Last week I joined the rest of the global community in wishing Star Trek a happy 50th birthday. God I have me some big love for Star Trek but to be clear - I am a bit of a purist - the 1960’s original only and thank you. I don’t consider myself to be a Trekkie since I carry the strong belief that ownership of a pair of plastic Vulcan ears is the club’s official admission card. In not having taken the deep dive, I will comfortably park my passion under the sci-fi nerd umbrella, for now.
As a boy my husband V was a big fan of Star Trek but unlike me, finds the reruns I rejoiced in discovering on Netflix, painful at best. I mean…does all the alien life forms the crew encounters closely resemble life-sized cardboard cutouts...(yes) and does the level of acting play heavily in the realm of the overly theatrical (bigger yes)...and are those baby bloomers the female crew members required to wear a tad ludicrous at best…(please don’t even get me started) - but wait - I digress. In Germany they call the show Raumschiff (spacecraft) Enterprise and while all the classic visuals remain true to form, the one glaring difference in V’s childhood memories versus my own is that ‘his’ Kirk and crew are wildly fluent in the German language. Welcome to the wonderful world of the German voice-over.
The only dubbed cinema I had the pleasure of viewing prior to living in Germany was old school Japanese turned English language Godzilla movies. I was obsessed with these as a kid and always got a kick out of watching the Japanese actors continue conversation long after the lame English voice-over had finished its run-time. Decades later, while I can hardly lay claim to being an expert in the field, it’s clear the Germans have kinda managed to master the art of the technique. While I won’t call it an optimized viewing experience due to the fact that the finesse of the original English dialogue is often lost in translation - (Attention Golden Girls fans, please do not attempt to watch this show in Germany) - I have come to ever so slowly enjoy watching some of my favorite actors talk a badass German.
I was told by V that the film industry typically uses the same German voice actors to “play” the role of iconic American actors in an effort to create consistency with viewers. Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, I assume they all have their German doppelgangers taking ownership of the characters they have and will continue to play throughout their careers. I began to wonder if this made these voice actors stars in their own right and then I had the fortunate opportunity of actually meeting one…
Several years ago V and I were invited to the wedding of friends down in Munich. Still wildly amateur as it related to my German language skills, our hosts took pity and sat us at a table with a group of entertaining people highly adept at my mother tongue. To my immediate right was a warm, friendly guy I immediately struck up a conversation with who asked me a list of questions about America and as most conversations normally do, he asked me what I did for a living,
“Gainfully unemployed and you?” I asked.
“I do voice-over work for American movies," he said.
“Tell-me-everything,” I whispered.
Despite being my date for the wedding, V was subjected to the back of my head for the entire dinner, so transfixed I was to learn more from this man.
And more I did learn, like how he began his career, what he loved most about it and then…
“I am actually the voice of Will Smith for all of his TV and film work here in Germany. I have actually been doing his voice since his days as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
I loved him for sharing this with me and think I inappropriately told him as much.
And so it was, during this shared moment, I had a profound awakening, an understanding that in moving here to Germany, I had the opportunity to reinvent myself, to basically take ownership of a new me...
Because at the end of the day, I believe it stood to reason that if a follicly-challenged, middle-weight, middle-age white guy has the capacity to play Muhammad Ali… just imagine what I could cook up.