Glamour, fortune, and fame. Being spotted on the street and mobbed whenever you run to the grocery store. Having your every move be tracked by the paparazzi. Fans across the globe screaming your name.
This is… not necessarily the life of a voice actor.
Merriam-Webster defines a voice actor as someone who provides vocals for a character in a video game, animated feature, TV show, or movie. They emote and perform just as much as any live actor, but their expressions are never seen in the finished product. All that the consumer enjoys about their performance is their voice.
It is for this reason that many voice actors enjoy a certain degree of anonymity. While their names and faces may be known to die-hard fans, a casual viewer is unlikely to know more beyond what roles they’ve had. This applies even more to anime and game voice actors, as their roles stem from already niche interests.
That’s not to say that voice actors are completely devoid of fame. Most have a considerable number of fans and can afford a lifestyle most can’t. They attend conventions and autograph signings. Their social media accounts are verified and official. Voice actors simply appeal to a smaller audience than their live-action counterparts.
Of course, there is some crossover. Many classically-trained actors take up voice acting, or vice versa. Jeremy Shada is most well-known for his roles as Finn the Human on Adventure Time and Lance on Voltron: Legendary Defender, both of which are animated. But Shada also has the lead role on go90’s Mr. Student Body President, a live action TV show. Celebrities also often accept roles in animated films or shows as well. Disney films are a good example as well: both John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman have had plenty of notable live roles but are equally regarded for their work in Wreck-It Ralph.
Neither career path is easy. While the effort actors put into their craft is well-documented, voice actors apply themselves just as much. Granted, there’s no stunt work or body language to be perfected, but voice actors have to make their characters feel real. It’s a challenge, especially when you’re dubbing for a talking cat or an anthropomorphic bathtub.
That being said, there’s more to voice acting than just standing and talking. Voice actors have to get into character. The Hangover star and SNL alum Jason Sudekis,whose voice you may recognize on The Cleveland Show and Angry Birds, famously said about voice acting, “You’re screaming and yelling you can’t help but sort of physicalize things. The next day I’m usually sore in some weird part of my body.”
The level of recognition also varies, not just from the consumers but from the media itself. Many games, particularly visual novels, don’t mention the voice actors anywhere in the credits. If they do, they usually don’t list which specific roles they played or only highlight the original Japanese voices (if the game is foreign). This can lead to miscredited roles and even less acknowledgment, as the true voice actors may see the only avenue to reveal their roles as social media.
They’re often times paid less than traditional actors and often may not even know what role they’re auditioning for before casting, leading to controversial decisions of casting white actors in minority roles. The video game industry in particular is notorious for this, as voice actors were only paid residuals or a flat sum before sale of the game even began. This led to a strike in 2016-2017 against some of the larger game companies, like Electronic Arts and Activision. While an agreement was made between the companies and the Screen Actors Guild, it’s still a touchy subject.
But those who are voice actors love their job. They relish being the voices that educate and entertain kids or makes a digital world feel more realistic. Going to cons and taking photos with fans who gush over their roles makes the pay and under-appreciation worth it. It’s difficult to be an actor, whether or not your face is seen. So even if they aren’t as popular as the celebrities whose faces you’ve come to know and love, they deserve the same respect as our silver screen idols.