot of times, we’re doing things out of order. You have to really talk about it as we may not have shot the scene before it yet. With that in mind, we always have to communicate really well, know where we’re coming from, so that we deliver in that present moment and it’s authentic to the story.”
Looking at your credits, you have a variety of traditional acting and voice acting roles. In particular, what do you enjoy about voice acting and how does it differ to playing a character on screen? Do you feel that it gives you more or less freedom in a role?
“I love voiceover acting very much. I feel like I give myself more freedom to play. it could be just the smallest thing, like maybe just that when we’re on camera, we have makeup, hair and wardrobe, and there are certain things you have to be aware of. If your hair falls over your face, they might want to do the takeover, the simple things. So, with voiceover, I can just put my hair up in a ponytail, be in really comfortable clothing, and not have to worry about what I look like, and if I’m shadowed or not shadowed. There’s a layer of that self-consciousness that is peeled off, and I’m able to just move freely and I do! I use my whole body to do voice over because you need it. But I just feel more freedom to play, and I love on camera, but I never realized that there is a little bit more of an awareness of surrounding of self in playing a role sometimes just due to the aesthetics of it. But overall, obviously, I love both very much and I wouldn’t choose one over the other.”
Who is your favorite Spider-Man hero or villain?
“That’s a tough one. I almost feel like it’s a setup. No, I’m just kidding. I think I better answer that. In all of the games, and of course I’ve watched all the movies. If I was to pick heroes, I would say Spider-Man and Miles, they’ve become in some ways interchangeable to me. They represent a wider range of the same feelings of goodness, hope, positivity, strength and the ability to fall down and get back up, picking up where you left off, and not giving up. That lives in me, it inspires that in me, when I see Peter and Miles.
As far as villains, it’s hard to say. I think the Green Goblin just really gets to me and it’s just for whatever reason, I just don’t like him. That one is the first one that pops to mind, but all of them are pretty awful. It’s just that one particularly pisses me off.”
You said that you’ve watched all of the Spider-Man movies, and everyone has an opinion on which actor has best portrayed Spider-Man. Which actor would be your favorite out of the three?
“Oh, goodness, that’s too hard to answer. Tom Holland who’s playing the latest Spiderman. He is fabulous. But then when there’s that scene [in Spider-Man: No Way Home] on the tower and they’re going to all go in together with Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield. Now, obviously, I have a soft spot for Tobey Maguire because that was the first one, you know, in my younger years. The first Spider-Man always makes the biggest impact. But then, Andrew Garfield, that came after him, he was fabulous. When it comes to acting, all three of them are absolutely fantastic. I think just Tobey Maguire paved the way for a wonderful franchise because he was the first and I’ll just never forget that. And Sam Raimi was directing, and I had worked for Sam Raimi. There’s just a lot of things that warm my heart about that first movie.”
What would your dream voice acting role be?
“I would love to do a role like Maleficent. That seems so fun. If there was some sort of series, animated series, or a movie where I could play a character like Maleficent that to me would be absolutely incredible. Angelina Jolie did play Maleficent in the movie, and I just love it. It’s rich and it’s got all the colors, and you can explore and, it’s not just all evil. It’s all of the feelings, emotions, and trickery. I find those characters pretty fascinating.”
Jacqueline Piñol does a stellar job in her portrayal of Rio Morales. Bringing an unmatched authenticity to the mother of Miles Morales that many people can find relatable. When she isn’t bringing characters to life, she can be found working with her foundation, the Canine Condition Foundation. In its aim to help those who do not have a voice to speak up for themselves, just like her in-game character.