Story at a glance:
- Actor Xavier Paul Cadeau spoke with Changing America about his distinguished career and experience in voice acting.
- Animated shows have received pushback for casting white actors to portray characters of color.
- Cadeau is the first African American to voice the iconic Dead End character on "Transformers: Cyberverse."
Voice acting should provide an equal opportunity for actors to be a part of a project, regardless of appearance or background.
With the reliance on one’s voice, the ability to read a script and convey ideas of imagination, any actor can be a voice actor — some casting directors require just an online submission without seeing the performer in person.
The problem lies in that some of the most talented voice actors of color are not being included in the major roles that would suit them well.
Recently, actors in shows like "Family Guy," "Big Mouth," "Central Park" and "BoJack Horseman" relinquished their roles — as white actors portraying characters of color — and some shows later introduced newer voices. Still, veteran Black voice actors like One Voice Conference Award Winner Recording Artist Xavier Paul Cadeau say they hope these changes go beyond just a “sexy trend in Hollywood.”
Cadeau has lent his voice to various works: he has been Live in show announcer for “LIVE With Kelly & Ryan” on ABC, “Dead End,” on Cartoon Network’s "Transformers: Cyberverse," and he is a recurring voice in the "Grand Theft Auto" series (GTA San Andreas, GTA IV, and GTA V,).
He also had the opportunity to work alongside the late Michael K. Williams on a limited HBO series called “The Night Of.”
Cadeau spoke with Changing America about his work across theater, film, and video games.
1. Xavier, you are the first African American to voice the iconic Dead End character on Transformers: Cyberverse. Dead End is a fan favorite Generation 1 (G1) Decepticon with a sarcastic personality and transforms into a Porsche-like vehicle. How did you prepare for the role and what type of voice direction did you use?
I'm totally honored. I had no idea until I did some research then I realized, wait, I'm historic! This means a lot for me and the industry. For the industry, the possibility to further their brand reach by creating a solid cultural connection to audiences through my work. For me, the exciting possibility to keep making history in voiceover. Thank you, Hasbro!
As a teacher of Michael Chekhov's acting technique, I work to take my own advice and allow myself to have an encounter with the character written on the page. I let go of preconceived notions on how it should be played, directions, and thoughts from the past and work to ‘receive’ the words of the character. The words come to me, I go to the words and in the middle, there is a conversation...an ‘encounter.’ From this place, Dead End was born.
2. On YouTube, a user posted a compilation of Dead End; the video garnered more than 110,000 views with about 5,000 likes. What are the highest compliments you received from fans and other voice actors and has this role strengthened your portfolio?
Yes, it is a wonderful compilation that the user-created for all of us on Cyberverse. I'm truly grateful as it has allowed visibility on a whole new scale. Many times in voice acting, no one knows it's you....unless you tell them. With these great videos of my work, I can share it on social media and help grow the message of the Transformers franchise.
This role has strengthened my portfolio as well as my vision for my career. The highest compliments were that I sound better than my very mentors -- James Earl Jones, Keith David! After hearing that, I was so humbled I dropped to my knees!
3. Which is more rewarding and/or creative, voicing a popular cartoon character or voicing a video game character on a best-selling franchise?
Well, while voicing a video game character on a best-selling franchise excites me to all end, I'd have to say by comparison the ability and opportunity to build a character arc over several episodes is more rewarding and creatively demanding and as a result more stimulating.
Rockstar Games and I have been in creative collaboration since 2004 with the first game I voiced for them "GTA San Andreas."
I did another lesser-known game, ‘Conflict Vietnam.’ It follows four US soldiers, Ragman, Junior, Hoss and Cherry who are cut off from their unit during the 1968 Tet Offensive and survive in the hostile Vietnam jungle against a ruthless enemy.
4. On a similar note, which is better, voice acting or acting in person? Who are your influences?
My influences are Keith David, Batt Johnson, Peter Thomas, Dennis Haysbert, G Keith Alexander, and of course, Elmo.
I love the theatre. It's where I started and continue to cultivate the acting craft. The energy is alive and in the room. As voice actors, the questions become can we, will we, create that aliveness and trust the air and microphone will send it? How do we get out of our own way to deliver compelling characters? This is the reason I started a training facility for voice acting and finding your authentic soul connected voice.
5. Voice acting is vocal work, but why are some Black actors and people of color either not represented or sidelined?
It is vocal work connected to a solid acting craft which we draw from not only for character yet also for creating an environment, a brand signature, a moment or reality. So we need to generate our sense of "being" which will stand for the message, the moment or reality. I think many BIPOC performers get sidelined in part because the training facilities we graduate from are not giving us an alternative to the Euro-American performance styles that many actors find themselves working with. We need those alternative approaches to have a regular working career. I'm committed to solving that issue as a teacher of culturally resonant acting craft/voiceover technique.
Cadeau will be appearing at TFcon, the latest gathering for Transformers, in Baltimore from October 22-24.
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