Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Actress Margo Martindale on having a lower speaking voice

Actresses spend as much or more time thinking about their voices as speakers do, and actress Margo Martindale--featured in such movies as Million Dollar Baby and Secretariat -- has a low voice to ponder. In this interview with NPR's Fresh Air, Martindale talks about using her voice to convey power in her role in the FX series Justified. Host Terry Gross asks her to talk about her unusual vocalizing skills. From the transcript:
GROSS: I think one of your great tools is your voice. You have a really deep voice that you can make even deeper in roles like "Justified." You can bring your voice from really, like, deep within. 
(Soundbite of laughter) 
GROSS: And I have to say that this is at a time when a lot of women speak in much higher voices and when - often our voices get more trapped in our throats, you know, for woman. So I'd like you to talk a little bit about your voice and using how deep and full it can be in a role like your role on "Justified," where you have to express power. You have to convey - you've got the power. 
Ms. MARTINDALE: Sometimes I worry that my voice is too mmmm, buzzy, too round, that when I'm on stage, I really have to lift my voice. I have to put it in another spot so that you can hear me because sometimes when you're down in this thing, you can't hear the enunciation as well. 
I remember it when I was in high school, the biology said to his - my favorite teacher, Mr. Billy Gwinn(ph), said to the students: Now, listen to Margo Martindale's voice. Now she's probably got male genes in her. Of course, I thought what in the hell is that? Thank you Mr. Gwinn.(Soundbite of laughter) 
Ms. MARTINDALE: Oh, boy. My voice is lower than - I have one - both of my brothers, but one of them is not with me anymore, but my voice is lower than their voices. Texas men usually have a little bit higher voices like that. But my mine's lower than - my mother had a very low voice, too. So I don't know. I - sometimes I feel that it is a plus, and something I think that it gets in my way, my voice. 
GROSS: Why does it get in your way sometimes? 
Ms. MARTINDALE: And maybe "Justified" has changed that for me in my head. Sometimes I think I have to pretty it up, girlify(ph) it, make it more - make it a little sweeter, a little softer, a little more - you know, have a little more - because everybody I talk to on the phone said yeah, yes sir, no sir. This is a woman. I've said this is a woman, I must say it maybe 2,500 times in my life. And I get really pissy about it.
It's worth a listen to the Fresh Air interview with Martindale so you can hear her voice for yourself, and the clip that spurred this conversation, where she gives a speech in Justified. In the video below, she accepts an Emmy for the role--although her excitement takes her voice higher at first.

It's important to note that many women may be speaking too low, and need to think through whether they're straining their vocal cords in doing so. For others, it's just natural. Do you grapple with a lower-than-usual woman's voice? Is it a plus or a minus for you?

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