Details magazine interviewed Bob Corff, a Hollywood voice specialist who trains actors to speak with certain accents. Apparently, he also works on getting rid of the gay accent.
Why would someone want to do that?
Sometimes I'm working with people who have a fabulous British accent, and I'll say, "Let me just be clear with you that I don't think that our accent is aesthetically more pleasing than yours. It's just that you can make more money if you can master the one I'm doing--here, in this country, right now." Some people's accents limit them. Like the southern accent--a lot of people in the North think that that's not as smart a sound. I mean, some of the smartest people I've ever known are from the South, but even in business they sometimes have to change to the standard American accent, because then people think of them differently.[...]
With this particular focus on sounding gay or straight, have you seen your actors get better roles because of it?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. People get work and they just call me and say, "Thank you, man." It really has nothing to do with what they do in private, and it shouldn't. I mean, who cares! What's important is that you've mastered some little thing that gives you a foot up on the competition. I've worked with people from one end to the other. I worked with Vanessa Redgrave for a project in which she was a man who had a sex change and became a woman, and we had to lower her voice and get her into the man thing.
What is the gay accent? Corff explains:
What are you hearing that sends off that signal?
Okay, well, let me start by telling you what it is that sounds "straight." Straight actually turns out to be the perfect word to describe what straight guys do. It's very straight--it has no curlicues, it has no frills or any kind of melodic turns. So they say, "Hi. How are you?" It's simple, and the lines are very straight, instead of "Hi, how are yOOuu?" You know, women are much more melodic--their voices go up and they go down, and they even move their mouths more. There's a lot more animation. A straight guy just goes, "Hey--this is as much energy and animation as I'm putting out for this thing."
So it's a monotone?
If you're monotone, in either case, you're going to be boring. You don't have to be monotone. It's more about--you can do that straight sound, but you can't keep on starting in the same place. So if I say, "This is what I want you to do: I want you to go down the street. And then I want you to turn left," even though my voice kept going down in this very straight, direct way, I wasn't starting in the same place and ending in the same place on the scale.
Then there's a narrow bandwidth of notes in a straight accent?
Right. Even in the face--the mouth is very simple, the lips stay close to the teeth, and the jaw just drops down.
And the gay accent?
There's many levels of this. With some people there's just this little thing that's happening, and it's not much, but it's just this little tiny melody and inflection that tells you maybe there's something there. And then there's some people who are just [Slips into Charles Nelson Reilly mode] com-PLEEEET-ly doing THIIIIS, and you go, "Well, clearly, they're not even attempting to . . . " And listen, I make no judgment. I mean, I've been in show business--I did the leads in three Broadway musicals, so I've been around this all my life, and it makes no difference to me. And I don't think it should to anybody, because it's none of our business what you do in the bedroom.
What are some other elements associated with the gay sound?
Well, a lot of times--not always--but a lot of times there is a sibilant s. I work on that with people, too. You can be a girl, you can be a guy, you can be straight or gay--what it is is that your tongue is too close to the back of your top teeth, so the air has no place to get dispersed. It just bounces into your teeth. [Lisps slightly]
It's all interesting, but considering how Corff mentions several times that he works with straight guys who get told they sound gay, this seems to have a lot more to do with actors wanting a more aesthetically pleasing voice than them worrying that they'll add a gay accent to a straight character.
And of course a more masculine voice is considered more aesthetically pleasing. Hollywood's still a very homophobic institution, and no matter how much Corff says it's just about getting roles, it's really about the fact that producers and directors don't want to take on actors who sound feminine.
In other words, if this was really just about being true to a character, there'd be straight men and gay men who sound straight going to him looking to learn the gay accent so they can have access to those roles. But even movies with gay characters still lean towards getting a straight-acting dude to play gay.