As you know, I’m a voice actor. My parents like to tell me a story from when I was very small: After being shown an illustration of a Shakespearean actor in a children’s book of careers, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I immediately struck the actor’s dramatic pose. Acting was in my sights as early as toddlerhood.
As I grew up, I became aware of the sick expectations of female actresses and male actors alike, and I decided that a career in acting, even as a child, was out of the question. When it was suggested that I consider modeling, I remember flipping my lid – in my mind, that was even worse than acting on the stage and screen. That seemed like the most passive empowerment of objectifiers! So I took to writing because it meant I could create wholesome fantasies without my physiognomy being a mere object in other people’s less-wholesome ones.
Voice acting enables me to act and play characters without using my physical appearance at all. Usually, it’s simply my voice over a cartoon character’s animated body, or the sound of my voice representing another person. I like this because a) I don’t need to make my physical appearance conform to someone else’s ideals, and b) I’ll never be made to physically do something against my values. For example, I’ll never have to share an onscreen romantic kiss with an actor who isn’t my spouse.
Still, like many actresses (a gender-specific term I don’t use often to describe what I do), I’ve been approached with opportunities to play roles which could potentially conflict with my values. I’ve never been asked to do anything grossly horrendous, but one does become aware that in the indie voice acting world, it’s typically the more deviant roles which pay the highest. As a voice actor, in the hypothetical extreme, it’s true that my physiognomy is never involved, but I’d still feel uncomfortable acting these parts out with my voice alone. No amount of money, fame, or recognition can convince me otherwise.
I suppose in this respect, my view on acting differs from that of James Spader, who accepted the role of Daniel Jackson in Stargate, even though he thought it was “awful,” because he knew it would make him money. He isn’t the first actor who accepted a role just to help pay the bills. I understand, acting is his career, so he made a choice that would support him financially. Acting is not my career. It’s just a hobby which is occasionally lucrative.
Others see acting as more of an art than / as well as a money-making job, and have no qualms doing whatever their chosen art form demands of them. Personally, I am in touch with the fact that I have the power to say yes or no to whatever unfair demands my chosen artistic pursuit demands of me. If faced with an artistic demand which goes against my values, even if given the opportunity to make money, I have no qualms saying no.
To quote Marilyn Monroe, “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” I consider the soul priceless, and even then, I drive a hard bargain. If it came down to it, I’d rather be like Tippi Hedren, whose career was stifled for two years by director Alfred Hitchcock because she refused to be controlled and used as his object, both on- and off-screen, than someone who’d say or do anything for a grand total of $1,000.50.
From a utilitarian ethics perspective, perhaps saying yes may the better choice. From a moral perspective, if a role conflicts with my values, it is better to say no. Because this is my hobby, I don’t perceive as many consequences to evaluating my options from the latter point of view. All the same, the choice is there and it’s mine alone to make.