Sara Poyzer performs at the Magic at the Musicals event in 2019

‘Mamma Mia!’ Star Sara Poyzer Says a BBC Production Replaced Her With AI

Mamma Mia! stage star Sara Poyzer has accused the BBC of replacing her with artificial intelligence in an unnamed production. After some clarification, the issue seems to be more of a communication blunder from the BBC, but it’s still extremely concerning.

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Since AI has rapidly advanced in recent years, major concerns have arisen over the technology potentially replacing actors. Meanwhile, concerns are not unfounded, as disagreements between studios and workers on the role of AI ignited the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes last summer. Some of the studios’ proposals on AI were reminiscent of dystopian sci-fi scenarios. For example, studios wanted the right to pay background actors a one-time fee to scan them and then own and reuse their likenesses indefinitely. There was also concern that studios wanted to own the rights to deceased actors’ likenesses as well.

Actors and voice actors have already begun to feel the impact of AI. The most common issue they have faced is having their likeness or voice replicated by AI and used without their permission. Recently, Tom Hanks had his likeness generated by AI and used in a dental advertisement without permission, while Stephen Fry had his voice stolen by AI and used in a documentary without consent. Now allegations have arisen that a broadcasting company explicitly replaced a performer with AI.

Sara Poyzer accuses the BBC of replacing her voice with AI

Sara Poyzer, a theatre actor best known for starring in the Mamma Mia! stage musical for years, accused the BBC of replacing her voice with AI. Poyzer did not name which BBC production the incident occurred on, though. She posted a snapshot of an e-mail she received from the BBC, explaining what happened. The poorly written e-mail also may have been AI-generated as it is riddled with grammatical errors.

Other than stating that the production “wont [sic] need Sara anymore,” the e-mail simply states that it received approval from BBC to use an AI-generated voice (presumably mimicking Poyzer’s) instead of her services. In the comments, other individuals claimed this had also happened to them.

Poyzer’s account, echoed by others, is concerning, given that the BBC has a bit of history using AI. Recently, the BBC agreed to stop using AI to promote one of its biggest shows, Doctor Who, but only after it received immense backlash from fans. Additionally, BBC Director General Tim Davie made a speech just days ago about the company’s “significant” ambitions regarding AI.

BBC responds to Poyzer’s allegations

BBC has since released a statement providing additional context on the situation with Poyzer. In an official statement, BBC explained the project was a documentary featuring “a contributor who is nearing the end of life and is now unable to speak.” The broadcasting network has been working with the family to explore options, with the family allegedly choosing to use AI to recreate the contributor’s voice.

In this case, the use of AI makes sense, especially if BBC is complying with the family’s explicit wishes. Additionally, it seems to clarify that Poyzer wasn’t fired from a production she had already been hired for and that it is not her voice being recreated by AI.

Both Equity and Poyzer’s voiceover agency, Voice Squad, responded to BBC’s statement. Although they agreed that BBC should adhere to the family’s wishes, both mentioned that the communication between BBC and Poyzer was not acceptable. If the production or broadcasting company had simply provided context when relaying this news, it would have avoided the situation going public in the first place. Equity also stated, “It is important that where AI is used creatives involved in the project, at contract and pre-contract stage, are transparently communicated with regarding the grounds of use.”

It is still concerning that whoever sent that e-mail seemingly didn’t think it would raise red flags or be wrong to essentially say without context, “We replaced you with AI, so we don’t need you.” One can admit that this situation was particularly complex and that the circumstances justified the use, but BBC conveyed this information to Poyzer in the worst way possible. The bizarre communication may be a sign of how much AI usage in the industry is normalized and the lack of transparency when AI is utilized for any reason.

(featured image: Mike Marsland / Getty)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.