Erik Singer is one of this country’s foremost experts in dialects and accents, so every now and then Wired brings him in to analyze the performances of actors taking on voices other than their own. The latest edition might be the most fascinating, as Singer spends a half hour comparing and contrasting performances based on real people. In the video, footage of the actors is juxtaposed alongside those they’re portraying as Singer enlightens us as to just how on point their impression is.
Some of the standouts? Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles, Singer points out, seamlessly embodies Charles’ unique tic of his lips pulling back toward his ears, even when he’s not smiling. This small detail has a great effect on Foxx’s performance, from his facial expressions to his vocal mannerisms. Singer also praises the way Meryl Streep uses Julia Child’s voice to convey the famous chef’s infectious sense of joy in Julie & Julia, as well as Daniel Day-Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln, which is especially impressive considering he created a believable, immersive vocal tone and cadence based only on descriptions of Lincoln’s voice.
One of the most impressive performances to hear alongside its source is Natalie Portman’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis from last year’s Jackie. Portman nails not only the unique pitch of Onassis’ voice but also the subtle inflections and breathy catches embedded in her speech. It’s clearly a deeply studied performance.
Singer also notes some performances that, while still good, are less successful in terms of capturing the specificities of a person. Jesse Eisenberg was pretty clearly just playing Mark Zuckerberg as Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, while Singer notes that the only real inconsistency with Jamal Woolard’s turn as Biggie in Notorious is that he pronounces his S’s with his tongue touching the top of his mouth, as opposed to the bottom, where Biggie pronounces his. It’s intricate stuff.
Here’s hoping he updates the video after James Franco’s The Disaster Artist comes out. The legendarily weird Tommy Wiseau might be the toughest impression of them all.