Cloris Leachman Cloris Leachman
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Cloris Leachman Admits Why She Likes Voice Acting: Money

Celebrities rarely admit that they only lend their voices to animated projects because it’s easy money. Well, Cloris Leachman comes clean in this interview:

Yes. You were in “The Muppet” movie, you were the voice in two different Miyazaki movies – “Castle in the Sky” and “Ponyo” – you were in “Iron Giant,” “Sky High.” What draws you to these movies?
Cloris Leachman: Money.

Anything else?
Cloris Leachman: I’m free.

Do you ever think of it as broadening your fanbase?
Cloris Leachman: No. I don’t think about that.

What about something like “Iron Giant?”
Cloris Leachman: You’re in a recording studio. I didn’t even know the name of it.

(Photo of Cloris Leachman via s_bukley/Shutterstock)

  • Adam

    Actors want to act. And money.
    At least she doesn’t think she’s an animator, like Chris Rock.

  • SKent.

    I can’t believe she likes money. I like money too!

  • C’mon! She’s a comedian! Of course she’s going to give that response!

  • Jeff

    I’m sure the executives say the same thing.

  • A gig’s a gig…

  • Well, all her recordings in Iron Giant were cut down to one line. She doesn’t care though, she’s a professional. It’s nice to me that she doesn’t hold herself to any particular role.

    • Dana

      No wonder I can’t remember for the life of me ever hearing her voice in Iron Giant! I need to watch it again sometime…

      It actually amazes me that actors have no clue about their roles when they go into do voicework. If it were me, I’d love to know about my character and how I would deliver a certain performance. Then again if I only get a one-liner, I wouldn’t really be as optimistic either, lol.

  • “Celebrities rarely admit that they only lend their voices to animated projects because it’s easy money.”

    Ya what? Chris Rock told the world and his wife as much at last year’s Oscars. Rarely or not, everyone knows.

  • Mat

    Hell, at least she’s honest.

  • christy

    that whole interview is awesome.

  • E. Nygma

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • JP

    It’s a shame that “big name” actors take roles from talented, dedicated voice-over artists. The funny thing is… children could care less. They don’t recognize most Hollywood names. I guess it’s done to drag parents into theatres. (But for that matter, how relevant is Cloris Leachman to anyone under 50?)

    Future generations viewing these films won’t even know these characters were voiced by anyone formerly famous. That goes for today’s A-list types as well as washed-up actors trying to make a fast buck.

    A good voice (and a well done character) will stand the test of time regardless of whether it was done by a recognizable present-day name or not.

    • Sarah J

      Yeah, I always thought it was weird that animated TV shows mostly use people who do a lot of voice acting, but films insist on using established live-action actors. Really is to draw in the money. Big name actors are expensive so TV shows, even live-action ones, can’t usually afford to hire them as regular cast members. Big name actors famous for their TV work, like Charlie Sheen, are usually attached to the one show that made them famous. It is kind of a shame, though, that movies pretty much only try to get actors who do primarily live-action stuff when there are so many great voice actors.

      • Funkybat

        As much as people decry the practice, you have to admit it’s hardly new. The Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, The Rescuers, Oliver & Company, they all relied somewhat on “stunt casting.” Having a name the adults recognize gives it slightly more appeal and ups the odds that they’ll choose to spend a couple of hours in the theater with their little ones.

        I will admit that the early 90s is when the ball really got rolling on this idea, partly because some of the “big name” actors who Disney cast actually did a great job. Can you imagine Aladdin without Robin Williams, or The Lion King without Jeremy Irons?

        Nevertheless, I too hope that veteran voice actors get more of a shot at title roles or the very least, major supporting roles, in more animated features. It seems like the entire cast of many modern animated films is made up of A and B-listers from the live-action world.

        As for Mrs. Leachman; I don’t think it would kill her to at least learn the name of the films she acts in and a little about who her character is. If you’re acting, it kind of enhances your performance if you have some idea of the character you’re portraying. I hate the image of Krusty the Klown coming into a a recording studio for 30 seconds to shoot off 5 lines into a mic before running back to his limo for more smokes and booze.

