'Sorry to Bother You' Spoilers: The White Faces Behind the White Voices
While watching Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s directorial debut, you’ll probably recognize some of the “white voices” used by the movie’s black characters. In this bizarre alternate reality, protagonist Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finds economic success as a telemarketer after he begins using his magical “white voice” to disarms potential buyers — and he’s not the only black character to wield a white voice.
As Cash works his way up the ranks of a telemarketing company to eventually become a “power caller,” he encounters several different co-workers who also use a white voice as part of their selling technique.
At a June press event for the movie in New York City, actress Tessa Thompson described the attitude of white voice as, “I don’t need for anything.” There’s a complex subtlety to what a white voice is and how it works, but ultimately, it helps in the movie that every white voice is performed by actors that are disarmingly white in real life.
If you’re having trouble matching the white voice to the white face, we’ve got you covered. Here’s the identity of every white voice behind characters in Sorry to Bother You:
Langston — Ryan Coursey
Danny Glover plays an older telemarketer named Langston that first advises Cash to try using a white voice after he overhears the young man’s frustration with the job. No actor is credited for the single line that Langston delivers as an example: “Hey Mr. Kramer, this is Langston from RegalView!”
The voice itself sounds uncannily similar to Steve Buscemi. Flickering Myth even claimed as much already. But a Rolling Stone piece from June notes, “The voice actually came from a temp engineer on set that day.” So as perfect as Buscemi would have been for the role, alas, it is not so.
Inverse discovered that the “temp engineer” was, in face, Ryan Coursey who's worked for 6 years as a dialogue recordist and ADR engineer. "[Director] Boots Riley came in to record some other 'white voices' and just before we finished, he asked if I wanted to jump in the booth and try a voice," Coursey tells Inverse. "Sure enough, he liked it and kept it in."
Detroit — Lily James
It’s easy to miss, but Cash’s girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) uses her own white voice while working at RegalView … and it’s British! Lily James lends her voice here.
James is most recognizable as one of the lead’s in Baby Driver and before that, she starred in the live-action Cinderella and later seasons of Downton Abbey. She’s also starring in an upcoming sequel to Mamma Mia!.
The Man With No Name — Patton Oswalt
The Man With No Name — sometimes stylized as “Mr. __” — is Cash’s power caller supervisor as played by Omari Hardwick. At the same aforementioned press event in New York City, Hardwick described his character to Inverse as someone that would be “mislabeled as a sellout.”
The cheery and genuinely funny Patton Oswalt voices this character in the movie, and because of the character’s high position in the company, we only hear Hardwick use his real voice in Sorry to Bother You in one brief scene.
The nerd-king Patton Oswalt does a lot of voice work these days on programs like Happy!, The Goldbergs, and BoJack Horseman. He was even a guest star on Rick and Morty once. Oswalt’s also had plenty of live-action roles in series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., A.P. Bio, and our personal favorite on Parks and Recreation as an embittered Pawnee citizen trying to maintain a ridiculous town law by staging a Star Wars-themed filibuster.
Cassius — David Cross
Cassius almost accidentally discovers his “true” white voice while out for drinks with friends, as it emerges during a moment of spontaneity. We hear a LOT more of this white voice than we do any other in the movie, and the sloppily dubbed audio over Lakeith Stanfield’s lip movement feels reminiscent of classic kung fu movies in a really great way.
When you think of friendly, non-threatening, thoroughly white characters, you can’t help
Cross has done other voice work in animated series like Archer and Rick and Morty, but perhaps his most memorable live-action role is as the lovable yet totally weird doofus Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development.