What It Takes To Be The French Jennifer Lawrence
Here’s a peek into the lives of the well-paid, beloved, highly secretive voiceover artists who make Hollywood French. Now… if they can only survive le déluge of Netflix.
By Mac McClelland
Photographs by Thibault Montamat
The day I’m interviewing French Jennifer Lawrence, she is having a simpler day than actual Jennifer Lawrence. Today, actual Jennifer Lawrence has woken up to another day of people loudly, publicly debating whether they should look at stolen naked pictures of her that have been made available on the internet. French Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, woke up, put on a sweater, and came to work at Dubbing Brothers, where she assumes the French-speaking voice of almost every J-Law role that comes through France’s large and spectacularly meticulous dubbing industry.
Her name is Kelly Marot. No one in France could pick her out of a lineup, and, at the moment, I’m the only journalist on Earth who cares what she’s doing — which is consuming a pastry tart roughly equal in size to her face. Today she’s dubbing scenes with French Daniel Radcliffe (né Kelyan Blanc), a kid with a patchy beard in jeans and an unmemorable T-shirt who’s been voicing Harry Potter since The Sorcerer’s Stone. With their talented, consistent representation of English-speaking stars, Marot and Blanc are crucial to bringing Hollywood films to Francophone audiences.
“If we replaced him,” one of France’s most legendary dubbing directors says, gesturing in Blanc’s direction, “it would be a big scandal. A big scandal.”
In France, birthplace of cinema, bastion of taste and art and cultural superiority, 40 percent of the programming on TV is American films and shows. As a result, the country was recently a target for Netflix, which furthered its plot for global domination by launching there in September. Meanwhile, in French movie theaters—the French being the fifth-highest consumers of cinema in the world — 50 percent of tickets are for features made in the U.S. And nearly all of it gets dubbed.
Many of the hottest releases come through Dubbing Brothers. Its offices, located on an industrial edge of Paris where the traffic is lighter and the buildings take on a postmodern charmlessness, are secured with solid iron gates. Behind them, the company courtyard contains many, many, many employees smoking cigarettes. Inside, a long hallway is dotted with doors to numbered rooms. A computerized schedule hangs over the receptionist’s head, giving the locations for the day’s dozen or so projects. The Drop, starring Tom Hardy. Daniel Radcliffe’s new film, Horns. An episode from the most recent season of Revenge. A Season 9 episode of Criminal Minds.
Behind those numbered doors, what happens is not your father’s Bruce-Lee–movie dubbing. This, as long as the voiceover actors — and writers, translators, transcribers, sound engineers, directors, and everyone else involved in this process — are given the time and money to make it, is Art.
“You’re projecting out!” a director hollers in one of this morning’s recording sessions. Each studio inside Dubbing Brothers is large and dark, with a giant cinema screen but no chairs. It’s like a movie theater with the seats taken out. Toward the back, an engineer sits behind a long soundboard. Next to him stands a director, and in front of them, a waist-high bar. In this particular studio, there’s an actor leaning against it. He has some microphones in front of him. A moment ago, when everyone was ready, the engineer pushed a button, a scene played with no sound, and the actor started yelling his lines — at the drop of a hat, started yelling so hard that the bar was shaking. But then the director stopped him because he was projecting out.
“Like a French person,” the director explains further. “Americans contain their energy, even when it’s a lot. It’s concentrated internally.”
The actor is nodding, like, Ah, yeah, of course.
“Your energy is good,” the director says, retreating behind the soundboard again. “But make it more American.”
The director already stopped him once before, because there needed to be more emphasis on the word hate in this sentence he’s yelling.
On the next take, he is stopped again because he messes up his lines. He throws his head back, laughing, frustrated.