      • Bud

        Pixar’s never really done much of that. Most of the voices they’ve chosen are for the great voice. Remember, Tim Allen was a much bigger star than Tom Hanks when Toy Story was made. And Tim Allen did it to help promote his Disney TV show more than anything.

        Dreamworks went for big actors. Some could act with their voices, most couldn’t (brad pitt or angelina jolie anyone?). To be fair, the big named stars get on the talk shows and spread the marketing word (even though they get paid to do this). No one wants to interview a TD, a Compositor, or even an animator or director.

      • Crystal

        I actually would much rather have them cast who they think is best for the role (which would probably more often be actual voice actors) as well. Celebrity casting kills a lot of animated movies for me. That’s why last year’s Winnie the Pooh was kinda refreshing for me.

        I followed the link, I noticed most of her answers are pretty blunt–I keep thinking this would work better as a video/audio interview, Leachman can be quite funny.

        Don’t animated movies actually pay LESS for celebrities than on-camera ones? I keep think most animated movies could save money without them though.

  • Madman Mike

    If I wasn’t a fan of Cloris Leachman’s before, I definitely am now. Simple honesty like this is a thing of beauty.

  • cesco

    honest ol’ woman.
    not bad of a response.
    kinda reminds me of morgan freeman when he said that he hated black history month.
    when asked how to should we stop racism
    he says “stop talking about it”- simple and honest

    • tamer

      i liked the first two sentences of your comment, but it just went downhill from the mention of “morgan freeman.”

      because surely the unspoken reality of racism will disappear once we stop talking about it…its really as simple as that.

      now back to the real story…

      • secret goldfish

        To be fair, the “stop talking about it” comment from Freeman, I don’t think, was ever intended to be taken literally but instead meant to illustrate that we should stop making race such an issue of constant importance as all it really does is further highlight differences over similarities/solidarity, resulting in further differentiation and polarising of one group from another by NOTHING more than race. If you watch the original “Freeman” interview he clearly points this out by saying that “Black History Month” should instead just be a part of “general American history” as that is what it actually is and how it actually happened.
        His real issue in that interview comes from a frustration with political correctness and how it (with good, but flawed logic/intentions) often (unintentionally) adds further to the problem than actually solving the problem it set out to originally combat.

        I love the original interview with Morgan Freeman and have enormous respect for him saying what he did, I just get really annoyed when the “take things literally” police misunderstand/hijack/distort or outright miss the point behind what he was so wisely trying to say. They did it way back when he made the original statement and continue to do so to this day.

      • Hey now

        Wow, did this thread get off-topic fast.

        Execs hire celebrities over more talented voice actors because celebrities will plug the films on late-night talk shows and garner attention at the premiere. Despite possibly the worst (and shortest) voice-acting performance ever for Kung-Fu Panda, Angelina Jolie sure brought attention to the film.

        That said, voice-acting is the cushiest and best paid gig in Hollywood. Cloris Leachman knows what she’s talking about.

      • tamer

        I agree with your comment, and I agreed with the majority of the Freeman article (per “extreme” political correctness). However, there are people I have talked to who actually believe that is what Morgan Freeman meant, that we should literally stop talking about racism, etc. That’s where my argument extends from. I respect Morgan Freeman, though he may say dumb things at times…but that’s another story, for another time.

        All in all, it really has nothing to do with this article. Sorry guyz~

  • Sarah J

    So she went into recording for The Iron Giant without knowing what movie she was recording for? Is this a common thing among voice actors? Cause apparently John De Lancie didn’t know what show he was recording for when he did the Discord character, and got confused when people started bringing up My Little Pony to him at conventions.

    • Justin

      I read once that Paul Bettany ‘ had little idea of what the role was, even as he recorded it, simply doing it as a favor for his friend director Jon Favreau.’ during Iron Man.

    • John A

      Sure it’s common. Actors have agents that earn their pay by finding work for their client, and some actors are just happy to be working. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

    • wever

      Some many anime dubs and video games, actors aren’t given the title of what they’re in. EVEN WHEN THEY ASK.

