At the end of Part I, I detailed how the first celebs in commercials were Broadway actors and in Part II, I examined how young TV stars like John Corbett, Rob Morrow and Kelsey Grammar changed the perception that working in commercials was not the end of a career. By 2000, the commercial world changed when movie stars too recognized that voice-overs were fairly simple and incredibly lucrative.
How did the entrance of movie stars into voice-over begin? Actresses, not actors, created the real entry point for movie stars. Unlike their male counterparts, a significant group of actresses including Academy Awards winners were very interested in pursuing voice-overs once they reached a certain age and had life commitments such as raising families. Around 2000, Kathleen Turner (Burger King), Susan Sarandon (Lean Cuisine & Stouffers) and Sigourney Weaver (John Hancock) all reached their forties and saw voice-over as an opportunity to work when demand for their work in movies waned and the roles they were being offered were mediocre. Lauren Bacall had been doing voice for several years as had Christine Lahti so why shouldn’t they? Couple their enthusiasm with unprecedented demand for female voiceovers overall and overnight they gained traction with advertisers. Also, keep in mind, advertisers were still wary of offering Rob Morrow money (see Part II) but incredibly enthusiastic about having real star power on their campaign. The female stars alleviated this financial fear by offering quotes that were substantially less than their male peers.
In 2004, a quantum leap in celeb voiceovers occurred when Julia Roberts took the baton from her other female peers and signed on to voice a new AOL campaign. First a little backstory… In 2000, AOL merged with Time Warner and immediately the marriage looked like a disaster. BBDO Advertising, which had a long and great history with brands such as Pepsi, Visa, AT&T and HBO (another Time Warner company) took the reins of AOL’s advertising in 2003 and went to work. Keep in mind BBDO had a long history and a reputation for hiring celebs from musicians to models to comedians and TV stars. BBDO came up with the concept “want a better internet” and needed a voice and somehow Julia Roberts’s name came up. Julia was only 3 years removed from the Academy Award and her movie quote was roughly 20 million a film so in many respects, it didn’t appear that she would be interested. But what BBDO and AOL didn’t know was she was trying to have children (she would have twins later that November) and she knew it was going to be very difficult to work during pregnancy. AOL approved a staggering seven-figure sum and soon the nation would hear “want a better internet” all over the airwaves.
Now is when I really begin to speculate so stay with me. Julia Roberts also happened to star in Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, which adjusted her role when she revealed she was having twins. Also starring in Ocean’s Twelve were two other crucial stars and Academy Award winners who would play a part in the A-list jumping into voice-overs; George Clooney and Matt Damon. By the time, filming commenced, everyone on the set realized that Julia was not only pregnant but making a small fortune voicing the AOL ads. George and Matt both had a very unique relationship to voice-over from two different vantage points. George Clooney’s cousins Miguel Ferrer and Rafael Ferrer were both well known for voicing movie trailers and commercials and George was not only aware of their success but he also did some small campaigns for Aquafina, Arthur Anderson and AT&T while he was still on ER. The following year after Ocean’s Twelve and at the height of his fame, George lent his voice to a Budweiser campaign but instead of receiving TV star money, it’s safe to say he was paid like an A-lister. Matt Damon took awhile longer but he was also very aware of the voice-over world after coming down from Boston as a teenager and auditioning in New York City. As the decade waned, Matt voiced his first major campaign for United Airlines. Very soon afterwards, he also voiced a multi million-dollar campaign for TD Waterhouse replacing TV star Sam Waterston that runs today. Finally, Julia Roberts didn’t stop her voice-over career with America Online. In 2011, she became the voice of Nationwide Insurance and continues on the campaign today.
When stars of the caliber of George Clooney, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts all voicing commercials, any residual belief that working in commercials is death to a career completely died itself by 2012. In a twenty-year span, great Broadway actors begat television stars who begat movie stars into the voice-over world. Now stars of all types perform voice-overs and on-camera and the only obstacle to hiring stars today is money. In the meantime, as long as there are six or seven figures guarantees available, there is a line of stars willing to lend their talents to the next commercials.