Your Voice is Everything

Where would a commercial or narration be without a voice actor?

Not to sound arrogant, but it wouldn’t exist.

Your voice brings a script to life. Without you, the ideas, creative writing, and hours spent on crafting a brand would just sit there like cake batter in a pan that was never baked in the oven.

Without you – the voice actor – there’s no party.

You are the paint brush to the artist, the bow to the violin, and the wind to the kite.

Without an intuitive voice actor, even the greatest script isn’t going to fly.

Gone are the days when all a guy needed was a deep voice…and all that was expected from a gal was a sexy lilt.

As voice- actors we are expected to bring much more to the table than ever before. In many cases, when we get a piece of copy today, we’re expected to bring the product to life, and reflect its unique identity in our voice.

Listen to the amazing way actor Josh Brolin shares the essence of Volvo (extended version):

The use of the Walt Whitman poem to infer that driving a Volvo will set your soul free is brilliant, but only a great voice actor can interpret it in way that moves the listener.

Creating a moving performance requires having a system of script analysis that works for you. One of the most important tools is the practice of determining the writer’s intention in the script…and then honoring it with your own uniquely personal take on the message.

One way to determine the writer’s intention is to read through the script a couple of times, out loud, to let it speak to you. Then, look carefully at the words the writer chose; look for meanings and themes.

As an exercise, listen again to the Walt Whitman poem in the Volvo ad, and ask yourself, “What does the message mean to me?” That is the beginning of great voice acting!

Our goal is to understand the subtleties, not just the selling points. Again, once you feel that you understand what the writer is trying to convey, ask yourself what the message means to you. Many voice actors miss this step, thinking, as in the old days, that their feeling about the product should not be a part of their performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are voice actors; it’s our job to share the deepest part of ourselves in our work.

One way to make sure you are sharing yourself in your read is to ask yourself: “Do I care about what I am about to say?” If you don’t care, you need to find a way to make yourself care.

When Robin Williams was asked the secret to great acting, he said: “You have to be personal, and you have to be specific; that way the audience can relate to you.”

How do we make ourselves care about the message? One way is to find your “nugget of truth” in the copy. Find the one thing in the piece that you can relate to on a personal, specific level. Actor Forest Whittaker calls it, finding his “primal truth.” Jeff Bridges once said that when he is playing a character he can’t relate to, he finds the one thing he can relate to, and he “throws the rest away.” Do what works for you, but find your truth in the script!

Not all commercials are as deep or challenging as the new Volvo ad, but when we fully understand our role as voice actors, every performance has the potential to delight and surprise the listening audience in ways that go beyond the writer’s expectations!

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Nancy Wilson is a producer and coach at Such A Voice. She is a busy voice actor and environmental writer, as well as a member of the SAG/AFTRA Radio Plays committee.



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