Celebrity Voiceovers

So…you’ve noticed those commercials with a celebrity doing the voiceover, have you? Yep, me too. But…he’s not identified as the celeb he is…so what’s the point?

I’m not really sure I understand this myself…but I have some thoughts. One is that, while many people will not recognize the actor behind the voice, many will…and it’s just one more way for companies to make their commercials stand out.

Another observation is that “celebrities are cool”…and ad agency folks are, like many of us, drawn to fame and fortune and other “cool” stuff. So…if you had a chance to hang with (insert random celebrity here)…even briefly…or over an ISDN line…and to do it on somebody else’s nickel…wouldn’t you?

Since I do voiceovers for a living, I do notice celebrity voices. I haven’t really made a note of who’s doing what… but I thought it might be fun to start doing so now. And maybe to grade them… simply from my perspective as a guy in the biz.

I have no problem, by the way, with celebrities getting work that has traditionally gone to voice talents. In fact, many voiceover folks refer to themselves as “voice actors”. I don’t, as I don’t feel that acting is my strength.

But there are those VO folks who are fairly upset that celebs are stealing VO work from us “regular” voice actors. Personally, I’m more of a “free market” guy. I think it’s generally a waste of money. The Today show did a piece recently on how many people were able to recognize celebs doing voice work. Most were not. And, for that reason, I suspect that it’s a temporary trend…except for the most recognizable celebrities.

Celeb voiceovers I’ve heard…and my observations:

Ed Harris
Grade: C
One of my all-time favorite actors, Ed has been doing Home Depot commercials lately. Nice, comfortable delivery, but slightly inarticulate, and lacks gravitas. He’s got a touch of mouth noise going on that could probably be remedied by a bit more water during the session.

Martin Sheen
Grade: B
Martin has recently been providing voiceover services for Midas. I think he’s pretty solid, although I do notice a tendency to over-enunicate (a common temptation of those new to the VO biz). However, he’s also at that age (turns 70 in 2010) where it’s possble that dentures are a factor…as they tend to have the same effect.

James Earl Jones
Grade: A
Of course, James was one of the first recognizable celebrity voiceovers. Back during the Gulf War, his “This is CNN” was rattling TV speakers all over the world. James is THE MAN. It’s funny…his natural speaking voice is deep, but not all that impressive. But when he turns it on for voiceovers…wow!

Sam Elliott
Grade: A
Who doesn’t love Sam Elliott’s voice? The ultimate screen cowboy…with that deep world-weary voice and rugged good looks. He’s been doing some spots lately for IBM…and of course, he’s been doing things off and on for years. Absolutely terrific. Sam is one of those screen actors that make complete sense as a voiceover artist. Plus, he’s married to one of my first movie crushes (Katharine Ross from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid)!

Gary Sinise
Grade: C
I have always enjoyed Gary’s acting. He has a very flat delivery vocally, and it allows him to take on a lot of roles and sound very believable… not at all pretentious. But I don’t think it translates well in voiceover. However, he’s recently become the voice of Cadillac. Whereas some celebrity VO folks aren’t terribly distinct, I’d have to say that they are paying for his reputation here, and not his VO chops.

Gene Hackman
Grade: B
One of my favorite actors, Gene’s been doing voiceovers for Lowe’s, Oppenheimer Funds and for an airline (can’t remember which one) for years. I don’t think he’s great…but his delivery is very comfortable. His voice comes across well. His articulation and expression aren’t as strong. I’d still rather watch him on-screen.

George Clooney
Grade: C
I’ve recently noticed George doing work for Anheuser-Busch. George is a very visual actor…the whole smirking, cock-of-the-head thing. And that works well for me. But I don’t think he delivers the goods in voiceover…so far, that is. He has a nice voice…and they may yet learn how to use him better than they currently are.

Richard Dreyfuss
Grade: A
Richard was the voice of Honda for many years. His voice has great range, and I thought he did a superb job. I haven’t heard him much recently.

Sean Connery
Grade: B
When you buy the services of Sean Connery (as did Level 3 Communications), you’re getting your money’s worth. He’s almost instantly recognizable. As a Scot, his articulation is a bit thick in American English…not very nimble. Love him as an actor…don’t mind him as a voiceover.

Julia Roberts
Grade: B
I am not a fan of her acting. Her voiceover for AOL is semi-recognizable and reasonably articulate. Not bad at all.

Kelsey Grammer
Grade: A
I think I remember hearing that Kelsey was a radio guy at one point. He is truly a “voice actor”. Heard recently doing spots for Disney. Tons of range, extremely articulate…not to mention lots of fun!

Queen Latifah
Grade: B
Haven’t heard her a lot, but she does a solid job for Pizza Hut.

Christian Slater
Grade: C
Christian has pretty good voice quality, but he’s a lazy speaker. I’m a little surprised that he gets voice work for Panasonic.

Kiefer Sutherland
Grade: D
I am a fan of the show 24, although I hadn’t paid much attention to Kiefer as an actor before that. I enjoy his Jack Bauer character. Not a lot of range, but lots of intensity…yet, for me at least, it doesn’t transfer well to the voiceover world. He’s been the voice of Verizon, Apple and now Bank of America. His dad, Donald Sutherland, made a boatload of money in voiceovers, despite a somewhat thick tongue, a bit of his native Canadian sound in his delivery and a very prominent lisp. For many years, he was everywhere. However… so far at least, I just don’t feel that Kiefer has the same future awaiting him. UPDATE: Kiefer’s most recent BOA work shows him with a lighter, more accessible touch. He may be about to raise his grade! ;-)

Powers Boothe
Grade: A
I’ve always enjoyed him as an actor, and I think his work is quite good on the McCain for Prez spots. Very understated delivery. Not glossy… just comes across as very heartfelt.

Jeff Bridges
Grade: A
One of my all-time favorite actors, but interestingly, the trademark “hitch” in his delivery is missing in his VO. Smooth and solid on the Hyundai spots. Interestingly, the recording engineer was able to overcome Jeff’s very prominent sibillance issues thru mic placement or sound processing. He sounds very good on there.

Matt Dillon
Grade: D

I’ve also recently heard what appears to be Matt Dillon doing some Pontiac commercials. Strange. Doesn’t work for me.

Former ER beauty Julianna Margulies is doing VO for Pampers. Need to hear more to give her a grade.