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Monday, April 01, 2013

Voice Acting: A Tale of Two Richards

The recent deaths of two iconic British actors, has made me ask a fundamental question: do actors make better voice over artists? Stage and screen stalwarts Richard Griffiths and Richard Briers not only made a big impact on screen, but were equally formidable as VO talents.

My children know him as Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films, but Richard Griffiths first made his mark on me in Withnail and I the cult classic where he played another, but altogether different avuncular figure, Uncle Monty. However it was his voice over for a beguiling series shown on Channel 4 and made by Televisionary, that has really left a lasting impression on me.

Waterstories was a collection of short programmes about people who live and work on Britain's rivers and canals. It was a series of charming vignettes complete with gentle music, bucolic locations and enhanced by Griffiths' warm narration.

His delivery belied his big frame; never booming, always nimble and engaging he weaved a thread of magic through each programme. He did exactly what a voice over artist should do: enrich the piece, rather than dominate it.

He also pulled off the one trick that turns a good voice over talent into a great one - he allowed his personality to shine through. No mean feat when you are dealing with somebody else's words.

Richard Briers did likewise; although known widely for Tom in the BBC sitcom The Good Life, he was also a regular on TV commercials and an admired Jackanory favourite. But for me his defining VO moment came with the 'seventies cartoon Roobarb (re-launched in 2005). Briers' lively delivery matched the shaky style of the animation; he managed to energise the words and bring the scripts to life in his own nice-guy way.

So what voice over legacy did these men leave behind? I believe they threw down a gauntlet; in
voiceover terms they showed not only how it could be done, but how it should be done. But what if you are not an actor and still want to achieve voice over success?

Although from a strong acting background both performers exhibited a naturalness in their delivery. Whether it was a documentary about British waterways or a silly kids' cartoon, the real personalities of Richard Griffiths and Richard Briers shone brightly. The crucial point is that when they were doing voice overs they were not playing character roles so much as being themselves.

This is a salutary lesson: in voice overs it is all about how you interpret the message; not playing at being the announcer or 'voice over woman/man' but doing it for real.

Do you need to have an acting background to do voice overs? Of course not, but we can all learn from truly great acting talent.

Gary Terzza runs a voice over training course in London, England.

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