This is how they do it: just seconds of footage at a time. Everyone in the room watches a few lines of English dialogue with a rolling French script at the bottom of it. The engineer presses stop. For movies, the actors have generally never seen the scene before, and sometimes, they can’t even see it now — Hollywood is terrified of films getting leaked on the internet, so when Dubbing Brothers received each Lord of the Rings movie, the studio had blacked out the entire screen except for little boxes around the actors’ mouths, and even those closed when the actors weren’t talking. So everyone watches — or doesn’t watch — the scene, maybe twice. The engineer presses rewind. And it’s time to record the voice-over.
The scene plays again, without sound, and the actor recites the translated script. The director gives notes. They go back and do it again. The French-language script rolling along the bottom comes courtesy of custom-built, proprietary software that displays, as well as the words, symbols that denote the perfect timing of voice-related actions in the movie. There’s a symbol to audibly inhale. A symbol to exhale. A symbol for kissing noises, which the actors must make with their mouths on their hands.
They record, then play back what they’ve just done. Once in French. Once again with the French and English laid over each other. Perhaps a couple more times each way, as needed by the director to watch and listen for necessary adjustments.
His tone needs to go down, to be more definitive.
Okay, the actor says. He says he’ll put it more in his belly.
Blow up inside, the director says. Like an American.
When they do it again, the actor is yelling so loud, but containing so much, that his body is visibly vibrating. But then it’s difficult for him to maintain that intensity all the way to the end of the sentence. The script software also has a typeset-tracking function that the writers can use to indicate if the actor needs to talk fast, and it seems like he always does. The term “bachelor party,” for instance, is just two words in English, but in French it’s an entire expression that translates to “a funeral for a young boy’s life,” and the actor of today’s scene cannot get through all the words in the heavily tracked, smushed-together script lines with all the American rage he’s not projecting but containing without running out of breath and fervor.
They stop, to talk about alternative phrasing.
They cut three words from the script.
They do it again.
They do it again.
“Bon,” the director says. And after 10 minutes, they’ve got themselves about five sentences of top-quality dubbing.
Danielle Perret, the director who called Blanc indispensable, invites me into her office, which has framed movie posters all over the walls. She did Seven. She did Reservoir Dogs. Austin Powers, The Hunger Games, The Expendables, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Wolf of Wall Street. She was a theater director and film editor first, many decades ago, but she loves dubbing and loves when it’s done well. She is 76 years old and she could retire, but won’t. She is tiny, wearing a blue patterned dress and her hair long and dyed black, and she works with the best voice-over talent France has to offer.
“She is an actress,” Perret says of Marot, the French Jennifer Lawrence.
Because this is Art, French dubbing cultivates personae. Every time Tom Cruise opens his mouth, the same voice should come out, so that the audience can experience the same sense of intimacy and attachment that the original-language audience does with the real Tom Cruise. Sometimes changes do happen: A decade or so ago, French Tom Cruise was replaced because he smoked too much and his voice was getting too smoky. But French audiences noticed the switch, and were not pleased.
Kelly Marot’s breakout dubbing role was as Rachel in Glee. That got her the chance to audition for the role of Katniss in The Hunger Games, which landed her in every voice-over actor’s dream position: the designated voice of a huge American star.
If all goes well for Marot, a 28-year-old mom, she will have steady work for as long as Jennifer Lawrence does.
Marot is so in demand that she works every day. She does multiple actresses, lead roles on TV shows, the French audiobooks of The Hunger Games, parts in video games, cartoons. Plus she is still Rachel in Glee, and plays Sansa in Game of Thrones. Perret points to the quality of Marot’s voice — it has just the right touch of raspy to it — and of course her talent.
When she was younger, Marot did on-screen work, including a good part on a French TV show. But nine years ago, she had a kid, and then she didn’t have time for what the entertainment industry demanded. Agents. Casting calls. Publicity. Hair and makeup and wardrobe. Now, when French media call for interviews after each big J-Law film is released, Marot declines. “I wouldn’t know what to say,” she says. But the lack of exposure has no negative impact on her career. She makes good money, she has a private life, she has split ends — and that’s fine.