    • Bud

      VERY common. Actually, more common than not. Also understand, actors usually only get paid scale or just above for the handful of hours they spend recording. Sequels provide more money to them.

  • It’s a director’s responsibility to hire the right cast for a film – not the actor’s. And all I care about is whether they do a good job. Other than that, I don’t expect “identification” with the job from an actor.

  • Remember her in Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show”?…Beautiful!…Well, they NEVER gave her parts like that after it. She says here “I am free”… And she really can act. Good for her that for the lack of great parts she goes for the money never mind doing what.

  • That would certainly explain why she appeared with all those adorable little singing moppets on the old Golden Video Schoolhouse Rock compilations. Knock Knock, it’s Schoolhouse Rock, Cloris!

  • toonio

    These days career development is quite overrated. If you can make lots of money with moderated effort, why not?

  • matt sullivan

    Nice to hear someone being honest for a change, even if it destroys our ideal about animation being so “special”. for some people it’s just a paycheck. God Bless her for this :}


    Gotta love her! Regardless of how she looks at it… we know that what she brings to a film project is her flawless timing and versitile characterizations. I thought everyone knew this.

  • Greg Ehrbar

    Ann Sothern also had little idea what she was voicing when she was brought into a recording booth and performed lines for the iconic TV fantasy, MY MOTHER THE CAR. The actors for the STAR TREK series were recorded wherever they happened to be and it was all edited together.

    It’s admirable that the superb and belovedly outrageous Ms. Leachman is honest rather than being pretentious about her “craft” on a job she isn’t particularly invested in personally. But an earlier post about actors who make their living doing voices does strike a chord, because one can imagine that, to one actor, doing a cartoon voice is the opportunity of a lifetime, a passion, and a primary source of income rather than just another job.

    That said, Ms. Leachman’s performances in all these films has been uniformly brilliant. She’s a pro. Maybe she’s being self-deprecating in her comments because most actors, no matter how much work they get, always worry that each project may be their last.

    Billy Crystal has said that his favorite role is Mike Wazowski. Other “name” celebs also are proud of their roles in animated films. Orson Bean loved doing The Hobbit for Rankin/Bass. Debbie Reynolds would have done “Charlotte’s Web” for nothing. On the other hand, the legendary Sterling Holloway was rarely satisfied with his work, while hardly anyone can deny its genius.

    So it depends on the person.

  • optimist

    It’s not weird. For one thing, TV series require people who are available on a regular, week-in and week-out basis. Feature films’ are made and dialogue changes over a period of years, and schedule sessions with cast actors in a much more spread-out fashion. Feature budgets allow for paying name actors, where TV budgets requiring 22 minutes of talking an ep don’t have that luxury. As for feature people taking work away from TV people: the pool of regular working TV voice actors in small and frankly pretty insular if not incestuous. The same less than a dozen people do EVERYTHING. The big exception to that is when TV creators and occasionally other artists cast themselves in regular roles. The money for that small pool of TV regulars is great, as they work consistently and often on several different shows at once.

    In features, no one wants voice actors who are immediately recognizable for what they do on TV. Why not hire great or good actors to give a performance for animated characters on the big screen? Does anyone think the TV voice du jour is really going to be “better” than George Clooney in Fantastic Mr. Fox? Or that Clooney really added any box office to that film? Really?
    He was cast for a couple of reasons: first-the director wanted him. Second, his name DID mean the film was easier to promote with him, on talk shows etc. that just gives the movie a little, tiny bit of a higher profile. And also because he happens to have a nice voice and manner. And he agreed to do it, being a feature film and not some random TV show. And yes, they could afford him.

  • Leachman’s voice acting opportunities have increased now that Phyllis Diller is dead. All old-woman voice actors sound the same. Except for June Foray. She sounds like Rocky!

  • Chloris did memorable bits on the Beavis & Butthead movie and on ‘The Simpsons’ (“Three Men and Comic Book”), too. Funny lady, no question about that!

  • Quiet Desperation

    Can you imagine Aladdin without Robin Williams…

    Yes, actually. I thought Dan Castellaneta kicked ass on the tv series.

