Today, I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Sarah Stockton. Sarah is an Outreach Coordinator for Voices.com, a site connects businesses with professional voice talents where she enjoys helping potential voice talent find their start in the voice industry.
It’s pretty common these days for movie and television stars to voice characters in animated films. Movie studios even make this part of their promotions, and for good reason. Many people are more likely to want to see a film if one of their favorite stars like Tom Hanks or Angelina Jolie is performing a voice in it. You may also hear celebrities performing voice-overs in television and radio commercials, which is usually side work they take on because, to be frank, it requires little work and they get paid well to do it.
But some actors have moved from regular acting into voice acting on a regular basis. Sometimes an actor whose career in front of the camera may be waning can still find good work as a voice actor. In some cases, though, actors just find they have a knack for voice acting, and they enjoy it. Here are four actors whose characters and voices you may recognize, who got their start in front of the camera.
You may know Julie Kavner as the voice of Marge Simpson on The Simpsons. But because that show is completing its 23rd season in 2012, you may not know that Kavner had a thriving acting career before The Simpsons ever aired. After a few bit parts on television shows in the mid ’70s, Kavner landed the role of Brenda Morgenstern, sister to title character Rhoda, one of three spinoffs of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Phyllis and Lou Grant being the other two). Kavner played Brenda through the entire run of the series, after which she went on to appear as a guest star in a handful of other shows.
She also landed roles in two Woody Allen films, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Radio Days. In 1987, she joined the cast of the sketch comedy vehicle, The Tracey Ullman Show. That show included quirky short cartoons about a yellow-skinned, bug-eyed family, for which Kavner voiced the mother. When Ullman’s show was canceled, the cartoons were developed into The Simpsons. The rest is history.
After starting her career as a voice actor, Cree Summer gained recognition as a traditional actor with a role in the highly successful and popular A Different World in the late ’80s. The show had success built in, being a spin-off of The Cosby Show, and starring Lisa Bonet. Even after Bonet left the show, after just the first season, A Different World continued for five more seasons, making many of the actors household names, including Summer.
After that show ended, she took on a few other acting roles in shows such as Living Single and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But then in 1994, she returned to voice acting, and hasn’t looked back since. Summer’s pliable voice has allowed her to win parts in dozens of cartoon series such as Tiny Toon Adventures, The Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats, and Batman Beyond. She remains an active and sought after voice actor.
This isn’t a name that’s easy to forget, if you ever knew it in the first place. Before embarking on his voice acting career, Bill Fagerbakke took on roles in a couple of made-for-TV movies, a few TV shows, and had a small part in the Michael J. Fox hit movie The Secret of My Success. He hit the big time when he landed a regular role on the popular sitcom Coach, playing dumb but lovable Dauber Dybinski.
When the show finally went off the air after nine successful seasons, Fagerbakke began alternating between traditional acting roles on TV and in movies, and some cartoon voice-overs, including the role he’s become best known for, dumb but lovable Patrick Star on the hit show Spongebob Squarepants. Fagerbakke has now played Patrick for ten seasons, and the show is still going strong. He’s continued to take traditional acting roles here and there, but made a memorable return to television in 2005 as Marshall’s dad on the popular sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. Sadly, his character was killed off on that show, but you can still enjoy his acting talents as Spongebob’s sidekick.
Yes, that Mark Hamill. Before he was, is, and forever will be Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill dipped his toe into voice acting with a couple of stints on Scooby Doo and Flintstones cartoons, all while taking on traditional acting roles. Then came the Star Wars explosion, but as popular as those movies were, Hamill’s acting career never quite took off the way Harrison Ford’s did. He continued to act steadily, both in traditional and animated voice roles. He even did a voice for a video game. Then another. Then a few more, until now when he is a much sought after video game voice actor.
But he didn’t stop there. Hamill has also created a niche for himself in superhero cartoons. He’s done voices in Spider-Man and Superman cartoons, but the one voice for which he’s best known in comic book circles is that of the Joker in the animated series Batman, Batman Beyond, Superman, Justice League, and a few other spinoffs and specials. In fact, he’s such a fantastic Joker he’s gone on to play the role in several Batman and other superhero video games, bringing both his voice acting pursuits together in one endeavor. If you’ve never heard Mark Hamill’s Joker, you’re not only missing out, but will be astounded that the guy who played hero Jedi Luke Skywalker can sound so convincingly maniacal.
These are just four of the many celebrities and traditional actors who have either abandoned their lives in front of the camera for lives in front of a microphone, or have successfully combined both to create lucrative and high profile careers. Next time you watch a cartoon with your kids—or without—listen closely to the voices. You may be surprised by whom you recognize.