Details: But what if someone prefers to speak in the gay accent?
Bob Corff: Well, listen. 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.
Details: But if, say, a gay actor is not out, is not open about his orientation, then the voice work could be psychologically complicated.
Bob Corff: Right. But if that's true, then getting this thing handled for them is even more important. And that's what it's all about. I've had people who were really, really out there, and they've mastered it. They went, "I got it." And they totally were working in class and doing jobs. And then they went, "You know what? This is not as important to me as me just feeling comfortable with my friends," and they decide that they just don't want to go there.
Details: So they'll essentially re-gay the way they talk?
Bob Corff: Yeah. But to me, that's just a lifestyle decision. Because you never "lose" anything. You just gain another point of view, another option.
Details: You're not in the conversion business.
Bob Corff: No!
Details: With this particular focus on sounding gay or straight, have you seen your actors get better roles because of it?
Bob Corff: 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.
Details: Have you ever had an actor who just could not lose the gay sound?
Bob Corff: Nobody who's ever worked at it has not been able to do much, much better. I've had people who've just bailed before they were finished because it was too uncomfortable.
Details: Uncomfortable how?
Bob Corff: It's uncomfortable to have to change something—if you think that who you are is the way you sound, you feel as if you're killing yourself off. But you're not. I mean, one of the things I have on the front of one of my CDs is: "You can change your accent and keep the essence of you." Because that's the big thing. Whether it's an accent or lowering your voice or taking away the nasality—I work with all of those things—people feel that that's them. And when they change, they're afraid that they're going to lose who they are. And they aren't.
Details: I've suddenly become incredibly self-conscious about my voice.
Bob Corff: I know. I always say to people, "I'm fun to be with, aren't I?"
Details: Are you straight or gay yourself?
Bob Corff: I'm straight. I've been married for 19 years, and I've been together with her for 26. In Hollywood that's 72 years. Her name is Claire Corff. She also teaches with me. We've been working together for a long time now, and she's fabulous.
Details: Is it necessarily correct to always associate a certain speech pattern with a sexual orientation?
Bob Corff: Looking back over the years, I've seen guys who were straight—married—but when they came in, I thought, This guy is gay. It turns out this one, he was a ballet dancer in Europe for years, so if you are around that gay thing all the time—I mean, I know, because I was in three Broadway musicals. It's fuNNN to talk like this! If you're around that all the time, you could get pulled into it.
Details: You sort of pick it up?
Bob Corff: You just pick it up because it's fun and everybody else is doing the same thing. I had one guy who, again, said, "Hey, I'm straight, I'm telling you." And it was like, "Well, really? That's interesting." His mother and father had owned a dress-making shop, so everybody was into fashion. So he grew up with that—most of the people around had that sort of frilly way of speaking, so he just picked it up. I've done a lot of research over the years—nobody really knows why gay people sometimes sound like that. Nobody knows what that is. But it's something that does seem to happen.
Details: Then again, during your years as an actor you shared camera time with Rock Hudson in an episode of the 1970s TV crime show McMillan & Wife.
Bob Corff: Rock Hudson was the most masculine man I'd ever seen. People were shocked when word came out that he was gay, but everybody in show business knew he was gay, even then. But this was a man's man. The episode that we did took place in Scotland, so we were all wearing kilts. You put a bunch of guys in dresses for a week and there's gonna be a moment where you'll kind of do a little something—he never did anything.
Details: You mean he never joked around?
Bob Corff: He'd go, "This thing is so goddamned hot." I never saw a more masculine guy.
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