Let’s face it: It’s a mean, exploitative, fickle, and resentful world out there in the spotlight. And not everyone has the time, or the looks — or the stomach — for that. Le doublage is Marot’s refuge. For other actors, too, it provides opportunities in their medium that might not otherwise be available or palatable to them.
“My skin was never right,” Nathalie Karsenti, the French January Jones, tells me at her apartment, a third-floor walkup in Paris’s best gayborhood, Le Marais. She is short and not waif-thin and lovely, mid-40s with shoulder-length brown hair and an enviable olive kiss to her skin tone.
Or enviable to me, I guess: After graduating from one of France’s top drama schools, Karsenti was told in auditions that she was too dark to look properly French — but that she wasn’t dark enough to play an Arab.
“My physical characteristics closed doors for me,” she says, sitting at her kitchen table, “even if I had the talent to do it.” It does seem that her acting chops weren’t the problem. She is not just January Jones: She’s also been French Keira Knightley, French Eva Mendes, and French Zoe Saldana.
“I loved it,” Karsenti says of the first time she tried dubbing. “I didn’t have to take care of the color of my skin anymore; I could just work. It’s better, what I do, than being a star, as a woman and as a mom.”
Womanhood and motherhood quickly became a recurring theme in my interviews with dubbers. Danielle Perret, the septuagenarian director, also said that pregnancy got her into dubbing — after she took a break to have a baby, she discovered she couldn’t get back into the film editing she’d worked in before.
And that baby, now a 50-year-old, followed a similar path, too. Like her mother, Déborah Perret started in theater. Like her mother, she took a break to have a baby of her own. Now, tall and statuesque as her mother is petite, with a low-cut tank top and turquoise glasses and big brown eyes, she works in dubbing, entirely behind the scenes. She dubs the voices of Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, and Kate Blanchett, but she also writes those scrolling French scripts that the other dubbers read as they act out a part. It’s partly because she enjoys writing, but also because these days, she has to for financial stability. Because being invisible isn’t enough to hide a voice actor from all the savageries of the entertainment industry.
“When you’re an actress, when you pass 40 you don’t have a lot of jobs,” she explains. There are plenty of old guys in movies — “Cops, the bad guy, the hero, cops, cops, cops” — but “Women, you have the heroine, plus maybe the mom and a hooker. I’m lucky I work a lot. I still work because my voice can pass for 35.”
Doublage can’t protect actors from sexism, not entirely. Nor can it totally insulate them from racism. The industry allowed (white) Karsenti to get around white-supremacist casting on-screen, but I discover while talking to Perret that black stars’ roles often go to white voice actors. Denzel Washington. Morgan Freeman. Forest Whitaker — including in The Butler.
When I ask him if he thinks this is an injustice, Thierry Desroses thinks I’m having a typically American reaction. Which is to say, he thinks I am having an oversensitive, overly politically-correct overreaction. “What’s important is the energy of the voice,” he says. “The vibration, the quality of the actor.”
Desroses is French Samuel L. Jackson. I admit that I am surprised, and even relieved, to see that he is black when we meet at a crowded café in Montmartre. In 1994, he voiced Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction. Then, in 2002, when Phone Booth came out, the French representative from 20th Century Fox, who was black, decided it was time to assign a black actor to voice Forest Whitaker, who’d been done by the same white guy since Good Morning Vietnam. “There were a lot of whites doing blacks, and he wanted to change that. So he did the casting.” Desroses, a slim, handsome fellow who had been on a hit French TV show since 1999, got the part. After that, he became the designated voice of Jackson—“Sam,” as he calls him. He is also Wesley Snipes, among plenty of others.
“In ER, I was Dr. Benton,” he says.
“I’ve never seen ER.”
“It’s the black guy. I also do The Blacklist, the character of Harold Cooper — ”
“Which one is that?” I ask.
“It’s the black guy.” He says he also voiced “the black guy” on Fringe. This morning, he says, he was in the studio dubbing a character for FX’s Louie.
