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Hollywood's New Triple Threat? Acting, Looks, and Voice?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

May 21, 2009

Comments (14)

Female film directorTraditionally, people known as Triple Threats have been performers who can sing, dance and act, but what if there is a new Triple Threat on the horizon?

The trend in casting lately is to not only pick people who are very good actors for roles, but, to also prominently feature actors who have great voices for the character roles they are playing.

With song and dance stepping to the side, and new variables coming into play, one has to ask:

Is the new triple threat acting ability, looks and voice?

Find out!

Triple Threat

Typically when we refer to a Triple Threat in cinema, theatre, or on Broadway, it's someone who can:

๏ Sing
๏ Dance
๏ Act

Acting is the cornerstone and is the most important of the three.

In a musical production that has a lot of dance numbers, it is not uncommon for a casting director to choose an actor who can dance better than they can sing for a role instead of choosing an actor who sings better but isn't as strong of a dancer.

Likewise, if there is minimal dancing but lots of singing, the actor's ability to sing will overshadow their dance skills. One nearly always trumps the other in casting with regard to singing and dancing, however, acting is never, or at least shouldn't be, trumped by either of the other two.

For a moment, let's set that compound aside and consider what may very well be the new, modern version, at least in Hollywood, of the Triple Threat.

The new Triple Threats are people who possess:

๏ Acting Skills
๏ Good Looks or Striking Appearances
๏ Attractive or Unique Voices

One could argue that looks, that is to say physical appearances fitting the description that a director has in mind for their character, is an honourary fourth element of the original compound, but never before has it been so commercially desired, and for that matter, never before has there been such an emphasis placed on the quality, texture and versatility of an actor's voice on-camera.

After some thought, it occurred to me that a new Triple Threat was taking shape right before our eyes, and while not entirely replacing the original for obvious reasons where it is still king, the new Triple Threat is settling into its own in casting talent today for on-camera work.

Why a New Triple Threat?

Acting has always been the most important element of the compound which is why it has remained first and foremost on my new list, but you might be wondering, why lose singing and dancing?

Since most of our entertainment and favored cinematic productions nowadays have very little to do with singing or dancing, unlike films made several or more decades ago that were rooted in musical theatre tradition, the need for talent with those two specific skill sets has been replaced with what is necessary in the present, which now includes how an actor is able to use their speaking voice and their physical appearance.

As superficial as it sounds, looks, whether an actor be handsome, beautiful, or just what was required for the role, are very important factors in casting the right person. A prime example is casting for the recent Star Trek movie (released in theatres May 2009).

When casting for this film, the producer J.J. Abrams and his team went to great lengths to find actors, who in addition to their acting skills, embodied very particular physical and vocal traits. Perhaps the most dead-on casting decision was to cast Zachary Quinto as the young Spock, nearly a doppelganger for Leonard Nimoy measure for measure in physicality and vocal prowess.

If you've been thinking that perhaps I've allotted too much gravity to looks, remember that it's not necessarily the most good looking actor or actress who will get the role... it's more to do with if their appearance and artistic interpretation fits the vision of what the director is looking for when casting a particular character. Sometimes this is preordained and dictated by details in a book that a movie is based upon where an author describes what the character looks like, or, it's based upon a previous production and is paying tribute or homage to someone who filled the role beforehand.

Could Scarlett O'Hara have been cast as a towering blond with a husky voice? No! That would have gone against what Pulitzer Prize winning author Margaret Mitchell wrote when first describing the protagonist in her novel, Gone With The Wind (1936).

Would it have been the same if Harry Potter was cast in the movies to be a muscular chap who spoke with an accent that was decidedly not British?

Again, I think you'll find that certain characteristics are defined ahead of time, and to stay true to the book, or in some cases, a playwright's original work, these details are given special consideration when casting for a role.

But, Why Has Voice Become So Important?

While our community is biased to say the least, believing that voice has always held a fundamentally significant post in casting, the mainstream media and people outside of our industry are just discovering how much impact voices can have in entertainment and beyond.

The voice conveys more than mere words alone can say.

Just take a look around! With the success of audiobooks, cartoons, animated films, video game voices in games with speaking roles, movie trailers, and films showcasing talent who have voices and deliveries on par with their acting skills, fantastic voices have become more than just a nice thing to have if it happens to comes your way but a requirement for creating a production that people who are accustomed to excellence in entertainment will consume and enjoy.

That's to say nothing of selecting particular voice characteristics in talent for voice over in television and radio commercials, promos, station identification, telephony, podcasting, business presentations and more.

So, given the increase in popular consumption and bars raised for producing entertainment unparalleled in these areas of import, it's literally a no-brainer that voice would rise to the occasion and become a fundamental component of the new Triple Threat.

The Floor is Open!

Can you think of a role that you've seen recently where someone was a Triple Threat of the new school of thought?

Is there anything that you'd like to add?

Looking forward to this discussion! If you are reading on the blog, you're welcome to comment below. If you are reading this in your email, click here to read other comments and join the conversation online.

