Every time Jimmy Stewart’s AI voice reads a story, an angel falls asleep.
The sleep and meditation app Calm on Tuesday premiered a new AI-generated story featuring the voice of Hollywood great Jimmy Stewart, Variety reported.
Calm is billing the piece as “a heartwarming new holiday tale,” though it clearly takes its inspiration from the 1946 holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of the most enduring of Stewart’s 80 films.
The project was created with the approval of Stewart’s family and his estate, managed by CMG Worldwide, the report said.
“Well, hello, I’m James Stewart, but , well, you can call me Jimmy,” the piece begins, in a voice that sounds like the prolific actor, who died in 1997 at age 89. “Tonight, I’m going to tell you a story,” continues a 34-second clip of the recording posted by Variety, backed by swelling orchestral music. “It’s a heartwarming story of love, of loss, of hope and of joy, but most of all, it’s a wonderful sleep story.”
The story will be available only to the app’s $69.99-per-year premium subscribers.
Stewart’s distinctive twang was developed with Ukranian AI speech company Respeecher, which also handled Mark Hamill’s voice of Luke Skywalker in “The Mandalorian,” and James Earl Jones’ voice of Darth Vader for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” on Disney+, Variety reported. Calm staffers wrote the story.
Respeecher used a voice actor who imitated Stewart’s voice as he read the script. “It was essential, like in all other projects, that the project was done according to high ethical standards and respect, which Respeecher has advocated for many years,” said Alex Serdiuk, Respeecher CEO and co-founder, told Variety.
“James Stewart is one of the most remarkable actors in U.S. history,” he continued. “Recreating his voice with AI was both a huge responsibility and an honor for Respeecher. It was a way to pay tribute to his incredible career and all the good memories he left to people.”
Calm’s “Sleep Story” series previously featured narrations by multiple other actors and celebrities, including Jennifer Garner, Shawn Mendes, Harry Styles, Michael Bublé, Matthew McConaughey, LeBron James, Regé-Jean Page, Laura Dern, Idris Elba, LeVar Burton, Lucy Liu, Mandy Moore and Kate Winslet, Variety noted.
The story arrives on the final day of voting on the SAG-AFTRA contract, which many members say doesn’t not go far enough to protect actors as artificial intelligence becomes a larger part of production.
It’s far from the first time a deceased celebrity has been brought back for a new project. From the 1991 Grammy winning release of a “duet” of the song “Unforgettable” featuring Natalie Cole and her late father Nat King Cole to a 2008 CGI Audrey Hepburn hawking Dove chocolates, technology has been used to recreate for decades. But the advent of artificial intelligence has raised a new host of concerns about the use of actors’ voices and images even as it has opened up new creative opportunities.
“It’s amazing what technology can do and wonderful to see Dad’s legacy live on this holiday season in new ways, like helping people find restful sleep and sweet dreams,” Kelly Stewart Harcourt, one of Stewart’s daughters, said in a statement to Variety. “We are excited for our dad to be the voice of Calm’s latest Sleep Story.”