A friend sent me a link to an article published by CNN.com about voice actors (mostly cartoon voice actors) getting more recognition now because of the Internet. The fan base is increasing. Which makes sense. These famous A-lister voiceover actors – were mostly unknown for the most part, until the Internet. We’re not talking about the movie stars who have transitioned to animation, but the voice actors who stay mostly behind the mic, not the lens. And if they do appear on-camera, it is usually a character role.
The article focused mostly on voices like Frank Welker, Seth McFarlane, and Peter Cullen. One quote caught my eye – from Frank Cullen…
“The respect level (for voice acting) is climbing and climbing faster than it ever did before in the last few years. The studios are recognizing they don’t have to hire a big name actor. People don’t know the difference in most cases. They’re finding they can take a chance with talent and accomplish the same thing.”
I would like to agree with this statement. But you have to understand that it is being said by one of those voice actors in the inner circle. One who breathes the rarefied air that comes with living in LA. (Perhaps that is exhaust fumes.) “Take a chance with talent” doesn’t mean the unknown voice actor from the hinterlands. It means, accomplished versatile voice actors with reputable agents who live in LA.
While I don’t live in LA and am not actively pursuing animation work, I do have experience doing character voices for animation. Lots of character voices – for animated cartoons such as The New Yorker, Dilbert and Cul de Sac. The economy stopped production on these strips, so my outlet for the kind of creative expression has been stifled for the time being.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a table read of the Simpson’s (thank you Terry Greene, dialog editor/actor) up at Fox Studios in LA – and was able to see a few of these very talented, A-list voice actors at work. Three of the main cast (Julie Kavner, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer) were not physically in attendance – instead those familiar voices emerged from the teleconference system in the middle of the conference room table. But Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardly Smith, Tress MacNeille and Pamela Hayden were there in person.
It was a long table – with the actors around one half – and the writers (a lot of writers) around the other half. In the middle sat Matt Groening and the director of this episode.
The table filled the room – leaving just enough space for one row of chairs along three walls – the back wall had room for about 3 short rows of folding chairs. I wandered around until I found my seat – indicated by a copy of the script for the episode with a sticky with my name on the cover. There was coffee and fruit and donuts.
But I had just spent too many hours in the car to eat or drink anything. My stomach was churning after pounding the steering wheel as the traffic slowed to a crawl and I started to worry about being late. My infrequent trips to LA reinforce my decision not to move there – which will prevent me from being considered for most of the higher level animation work.
It was fun. Everyone read their parts with gusto. There was lots of laughter, which is partly why they invite an audience – the script has never been “read” before. Hearing Marge grunt through the speaker in response to one of Homer’s boneheaded moves, was almost worth the drive. Yeardly Smith is a master at lacing one word with deep sub-text. Nancy Cartwright moving from Bart to Nelson – who had a couple of fabulous straight lines this script – was such fun! And what can you say about seeing Dan Castellaneta in action. Tress MacNeille did nine (9) voices this episode – matching Hank Azaria.
PS – if some big time casting director is looking for someone to fill in a few voices for their next animated feature – here are a couple of samples! ;-) Socialite Mother (New Yorker Cartoons), Miss Bliss (Cul de Sac) and Carol (Dilbert).