Monday, January 6, 2014

Famous actors doing voice actor work

People who make their living doing voice work are truly impressive individuals.

They may seem like they have "easy jobs," because they can sometimes do their work in their pajamas without even leaving their homes, and often get paid handsomely for it.

However, depending on what kind of voice actors they are, they may have to master dozens of different voices, and be able to produce them on cue. Not only that, but if they do recurring characters, they have to make sure they can get the voice exactly right from the last time they did it, and then again for every other time they do it in the future, regardless of how much older they get. (Just think of the Simpsons voice actors, who have been doing the same voices -- sometimes a dozen each -- for a quarter century.)

They also have the difficult challenge of losing a lot of work to "normal" actors. That's where the big animated movies come in. Because the studio needs to make as much money on these movies as possible, they cast a lot of recognizable faces (er, voices) as the leads in these movies.

It would stand to reason, then, that audiences want to hear the actual, default speaking voices they are so accustomed to hearing from these "normal" actors. That's why I find a trio of animated movies I've seen recently so interesting: They feature name actors doing voices that are not their own. In these scenarios, the studios are essentially paying name actors to disguise their trademark speaking voices -- to do the work that a good voice actor usually does.

The first was The Pirates! The Band of Misfits, which it seems like I am talking about almost constantly on the blog these days. Although there are a number of actors "doing themselves" in this movie -- most notably Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven -- the lead actor, Hugh Grant, is up to something different. The voice he's producing as the Pirate Captain is Grant-like, in that it has a few of his trademark affectations, but it is clearly not just Hugh Grant doing Hugh Grant. He's raised the timber of his voice in a way I can't put my finger on. Sometimes, he sounds so unlike Grant that I actually went online to determine if a different actor provided the voice for the British/Australian release of the movie (which is crazy, because Grant himself is British and the pirates are voiced by Brits in the American version I saw last year -- with the exception of Piven and Hayek, I mean).

Then it was The Croods, in which Ryan Reynolds has somehow made himself sound like a teenager. The movie features Emma Stone, an "actual" teenager (in terms of the roles she's still able to play, anyway), as a cavegirl, and Reynolds' character as her caveboy love interest. The role shouts out for someone like Zac Efron, yet Reynolds got the job for his ability to make himself sound like a Zac Efron type. I've always admired Reynolds' ability to do voices, showcased most notably by the spot-on Australian accent he has done on Saturday Night Live (among other places, I'm sure).

The third was yesterday morning, when my son was watching his copy of Alpha and Omega. I actually watched that one with him all the way through about a month ago, and afterward noted that Christina Ricci did the voice for one of the wolves. Since the movie was already over, I couldn't remember exactly whether it sounded like Ricci's voice or not, but on this time through I noted that she was doing a bit of a "baby girl" voice. I could recognize Ricci hidden in their somewhere, but she definitely didn't think she had been hired just to play Christina Ricci. She was kind of doing a Betty Boop version of herself.

If you are one of these actors, I can understand the desire to make the task more challenging for yourself. If you don't have to worry about your facial expressions or your body language, you want the craft of acting to come through in some other way, and what better way than having to master your line readings in a different voice? You could say it's the difference between someone who takes the job as a real acting assignment and someone who just shows up to get paid.

I don't as much understand the studios' motivation to let the actors do a voice, or let the director direct the actors to do a voice. Except that it's probably very simple: The actor is primarily being hired to lend his or her name to the movie poster and the advertising campaign. Once the audience has paid their admission, it doesn't matter if they sound like themselves or like Kermit the Frog.

Kermit the Frog was just a random choice there, but that character may actually illustrate the ultimate challenge to the good voice actor: that he/she is replaceable. After all, Jim Henson was the original voice of Kermit, but Henson died in 1990. Since then, the character has been voiced by a guy named Steve Whitmire. I can't really tell the difference. I guess the more famous a character is, the more talented voice actors are going to have a great impression of that character.

Now, if Ryan Reynolds took over the voice of Kermit ... then I'd be really impressed.

Not as impressed as I'd be if Ricci took over the voice, though.

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