Here’s To The Dons

The voiceover community is interesting — and it has layers. If you’re looking at it from a Hollywood perspective, you could likely break it down into the following: constantly working actors, extras, characters and, of course, the A-list.

A “constantly acting” voice talent would be someone like Bruce Davison who was in the highly entertaining “That Guy…Who Was In That Thing.” An extra would be just that. An extra, who shows up every so often. The characters? Probably someone like Steve Buscemi — who I think of as an A-lister, but you get my point.

The A-list? Pretty easy. Your Streeps, Roberts’, Cruises, Nicholsons and the like.

Then, there is beyond the A-list in voice work. That spot is reserved for a very select few including The Dons: Don Pardo and Don LaFontaine.

Pardo passed away this week at age 96. A hell of a run and best known as the voice of Saturday Night Live. LaFontaine, sadly, died a bit earlier in his life back in 2008 at the age of 68 and had “The Movie Trailer Guy” as a moniker for ages.

For most male voice artists or actors, we all aspired (and aspire) to be at that level. That “one take wonder” who could literally transform something seemingly mundane into work that was epic and powerful.

And the impact each of these men had was incalculable. But Pardo’s legacy came with something even bigger for the stars who graced Studio 8H in NYC.

One of the voice attributes that we all like to hear about ourselves is “presence.” Are we truly standing out while truly enhancing something? Does our voice make people stop and pay attention? There are times when we try to be too “big.” Pardo and LaFontaine were the perfect amount of presence without getting in the way.

How many times have you tried to do that movie trailer voice? Have you ever answered when someone said, “Don Pardo, tell them what they’ve won”?

These two Dons were truly transformative and captured what amounts to a kind of zeitgeist for the voiceover community. But what made them special is that they were all about the craft. Oftentimes, voicework is thought of as a commodity. You like the voice, sounds about right, boom. But the true measure of good voice work is steeped in nuance, it’s those little things that make it right for a project or brand. Jason Sudeikis comes to mind with his recent run of Applebee’s work. It’s not the voice, it’s how he carries the brand with the delivery and the tiny things that you wouldn’t even think of unless you were listening closely.

Pardo and LaFontaine had that — over and over again. They knew exactly how to make it not just good but right every time. Big voices, but they knew the little things mattered. They were true to the craft and I can only assume that the craft meant a great deal to them. I am repped by the same agent as LaFontaine was and she is always preaching craft and nuance, so I have a little bit of inside skinny on that.

Will we ever hear someone like these two again? Two people who went beyond just being a “voice”? It’s really hard to tell.

One thing is for certain, though. It is the end of an era and, with people caring about the craft of this kind of work a bit more, I hope that a new one dawns soon.

In the meantime, here’s to The Dons.

Originally posted at The Advertising Week Social Club blog.

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