Taking on the English voice role for an original French language film isn’t as simple as just dubbing it American-style, says Alia Shawkat. As the voice of Gabrielle in the Jérémy Clapin-directed animated feature I Lost My Body, Shawkat carefully considered the sensibility of the French language version from the get-go.
It’s a Netflix film, but Shawkat made sure to see it on the big screen first, to fully immerse herself in the French original. “They did a screening at the DGA,” she says, “and I waited to see it in the theater first. I’m a huge fan of animation. I thought it wasn’t something I’ve seen before and I was really honored that they had asked me to do the voice.”
I Lost My Body follows Parisian Naoufel (voiced by Dev Patel) as he falls in love with librarian Gabrielle, while his severed hand desperately searches the streets for a reunion with his body. The story immediately spoke to Shawkat. “The whole idea of dissociation,” she says, “like dissociating from his body as his hand is trying to find its place again is a really beautiful metaphor for what are we stopping ourselves from doing physically, that emotionally we want to be free of? That’s what I was so drawn to in the film. I thought was so beautiful, and also the idea of this unrequited love, I really liked it a lot.”
But it was the understated tone and feeling of the French Language itself that Shawkat also wanted to embody. As she says Clapin told her, “It just needs to be real, not phony, not bad.” And this was not at all like a large-scale American animation feature. “I think he was just thinking a lot of animated movies,” Shawkat says. “American style is very like, ‘Come on! [High, excited tone]’ I definitely don’t … I haven’t done anything like that.”
Clapin emphasized the role was about the feeling and intention behind the dialogue. “It was a fun challenge as an actor to try and step into this place and forget the choices are already made,” Shawkat says, “but then also be inspired by them, and then try and find that subtlety. Jeremy was really great with that. It was very much about the feeling instead of just being, ‘Go a little higher at the end.’ It was very, very emotionally driven for sure.”
Recording the audio was an especially fresh experience as, unusually for animation, she and Patel worked in person together with Clapin directing. Clapin had a very hands-on approach to the animated film throughout, Shawkat points out, since he actually shot the French voice actors on camera to build the original version. “The details of the film are so human for that reason and so is the dialogue,” Shawkat says.
Shawkat wrapped her part incredibly fast, taking just two days total to complete recording.
I Lost My Body is a thoughtful and introspective piece, and that was a major part of the project’s appeal for Shawkat. “There are lots of animated movies, I think, now that obviously make a lot of money,” she says. “They just get big names and they put them in there just to be like, ‘Scarlett Johansson is the voice of’. No offense to those movies, some are really entertaining and kids love them, but I really love that this was just right up my alley and the kind of film I’d want to be a part of. I was definitely really flattered. I would love to do more of it for sure.”
For now, though it’s back to work on her current show Search Party, which has recently made the move from TBS to HBO Max. Season 3 is in the bag and will air in the spring, and Shawkat is headed into production on Season 4 very soon. “In the third season that we already finished that hasn’t come out yet, things just get pretty crazy and amped,” she says. “It’s like a court case and it becomes a frenzy of attention. It gets a little warped and crazy, but it’s still the same Search Party style of painfully serious and then ridiculously funny at the same time.”