As I watched the trailer for Brave, Pixar’s latest release, I thought I recognized the voice of Merida, the film’s main character. The problem of not being able to figure out who the voice belonged to haunted me for approximately the next ninety seconds of the trailer, before I looked up the movie on the Internet Movie Database. It ends up that the voice belongs to Kelly MacDonald, a Scottish actress I knew best as the underappreciated Carla Jean Moss from No Country For Old Men.
She was also in Boardwalk Empire, one of those movies with the kid wizard I don’t care about, and Trainspotting. While those are some big credits, and she has been working steadily since 1996, I wouldn’t call her an A-list actress and it surprised me that she is the star of such a big release for a studio as popular as Pixar. It’s not often such a large film opens with a lead actor or actress that the casual moviegoer probably hasn’t heard of*. But this is different. This is animation. Since you don’t see their faces, you just need an actor with the proper voice, right? Well that makes sense to me too, but increasingly isn’t the case anymore. And no one is more painfully aware of this than Billy West.
Billy West’s name is known even less than Kelly MacDonald, but I’d be amazed if you hadn’t come across his work before, even if you didn’t know it. He is one of the most prolific voice actors working today, with IMDb crediting him as an actor on 176 different projects dating back to the late 1980s, and many of those see him playing multiple characters. West started to gain national attention for his many crude and hilarious impersonations on The Howard Stern Show, ranging from people like Lucille Ball to Larry Fine of the Three Stooges. From there, he went on to voice dozens of animated characters on Family Guy, Dilbert, King of the Hill, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, The Oblongs, Hey Arnold and many more.
And it’s not just the amount of work he has done, but the prominence and longevity of many of his roles. He portrayed Doug, among others, on the Nickelodeon show of the same name (until he was replaced when the show went to Disney*), as well as the title characters of Ren & Stimpy. Recently, he is likely most famous for his work on Futurama, where he plays so many major characters that entire scenes are often comprised of West talking to himself in his roles as protagonist Phillip J. Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, Zapp Branigan, Professor Farnsworth, and others.
*And the show jumped the shark. Who thought Patti’s haircut was a good idea?
To read the rest of this article, or browse through more Macguffin Men: http://themacguffinmen.com/2012/06/26/voice-actors-are-screwed-basically/