Tim Monich: The Man Behind the Voices

April 16, 2010 • 3,207 views
Filed under Features

Dana Rappaport ’11
Web Opinions Editor

Matt Damon thanked him on the Oscars’ red carpet. Brad Pitt stayed at his house. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked politics with him.

“I swear this is true…I absolutely came back from [filming] and said to [my wife] Linda, ‘that man is going to be governor of California one day,” said Westport resident and Hollywood speech dialect coach Tim Monich.

Monich’s first film on location was Schwarzenegger’s 1984 blockbuster, “Conan the Destroyer.”

“Oh, I was just helping him speak English,” Monich joked when asked what dialect he was helping Schwarzenegger with.

The father of Staples alumna Sarah Monich ’09 and Emily Monich started his career teaching at The Juilliard School in New York City from 1975 until 1987.

Since then, he has traveled to film sets across the globe helping actors perfect their characters accent in order to bring authenticity to the project. Prior to this, Monich attended Carnegie Mellon University and helped speech coach Edith Skinner revise her 1942 publication “Speak with Distinction,” a book that helps actors facilitate dialect for the theatre.

Today, Monich must utilize his skills for language and dialect to help an actor hear, portray, imitate, and then re-invent an accent pertaining to the needs of the director.

“All I do is help actors speak with different voices and accents,” Monich said.

In Monich’s cozy home office found in the west corner of his home, silver boxes reside on an ivory bookshelf. Labeled and sorted accordingly by region, such as “USA N-NY” or “EUROPE 1″, these silver boxes contain CD recordings of dialects from around the globe.

Each CD has the story of one person, in one type of accent.

“I try get someone who is really native to the area I am in—even though a type of mixed accent is sometimes interesting—get to know them a little bit, then say ‘you know, I’d love to sit down, some place quiet,’ and then I’d record them, and I do that all the time,” Monich said.

He has gathered conversations pertaining to one’s hobbies, personal interests, childhood memories, even political views—anything as long as the interviewee is comfortable speaking, he assures. When the conversation is forced, the natural intonation that Monich attempts to capture is botched, thus losing authenticity.

After Monich records the conversation, he will sit down and carefully analyze the person’s vernacular. He focuses primarily on its melodic and pronunciation features, thus acquiring as much intuition about the particular type of speech.

Ironically, Monich does not have any recordings of young people from Westport in his collection, even with two daughters.

One recording he does have, though, is that of a New York City cop which he recently used for the motion picture “The Bounty Hunter.”

Monich’s task: to get the heavy Scottish-born actor Gerard Butler to speak as if he were an ex-cop in New York City.

At the beginning of the process Monich got Butler to repeat phrases in the New York cop accent after him, his very own Rosetta Stone system which he compared to the school’s language labs.

“I call it language lab too. When you have German class, let’s say, you go into the lab and put on the headset. Somebody says ‘Guten Tag’ and you repeat afterwards ‘Guten Tag,’ in attempts to imitate them. I do that same thing with the accents too,” he said.

Starting at least three to four weeks before filming, the process then consists of Monich breaking down Butler’s script phonetically. This is followed by lots of wordplay practices as well as explanations of the mechanical movements for what Butler needed to say.

“Physically [English] is just a really different sound [than Scottish]. Sounds we make short they make long, and vice versa. The placement of the voice is also very different; they’re opposites,” Monich said.

On the contrary, when asked what he believes is the hardest language for actors to learn, Scottish was his answer.

“Americans put their whole energy at the beginning of the word. But when Gerry [Butler] speaks, his instincts say AY-E, N-OU-W, H-OU-W…Think if we had to change every time we said ‘Now,’ and channel our energy to be put at the end of the word. It’s a lot more difficult than most would think,” Monich said.

Butler’s project is only one of hundreds Monich has worked on to transform actors into their character.

Monich is responsible for Brad Pitt’s accent as Lieutenant Aldo Raine in “Inglourious Basterds,” Hilary Swank’s southern charm as Amelia Earhart in “Amelia,” Matt Damon’s Academy Award nominated performance as rugby player François Pienaar in “Invictus,” and Cate Blanchett’s Russian dialect as Irina Spalko in Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

“I have enjoyed almost every job that I have had, I have to say. Maybe I’m just easy to please, but the quality of people that I get to work with is pretty extraordinary, so what’s not to like?” Monich said.

In particular Monich raved about his time on the set of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” where he was able to travel about the Italian cities of Rome, Naples, Ischia, Tuscany, Palermo, and Venice. He also added that the movies he has done in Africa “are just incredible.”

His favorite movie destinations, though, are quaint Southern towns of 12,000 more or less.

“Those little Southern towns are just amazing. You meet fantastic people—and their Southern hospitality, it’s a truth,” Monich said.

Monich does admit that being away from home so much distinctively separates his work from his home life.

“Almost everyone I’ve gotten to work with are really fun, nice and interesting people, so I’m always happy to have [my] girls meet them and for them to meet the family. This way I intertwine my lives a little bit… and feel like a whole person,” the Westport father of two said.

Monich later noted that, as a result, his daughters, Emily and Sarah, have gotten used to his job and are less star struck.

As for Monich, he has gotten star struck only once: on the set of a TV movie, “Mother Courage,” starring the 1950s beauty Sophia Loren.

“When I worked with her I could hardly speak; I was starstruck,” he said, still astonished as he was when he worked with her.

He also added that he worked with Marlon Brando, a man who has been considered one of the greatest movie actors of all time.

“I wasn’t quite starstruck but it was something; I was like, ‘Marlon Brando, wow,’” he said.

Currently, Monich is at work in New Mexico working on a film with Matt Damon. However, he mentioned that if he were able to spend more time in Westport, he would love to work with the Staples Players someday.

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