Ottavia Bourdain, the widow of Anthony Bourdain, said she did not authorize the use of artificial intelligence to recreate her husband’s voice in the new documentary “Roadrunner.”
Filmmaker Morgan Neville told GQ that he had gotten Ottavia’s OK to make an AI model of the late “Parts Unknown” host’s voice, extrapolated from archival audio.
“I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that,” Neville said. “And they were like, Tony would have been cool with that. I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.”
In a tweeted response to that quote, Ottavia Bourdain said that was not true: “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.”
Though Ottavia and Anthony Bourdain separated in 2016, their divorce was not finalized before his death in 2018, leaving her legally as his next of kin and thus the executor of his estate.
In the GQ interview, Neville expanded a bit on how he was able to recreate Bourdain’s voice: “We fed more than ten hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model. The bigger the quantity, the better the result. We worked with four companies before settling on the best. We also had to figure out the best tone of Tony’s voice: His speaking voice versus his ‘narrator’ voice, which itself changed dramatically over the years.”
Shortly after Neville’s interview, the use of AI to approximate Bourdain’s voice was criticized and set off a spirited discussion on social media about the ethics in dealing with documentaries of deceased people.
TheWrap has reached out to Neville regarding Ottavia’s statement and will update if we hear back.