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The Showbiz Issue

The Romanian Woman Who Voiced Chuck Norris

Irina Margareta Nistor has the most recognizable voice in Romania, because she dubbed more than 5,000 movies from 1986 until the Communist regime collapsed.
May 2, 2012, 1:20pm

Fifty-four-year-old Irina Margareta Nistor has the most recognizable voice in Romania. From 1986 until the Communist regime collapsed, she dubbed more than 5,000 movies, mainly Hollywood films, which at the time were banned and had to be smuggled into the country. She’s voiced everyone from Jesus to Bruce Lee to Baloo from The Jungle Book. In the 90s, she became a well-known film critic, and she recently teamed up with director Ilinca Călugăreanu to make a documentary about the bootleg films she voiced. We called her to ask about her career in voice-over, hoping she would sound like Major Scott McCoy.

VICE: How did you end up getting a gig translating bootleg Hollywood movies?  
Irina Margareta Nistor: I was already translating films for state television. They had an ideological committee that decided which movies could be aired and what should be cut from them—love scenes, priests, too much food, too many swimming pools, and so on.

So how’d you go from that to dubbing illegal movies?  
In 1985, a fire department official who worked at the station asked me if I was interested in seeing some films on tape. I had no idea who he was, I didn’t even know what VHS tapes were; we were working on Betamax. But of course I said yes because it was my only chance to see some new movies. He took me to the house of a man called Zamfir, who gave me a dubbing test using Doctor Zhivago. Luckily it was a movie that I had already seen, unlike the other 99 percent I translated, which were at first sight.

What was your typical workday like?
I was called whenever a shipment arrived. The tapes needed to be translated and delivered quickly. I’d dub six or seven movies a day, all in a row in this improvised studio in Zamfir’s basement that was set up with two VCRs, a microphone, and a TV set. When I got to the cartoons, his two small children would come and sit on my lap.

Who watched the movies you dubbed? 
Those who could afford a video player, for starters. We couldn’t, so my parents only got to hear me on tape after the revolution. There were people who sold their apartment or car to buy a video player. Party members had such devices more often, and they needed the dubbing because they didn’t know any foreign languages. It became clear that they silently permitted what we were doing. If someone had a VCR, his apartment would become a real cinema for the neighbors—they sold tickets and gave out roasted sunflower seeds. We didn’t have popcorn.