Fatima Ptacek Interview: The ‘Dora The Explorer’ Audition She Didn’t Know She Had

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Starting out as a commercial model, Fatima Ptacek probably never thought she’d one day be the voice of an iconic animated character while attending the Oscars in the very same year. At only 12 years old, Ptacek has performed in the Oscar-winning 19 minute short Curfew written and directed by Shawn Christensen, and is currently the voice of Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer

We recently caught up with Ptacek, as she revealed what it was really like to attend the Oscars and after parties, what it was like to film a Sesame Street with a very special guest, and how she was shocked to find out about landing Dora without even auditioning–well, sort of. 

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I was told when I was younger, 5, people were constantly telling me that I had a great personality, I was super outgoing, and so when I finally had the opportunity to become a part of an agency I thought it was a great idea and so did my mom. My dad was a little skeptical but eventually warmed to it, which was pretty great. When I first booked my first commercial I was super excited and I couldn’t wait, especially because a 5-year-old in Disneyland getting to be a princess is a great experience if I do say so myself. By the time I finished filming and I was completely done with the whole project it was such an amazing experience and I really loved everything about it—from the crew to wardrobe and hair and makeup being prepared and running lines—I just had a really great time. It was something I definitely wanted to continue doing and because my parents saw how much passion I had they allowed me to continue.

Many may not know that you are the voice of Dora the Explorer! Were you a fan of Dora before getting the part?
Dora was one of my childhood heroes growing up! It was definitely—actually in the beginning I had no idea that I was auditioning for Dora the Explorer. It was titled “Secret Project” so I originally had no idea, which a lot of people don’t know about actually.

What was the audition process like? 
I basically went in and they gave me a script on the spot and they said, ‘Read these lines and have a song prepared.’ So I sang the song “Grenade” by Bruno Mars and then I read the lines, and the lines looked oddly familiar. But of course, I thought that they were just re-using lines or something. I had no idea that it was actually for that role. So then I got a callback and again I did some lines and did the song and then I got a third callback to read a couple more lines and I actually got to meet some people from the Dora crew. They tested my voice on a microphone and how comfortable I was with being in a booth as opposed to being in front of a camera, which is exactly what I’m used to. I think it was done to five or so girls, and a couple of hours later I got a call and they said, ‘Well, you are the voice of Dora the Explorer!’ I was screaming. I had no idea. I was ecstatic.

What’s it like not having to be in front of a camera?
Voice acting was something that was new to me so this was my first official gig. What I love about it is that I don’t have to come an hour earlier for hair and makeup. [Laughs] I don’t have to worry about wardrobe or fittings to make sure I look perfect. I can go in the way I am and have lunch in the booth with a voice director. I love that too. It’s definitely a new experience but I enjoy every second of it.

Are people surprised when they find out you’re the voice?
One hundred percent! They always expect a girl with darker skinned with short hair—someone that looks exactly like her. They expect the whole package, but sorry I don’t fit it! [Laughs]

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Another television gig you did was a Sesame Street episode with First Lady Michelle Obama! That must have been really fun.
That was really, really cool. Michelle Obama is a super, super sweetheart. I don’t know how she does it. She juggles so many things and yet has this perfect image. What I love about her is that she’s constantly just trying to help out the community. She wants to be a part of helping her husband make the country a better place. She has campaigns for obesity and eating healthy, and that’s actually what my episode on Sesame Street was about—eating healthy and making sure children are eating the right portions. She is extremely tall and I’m extremely short so I was looking all the way up to the ceiling it felt like. [Laughs] There was at one point when we were taking a break she sat down and I sat on her lap, which is insane! She said, ‘Come here!’ and I sat on her lap and we were just having an awesome conversation like we were two kids. She’s super playful, and it was just great. Its great to see people who are a huge deal be so down to earth and caring and loving. It was pretty great.

Now, your short film Curfew just picked up an Oscar this year! How did you get involved in that?
The director of Curfew [Shawn Christensen] is both the writer and my co-star. He’s seen me on a couple of shows—think they were morning shows—and it seemed as though he really liked me because he contacted my agent to see if it would be possible to get me into reading a couple of lines. I read with Shawn and we had an instant connection. We hit it off really well and interacted great. It was very natural between us. When I was told I was getting the part as Sophia I was super excited because I knew it was going to be one of the most fun, short days of filming that I would ever have. The crew was such a pleasure to work with. Hair and makeup was fun because it’s pretty much how I am all the time, and wardrobe I got to wear my own clothing.

What was it like attending the Oscars at such a young age?
That was a huge honor. It was amazing. I was surrounded by so much talent. I was kind of blown away by that, A. And B, so much is put into such a special event. How much work and dedication people put into that one day—it blows my mind. They shutdown all the streets around to make sure everything goes well. It made traffic worse than it already is to make sure that everything goes well, and on top of that, the fact that we were nominated was just insane. That’s a huge deal, and the biggest award you can get for a film. We were definitely awestruck. There were moments leading up to them opening up the envelope showing the different nominees and I remember I was sitting next to one of the producers and Shawn was in the lower floor while I was in the balcony and we were all just holding hands and smiling at each other saying, ‘Even if we don’t win, make sure to congratulate the other people because it was an honor to have this experience.’ Then when we actually won we were screaming and crying. It was insane.

Did you get to meet anyone special at the after parties?
After parties I think were super cool as well. When I actually got to go to the parties I met Daniel Radcliffe, which was a huge deal for me. I love Harry Potter! I read the books in like second grade and all my friends were like, ‘Whoa! How do you read that?’ Charlize Theron, she was super sweet as well. Bradley Cooper—wow—he is really dreamy! And Anne Hathaway was pretty amazing. She walked by and was like, ‘Hey sweetie! How are you? Its so great to see you.’ What was great was that we were all treated equally. It wasn’t like there was some type of hierarchy. As a child, at only 12, I’m pretty sure that will be one of the most memorable things I’ll ever experience.

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