“Was it the black guy?” I ask.
The white Forest Whitaker still gets most of the Forest Whitaker roles, though. And Laurence Fishburne, Kerry Washington, Oprah — they’re often voiced by white actors. Does Desroses ever dub white guys? “No. I don’t know why.” He still doesn’t care: For him it’s about the craft. He is an “actor first,” he says, and he’s been dubbing for 20 years now. “It’s not a question of money” — you make way more on-screen. “It’s about pleasure.”
This past July, then-French Minister for the Economy Arnaud Montebourg gave a speech about economic recovery. “We have asked French audiovisual and digital operators to unite,” he said in front of the assembled ministers and parliamentarians, “in order to provide alternatives to the Anglo-Saxon offensive in culture and cinema.”
Forty percent of French television content is American, yeah, with your CSIs and your Simpsons (fun fact: French Homer Simpson and French Marge Simpson are a couple in real life) and Friends and 24 — but without state intervention, that number might actually be higher. Forty percent is the maximum allowed by law. In movie theaters, where there is no such limit, France and Hollywood wage a constant war for supremacy. It’s clear that France’s gifted dubbers are good for Hollywood, as French audiences can earn movies hundreds of millions of extra dollars. And the industry is pretty good to them: Kelyan Blanc, the French Daniel Radcliffe, makes a living working as many as 20 but as few as five days a month, using his free time to pursue university degrees for fun. It’s harder to say whether the flood of American films they’ve helped bring to the French-speaking world is good for France.
In 1998, French film’s market share in its own country dropped to 27 percent. It had trailed the U.S. as the world’s biggest movie exporter for generations, but the late-’90s nadir was alarming. French filmmakers rallied, and slowly, things have improved. So far in 2014, they’re running a close race: French film has earned 46.3 percent of its domestic box office, versus the U.S.’s 45.7. But it’ll be a miracle if they retain that lead by the time The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and Gone Girl and the other end-of-the-year blockbusters have bulldozed their way through town.
“The first Woody Allen movie was very French,” Déborah Perret tells me when we talk in her apartment. But now, she says, “People in France associate films” — the very idea of films — “with America.” And, like in America, it’s not the artistic American films that sell big. Even among French films, the blockbusters today are silly comedies.
“French people aren’t nerds,” Déborah Perret says when she senses my displeasure that French moviegoers aren’t more discriminating than we are. As an American, it is my duty to think of the French, subjects of endless jokes, imitations, and envy in my culture, as weird and dramatic, sensual and snotty and magnificent, intensely full of joie de vivre but simultaneously carrying a collective darkness. (Full disclosure: I am married to a Frenchman, who has done nothing in our years together to dispel any of these assumptions.) That’s why we love or hate and are obsessed with them. That’s why we’re dying to know how they raise their bébés and don’t get fat. They are so different!
“French people love movies like The Expendables,” Perret says. This is not her opinion, but a quantifiable fact. She gets royalty checks on the profits from the films she translates, and you better believe The Expendables brought in some fat ones. “When I was young, the economy was good, so we went to the movies to reflect,” she explains. “Now, life is hard, so you go to the movies to have fun and relax.” Life sucks: That is a sentiment that transcends any borders.
“Who knows what would’ve happened if American films hadn’t come here?” she shrugs. She isn’t losing any sleep over it. The American-film takeover was inevitable, and it is done. Her job is just to do the best dubbing possible.
None of the dubbers I ask about American film’s influence on French culture seem to care about it in general, nor specifically about their role as accomplices. Even Pascal Rogard, director of the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques — essentially the French equivalent of the Writers and Directors Guilds of America, and therefore the man whose job is to protect French film — thinks the diversity American imports bring should be celebrated. His current concern is a different, newer incursion on the country’s entertainment industry, the same Anglo-Saxon enemy that spurred former Minister Montebourg’s comments in his speech.
