With the recent passing of the actor Alan Rickman, much has been made of his voice. Which is more than the vocal department at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art said he would make of it. Many years later, he told an interviewer that his voice had been “heavily criticized.” In fact, Rickman described one teacher as saying, “Alan, you sound as if your voice is coming out of the back end of a drain pipe.” So it would be tempting to make this article about pursuing your dream, never giving up, and not heeding the opinion of even a prestigious drama school.
But would that be wise?
Yes, and no.
No, in that if three people tell you you’re drunk, you should at least consider switching to soda, and if qualified professionals suggest you should consider a different line of work, maybe you should at least reconsider your game plan.
But we note that Rickman did not say his teachers discouraged him from acting. And his voice has been described more lately as seeming like a cello.
So there’s the “yes.” In fact, many a “yes.” Rickman’s acting career provides a wealth of examples to inspire the growing voiceover artist.
To begin with, Rickman started relatively late for an actor. Although he had been interested in acting as a youth, professionally he first tried his hand at graphic design, figuring it would provide a more dependable income. It didn’t, so in his mid-twenties, he got himself accepted by the Royal Academy. Then he spent a dozen years on the boards and British TV repertory.
It was soon apparent that Rickman had more going for him than his voice. It wasn’t just the voice, it was how he used it. That’s another valuable lesson to heed.
For example, in Rickman’s first movie role (in “Die Hard”), he not only ranged through that German-who-learned-English-in-England accent, it was his idea to connivingly switch to American. Rickman also offered (or maybe “insisted on” would be more accurate) certain creative views as to his character’s actions, revealing his judgment and ability as a director. (He went on to direct and teach, including here in New York City at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.) Throughout his career, from the first days in repertory, through to the end, he showed range and versatility in both drama and comedy.
And, as many have noted by now, Alan Rickman showed how he could use that voice. (Including off-camera; he voiced the depressed robot in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and the Blue Caterpillar in “Alice through the Looking Glass,” an animated film not yet released.)
Many obits have mentioned that in 2008, a scholarly study found that Alan Rickman had the “perfect male voice.” Well, yes and no to that, too.
The study was commissioned by Post Office®, the British government-owned entity providing retail mail, financial, telephony and other services. Why on earth were they investigating the perfect voice?