Anthony Bourdain's Ex-Wife Ottavia Reacts to Documentary's AI Recreation of His Voice

A new documentary on Anthony Bourdain has come under fire for featuring a simulated version of the late culinary expert's voice generated by artificial intelligence.

By McKenna Aiello Jul 16, 2021 10:06 PMTags
Watch: Remembering Anthony Bourdain at the 2016 Emmys

Anthony Bourdain's estranged wife has denied granting filmmakers of a new documentary permission to use artificial intelligence to recreate his voice.

Roadrunner, which released in theaters on July 16, has come under fire for featuring a simulated version of the late culinary expert's voice. Filmmaker Morgan Neville told GQ that a "few things he wrote but never said" were incorporated into the film using an AI model generated by more than 10 hours of audio of Bourdain speaking. 

The controversial decision, Neville claimed, was approved by those closest to Bourdain, who died by suicide in June 2018.

"I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that," he 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." 

Ottavia Bourdain, who separated from the chef-turned-television host in 2016, rebuffed the statement in a tweet posted July 15. 

Anthony Bourdain: A Life in Pictures

"I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that," she wrote in response to Neville's assertion. 

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

When asked by a Twitter user about the extent of her involvement in Roadrunner, she responded, "Besides the interview I gave and supplying some of the footage, not really."

Neville said his team partnered with four AI companies before "settling on the best," explaining, "We also had to figure out the best tone of Tony's voice: His speaking voice versus his 'narrator' voice, which itself changed dramatically of over the years. The narrator voice got very performative and sing-songy in the No Reservation years."

In a separate interview with The New Yorker, Neville suggested that he understands why viewers might feel uncomfortable hearing Bourdain recite things as private as his emails. 

"If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don't know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you're not going to know," he shared. "We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later."

E! News has reached out to the filmmakers for comment. 

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