I HAVE BEEN watching Johnny Depp on screen since he starred in 21 Jump Street in the late ’80s, however, it wasn’t until I clicked on the Depp v Heard docuseries on Netflix the other night that I truly appreciated just how deep the man’s voice is.
This is perhaps because in movies, like say, Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, Depp’s accent distracts from the timbre of his voice. Or maybe it’s because he attunes the pitch of his voice according to the role he’s playing; it is called acting, after all.
Either way, in Depp v Heard I was struck by his almost Vader-like register in the witness box, as well as the effect it seemed to have on the courtroom—I’m not going to get into the Depp-Heard controversy here and, full disclosure, I’ve only watched one episode of the series. But every time Depp spoke I sure as shit listened. I couldn’t help myself. Neither could anyone at the trial, nor could the internet, which used grabs of Depp’s speech in often tasteless, weaponised memes.
There is one particular line in the first episode where the prosecuting lawyer asks Depp if he filled his red wine glass to the top in what the lawyer calls (and what Depp previously called it in the UK defamation case) a “mega-pint”. When the lawyer says the phrase it’s quite unremarkable but when Depp repeats it back to him: “a mega-pint?” there are barely suppressed giggles in the courtroom as Depp, almost solely through the powers of his syrupy baritone and the way that he deploys it, is able to undermine the prosecutor’s authority. Depp’s voice is clearly an asset in the courtroom, as it would be in many different walks of life.
Of course, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that an actor has command of his vocal cords. But it does get you thinking about the power of your voice. A 2020 study published in Scientific Reports found that men with lower-pitched voices were considered more likely to win a fistfight—the researchers obviously never met Mike Tyson. They were also perceived as more effective leaders and more likely to be successful political candidates—Obama does have a deep and resonant voice. And, of course, the knockout piece of research, women tend to be more attracted to men with deeper voices. Whether it can help tip the scales of justice your way has not been studied, but it probably doesn’t hurt; and for the record, if it can, then that is not a good thing.
Now, I have done some voice training (I have done a lot of things in the name of stories), not because my voice is particularly high-pitched, in fact it’s probably on the lower end of the spectrum, without entering the subterranean territory of Barry White or Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born.
No, the reason I tried it was because I was writing a story about ways to get a promotion and voice training was deemed as a way to command more respect. I remember lying on the floor at NIDA with an actress who starred in ’80s drama A Country Practice and taking deep diaphragmatic breaths in order to project my voice across the room—it worked in the theatre space; in the office I quickly reverted to mumbling into my shoes but did get a pay rise (back when they were a thing), so maybe it did work.
My focus was on volume rather than pitch but as Philip Ellis writes in Men’s Health, diaphragmatic or belly breathing, is a practice popular with singers and actors, which can help you control the pitch of your voice. To do it, inhale deeply through your nose, bringing the air all the way in and as far down as possible; then, while exhaling slowly, say something. If done correctly you should feel a vibration as you speak.
Another practice, known as the straw technique, involves blowing bubbles through a straw into a cup of water, while making sounds, which can apparently help increase airflow and relax the muscles of your voice.
A third tip cited in the article is to aim for downward inflection in your speech rather than the upward inflection common among “Valley girls”. Downward inflection can make your voice sound deeper as you’re ending the sentence at a lower pitch.
This is all very well but should you actually worry about how deep your voice is? There are many examples of men who possess voices that are on the squeaky side but still managed to be successful: Donald Trump seems to revel in using his high-pitched voice and upward inflection to mobilise political rallies; sportsmen, such as the aforementioned Tyson, David Beckham and cricketer Chris Gayle, have all made it to the top of their respective sports with voices that don’t seem to suit their stature.
And all of them were deemed attractive, probably for the wealth and power their deeds have earned them. I must admit every time Tyson or Gayle speak, I find it hard to reconcile their voices with their hulking presence but the fact is, Tyson let his fists do the talking and Gayle, well he spoke largely in sixes, boundaries… and Instagram posts with models on superyachts.
So, I guess the lesson here, if there must be one, is actions speak louder, and deeper, than words.
The world’s best voices
Every sentence is gravy.
Bradley Cooper (in A Star Is Born)
Literally melts on the eardrum.
The OG of baritones.
A man whose deep, southern voice belies his babyface.
James Earl Jones
The voice of Darth Vader, so, by extension, the deepest voice in the galaxy.
The only thing more famous than Sam Elliott’s impressive moustache is his deep and characterful voice. And let’s face it, this list, for once, needed more middle-aged white guys.
Not crazy deep but an instrument of persuasion, nevertheless.
“You gotta be kidding”, wouldn’t sound as badass if it was delivered in a higher register, it just wouldn’t.
It’s doubtful the Shawshank Redemption would have soared to the heights it did without Freeman’s gravelled-voice narration. It’s also unlikely that Freeman would have got a gig playing God in Bruce Almighty without it, either.
Beautiful man, cracker of a voice. “Son of Jor-el, kneel before Zod.”
Mix a deep voice with a Jamaican accent, then listen to Holding speak out on racial injustice.