Female feet walking on the red carpetWhy are celebrities getting some of the top animation voice over gigs in feature films?

MJ Lallo, an animation voice actor and teacher in Los Angeles, has been known to say that celebrity casting is all about publicity rather than a fantastic voice.
When our Facebook group encountered MJ’s quote, they started sharing their own ideas as to why this is the case and also what the outcome of celebrity voice casting is in terms of the quality of entertainment, viewer engagement and what the audience really takes away from the movie.
What are some potential long term outcomes of celebrity casting for the sake of leading the box office with “star” power? Find out!

Are Celebrities Stealing Voice Over Work?

There are three camps represented when it comes to this topic:
1. Celebrities are stealing our voice over work and it’s unfair!
2. Because celebs are booking VO work, we voice actors need to work that much harder.
3. The work the celebs are booking is work we wouldn’t be booking anyway.

A Couple of Truths

Here are a couple of truths that I think can be related to as either a talent or producer.
1. Just because someone’s a good film actor doesn’t mean they’ll be a good voice actor.
2. Being #1 at the box office opening weekend is more important than talent.

Some Outcomes of Celebrity Casting Motivated by Publicity

1. People spend more time trying to recognize the voice than enjoying the performance.
2. Audiences connect more with the actor than with the actor’s character.
Melissa Hearne writes, “I tend to find the celebrity voice overs distracting. I find myself trying to figure out who the person is, and then once I realize who it is, I’m picturing their face instead of the face of the character their portraying.”

Who hasn’t experienced what Melissa described?
Once you figure out who is voicing a character, you do start to think about what that actor looks like, however if you don’t know who voiced the character and also didn’t have a visual reference for what they looked like, you may find that more of the focus is placed on the acting, story and animation than on the person recording that voice.

You may have noticed how some characters are drawn to emulate the actor’s physical appearance. This is particularly true of Shark Tale (2004) where Will Smith, Renée Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorcese‘s likenesses inspired the physical appearances of their characters.

Drawing the character to look like the actor provides less opportunity for the viewer’s imagination to take over and for their hearts to draw closer to the characters and the story, however, if the producer’s goal is to make it more about the actors and their celebrity status rather than their voices and abilities, this could be a winning strategy.

Celebrity VO Can Also Be Distracting in Advertising

EJ Marr pointed out that in advertising, sometimes viewers can become so distracted trying to figure out a celebrity voice that they totally miss the product information of the commercial.
Chrissy Kenady added to this thought, sharing “… Our voices don’t interfere with what is actually being featured, our voices support the product, not the product supporting the actor.”
The thinking behind hiring someone who is already in the public eye is that you’re not only getting a recognizable voice but you’re also benefiting from the celebrity’s following and their potential previous success at the box office.

What Sets Voice Actors Apart from On-Camera Celebrities?

Victoria Feinerman left an insightful comment via Facebook that I thought added significant depth and illumination to this topic. Her thoughts exploring what differentiates the performance of a voice actor in comparison to an on-camera celebrity in the eyes of the audience are featured below:
Voice actors create a unique voice that becomes an indelible part of the animated character’s “personality.”

In contrast, what do celebrity actors bring to the table?
They bring their acting talents, but they use their own voice. Thus they may make the character live, but fail to make that character unique, to give it a soul.
After seeing a celebrity-voiced film, you might hear movie-goers comment, “I liked the Jerry Seinfeld character” or “Man, I love David Schwimmer movies.” They are more likely to refer to the actor than the character, because the character never became real to them.

Compare this to characters performed by voice actors. You would never ever hear someone say “Wow, that Mel Blanc character was great!” They would simply refer to the character by name, because the character has a life of its own, independent of the voice actor.
THAT is the difference between celebrity actors and voice actors.
And the worst part is when the animated characters are given lines to say that refer to a role that the celebrity actor played in the past. There is no way to forget the actor and *believe* in the character.
Note that if celebrity actors were actually asked to do a voice other than their own voice, some would quite possibly do a good job.

So, Are Celebrity Actors Stealing Roles from Professional Voice Actors?

Something to consider is that although celebrities are booking traditional voice over work, their doing so may actually result in some benefits for professional voice actors.
Keith Shull just sat in on a VO workshop last week and the topic was brought up. The consensus was that “No – celebrities actually raise the profession to a new level, making VO a more-recognized career choice and perhaps even elevating the pay scale long term.”

Larry Long wrote, “… Although they’re a celeb it’s still one more hugely qualified person in line ahead of me. I just try to keep the glass is half full concept. In fact I have to.”
Along similar lines, Rick Brown offered that “… From a purely mindset perspective, this simply becomes another convenient scapegoat for failure. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.”

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about celebrity voice acting. You’re welcome to join the conversation and address any of the points you read here too 🙂
Best wishes (and Happy 4th of July to those celebrating!),

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. Generally, it’s a no-brainer when you get professional actors with unique characteristics in tone, style & delivery that also happen to be recognizable for the viewer/(listener). Don’t slight them because they’re already successful or taking work away from other VO actors. If they do a fine job, commend them. Don’t damn them.

  2. If celebs are just getting VO gigs because they’re famous, then I think they’re in a VO genre of their own and there’s no reason for anyone to think they’re taking jobs away from regular VOists.
    VO in LA and NY is treated the same way as acting. (Workshops, agents, auditioning, unions, residuals, etc.) As such, lots of agents sign their clients for “across-the-board” work…they want them to audition for TV roles, film roles, on-camera for commercials, and for voiceovers. The problem I have as a strictly-VO only talent is that, at auditions, I’m up against these all-purpose actors who don’t put the same amount of work I do into the craft.
    That being said, some actors do have more talent and training than I do. If the VO role is more acting-oriented, then I don’t have a problem with the better actor getting the gig, even if they are celebs.
    Just because they’re celebs doesn’t mean they don’t deserve certain VO gigs.
    Jeffery Kafer’s excellent “Voice-Overload” webcomic had a little bit to say on the subject a few months back:

  3. Tom Selleck for Florida Orange Juice, Gene Hackman for Lowes, the list goes on and on for advertising. However, for let’s say an animated feature, well it’s kind of a given. Big names draw big crowds. Seems more of a marketing thing. Besides work is work whether it’s stage, screen, or voice.

  4. Funny that back in the 80’s, so called “real actors” would not be caught DEAD doing voice overs. I recall with some hilarity, the scene in “Tootsie” where Dusin Hoffman is talking to his agent – “I’ll do
    anything! Send me up for cat commercials, dog commercials, voice-overs, anything!”

  5. Just read today’s Vox article on Celebrity voices. I find that the use of celebrities to to voice animated movie characters can be distracting, but usually it isn’t. Examples of non-distraction are Ed Asner in “Up,” Antonio Banderas in “Shrek,” the voices used in “Kung Fu Panda.” In my mind the animated characters were “the old man,” “Puss,” and the “karate animals” respectively. A great example of distraction (annoyance, really) is “Donkey” in Shrek. I find the voice that Eddie Murphy uses for the character to be the most annoying voice in Hollywood! I suppose it works for the character, but not for me. Most of the time, I am not aware of the actor’s celebrity status until after the movie has been released in DVD form. THEN, I look for the name(s) in the credits.

  6. Perhaps, just perhaps, when an agency uses a recognizable celebrity voice they are attempting to allow the listener to believe that the celeb is endorsing the product or business. Tom Selleck must believe that Florida Orange Juice is a good thing, otherwise he would not be lending his voice to the commercial. Just a thought.


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