It wasn’t easy for America’s largest video-streaming service to break into France. Not because Netflix wasn’t ready, but because the French government resisted it like the storming of the Bastille. When I arrived in France, the headlines about the impending rollout said it all: “Netflix: la France résiste au géant américain.”
In France, the special consideration artistic goods receive in regulation and trade is known as l’exception culturelle. “The cultural exception” — French culture is exceptionally important to protect. Decades ago, it was SACD that helped lobby for the laws that protect French films. There are taxes on cinema, television, and telecommunications profits that go back into subsidizing the film industry, money that keeps French film production viable. There are the regulations about how much content that airs on cable and is offered on-demand must be French, and how long providers have to wait after films’ theater releases to start showing them. But because Netflix Europe is headquartered in the Netherlands — sort of the French equivalent of keeping your business accounts in the Virgin Islands — Netflix is going to skate on those obligations until the European Union can come together to write and pass some new laws.
It could take years. Meanwhile, before Netflix had even launched, its CEO declared the company’s goal was to have a third of the households in France as subscribers within the decade. Maybe half that long.
“It’s not fair,” says Rogard. “You don’t have to protect yourselves because nobody is big enough to compete,” he complains of the American film industry. “You protect your car industry. You have rules about car imports.” And, he points out, the United States has lots of private, nonprofit organizations that support the arts. But now French people will have unlimited access to American content that will skirt regulations that all other content shown in France, no matter where it’s made, is subject to.
Maybe he’s right; it’s not fair, as French filmmakers and local video-on-demand services are saying. Either way, and unfortunately for those in the dubbing studios, there’s a different battle they need to prepare for.
Didier Breitburd, a 77-year-old dubbing director, suggests that the advent of Netflix could mean it’s downhill from here for le doublage. “It will change the techniques,” he speculates. “It will affect the quality. It won’t be as good as before.”
Breitburd has overseen the dubbing of 1,648 movies (plus several TV series) since 1959. He’s been in the industry from its nascency. He dubbed The Night of the Living Dead. “The industry was already getting more digital, faster,” recently, he says. Thanks to the internet, international filmmakers and dubbers don’t have to send each other physical materials in the mail anymore. Thanks to computers, the dubbing process has been becoming increasingly advanced, but at the same time, these advances put more pressures on those doing the dubbing. “The more digital it gets,” Breitburd says, “the faster Hollywood makes you go.”
And faster is a problem, because the entire process — not just the voice acting itself — is absurd and obsessive and amazing. Perret the Younger, who scripts big releases from The Hunger Games to The Hundred-Foot Journey, walks me through it in her home office. She explains how she goes through the English script and creates, for every sentence, a sentence that is nearly identical in meaning but also as similar as possible in length. This alone is a gargantuan task, with the way French languidly weaves its way around getting an idea across. But in addition, and to make the dub look as realistic as possible, she must also identify every instance of a character uttering a word with an m, p, or b in it in English, and find a word in French with the same consonant. And the replacement word has to fit into that sentence in exactly the same spot as where the American actor’s mouth makes the m, p, or b face. She must also figure out what to put in the place of people’s first names, which she tells me Americans incessantly address each other by in movies, and even more in TV shows, but which never happens and would sound utterly bizarre in French. She also has to find words — without adding to, or changing, the meaning of the sentence — to fill the space created by all the garbage words Americans are always using: um, uh, ah, you know, I mean. When French people open their mouths to talk, they make sentences with actual words, and have but one filler: euhhh. It’s used sparingly. It cannot be put in place of every American garbage word, because the characters would sound brain-dead. Perret also has to attend to the fact that English words create more expansive, open mouth movements — whyyyyy, thaaat — while French makes a tighter, faster mm mm mm mm bup bup bup rhythm in the face (don’t even get her started on the Chinese films she occasionally translates; it makes for rough workdays, the way Chinese mouths are always open). If there’s a TV or a radio on in the background of the scene, she has to translate that dialogue, too, and if it’s JFK or the Black Panthers talking, she better be very careful to be accurate down to every nuance. If there’s content in the film about a topic she doesn’t know much about — “For Kill the Messenger, I have to do a lot of things about drugs, and I don’t use crack, at all, so I have to learn how to make crack”—she does extensive research to get a handle on the ideas and lingo she has to convert. She has to capture the nuance of words like lingo. She has to capture the spirit of English idioms that would make no sense in French (not that they make sense in English; “going cold turkey”?). British English is even worse, because the comedy so often relies on wordplay, which is practically impossible to translate. She takes the periods out of English sentences and strings them all together with commas, because while in English there are lots of natural highs and lows in the tone, the French will only keep that high-energy animation up in a run-on. And when she’s done, she watches each line over and over and over, and then reads what she wrote for it over and over and over, out loud, seeing how everything matches up, tweaking, tweaking, going back and watching the flow of a few sentences together, or a whole scene, tweaking some more.
