Whether it’s a political position or a product or service that you don’t agree with… Having to deal with the occasional voiceover session that might be in opposition to ones personal views or values is something every actor must deal with at one time or another. This is generally a pretty uncommon problem from my experience, but at certain times a voice actor might be requested for a session to promote a candidate, ballot proposition, product or service he or she might oppose.
There is no single correct solution to this quandary. For some, the issue is as simple as black and white, and the actor will refuse the work (and income – no matter what the fee might be). Others will take the view that they are an actor being hired to play the role of a character. They view their performance for the voice over session as being no different than if they were playing a role of “the bad guy” in a stage play or movie. If the project is a commercial and the topic is known in advance, the actor can make the decision to refuse the work. However, if the booking is accepted and the topic is not fully understood before arriving at the studio (which can, and does, happen), a serious problem may result, which could affect the performer’s future in the business. If you are hired for a session it is expected, (and in fact you are obligated under verbal or written contract), to perform to your best abilities at the session.
There’s a reason the word “acting” is a part of the voiceover business. Acting is all about taking on the attitudes and characteristics of someone or something other than the real you. It’s about pretending, it’s about play, it’s about creating illusion, and it’s about stepping beyond your true self to momentarily become someone else.
The reality of all forms of acting is that performer is playing a role of a character. The words on the script are NOT the words of the performer (unless the performer wrote the script to specifically express his or her personal point of view). The script contains the words of a character. That character may have a belief system quite similar to that of the performer playing the role, or the personality and belief system of the character may be the complete opposite. But the fact remains that the performer and the character in the script are two completely separate entities. The only exception to this is when the actor’s real name is used and they are expressing their personal opinions.
What it ultimately comes down to is the actors ability (and/or willingness) to accept the role of the character he or she is being asked to play. Not all actors are right for every role, and not all characters are right for every actor. If a role is being cast through an audition process, the actor will have a fairly good idea of the character he or she will play – and their performance at the audition will generally reflect their acceptance (or lack thereof) of the character, pretty much guaranteeing they won’t get the job – assuming they were to go through with the audition. However, many bookings are made directly from demo tapes, in which case the voice actor must be prepared to deal with a variety of situations. If personal or moral values are a serious issue with you as a voice actor, you have four options:
- Focus your marketing efforts on only those producers who you know work on projects that are in alignment with your personal philosophy. This will reduce the amount of work you will get, but you will avoid the conflict of having to choose to refuse work. The characters you play will most likely be close to your own personality, so your growth as an actor may be somewhat slow.
- Make every effort to find out as much about the message you are being asked to deliver BEFORE you accept the booking. Sometimes this just isn’t possible, and asking a lot of questions can create an image of being very choosy. If you end up refusing a lot of work based on your personal beliefs you may end up losing work by getting a reputation of being a primadonna. The world of voiceover is a relatively small community – the producers and agents all know each other and word can spread quickly.
- Arrive at a personal acceptance and understanding that you are playing a character, and that the character you are playing is NOT you! This can be a stretch for some and can be impossible for others. However every good actor will tell you that the only reason your character exists is to play a part in the telling of a story. And if the character is not believable, the effectiveness of the story will suffer. They will also tell you that an actor who cannot create a believable character should not be playing that character in the first place. The worst thing (and least effective performance) an actor can do is to play his or her self doing the lines of the script. The hardest thing for an actor to do is to create a believable character when that character expresses feelings, a philosophy and a belief system that is in direct opposition to that of the actor.
- Get out of this business – because you will find yourself constantly being frustrated and confronted with the necessity of making uncomfortable choices.
As an actor, voiceover or otherwise, we are constantly making choices about the characters we play in the scripts we perform. Our acting ability can often be challenged by a difficult script or character. Regardless of the challenges that might confront us, we are the ones who must make the choice as to how we will deal with the situation.