Yesterday I posted some thoughts on casting choices for The Hobbit, but one of the biggest and most important decisions Guillermo del Toro and his team will have to make is: who will voice Smaug.
Picking the right person to do the job will play a major part in whether the character of Smaug will "work" or not. The same was true about Gollum for the LOTR movies: with the wrong person for that, we would have never ended up with the brilliant character we did get, thanks to Andy Serkis and the f/x team.
Now, what does a dragon sound like? To me, the voice will have to be at once menacing and hypnotic, deep and smooth. Jeremy Irons is frequently mentioned in speculation online, and I do think Irons' voice does have a lot of the qualities you'd want for Smaug. Yet I don't think he'd be the perfect pick. I'd like someone with a deeper register. Christopher Lee has an amazing voice, and if he wasn't already in the LOTR-universe as Saruman, I'd probably want him for the part. (But hey, he's the perfect Saruman so why mess with that!)
Lots of other famous actors who have previously done great work have been brought up too: Liam Neeson (Aslan), Sean Connery (Dragonheart), and even James Earl Jones (Darth Vader). I hope none of them are picked. It would be really nice if the voice was rather fresh, and not associated with other characters, especially when the voice will be so important to how we see the character. For example, while I loved John Rhys Davies as Gimli in LOTR, I kind of wish that they had picked another actor for Treebeard. I hear Gimli in Treebeard, even though JRD did change his voice considerably for the role.
Patrick Stewart? Maybe. Love his voice, but again, maybe it's a slight bit too familiar. At the Voice Over Times, they mention a lot of other actors: Vin Diesel, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou. All very, very good actors, but again, maybe too recognizable? Anthony Hopkins has that same quality as Jeremy Irons: seductive, hypnotic yet menacing. But maybe not "deep" enough? Though as mentioned at that link, whatever voice is chosen could be processed somewhat, like Rodrigo Santoro's voice when he played Xerxes in 300.
To pick someone totally out of left field: how about Mickey Rourke? In his younger days he had a very soft voice, but it's gotten rougher (as has his face). He did great work as Marv in Sin City, and that's the voice I'm thinking of for Smaug. Or, another actor who also was in Sin City: Rutger Hauer. Think of his soliloquy from Blade Runner. That could work very well as Smaug.
For Guillermo del Toro's thoughts on Smaug's voice, here's a quote from the online chat he did a while back:
KenshinIV: What are the chances Ron Perlman will be voicing Smog?So it definitely sounds like GdT has some strong ideas of his own about the voice-casting, which is a very good thing imo. "Stunt casting" for this role has to be avoided at all cost. And if GdT has a clear vision already of what he wants Smaug to sound like, then most likely he's past casting Sean Connery. Which is a good thing, imo.
Guillermo del Toro: At this time the voice of Smaug is down to a very few choices in my head and I have a completely specific one, Ron has a good chance but I have other plans for RP... we will see...
Painting of Smaug from The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, thanks to Tolkien Gateway.