Hollywood Actors Face ‘Special Challenges’ in Voice Acting

Variety has an article interviewing actors known primarily for their on-camera work who in 2009 voiced characters in animated films: Keith David (The Princess and the Frog, Coraline, Gargoyles), Jason Schwartzman (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Mary and Max).

Now, typically, when “celebrities” are interviewed about voice acting, they generally say the same things about the differences between acting for camera and voice acting and how they like being able to show up to work in pajamas and not have to go through the on-camera rigmarole of hair and makeup and all the downtime waiting around.

Variety’s article still touches on one of those same points by prefacing the article with the sub-headline: “Actors face special challenges in animated roles.”

However, this article has a decidedly different angle.

While I’ve had gripes with Variety in the past, I have to commend them for what appears to be a marked push for the Academy to recognize voice-only performances, stating that “the actors voicing the characters are still snubbed by kudos counters”:

Despite the many challenges actors face when delivering an effective v.o. perf, not to mention a wide repertoire of past worthy candidates and 2009’s roster that includes Oscar winners, the Academy has never nominated a voice-only performance in its acting categories — the closest was in 1947 with an honorary award for James Baskett’s perf in Disney’s “Song of the South.”

Keith David says he sees “no inherent difference in recognizing voice-only and onscreen thesping — ‘good acting is good acting’ — animation ‘is a different genre, and it should be recognized as such.'”

“Great voice actors bring so much to the whole experience,” David adds. “I don’t lose the value of what I’m trying to communicate because I can’t see who I’m looking at.”

Adam Elliot, who directed the indie animated film “Mary and Max” says that “much of the film’s success depended on the voices, so hiring the right actor was key”:

“For my style of animation, I don’t have talking animals, so we have to find a way to make these blobs seem real,” Elliot explains. “I wanted an actor with an authentic New York accent, and someone who could act. I try not to differentiate between animation and live-action films in that way.”

Variety says Elliot “credits studios like Pixar for putting performance and character before anything else and observes it was a strong year for animation as a whole.”

Schwartzman, who voiced Max in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” says “some of his favorite performances during the past year have been in animated films,” and in regards to acting he adds, “There shouldn’t be too much of a divide between animation and live action.”

Variety goes on to say:

Whether or not the Academy’s acting branch will open its doors to voice-only performances — or perhaps create a separate category — David says he’s just happy to be working, especially in animation.

“There’s a wonderful freedom working in this genre,” he says. “It’s called a ‘play,’ and acting should be fun.”

Click here to read the complete article.

Update: 1.14.2010, 2:55 PM (EST) — I revised my earlier post to emphasize what was said in Variety’s article regarding the actors’ explanation of how challenging voice acting can be. I believe this is an important detail as voice acting has long been stereotyped by Hollywood actors (and even other on-camera and stage actors) as “cartoonish,” not “real acting” or the ridiculous (and frankly, insulting) assumption that voice acting is something that should somehow be relegated to animated children’s entertainment.

Voice acting is as viable and legitimate (and no less significant) as any other form of acting — it just presents a different set of challenges in acting (and microphone) techniques.

Going hand-in-hand with Variety’s article is a recent GamePro.com feature with several Hollywood actors discussing their work voicing video game characters: Shia LaBeouf (Transformers), Sigourney Weaver (Avatar), Vin Diesel (Chronicles of Riddick), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil series), Megan Fox (Transformers) and Lance Henriksen (Aliens vs. Predator).

Of note is this quote from Weaver: “As an actor I think we can enhance that experience for the player with what we do. I think at this point people haven’t taken advantage of actors (in games). We can do more than just dialogue.”

Related post: 1.02.2010 — SlateV Tests Your Ear for Celebrity Voices

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