As if the acting world needed any more drama, Hellena Taylor, the voice of Bayonetta in the games and anime spin-off, was made to re-audition for her own part in Bayonetta 3, and then given such a low-ball offer that she walked.
Taylor is by no means the first actor to find out she is replaceable. When he was shunted aside for Kiefer Sutherland in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, David Hayter was similarly annoyed. He, too, was asked to read for the part that had previously thought of as his, on the grounds that maybe he had “aged out” of the role. Such a concept would be particularly insulting to Taylor, since, without getting into specifics about a lady’s age, she is still seven years younger than Atsuko Tanaka, the Japanese voice of Bayonetta (and Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi), who is still in the role.
In an online video post, Taylor noted that the Bayonetta franchise had made $450 million, “not including merchandise.” She enumerated her various places of training and education, a total of seven and a half years at drama schools, and observed that the final offer for her to provide all the lines, shouts, and barks for the next game in the series, was a buy-out of $4,000 – no royalties, just guild minimum for a single eight-hour day.
What’s in play here is the timeless argument over whether voice actors are above- or below-the-line talent. Some of you, and some producers, might be thinking that all you’re buying is some guy to come in off the street and yell a bit. On my first dubbing job, after some idiot (me) sent home one of the actresses early, we had to rope in a runner, literally drag her away from making coffee, to shout “THE TOTEMS HAVE COMBINED!” It wasn’t Shakespeare.
But for the last generation, voice acting has become part of a media mix. Certainly in anime, and also in games, it provides a chunk of the content that magazines write about. It provides bodies to be onstage at conventions; human beings, as stand-ins for cartoon characters, who can sign your video boxes and hold forth with anecdotes. The industry has spent 20 years trilling about this actor or that actor bringing their talent to a role – their voice and wisdom and (sometimes) physicality in motion capture. And if $4,000 still sounds like a lot of money to you, remember that might be the only work someone sees in six months.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #225, 2022.