You don’t know their story
What’s the job of a good actor? Owning the role, right? Taking on the identity of the character in question and really intent to “work it baby, work it, own it,” as Vivian’s hooker friend Kit DeLuca says in Pretty Woman. That’s always the goal, right? To really epitomize and personify whatever character they’re trying to portray.
Just like not all character work is voiceover work, not all voiceover work is character work. You’re not always taking on an entire persona of another. In many instances, and I dare say in most instances, you’re probably narrating a piece that is an idea, a message, an anthem, or a product, what have you. You’re not intentionally stepping into and zipping up another character over your head. You’re wrapping your head and heart around words on a page, and bringing them to life.
As a voiceover actor, your job is to really lift the words off of a page and bring them to life. But you can’t really do that until you can dive right into the script and own it, as Kit says. It’s really your job, and the entire reason you’ll get selected (or not) for a role: if you can bring those words to life.
So. Is there a story behind those words you’re trying to read? If so, what is it?
Stupidity at 70mph
I hate driving. I LOVE working from home because I loathe driving amongst a pool of idiocy. I swear, every 5 years people should be made to take sensitivity training: to go back and be required by law to take a mandatory traffic refresher course, or their license is suspended. With changing speed zones, traffic laws, cars, driver ages, and highways, it should be a necessity by law. I’m 46 years old. By this time of my life, I should be 6 feet under. I should be diminishing in some tomb somewhere, my mouth agape in crusty dusty rigor mortis as decay consumes me. Because, frankly, I’ve run into (not literally) enough idiots on the roadway who persist in putting my life, and the lives of those I care about, in jeopardy.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly perished on the roads, and through no fault of my own. People are so incredible insensitive. There’s the:
- Incredible Mulc (MLC, which stands for Massive Lane Changer): Here’s the “Hulk Smash” guy who doesn’t care that he’s in the far left fast lane and yet his exit is coming up in 30 feet and he forgot to get over. He veers across all lanes like a bowling ball thrown by a newbie, uncaring of the consequences of those in his wake. This guy makes me want to harm small animals.
- Constant Introducer: This is the guy who continues to creep up on your tail, and I swear, if he got any closer, he should introduce himself. This guy doesn’t remember – at all – the rule of 1 car length of every 10mph driven. So, if we’re going 60 mph, you should be 6 cars back. I shouldn’t be able to read your license plate with perfect clarity, or be able to count your nose hairs. Back off, pal.
- Sigourney Weaver: this is the woman who is swerving between cars at close range, relentlessly obsessed with “getting ahead”, and nearly clipping every bumper she swerves around.
- Teen Texter. Sorry, but this one needs to be whipped into submission. And it’s not just the teen, to be fair. It’s the person who. Single. Time. You see them, their head is glancing down to their palm, psychotically under the impression that the person on their end of their text thread will in fact perish if they don’t send that reply text right-here-right-now. It’s medical, really. It’s noble. They’re saving lives right now, Josh – so why are you so upset at me???
- BirdMan (or woman): This is the guy or gal who is clearly in the wrong because of not paying attention, or having done something rude, and when you honk it him – deservedly, because that’s what a horn is for – he flips you off because there was no need for me to be so insensitive, right? Why can’t I just send bitter feelings his way, with perhaps a scowl or two? There’s no cause to go being so RUDE by honking at him and jolting him back into the real world of grown-ups. What a jerk I am to even THINK of using my horn.
- And your favorite, my favorite – The Flasher. I mean, if I really think about it, I’ve no right to go 70 in a 70. Why on earth am I not going 85 or even 90…or 100? So of COURSE the Flasher should be riding me and flashing his lights at me to speed up and exceed the speed limit. Boy what an ass am I to go the speed limit.
I AM a jerk when I get mad and go slower and make them go around me. I AM an ass when I flip them off (sorry, sometimes my frustration gets the better of me; at least I’ve stopping chucking grenades at them). I DO act like a creep when I hit my brakes to make them swerve.
Because that man is trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. That woman is rushing to her friend’s house who threatened suicide. That man has been stuck in traffic and is the videographer for a wedding that’s about to start – and he’s late. That woman just got a call that her son is unresponsive.
Do I even want to know their story?
Iris by the Googoo Dolls. It's pure beauty. The lyrics say:
And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's meant to be broken
I just want you to know who I am…
Do we really want to know who they are?
We’re at a great disadvantage on the highway, because unless we both roll our windows down and engage our “opponent”, we’ll never know why we’re being tailgated. Now, there are obviously exceptions to this rule, because as surely as there the moon follows the sun, there are insensitive idiots on the roadway, and your safety is secondary to their arrival at their destination. But if we were allowed to see that woman crying frenetically as she drove, makeup streaming down her cheeks, we would know something was up, and we’d probably let her pass. Not everyone is crying, however, and not everyone wears makeup. We have to engage in trust that there is a story.
In voiceovers, there’s a story behind every script. Our narration is never just a fly-by-night, I-got-this, half-baked read, mic-drop, I’m outta here, peace. It’s always, always, always an adoption. It’s taking that script into our own life, personalizing it, feeling, breathing it, living it…..and knowing the story behind it.
The title of this blog actually comes from my wife, who, when she’d catch me driving slower in the fast lane - deliberately, because I’m being tailgated, and now I’m trying to teach this person a lesson – always stops and says in that low, parenting voice, “Honey….?” Ugh. I hate that honey. I want to teach this guy or gal a lesson behind me. It’s human nature to want justice, and to want to steer the jerk back into compliance. But don’t I more or less become a jerk in the process? Who made ME God?
My wife will remind me, “Honey, you don’t know their story.” Which is so incredibly true. I DON’T know their story. In that moment, I may not want to know their story, but that’s really not the point, nor is it ever. The point is, I don’t know their story. And I need to, to understand.
Living, Breathing Scripts
The words you read weren’t just slapped down on paper, haphazardly. They were deliberately slaved over, crafted with care, probably between two or more people. These words were meant to mean. They were laid down to lift up. They were scribed to ascribe worth and meaning to something. The words you’re reading were written, with great care, to write themselves upon listeners’ hearts. The copy writers spent a great deal of time trying to come up with the best script possible – even for IVR – to make it unique, powerful, impacting, connective, natural, human, etc., and to best represent their own story. It’s your job to now represent that story with flawless accuracy, and to emote with care and precision. You are their herald and ambassador. You are their mouthpiece. Speak their words well. Bring them to life.
No script is a throwaway script. They don’t all have to be anthems. They can be a simple push for a bank. They can be a phone tree. They can be a crazy video game character, and you’re the character that has to do five variations on grunting, five variations on idle, five variations on running, five variations on dying. Aren’t all of those sounds emotional? Aren’t all of those telling a story?
Video creators are inherently storytellers. They’re doing the same exact thing you are, just with visuals. They’re looking for someone, a seasoned narrator, who can make those black letters on that white page come alive, and breathe life into a character that until that point was merely ideological, or static. You’re taking the static, and making it dynamic. You’re telling their story.
Now. Let’s get back to that driving. Am I sometimes Incredible Mulc, Constant Introducer, Sigourney Weaver, Teen Texter, Birdman, or The Flasher? Yeah.
Don’t judge me. You don’t know my story.
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