Voiceover Actor or Voice Overactor?

Voiceover Actor? Or Voice OVERactor?

In the voiceover world, there are a LOT of monikers for us.  We’re voice talent.  We’re voiceover artists.  We’re voiceover talent.  We’re voice artists. We’re voice actors.  We’re voiceover actors.  But some of us, the crazy few out there, are voice OVERactors.

Back in acting class, I was told to project.  To hit the back row of the amphitheater.  To really get out there.  But does such a thing exist in voiceovers?

Sure, we’ve all had those reads where they’re specifically asking for a “Soccer Announcer”.  Or a guy yelling into the wind.  Or you may even get a read that requires you to step into and zip up Hamlet and really embody him.  What do you do?

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Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair

I propose the following: try saying that quietly.  Record yourself saying it "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair."  Then step back into your control room and listen to it.  What do you feel when that comes out as a whisper?  Try uttering quietly, “Arby’s. We have the meats.”  Or “We are Farmers.  Bum, bum-bum, barump-a-bum.”  Or Tony the Tiger's "They're grrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!"  What do you come up with when you listen to it?  Do you get goosegumps?  Would you get MORE goosebumps than, say, if you had yelled it and tried to make sure that the gal up in the nosebleeds heard you?  I think of Master Thespian on SNL - Jon Lovitz was brilliant in that role!  But, his character is a true and poignant case of an OVERactor.

You're a human being trying to appeal to fellow human beings.  It shouldn’t take maximum effort to really get a message across.

Let me give you an example.  I have a toddler. Well, really, I have a threenager, who is unfortunately acutely aware that he rules our world.  Until – of course, that dreadful moment comes when he’s crossed a line, and thrown the remote when Daddy clearly asked him to bring it to him.  Or when he slaps the table because he doesn’t want to eat his baked beans before he has a cookie.  Or when he won’t go potty on schedule during potty training, and instead decides to grace our carpet – or, gulp – hardwood floors.  Then Daddy turns into a voice OVERactor, and Daddy rules the world again.

Do I enjoy yelling at my son?  Not one bit.  Truth be told, it takes a long time for me to get there, because I’m a simmerer.  But watch out when that kettle boils over…I whistle like a locomotive out of hell.  It takes a lot for him to push my buttons, and I'm very grateful to the Lord for the gift of patience.  I have oodles of it for my son.

I'll never forget the one time he got an owee  as a young toddler from something that I did (closed a door on his tiny little finger I think), and he sc-reeeeeeeeeamed.  I pressed him up right against my ear, held him close, and let that tiny rage pour into my soul at 3957 dB.  My eardrum still flinches when I remember that.  But I needed that - to take it into my soul that I had hurt him.  And to love him back to peace.

You learn things as a parent, and not just to say “Hey buddy – don’t try to balance your fruit juice between your chest and the table” or “Bubs, don’t fling your underwear at our guests”.  (Never dreamed I’d have to manufacture that sentence and aim at another member of our species, to quote Brian Regan).

I learned that my son has temper tantrums, and there's crazy ways of needing to deal with him.  Does he deserve a voluminous talking to sometimes?  Yes. But what happens, and what kills my heart when it does, is when I reach that breaking point and lose my volume control and go into red-line.  And I yell.  And his little face puckers up, the waterworks comes out, he whirls around, and crumples to the floor like a pile of wet socks.  It’s a horrible, heartbreaking display that rends my Dada heart.  So here’s how I take evasive action, and it’s amazing.

When Brennan decides that he’d rather go his own route thank you very much, and decides that he doesn’t want to listen, I have decided, on many occasions, to lower my voice.  Almost at a whisper, I breathe “Brennan.”  I’m reminded of this scene.  WOW does Sean Connery nail it, when he lowers his voice and tells Indy to let it go.  It’s amazing and powerful.  I seriously love that scene.  Makes up for the whole movie before it (ugh).

When I lower my voice OVERactor voice, it's amazing how consistently he actually stops what he's doing and pays attention.  Something drew him in.  Something didn't appeal to base anger and cause him to revolt.  Something gave him peace and caused him to listen and pay attention.  That something was the magic of the controlled mystery in my voice.

Simmer Down, Pal

Your microphone is a powerful beast, but so is your voice.  If you spent the money to invest in equipment worthy of a voiceover career, such as a Sennheiser 416 or a Neumann TLM 103, its going to hear you.  There’s no need to overact.  There’s no need to pretend that you’re bigger than your studio.  Hulk, no need to smash here.

I can have a tendency to get into character when I see a script that demands a larger-than-life personality.  But mainly, what that actually motivates me to do is to read it the exact opposite: subdued.  (It’s kind of like those digital traffic meters that gauge your speed as you approach, and they flutter between speeds until eventually they turn all red and say “SLOW DOWN.”  Yeah.  Sure.)  After all, isn’t that going to be entirely different from the scores of auditions that will be bombarding their ears when they review all of us later?  Wouldn’t that help me stand out from the crowd a little more?

It’s the same in voiceovers.  You get a script that calls for a bombastic personality.  Try playing it the exact opposite.  See what happens.  Even if you don’t submit it that way for the audition, see what happens and what you come up with.  You just might amaze yourself.  My coach, the wonderful Scott Burns, taught me something called “Character Diversion.”  Try working on that and see what you come up with.  Read a piece like Gollum, spittle and flailing and crazed eyes and all, and then come right back and read the exact same piece over again, immediately following, and hear what wonders you produce.  It’s amazing.  Try it like Barney Rubble.  Try it like a T-Rex.  Try it like Sylvester Stallone yelling for Adrian.  Then try it again, normal.  You'll see what I mean.

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Take It To the Limit - No More Times

Yeah, you heard me.  The heck with the Eagles.  Stay away from that red line.  The person in the back CAN hear you.  Do the following:

  • Withhold
  • Draw them in
  • Practice mystery
  • Evoke imagery
  • Breathe

It’s actually your job as a voiceover actor (and not a voice OVERactor), to NOT project.  It’s your job to draw them in.  To make every single human being who hears your voice do that canine head tilt, with the edge of their lip curling up into a knowing smile, receiving your message with appreciation, not with bleeding ears and that kill-me-now furrowed brow.  You can reach people as a voice actor, by proper technique, withholding, and mystery.

We should all whisper more.

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Joshua Alexander
Seattle Voice Actor & Voiceover Talent for hire
joshua@voicetalentseattle.com
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