  • Kate

    I met Cloris Leachman when she was recording a voice for a direct to video animated film years ago. Trust me, her answers aren’t a joke. She’s being honest. It’s a decent paycheck for very little work. It’s really typical attitude for actors like that.

    Thing is, much of stunt casting isn’t about having a big name on the film or show but just the ego stroking for the execs to met some famous person. It’s a shame that professional voice actors get passed up for whatever D list celeb will slum it on cartoon for the paycheck just to stroke the producers’ egos. A lot of time, celebs won’t even come back for ADR after the show or film is done, they have to find a sound-a-like or cut lines.

  • dbenson

    In one of the Thomas & Johnson books, they mention working with George C. Scott on “Rescuers Down Under.” When asked about his motivation on one reading, Scott answered “Alimony!”

    David Odgen Stiers, in a Disney magazine interview, cheerfully said something about being able to do his part fat and unshaven.

    Working actors tend to be pragmatic. After an incisive and thoughtful talk on the art of acting, Michael Caine was asked why he never tried directing. He said that a director has to commit a year or more to a single movie, while an actor can be in and out in weeks. Simple economics.

  • christy

    i wrote a super long response to this but i think i didn’t hit send…
    leachman is FAR from a ‘washed up actor’. she’s a hollywood and comedy legend. How relevant is she?
    i’d change your post from “relevant to under 50” to “relevant to people who love (and have a knowledge of) classic film and comedy”.
    she’s in two of my personal favorite films ever (as others already mentioned sorry)-‘the last picture show’ and ‘young frankenstein’
    she’s hosted the muppet show and been on twilight zone and mary tyler moore- all of these are CLASSICS!!!!
    so sick of all the non-informed lip service all over the internet-often cynical and jaded and so often anonymous. yes, we all have and are entitled to an opinion, but please-
    unless you have something constructive, informed, smart, sincere or not COMPLETELY obvious and/or regurgitated
    why don’t you go make something better or shut the f*ck up?
    i also think if people posted with their real names it might add some more thought and accountability to their opinions. i know i think twice before i post my opinion if my name is attached (which it is) and wont just deliver some random off the cuff comments about something i know nothing about that are essentially just a waste of someones time to read.
    it’s sad 18 people ‘liked’ JPs comment.

  • Jeez. Shows how little respect animation gets in in larger POV of mainstream media. Even working on amazing pictures, and working with legends.

    I bet it isn’t a unique answer.

  • AJ

    It seems quite strange to me that a famous actress gets called in just to do a couple of lines, wouldn’t it be cheaper to get a voice actress like Tress McNeil or someone simelar?

  • Ben

    I have to say, that someone like Angelina Jolie is strictly for the publicity. When they did the animated series, of course they replaced her with a much less well-known voice actress, who does a great job. I would never miss Angie. So, sometimes the big name celebrities work, and sometimes they aren’t really missed at all. Even the guy who replaced Sasha Baron Cohen for “King Julien” does a great job with that character; so much so that it’s hard to tell the difference.

  • She’s the voice of Hogarths school teacher. The scene where he’s talking to another kid in class she says “Hogarth! Don’t make me come over there!”. Cloris Leachman, everybody :)

  • Ryoku75

    The only people that hate these simple yet honest responses are journalists, readers enjoy honesty but journalists love having a paper that appeals to the pretentious.

    And hey, whats wrong with easy money? We need to pay the gas somehow.

  • Brandon

    Not all celebrities think they can do voice acting. Some know their limitations. Lea Thompson point-blank told me, when I met her in Seattle last April: “I’m not good at voice acting”.

  • For once an actor answers truthfully. I can’t remember who said ‘The reason I like money is because it buys stuff, using it to insulate the house is pointless.’

  • Kate

    Celebs don’t always make more than top notch VO talent, especially for tv animation. I don’t know specifically about Cloris Leachman, but often times it’s easier to book a washed up sitcom actor than deal with a really in demand VO actor who has to fit in an animation session in between promo and commercial work.

    I think the only way it’s cheaper to cast someone along the lines of Tress McNeil is if they want to record multiple voices. In a lot of animated features now a days, only the celebs get credited, voice actors get credited as ‘additional voices’.