American actors' voices dubbed into foreign languages

Does anybody know: when American films are released overseas (in non-English speaking countries), do they use the same actors to dub the same stars? For example, do they have a guy who always does Michael Douglas’s voice in, say, Italy? Or is it random? If so, it must be somewhat disconcerting to watch a Jerry Lewis marathon in France and have him sound like a completely different (retarded) person in each one. I know from watching Kung Fu movies that we use the same to guys to dub all the voices on Hong Kong action flicks, but how does it work in the rest of the world? Any clues?

I don’t watch american movies in french much, primarily because I’m mostly english and would rather hear the actual voice, but as far as I can tell (and according to my BF who’s french) the voice-overs tend to be the same person, at least for the usual big-budget Hollywood movies. If some actor were to star in some indie film, I don’t know that they’d get the same voice, though.

You really should try and watch James Bond speak German. “Mein nahme ist Bond, James Bond” in sorta squealy voice, I rolled over with laughter. Personally I always want to see the movies in their original language, be it American, French, German or Danish. I think that in Italy the actors that dub movies have their own union and have stars “assigned” to them.

In turkey, the foreign movies playing in theaters - American 95% of the time - are not dubbed, just subtitled.

Of course there is some serious dubbing in TV, and a certain actor always does the voice over to one guy…

But you know the rules of the market economy. Now and then there is the unavoidanble change in the voice over, and then comes the awkward feeling of looking at a man who had a voice-chord transplant(!)

Vincent Price used to tell a story that one time after his popularity had been established he went down to Latin America to film something. While down there he was constantly approached by gay men, and he did not understand why he seemed to have such a large gay fan base in Spanish speaking countries.

When his filming there was finally over, he was in Mexico City at some sort of going away bash thrown by the Mexican govertment. He was grabbed by a relatively well known Mexican film producer. The producer insisted on introducing him to a very flamboyantly dressed young man. “And this,” said the producer to Price indicating the man dressed in satins and lace, “is the man who does all of your translations into Spanish.”

“He was clearly a drag queen,” said Price for years afterwards, “but I figured, what the hell, I’m a cult figure in the U.S. maybe I’ll just be a different type of cult figure in Mexico. We had a wonderful visit.”

That rather long winded story was to say, generally speaking, yes, they do try to have a single person do a specific actor when dubbing (at least it used to be this way in Latin America).

I have been told that these days the studios themselves do the dubbing themselves before they even send the film overseas to avoid situations like Mr. Price faced. But I have been long out of the business so I can’t tell you how valid that is.

They probably use whoever’s cheapest. If the American actor only speaks English, then using him to dub (by having him read the words phonetically) will sound really strange. I know back in the early sound days, Laurel and Hardy used to do their films in Spanish (they couldn’t dub things, so they redid the film in several languages). They didn’t know a word of the language, and their accents were so bizarre that it put the audience in stitches. While that might be fine for comedy, it would be disasterous for a dramatic film.

It works the other way, too. When Fellini’s <i>La Strada</i> was dubbed into English, they used no-name actors, even though the cast included Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart. Baseheart in particular sounds particularly weird, since the voice is high pitched and nothing like Admiral Nelson.

Living in Germany, I have to put up with the unspeakable horror of dubbed movies. The day I get used to that, I move. None of my colleagues know when I use a movie quote - and I tend to quote a lot. It sucks.

To answer the OP: Yes, as far as possible, they keep the dubber/actor paired. Sometimes this leads to problems (the dubber might retire before the actor), but generally speaking it serves to make the entire arrangement a little less painful.

John Cleese made a commercial for the German market where he carefully spoke his lines in phonetic German. They dubbed it anyway, because the audience didn’t expect John Cleese’s voice when seeing his face - they, of course, expected the German dubber’s voice.

S. Norman

My wife was in Germany visiting a friend not too long ago. One of her friend’s friends LOVES Keanu Reeves. My wife said something like, “yeah, he’s cute, and not a bad actor, but he always sounds so … DUMB … when he opens his mouth.”

The friend vehemently disagreed, and had no idea what my wife was talking about. Everyone soon realized that the German woman had never heard Keanu’s real voice–only that of his dubber, who it seems may be a better actor than old Keanu.

I’m sorry but I’m going very off-topic here. I just remembered Andie MacDowell’s ‘Glenn Close’ voice in Greystoke: Legend of Tarzan. I recall watching it for the first time and pointing it out to my friends - ‘That’s not what she sounds like’. But NOBODY believed me.

Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

OK, related question. HOW MANY voices will a single dubber do per movie/show/whatever?

Reason I ask is that, many years ago, I was in Germany and saw an old “Flintstone’s” cartoon dubbed into the local language. Near as I could tell, they used one guy for all the men’s voices (Barney Rubble had a terrible high pitched squeak of a voice) and one woman for all the women’s voices. I suspect it was that way to avoid having to pay for a lot of actors to do the dubbing.

In my experience (Spanish dubs – market-specific for Puerto Rico in the 60s & 70s; since the 80s we’ve had to deal with the pathetic dubs made for the generic “American Hispanic” market) it has depended on the production house/studio – so sometimes you will get a consistent voice across various movies and TV shows, but in the old days if the actor switched studios or networks (or the American studio switched local distribution affiliates) you’d get a variety of voices, for the same actor.

In the 60s and 70s we used many actors who had had earlier experience in radio acting, in order to do the dubbing. A karaoke-like on-screen cue system was used to help the dub actor hit the rhythm of the scene. “Foreign” (Russian, German, French) accents were transposed accordingly, but English accents were not, except for U.S. Southern/Texan country accent which was often conveyed by a North Mexican (Chihuahuan) accent.

Since around 1980 the aforementioned “Hispanic Market” dubs from Telemundo and Univision have pretty much ensured consistent voicing thru the expedient method of an absurdly limited cast of dubctors. Yes, sometimes an entire cast of over a dozen speaking roles is being handled by 3 people. They also are incredibly flat, sound like they were pumped out with no rehearsal, and the translations are appalling literal renderings that kill off most scenes.

In dubs, actors who are good at impressions are greatly valued.


Whenver I’m in the mood to feel I’m “cultured”, I will put in a DVD, select a foreign voice language with english subtitles. I haven’t done it enough to know if most are the same, but I’ll be looking for it now. I did notice though, that in some movies, the foreign dubbing actually goes with the movie much better than english does. Cutthroat Island, with Geena Davis, was pretty good. Watching it in “French” though, it seemed so much better :slight_smile: