Actress Paige Howard is used to being in front of the camera — but it’s her voice that takes a co-starring role on Nickelodeon’s new series “The Astronauts.”
Howard, 35, plays Matilda, the AI-powered onboard computer interacting with five teens accidentally launched into outer space. The 10-episode live-action series premieres Friday at 7 p.m.
“It’s a different ballgame and an exciting field to dive into,” Howard says of her role as Matilda. “I’ve really fallen in love with voiceover work … and would love to continue with this.”
“The Astronauts” centers around Samy (Miya Cech), Elliott (Bryce Gheisar), Martin (Keith L. Williams), Doria (Kayden Grace Swan) and Will (Ben Daon) — who are trying to navigate their new world aboard the Odyssey II spacecraft and are undecided whether the robotic-sounding Matilda is a friend or adversary.
Daniel Knauf (“Carnivale,” “The Blacklist”) created and wrote and the series. He’s also an executive-producer, along with Imagine Entertainment — run by Paige’s father, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer — and Imagine Kids+.
“They sent along a little character breakdown [for Matilda], which was very similar to what they would have sent if she was an onscreen character,” says Howard. “That was really helpful, and then they gave me a couple of scenes and I auditioned on-camera. It was a very typical auditioning process.
“Matilda was described as being assertive and Alexa-like, but open to growth and evolution,” she says, alluding to Amazon’s ubiquitous interactive virtual assistant. “Initially she’s a little cooler [in her tone] but, as the series progresses, we see more of her colors … and she starts to shift pretty quickly.
“That’s the vibe.”
Howard says the industrywide shutdown impacted the way in which she recorded her role.
“I was hired at the start [of production] and when I came online they had gone to Canada and filmed four episodes,” she says. “I literally got a call that they were going to bring me into the studio to start work … and that same week everything went down with COVID and quarantining.
“Nickelodeon and the Imagine production teams got super-creative and innovative and together they managed to set up a pretty fantastic recording studio in my little New York City closet,” she says. “I got some of the footage from the first episode and then over the next few episodes it was me…recording it at home… with the director over Zoom.
“I was laying down lines, and then they would see how they fit into the episode and would come back and ask me to do it again,” she says. “Then we’d move on.”
Howard says that, due to this recording process, she has yet to meet her five co-stars — at least in-person.
“Even when you’re making a film you go to the premiere and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re in this movie too!’ If you don’t have scenes together or a big chunk of screen time together it’s like ships passing in the night,” she says. “I’ve been fan-girling them like crazy all over Instagram. They’re all so talented and impressive and intelligent.
“They were on my mind a lot — and a little part of me feels like I know them already.”
She says that getting the role of Matilda wasn’t a lock — despite the involvement of her father’s company.
“I’ve been auditioning for a while and I’ve auditioned for Imagine and Nickelodeon before,” she says. “It’s one of those things where if it fits, it fits. If it doesn’t, no one is going to stretch it for me…and this one was a really good fit.
“Honestly, I don’t know if my Dad got involved with [the series] at all,” she says. “One thing that we’re really good at in our family is having strong boundaries between work and what happens in our family life. Of course we’re really supportive of each other, like ‘Give it your best shot,’ but we don’t get involved [in each other’s careers] beyond that.”