Being Junker Queen: How Leah de Niese brought Overwatch 2’s “rough-as-guts Aussie” to life

Junker Queen in Overwatch 2Blizzard

Junker Queen has an unmistakable presence in Overwatch 2 and that’s by design as Australian-Sri Lankan actor Leah de Niese didn’t just want to bring “another standard hero” to the mix. From how she landed the life-changing role to a breakdown of the extensive voiceover process, the Queen of Junkertown herself provided a great deal of insight during our recent interview at PAX Australia.

Additional reporting by Eleni Thomas.

In the midst of an extended drought of content impacting the original game and the release of Overwatch 2 on the horizon, all eyes were on Blizzard as they unveiled the future of the series throughout 2022 and detailed three new characters joining the fight. Enter Sojourn, Junker Queen, and Kiriko. While the former had been revealed years prior and was even playable at BlizzCon 2019, and the latter was an original character altogether, the Queen came with some loftier expectations by comparison.

Article continues after ad

Not only was she set to be the first new Tank in three years, but the character was already established to a degree through in-game lore and worldbuilding cues from years prior. After all, her home in Junkertown has been in rotation since 2017. Dedicated fans were already somewhat familiar with its head honcho. Junker Queen had to live up to the promise and deliver in a more meaningful way than most new arrivals.

Embracing that pressure and tackling the role without fear was a fresh voice in the gaming industry. Newcomer Leah de Niese took up the challenge before fully realizing the scope of what was to come. Beginning with a simple audition for an undisclosed project, de Niese would soon be committed long-term to one of the biggest roles of her career.

Article continues after ad
Overwatch 2 Junker Queen cinematicBlizzard
Junker Queen existed in the world of Overwatch years before she debuted as a playable character.

Mysterious auditions

“I’ve been acting since I was a kid,” de Niese started in an admittedly soft-spoken voice, the polar opposite of her now immensely popular work in-game. “All of the auditions come through your agent and [for Overwatch 2] it was just a random tape that came through.” At the time, the role remained shrouded in mystery. Beyond a vague “codename,” the simple fact it’s for “some sort of game,” and a loose outline of the character, she had little to go off when it came time to get on the microphone.

“I’m pretty sure it was my first voiceover audition. I had no idea what it was. It was just this fierce, rough-as-guts Aussie, which I loved because I just got to be my natural accent.”

Article continues after ad

de Niese leaned into the wild nature of the character and “just had fun” to stand out. “I went nuts with it,” she joked. After a “few months” and a handful of follow-up auditions, Blizzard had found its Queen in de Niese.

“The first audition was, I just did it myself and there was no information at all. Then either on the second or third call back, it was ‘you’re the Queen of Junkertown.’”

At the time, this comment from Blizzard hilariously fell on deaf ears. “I didn’t know Overwatch, I’m not a gamer,” de Niese said of her reaction at the time. Though as soon as the role was hers, she rushed to the internet and did some research.

Article continues after ad

“I looked up on YouTube to see who Junker Queen was and I realized she’s not quite in the game yet, but she’s been established, she’s in the lore. Not only is this someone already out there, but she’s gonna be so highly anticipated. [Fans] were waiting for so long for the Queen to come.”

Delving into the universe was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helped establish the figure in her mind, but jumping in too deep would’ve only added to the already mounting expectations: “I didn’t actually play the game because I was like, that’s gonna be almost too much pressure.”

Article continues after ad

Rather than succumbing to the weight, she opted to view her inexperience with Overwatch as an advantage instead.

“It’s great when [new heroes] come from left of center,” de Niese said. “This isn’t just ‘here’s another standard hero.’ That’s what makes Overwatch so engaging, is that these heroes are international and we’re bringing our own cultures, our own accents, our own vernacular.”

Junker Queen in overwatch 2Blizzard
de Niese didn’t shy away from the role after learning of Junker Queen’s importance — quite the opposite.

Finding Junker Queen’s voice

With little history in the voice acting field to fall back on, de Niese was venturing into relatively uncharted territory with this new role. Making matters more complicated was the secrecy of Overwatch 2 throughout the recording process. No cinematics to take inspiration from, no gameplay footage to watch along with, and no other cast members to bounce off of, she was often left with nothing more than a storyboard to help “create the environment” in her mind.

Article continues after ad

Fortunately, it didn’t take de Niese all that long to find her finding and immerse herself in the shoes of the Queen, even getting a little too fired up at times and wanting to continue after the narrative team had called off that day’s session.

“We got like one or two of these big, Nano Boost lines, and they called the session. And I’m like, but I’m amped, I’m ready to go… I’d already been doing three hours straight of gameplay lines, so that was probably a good call.

“In general, voiceover work is very taxing. Your voice is obviously the instrument and if you stuff your voice, that’s the biggest thing. For the developers, they don’t want you to be damaging your voice. So the sessions were capped at four hours which is standard for voiceover. The Queen is rough, she was rough on my voice. So I often don’t make a full four-hour session.”

Article continues after ad

Ultimately, having the crew there to end sessions early was a blessing in disguise, she admitted.

“I will say the Overwatch team are unbelievable with vocal health, that’s just number one from them. From day one they told me anytime you need a break, anytime you’re feeling strained… and they’ll often call the session if they hear a little strain in my voice. So I think that’s something that can be challenging.”

Given Junker Queen’s strong-willed nature and boisterous personality, very few of her lines are delivered in a quieter tone. Rather, the Tank is more often than not yelling across the battlefield to impose her authority, be it at her teammates or enemies across the way. To help deal with this taxing role as de Niese is left “screaming” in the booth, she amusingly made her own Junker Queen stress ball to take some of that rage out on.

Article continues after ad

Basking in the glory

After years of teasers, the Overwatch community was formally introduced to Junker Queen back in June. As the second hero revealed for the highly anticipated sequel, the Queen got her own spotlight with origin story animations in The Wastelander cinematic, and a hefty marketing push across socials, all before making a splash in the second public Beta period ahead of launch.

For many, it was love at first sight as the latest hero quickly made an indelible mark on the world of Overwatch.

“The response from the community worldwide has been epic,” de Niese said. “I’ve definitely felt that love, people going ‘finally, an Australia actor voicing an Australian.’ Obviously we’ve got Junkrat and Roadhog who are incredible, but neither of the actors are Australian, so definitely the community has been reaching out on that.”

Article continues after ad

With her Sri Lankan heritage too, players from all over have also been showering de Niese’s work in praise. “I’ve had people sending me the flag going ‘this is amazing,’ which is so cool. Across the board, in every country, I get things in different languages.”

Early cosplays of her character have also caught her eye. Just weeks after the Queen’s reveal and talented fans had already put together costumes leaving de Niese in awe, though she’s yet to see one in person. “There’s an incredible cosplayer [Altf4cosplay] who tags me when she’s putting stuff up. She just made this incredible outfit of the queen and was doing all these videos.

Article continues after ad

“She’s amazing. I love it, it’s so so cool.”

Clearly, both de Niese and the Queen alike have been welcomed into the Overwatch community with open arms. From a mysterious audition in an entirely new field to portraying an instantly iconic character in Blizzard’s mega-popular hero shooter, the journey and the reception has been “so incredibly overwhelming in such a good way.”

Yet with Overwatch 2 now live for all to enjoy, her time with the character is only just beginning as de Niese teased plenty more of Junker Queen yet to come.