Imagine doing that again, and again, then trying to get it done faster and faster to cope with the influx of material brought by growing streaming services. “It’s our strategy,” says Joris Evers, head of communications for Netflix in Europe, “to offer more and more titles exclusively of brand-new, predominantly American TV series.” Penny Dreadful. Fargo. From Dusk Till Dawn. “New content is being dubbed, content we’re offering that wasn’t available in French, and it’s going to happen more.”
Even when Perret’s work is done, it’s all checked. “Twenty years ago, you wrote a script, and no one checked it,” she says. You as the writer were the first and last word on the translation. If you wanted to inject a little French edge into a line, that was your prerogative. And it happened, a lot. There’s a scene in Dirty Dancing, which French children of the 80s and 90s know as by-heart as their American counterparts, where the teenage heroine, Baby, is being scolded by her father after sneaking out for a mambo performance. “And take that stuff off your face,” he says, looking disdainfully at her makeup, “before your mother sees you.” In the version French children grew up with, he says, “And take that disgusting makeup off your face — you look like a whore.”
These days, though, Hollywood studios have offices and representatives in France managing this big business, and they check everything. Everything. They force the writers to tone down the language rather than turn it up — you can say fuck and show nipples on French television, but American distributors make Perret change “You’re a dick” to “You’re an idiot” in a show. During Guardians of the Galaxy’s dubbing, Karsenti told me, there was much handwringing on the part of Disney representatives over whether to let the phrase “sticks up their butts” be translated into “sticks up their asses.”
Anyway, Perret generally has a maximum of two weeks to do all this, these days. A week and a half, sometimes. She used to get a month. Writers like her might get less soon.
“Our promise is to bring the episodes of Better Call Saul as quickly after U.S. broadcast as we can,” Netflix’s Evers says. “Can it be offered within a day or two, or will it take a week?”
“Everything evolves,” Breitburd says, matter-of-factly, when we talk about fast-tracked production. “We have to evolve with it.” When he started working in film, there were analog optical soundtracks, for God’s sake, then magnetic ones. But he, for one, is not going to participate in the revolution of ultra-quick dubbing. “My career is done,” he says. He is semi-retired, taking jobs when American filmmakers are prepared to spend a little more time and money hiring him to do it his way. He does a lot of work for HBO.
Apart from his personal, artisanal business, “There are good companies, and less good” among France’s dozens of dubbing studios, he says. “That won’t change.” But the crappy ones get crappier all the time. Even Dubbing Brothers, which is among the few highly reputable ones, is starting to slide in Breitburd’s opinion. “They’re honest people,” he says, “but when you want to make quantity you lose something. They’re very competent when it comes to movies, but there’s less quality for TV shows there because they take so many.” And turn them around at ever-increased speeds.
In Breitburd’s estimation, we may have already surpassed peak dubbing. “It’s been at least five years that we started to lose quality,” he says. “That’s the internet.”
