I’ve been watching True Detective like everyone else, and it’s good. I like it a lot. It reminds me of Zodiac a bit, which I really ought to get around to seeing again some time. Great movie. Also reminds me of Preacher in some ways, that whole Southern Gothic thing. Great comic, you should check it out.
Cayley James made a reference to the McConaissance tonight, and everyone’s using that term because who knew, right? Who knew a trained actor could make some good movies? I made some quip about how we’d never be using that term if people hadn’t lost faith in Matthew McConaughey, and then I figured I’d been looking at it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t just me; maybe other people also figured Reign of Fire was his masterpiece and were just waiting for him to get back to that.
Joking aside, while I’m glad Matthew McConaughey is taking the time to entertain us, the attention being paid to his career resurgence has reminded me of something that has consistently bothered me: why don’t people give entertainers more of a chance? I know Matthew McConaughey hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the art crowd with his decade-long string of romantic comedies, but had you told me in 2005 he’d be putting out some great performances in 5-8 years, I don’t think I would’ve been too surprised. He’s an actor. It’s not like he’s incapable of being in front of a camera, and it’s his job to fit into whatever movie he’s being paid to star in. Should we really be so surprised when actors who have made a series of genre choices decide to do something different and manage to pull it off? I’m sure no actor starts their career thinking “I’m gonna be in ALL the teen movies!”
It’s not the first time it’s happened. Remember when Daniel Craig was picked to be the next James Bond? There was a huge media campaign to discredit him. I knew he’d be great, because of Munich and Enduring Love. But hey, he’s got blond hair. Same thing happened to Heath Ledger. How dare the guy from 10 Things I Hate About You take the same role Jack Nicholson did 20 odd years ago? I was sure he’d be fine, because I thought he was likeable enough and I trusted Christopher Nolan wouldn’t hire an incapable actor. But no, let’s hate him because he’s a handsome young man playing a psychopath and Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson pre-emptively trumps that, apparently.
I think this attitude – guilty until proven innocent – bothers me because I believe it’s grounded in an assumption that people are inextricably tied to their work, and what’s more, that an artist’s worth is set in stone based on early success. People occasionally make average films, or terrible albums, or messy novels, even if they’re capable of a lot more. It’s not a big deal, they’re human after all, but there’s a belief that these people make GOOD things and these people make BAD things, and it’s too tied up in how people view themselves to make a great deal of sense to me.
All I am saying is give artists a chance. Can you imagine if everyone expected you to act the same way you did when you were younger, simply because that’s how they’re accustomed to thinking of you? Shit’s infuriating.
Have I ever told you I’ve always wanted to be a voice actor?
I’ve always wanted to be a voice actor.
Voice acting, like animation, comic books and getting out of bed, is one of those things for which I have great appreciation but very little practical understanding. I can read that bit in The Sandman where there’s that shot of Dream after he says “No, I could not” and Death says “No, you couldn’t, could you?” and it all totally falls into place. I’ll think “wow, that’s amazing, what a brilliant piece of work”. But I don’t know how to draw or write a comic book. I haven’t suffered defeat after attempting to scale those heights. I used to wonder how anyone could adequately express what was so great about a piece of music if they weren’t a musician. How could you really, I mean really appreciate what’s going on here?
Maybe you can’t. Maybe it’s impossible for me to truly appreciate that bit in The Sandman if I don’t write or draw comics for ten years, and maybe it’s impossible for non-musicians to truly appreciate the measured ease with which Bill Callahan creates a universe within a perfectly-paced guitar riff. I don’t know, but I do now understand why people get really geeky about crafts they’ve never attempted. I respect the hell out of voice actors, but I’m not one myself.
Voice acting might be the least-respected form of acting. Film actors are the most famous, and television actors are forever associated with characters we grow to cherish over many seasons. Theatre actors command the greatest respect, and even musical actors command their own little cults. Seriously. Did you know Les Miserables fans have arguments about who was the best Javert?
Voice actors, not so much. Maybe it’s because you never see their faces. Or you see their faces and they look nothing like the character. There’s a great part in Wayne’s World 2 when Wayne and Garth turn up for a radio interview. The show is run by ‘Handsome Dan’, a DJ with a smooth, rich voice. A tall hunk steps out. “Are you Handsome Dan?” they ask. “No,” he replies in a whiny, nasal voice. Turns out Handsome Dan is played by Harry Shearer – a legendary voice actor himself, but not exactly a tall hunk. It’s a great scene which captures the lack of association people have with the actors behind the voices we know so well. It’s understandable, but no less a pity for that. Voice actors are as responsible for the creation of a character as the writers and animators. What would Mr Burns be without the aforementioned Harry Shearer’s performance? He manages to sound frail yet powerful at once, which I’m sure you’ll agree is where much of the humour of the character comes from.
Yet the indifference toward voice actors is not confined to the public. Major studios have largely ignored the wealth of talent available in favour of big-name Hollywood stars. In my casual and unresearched opinion, this began in 1993 with Disney’s Aladdin and the casting of Robin Williams as the Genie. Prior to Aladdin, the only film actors providing voices in major animated films – that I can think of, at least – were Angela Lansbury as Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast, and Dom DeLuise as Tiger in An American Tail. Though now that I think of it, Jimmy Stewart played Wiley Burp in Fievel Goes West and Orson Welles played Unicron in Transformers.
Well, anyway, it only really took off after Robin Williams did such a good job as the Genie. Disney’s next movie, The Lion King, starred James Earl Jones as Mufasa and Matthew Broderick as Simba. Pocahontas starred Mel Gibson, Billy Connolly and Christian Bale. I believe the studios began to see the potential of having big names on the posters for some extra marketing oomph, regardless of the actor’s ability to, you know, actually voice act. The soundtracks to animated films began to be written by people like Elton John, Phil Collins and Sting. However, if there was a jump-the-shark moment, it has to be Shrek in 2001, which starred Mike Myers, Jon Lithgow, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. Don’t get me wrong, they all did fine jobs… but they’re not really voice actors.
Compare a film like The Little Mermaid – and I bet you can’t think of a single actor in it, or who wrote the soundtrack – to 2013’s Despicable Me 2. Despicable Me 2 starred Steve Carell, Benjamin Bratt, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand and Ken Jeong, while the soundtrack was produced by Pharrell Williams. Or Megamind in 2010, with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross and Brad Pitt. Is Despicable Me 2 a superior movie for securing film and television actors to do a voice actor’s job? I don’t want to be too harsh to recent films, but I can’t help wondering what kind of fantastic animated films we might be seeing if studios bothered to hire people who do this kind of thing for a living instead of who’s the most famous.
I might not be a voice actor, and only dream of it, but I’d like to think I appreciate these artists for the hard work they do. Next time you’re watching a film with voice acting, spare a thought for the men and women who work to bring these characters to life. And maybe don’t bother seeing Despicable Me 3 or Shrek 12. Best not to encourage cynical behaviour.