Best wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Rich Legg

Related Topics: Accent, acting, cartoons, dance, Hollywood, industry, radio, singing, star trek, Star Trek, triple threat, videogames, voice acting, voice overs, zachary quinto


Comments


    Stephanie, I think you are definitely on to something. I opened the paper to the Entertainment page this morning and the featured article had the bold headline "Voice of Mickey Mouse Dies". The extensive article from Associated Press about the late Wayne Allwine ( he died of complications from diabetes ) included his photo and explained his work in depth. I would never have seen such media attention given to a VO as recent as five years ago.

    Posted by:
    • Terry
    • May 21, 2009 2:24 PM

      Steph, you've got it right! There's a radio spot running for the State of Michigan with who's voice, none other than George Clooney!! Now surely there are some talented male VO voices that could sound as smooth as George's, right?! But there you have it - acting, looks & voice.

      Posted by:
      • Liz Wylder Boyer
      • May 21, 2009 3:26 PM

        Great article, Stephanie... you've woven a tapestry of interelated subjects all agreeing with or leaning to each other. Unusual looks in Hollywood have been just as sought after as good looks (anybody remember Jack Elam or Marty Feldman) mainly because of story or visual display, so you don't necessarily have to look 'good' as long as you have a 'look'. Voice acting has opened up the 'look' part of the industry because in voiceacting very few of us look like we sound...at least sometimes! And the fact that some of us can sound like anyone or anything has truly redefined just what a triple threat is. Current 3T's include Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep.
        And don't count out the singing just yet...it's still VOICE.

        Posted by:

          I think the cast of the new Star Trek movie is among that type.

          Posted by:
          • Steven C. Phillips
          • May 21, 2009 3:54 PM

            Thank you for that, Liz! I appreciate you noticing and including the George Clooney radio spot :) As you said, there's another Triple Threat going on right there, and because people may recognize Clooney's voice, they'll have the visual to add to his voice and acting ability.

            Best,

            Stephanie

            Posted by:

              Hi Terry,

              Thank you for noting that and also for mentioning Wayne Allwine. He will be missed greatly by family, friends, the voice over community, Disney fans and all he touched.

              Best,

              Stephanie

              Posted by:

                Hi Steven,

                Yes, I certainly agree with you. The casting for Star Trek was very much of the new school of the Triple Threat.

                Best wishes,

                Stephanie

                Posted by:

                  Thank you very much, Herb!

                  This article was a joy to write because it is a topic that has been percolating for a while in my mind and finally had a means to emerge. Of all the media we've been watching and listening to within the last several years, it's indisputable that voice is playing a major role in casting decisions, especially how people are able to use their voices.

                  I find that it may even be the critical factor in casting, sometimes. If two people are up for a role and both have the look and can act, but one of the two has the more ideal voice, the person with the more suitable voice will win out. The voice becomes integral and inches its way into you, and can become just as memorable, if not more so, than the overall performance itself.

                  Thank you for sharing, Herb!

                  Best wishes,

                  Stephanie

                  Posted by:

                    Why do you think that this is new?

                    Voice characteristics have been part of casting film and video casting for as long as I can remember, even though sometimes producers found it easier to lip-sync the voice to the look. Voice is just part of a total package for a given role. Who wants to watch a movie with a tough guy with a high, squeaky voice?

                    That said, the premise of your article is interesting; perhaps more emphasis is being put on the voice today in order to exploit all of the possibilities associated with a production.

                    Posted by:
                    • griz326
                    • May 22, 2009 2:14 PM

                      Hi griz326,

                      Thank you for your comments and observations.

                      While taking voice into account when casting isn't new, the idea that a new Triple Threat has emerged, is.

                      Voice has always played an important role in the overall package but it was only one part of a greater whole, not a primary requirement on its own, similarly to how one might pack a bag of sundries (or toiletries), without giving prominence to any one item such as a toothbrush, soap, facial cream, nail file and so on.

                      Thank you again for adding your thoughts to the conversation. I appreciate it!

                      Does anyone else have something they'd like to share or add?

                      Best wishes,

                      Stephanie

                      Posted by:

                        Voiceovers of the main characters for TV shows are really popular now, and I think if these characters DIDN'T have "nice" or unique voices the show wouldn't have been written the way they are, or the casting would have been different. Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, and Sex and the City come to mind.

                        Great article, Stephanie!

                        Posted by:
                        • Trish Basanyi
                        • May 23, 2009 9:38 PM

                          Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

                          Posted by:

                            What about marlon Brando? What do people think about his voice? Remember street car named desire. He for away with murder there.

                            Posted by:
                            • Ele
                            • April 23, 2011 5:41 PM

                              Well, it's an interesting concept to rebrand the "triple threat", but I believe the name should still refer to the original three attributes. It's all fine and dandy to have a new set of criteria for the star actors and the powerhouses of the modern era, but to degrade the image of our history, that is, the original triple threats with this new classification is to sully their memory. Because Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were still very striking persons, as well as having impressive voices (they were fantastic vocalists after all), and they could act their way out of an international crisis. But they could also sing and dance, which allowed them to be given the title of "triple threat". If they is any new talent today that can fit into this mold, then they can be labeled as such. Until then, though, perhaps a title for them that does not imply they have talents they clearly do not.

                              Posted by:
                              • Clark
                              • December 5, 2011 12:45 AM

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