Like everyone else I talk to, one of France’s most famous voice-over actors doesn’t have many concerns beyond the quality of his own performance. I meet Alain Dorval at an uncrowded café in an upscale part of Paris. Dorval is a huge deal: He is French Sylvester Stallone. It’s a role that has made him an icon. The Rocky films are rerun on French television possibly even more than they are in America, and Dorval’s Stallone is marvelous. A deep-voiced chain-smoker (duh), he makes Sly sound magnetic and husky-throated and strong. But Stallone is also significant as the unofficial representative of Americanness in French culture. On Les Guignols de l’info, a nightly satire program, a Stallone puppet appears regularly, as the head of the U.S. armed forces. Or the head of the CIA. Or, recently, the head of the American medical-military response to Ebola. Whatever the Stallone puppet’s title du jour, the guy voicing the puppet does an impression of Dorval’s impression of Stallone. (Who, as it happens, speaks like no Americans.)
I had been warned, by sources I won’t name, that I might find Dorval too French—like, offensively French. Possibly douchey. More precisely I was told this with the French expression for douchey, which is “he farts higher than his ass.” But the 68-year-old is warm and friendly, if given to philosophizing. (When I ask him what he does with his free time, he says, “Watch my trees grow”; when I ask him if he works much, he replies, “What for?”) He started his career in, and his true love remains, theater. But even he shrugs when I ask him if he thinks he had a big impact on French culture, the way he brought this iconic American figure alive in it with such verve. “I don’t know,” he says, shrugging, shrugging, brushing it off with his whole head and shoulders.
He says he thinks the American influx of film probably helped increase the popularity of film in general in France, and that there are some types of movies the French are lousy at (Westerns, mainly) and others that the Americans are (anything in the style of a 1938 drama called Hôtel du Nord). But that he really doesn’t think about such things. “I just hope I did a good job.”
“Wow!” a French friend will exclaim later when I tell him I met Stallone’s Voice. Then ask, surely picturing Sylvester Stallone as we all picture him — topless: “Is he…fit?”
No. He isn’t. Kelly Marot said the same thing of French Bradley Cooper, with whom she (obviously) works regularly, when I asked her if he was hot. “He’s okay,” she responded, after a long hesitation. “Not bad.” She admitted that it was disconcerting to see him after watching his voice come out of Bradley Cooper’s beautiful man-mouth all the time. But no, that’s not his problem, either. Voice-over actors have less money, less problems. Dorval has met Stallone, twice, and adores and respects him — but finds his life as French Stallone easier than being Stallone Stallone. He says he considers himself lucky.
Eleven days after I leave France, more stolen nude photographs of Jennifer Lawrence are released online. Nine days after that, a ridiculous and perhaps unprecedented third round of illegal, privacy-annihilating, personhood-violating pictures of her come out. Former reality-TV star Clay Aiken, who is not really a star anymore, tells the Washington Post that she got what she deserved.
Back home, reading the news, I wonder if Kelly Marot knows what’s happening to J-Law. She told me that she’s not much into the internet. I know Dorval doesn’t know; he told me that his isn’t a digital life, and he hasn’t even read the things online about himself, though he understands there’s some there.
Maybe computers are going to drag le doublage down. Maybe the industry will enter a period of decline, like journalism, and the music industry, and everything else the internet ruined. But for now, the best of it remains a high art.
When I asked Dorval if he’d ever retire, he said that if Stallone continues to make movies, he’ll dub him until death. If it’s still fun. He’ll go on as long as he can, drinking his coffee peacefully and watching his trees grow, beloved by his countrymen — but not too. “If I get hit by a bus,” he told me at our sidewalk café table, and Stallone still needs a French voice, “they’ll find someone else.”
This story was written by Mac McClelland, edited by Bobbie Johnson, fact-checked by Julia Greenberg, and copy-edited by Lawrence Levi, with photographs by Thibault Montamat for Matter.