R.A.P. Interview: Harvey Atkin

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R.A.P.: Do you do more accents and characters than the straight stuff?
Harvey: I do much more character stuff than straight stuff.

R.A.P.: Are you doing any IDs and such for radio stations right now?
Harvey: No, I am not. But, after I spoke to Joel Moss in Cincinnati and did that parody for him, I decided to make a new demo tape and do a major mailing. I'm in the process of sending out a traveling mug with my picture on it. There's a demo tape in the mug and the mug says, "If you want to hear what this mug sounds like, play the tape."

R.A.P.: That's a great idea -- good, creative marketing of yourself!
Harvey: It fascinates me that so many voice talents don't advertise themselves! How do you know that the guy out there is going to know that you did that spot, if you don't get out there and make new demo tapes and work the room, as it were. You hear of Mason Adams. You hear of Danny Dark. You hear of those guys like that. But that's all you hear of.

I got a call from a guy at Paul Faye Advertising in Los Angeles to fly down to Los Angeles to do some thirty second spots for WCIX Channel 9 in Miami. I thought this was amazing, that these Florida TV stations were contacting agencies in LA to do pitches for them. If you don't advertise, nobody is going to know you're out there. And when John Sarley found out I was doing these spots for Channel 9, he called and had me do the same kind of a voice for Southwestern Bell Cellular. I'm starting to get the calls, and I'm really pleased about it. I'm an overnight success after twenty years in the business.

R.A.P.: You spent a lot of those twenty years in front of the camera doing the TV stuff and the movies. Would you say you're more of an actor than a voice talent?
Harvey: I wouldn't say that. I mean, there's not a day that goes by in the Toronto area that you don't hear one of my spots on the radio at least once a day. The thing is, I don't really push that, as far as the public is concerned, because that's the kiss of death. That's why a voice guy lasts so long; nobody knows him.

And actors are doing a lot of voice work. Just take a look. Jack Lemmon is now doing Honda. Charles Coburn is doing UPS. This is a big thing. All of the on screen people have now discovered, "Hey, we can make a good buck doing this!" Ricardo Montalban, of course, used to do the Chrysler stuff.

R.A.P.: Granted, a lot of famous actors are doing voice-over, but how much of this is an ability to be an actor behind the microphone versus these voices simply being familiar and famous?
Harvey: It's both. I call voice work "voice acting." In a thirty second spot, you don't have two and a half hours on stage to get their attention. In a two hour television show, if you come out and miss your mark by six inches, the camera's just gonna slide over. Or, somebody sitting in the sixth row isn't going to know that you didn't hit the end of the sofa. When you have a thirty second radio spot, you've got five seconds to grab them. If you haven't hooked them in five seconds, there's no point in going through the rest of the spot.

R.A.P.: It seems that most of the successful voice talents have an extensive acting background. Do you have any tips for our readers to help them develop these voice-acting skills?
Harvey: Well, something I do, believe or not, is watch commercials. I watch all of the commercials more than I do the shows. I tape them. I listen to these guys. I listen to the phrasing.

If somebody is really keen, really wants to be successful in the voice business, they will find out where there are workshops that specialize in voice training. Check into some of these people who teach singers how to use their voice. I think it's important that you take classes or workshops that help you understand how to read a script. What is it that you are trying to get across? What is it that the market is asking of you in this particular thing? Do you have to sound like the friendly butcher down the street? Do you have to sound like a cab driver? Do they want an announcer? You have to be able to put your head into that space, and if you can fit your head into that space because you've practiced or have been trained to interpret and read and understand what the subtext is, then you're going to be successful.

You have to develop a style. If it isn't your own, then pick one that you want and stick with it. Start listening to everybody's style. Determine whether or not you have a style because you have to have a base from which to go forward. You can't float. You can't be imitating one guy one day, and somebody else the next. Don't be all over the map. As you become more established, as you become more experienced, then you can expand your repertoire of what you are able to do for the person that is hiring you.

As far as consistency is concerned, there is no way that anybody is going to get a major account that does a lot of advertising if they can't sound, three months down the road, like they sounded the first time they did the first spot. If you are the voice of a product, and the advertiser is relying on you as the voice logo, you've got to sound like that guy all the time, every time you do the job for that product. This is something that's very difficult to do if you don't have your own style.

I've got a friend who is a DJ in Toronto. Every now and then a little amateur theatre production will be playing somewhere, and you'll find him popping up in it. It gives him a different perspective on using his voice, how to act, how to voice act, how to interact. You learn timing, which is real important, especially when you're doing two handers, interplay between two people. You learn how to jump on a line, how to anticipate a line. Again, it's acting. It's like reading a script.

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