The voices who bring English movies to German ears

The voices who bring English movies to German ears
Voice actor Gerrit Schmidt-Foß is better known as Leonardo diCaprio to most Germans. Photos: Marco Justus Scholer/DPA
It's a regular complaint among expats in Germany: just how hard can cinemas make it to find a showing of a Hollywood movie that isn't dubbed by German voice actors?

Butt for Germans, these artists are the people who make it possible to enjoy watching global films in their native language.

While they're not resented, though, almost no-one has much of an idea who provides the voices of English-speaking megastars like Leonardo DiCaprio or Daniel Craig.

Now Berlin-based photographer Marco Justus Schöler is trying to bring the unsung heroes of German movie-going to the fore with a portrait exhibition called Faces Behind the Voices, touring rail stations around the country.

“It was very, very difficult to find them, most of them don't even have an internet or Facebook page,” Schöler told The Local.

But once he had tracked down a few of the actors who did have online presences, their connections in the small world of voice acting quickly helped him to reach others to reach the full complement of 30 portraits.

“Eighty percent of the people I photographed were happy about it and wanted to be in front of the camera – but some were reluctant to destroy the illusion,” the 26-year-old photographer said.

Voice actor Sandra Schwittau is the talent behind Bart Simpson, Hilary Swank, and many others on German screens. Photos: Marco Justus Schöler/20th Century Fox

In fact, many voice actors were already film, theatre or TV veterans themselves before finding work in the world of dubbing foreign movies.

Below each portrait of the 30 actors Schöler photographed will be a tablet with headphones, ready-loaded with extracts from the films they've worked on, German versions of famous film quotes and anecdotes from their experience as dubbing actors.

“What I was really positively surprised about was how they were able to play with their voices, moving high or low or using accents,” the photographer said.

“You don't realize as a film viewer how much they synchronize themselves to the Hollywood actors.”

That can even occasionally bleed over into personal styles and mannerisms copied from the A-listers on the big screen – although it's not as common as you might think.

“If you've been dubbing the same actor for 20 years, then you take on some of their theatrical qualities, but that's only the case when the microphone is on,” Schöler said.

Voice actor Dietmar Wunder describes his work as Daniel Craig/James Bond and others (in German).

“I think they're good at separating their private and their work lives. But the guy who does Robert Downey Jr. does have a very nice pair of blue glasses just like him.”

What Schöler hopes to achieve is increased visibility for the hard work that goes into making foreign films accessible for German audiences.

It was only in 2014 that a Berlin court ruled that voice actors had the right to be named in movie credits.

“As Germans, we take dubbing for granted and don't realize how much work and art is behind dubbing,” Schöler said. “That's how we can experience the message of acting from America.”

As a voice actor, “you have to be a really good actor, a real theatrical talent,” he went on.

“I want people to recognize and respect that, to value the art of acting.”

If you're interested in seeing the “Faces Behind the Voices” exhibition, you can catch it at:

Munich Hauptbahnhof, May 4th-12th

Berlin Ostbahnhof, May 14th-23rd

Lübeck Hauptbahnhof, June 1st-13th

Mannheim Hauptbahnhof, June 20th-30th

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, July 5th-13th

Kiel Hauptbahnhof July, 18th-28th

Bremen Hauptbahnhof, July 30th-8th

Braunschweig Hauptbahnhof, August 11th-21st

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