I read with interest Anna Smith’s article in the London Metro a couple of months ago where she wrote ‘maybe the voiceover jobs require skills that don’t come naturally to even the best actors’. This was in relation to Idris Elba’s attempts at voicing Shere Khan in the new Jungle Book film. It reminded me of a phone call I’d had from a reporter at The Independent a couple of years ago in which he questioned me as to why I thought Colin Firth had ‘stepped down’ as the voice of Paddington Bear. ‘Probably because he wasn’t very good at it’, was my first response 😉
I am grateful that people are finally coming round to my way of thinking which is that celebrities do not make proficient voice over artists just by virtue of their fame, and actors are not instinctively skilled at voice over work just because they are actors. Increasingly companies want to use a ‘famous’ voice to endorse their products and this seems to become more important to them than using someone who can actually voice it effectively. We can all tell the difference between a company’s on hold message recorded by ‘Sheila in accounts’ and those that have spent money on a professional voice over talent. But here the justification is clearly for economic reasons. How ironic then that companies will pay celebrities obscene amounts of money to endorse their product with their voice or bring life to their animated character when the skill required eludes them to such an extent that the results are often below par.
We all enjoy a safe pair hands. No one enjoys watching a member of the public struggle on XFactor, on the edge of your seat terrified they just won’t hit the notes. And then in contrast the relief you get from watching a more talented contestant just knowing by their confidence and approach that they know what they’re doing and that you can sit back and enjoy the performance. I don’t know about you, but if I was paying high fees and over the odds I’d want to sit back and enjoy the performance and that is not guaranteed just because the ‘talent’ is a successful actor. Need I mention Ross Kemp?!
We all enjoy the ‘name that voice’ game when a new ad comes on and you know the voice you just can’t place it. Or someone better at the game than you, immediately comes up with the name. But what if they don’t? What if no one does? And this highly paid celebrity has endorsed the product with their voice, for squoodles of money, but no one knows who the hell it is! And worse than that, what if the job they did was secondary to the performance that an experienced and professional voice over artist could have done a 1% of the cost?
There seems to be an over riding view that if you are famous then you should do voice overs. Yet people don’t consider that once you take away the famous face, the voice has to stand alone as recognisable. It also has to embody all the energy and essence of the physical form in how it sounds. I was once called for a meeting by a talent agency who wanted me to recruit the members of the band ‘N-Dubz’ into my voice over agency. ‘Whatever for?’ I asked her incredulously.
‘We’d like to raise their profile and we think voice over work would help’ she said.
‘But has anyone ever heard them speak?’ I asked.
‘Well, they’ve heard them sing.’
This assumption that clients would come rolling in to book the voice of an unknown band member, who’s voice we have never heard to endorse products based on their celebrity despite the fact no one would know who it was. And this is one example of hundreds in my 12 years as an agent.