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Dubbing Movies Into Spanish Is Big Business For Spain's Voice Actors

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So if you're watching a movie that has been dubbed into another language, are you getting to know the actors? Or are you really connecting to the voices you're hearing? In Spain, a majority of people do not speak English, and many watch Hollywood films dubbed in Spanish. Reporter Lucia Benavides says that has created a big industry for voice actors.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: The movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a huge hit in Spain. Although you can see the original version in some theaters, most will watch it dubbed into Spanish.

CONCHITA DOSTE: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Conchita Doste says she prefers to watch dubbed movies because she doesn't speak English well, and reading subtitles can distract her. Film historian Rafael De Espana says she's not alone.

RAFAEL DE ESPANA: (Through interpreter) I would say that people still prefer to watch the dubbed version. In Spain, much like in Italy, there is a culture of dubbing.

BENAVIDES: Since the so-called talkies took off in the early 1930s, dubbed versions of Hollywood movies emerged all over the world in various languages, including a French Darth Vader...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Darth Vader, speaking French).

BENAVIDES: ...And an Italian "Forrest Gump."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FORREST GUMP")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Forrest Gump, speaking Italian).

BENAVIDES: In Spain, it's become a lucrative business that employs thousands of actors, including 22-year-old Rafa Calvo.

RAFA CALVO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: He says his family has always been in the industry. His father, grandfather and great-grandmothers were all voice actors. He's played various characters since he was a child. Now he does it full time.

CALVO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Calvo says it's difficult to get into the business without connections. Sometimes, he adds, it can feel a bit like a cult. It's always the same people. The dubbing industry was a Hollywood initiative to sell more movies in more places. It was an instant hit. Big name actors like Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart quickly began to be recognized by their dubbed voices rather than their real ones. Film historian Rafael De Espana says that, contrary to what some believe, dubbing in Spain was not imposed by the late dictator Francisco Franco in an attempt to spread the imperialist Spanish language.

DE ESPANA: (Through interpreter) I do not know to what extent this was a nationalistic imposition rather than a business opportunity. It was a way to create jobs - or at least, it was one more job.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOGAMBO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: De Espana says Franco did use dubbing as a way to censor films. One famous example is the 1953 film "Mogambo."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOGAMBO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character, speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Grace Kelly's character, who is married, falls in love with a safari guide played by Clark Gable. Because adultry was illegal in Spain at the time, especially for women, the script was changed to depict Kelly's onscreen husband as her brother. Regardless of why Spaniards choose to watch the dubbed versions, there's one question that still stands. Does watching dubbed movies decrease people's proficiency in foreign languages? De Espana says it's unclear.

DE ESPANA: (Through interpreter) It would seem at first that there should be some correlation because it's true that a lot of Latin American people speak better English than we do. But I don't know if it's directly related to watching dubbed movies.

BENAVIDES: Besides, De Espana adds, the subtitled version is always available for those who prefer to hear the real voices of their favorite Hollywood stars. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "GYROSCOPIC PRECESSION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.