The trend of using celebrities for voice acting
The release of The Croods has made me think of a hot issue in recent years regarding voice acting.
The main issue here being how no-talent-at-voice-acting-but-famous A-list celebrites are cast in animated/CGI films instead of lots-of-talent-at-voice-acting-but-not-famous voiceover actors.
What do you think of this issue?
Voiceover pro Billy West (Futurama, Ren and Stimpy) has been highly critical of this practice and voiced his opinion on the matter in recent years:http://www.avclub.com/articles/billy-west,13937/
O: But that's the complete antithesis to how animation is now. Celebrities are the characters. They're expected to put themselves in the role. Even before CGI movies, you had Robin Williams in Aladdin.
BW: Robin Williams understands sonic performances. He understands what it's like to change your voice up. He understands what it's like to have theatre of the mind—and with your little strip of vocal cords, you're going to create heavens and hells and universes and populations of people, which is the whole idea that a voice person has in their head. It's like, "Whatever it is, I'll be it." But the voice people can physically escape the sound of their own voice. We do multiple voices. We used to save producers' asses, because they'd hire you and say, "Well, we were going to get six people, but we can't afford it. Can you do this, this, and this?" And you'd do them, and they'd be perfectly happy, and they'd save a bundle of dough. Now, it's the exact opposite. The minute they mention a CGI film, they're already looking to see what Renée Zellweger is doing. They're already looking to see what Billy Crystal is doing. This doesn't make sense, to do what they do—spend zillions on visuals, and then have this totally fucking flat-lining voice track. You know, "Hey, I'm Will Smith, I'm a clam! I'm Will Smith, I'm a kangaroo!" All you bring to the performance is your own ego. They're just being themselves. Let's put it this way: Cameron Diaz is the highest paid voice actress in history: $20 million for Shrek. Why? Because she has a 9-foot mouth? That works somewhere else, but not on tape! [Laughs.] It's like what the hell is that all about?
O: So are you totally out of the loop on big-budget films?
BW: Well, we still audition for them if they call us, but we know it's a joke. What's really insidious is, they love to have the A-team come in and read for them and create characters for them and read their copy, and then you never hear from them again. Then you see the person who has the job saying things that came direct from your own ideology, like if I'm ad-libbing, and I use a word from the Midwest because I grew up in Detroit. You know, it's like "What the fuck? What am I, a copywriter now? How come I don't get residual checks?" They take your riffs, they take your little noises that you do, and they go tell this schlub celebrity, "This is what we want; this is what we're looking for. Hear what he's doing?" And then that guy's gotta sweat bullets trying to sparkle some life into his bland-o voice... I hope I'm not coming off cocky or bitter about the swing in the business. I'll hang in, but I'm going to change my hat. I have to be a producer now.
O: Could you ever foresee a swing back in the other direction, with voiceover people taking over?
BW: I don't know. I could almost see it, but there's something else on a higher level going on. Like I'm thinking they're only trying to save money—every production guy in my life, every company that was going to do something, there's never any money... I'm thinking to myself, "Why would they pay four stars over $20 million apiece to do voices in a movie?" I mean, they'd save a fortune if they used voice people, and the magic would be back in those characters.
O: But they obviously think they'll make way more money because the celebrities will draw people.
BW: It's "Oh well, we can use those stars on their bankable star power to promote the cartoon and do Access Hollywood interviews." You know, it's like they treat us like we're not actors. I went to the première of Space Jam at [Grauman's] Chinese Theatre—big première, red carpet, everything. Me and the voice people got invited to the little theatre; there's two of them there, the big Chinese theatre, and then there was a smaller one next to it. We weren't invited to the big place, and so my friend Bob Bergen, who does Porky Pig an awful lot, called them up and said, "Hey, what gives? We're featured in this movie." She said, "Oh you mean the party at the big Chinese theatre? Oh, that's for the actors." I'd like to find out what little cement-head said that.
O: What did Bergen say?
BW: He kicked and screamed about it. We had to settle for the little theatre. But the other theatre was filled with the regular pile of gloms—you know, celebrities that you see everywhere. They gotta be the first to see something, even if it's before me. It's not just for the actors; you can't fill a theatre with actors that were in Space Jam. You know, it's for the Hollywood cognoscenti, and stardom is the only thing that means anything. We deify these people like they can do special, extraordinary things, and they can't. But their voices are not immortal, and they never will be. I don't care what anybody says. I'll outlast everybody. I'll be around until 120, and I'll prove it! [Laughs.] Those voices won't stick in anybody's craw.