Hear an A.I.-Generated Andy Warhol ‘Read’ His Diary to You in New Documentary

An new Netflix television series employs artificial intelligence to recreate the voice of the Pop Star icon

A color image of Warhol, wearing a floppy white wig, a white turtleneck and blue vest, poses with his head on his hand in front of screen printed works featuring rhinos, zebras, and pandas
Andy Warhol poses in his studio, The Factory, in Union Square, New York City, on April 12, 1983. Photo by Brownie Harris / Corbis / Getty Images

Pop Art icon Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was famous for giving short, vague answers in television interviews. He once went on “The Merv Griffin Show” and spoke in a near-whisper, almost exclusively replying to questions with a simple “yes” or “no.”

By contrast, the artist was much more forthcoming in his personal diaries, which he dictated daily to his friend Pat Hackett in the 1970s. These uniquely personal accounts of Warhol’s active social life and artistic practice laid the groundwork for the Netflix series, “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” now available on the paid streaming service, reports Alex Greenberger for ARTNews.

Spanning six one-hour episodes, the show features interviews from various people that knew Warhol in his lifetime, among them director John Waters, actor Rob Lowe, artist Glenn Ligon and art historian Donna de Salvo, who curated a major 2018 retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York City.

Series director Andrew Rossi, who previously directed the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011), tells Christian Holub of Entertainment Weekly (EW) that he obtained explicit permission from the Andy Warhol Foundation to create an artificial intelligence-generated version of Warhol’s voice, which will narrate the various stages of Warhol’s life.

Producers worked with the Toronto-based company Resemble AI to blend line readings by a real actor—Bill Irwin—with the cadence and inflections specific to Warhol’s native Pittsburgh accent, per EW. The result is a slightly stilted “deepfake” voice that reads lines from Warhol’s diary aloud.

Audiences can listen to a sample from the A.I.-generated Warhol in the series trailer. “I’m just a freak,” the Warhol-esque voice says during one sequence. “I wasn’t very close to anyone. Although, I guess I wanted to be.”

Rossi tells EW that he felt an A.I.-generated voice was necessary for viewers, so that they could “fully appreciate the radical vulnerability that Andy shares in the Diaries.”

“Andy Warhol was famously guarded about his personal thoughts and opinions,” the director says. “That’s one reason his Diaries are such a rare and fascinating window; he could be incredibly raw and emotional as he talked to his diarist over the phone.”

Rossi’s documentary will give a comprehensive overview of Warhol’s life with a focus on the artist’s personal relationships, including his close artistic partnership with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Though he was “both revered and reviled” by the American public at various junctures, Warhol enjoyed an immensely productive career as a filmmaker, photographer, visual artist, band manager and celebrity throughout his lifetime, writes Tom Tapp for Deadline.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1928, Warhol relocated to New York City and became known as a pioneering figure in the 1960s Pop Art movement. He developed a knack for appropriating iconic images in popular culture—including the Campbell’s soup can, an image of Marilyn Monroe or a box of Brillo soap pads—and using them to create screen prints, sculptures and other art that blurred the line between mass-production and authentic artisanship.

In 1982, the ever-experimental Warhol developed a robot that was supposed to mimic his sounds, movements and voice exactly. (A clip of Netflix's computer-generated Andy can be heard speaking about this robot in the trailer.) As Al Ridenour reported for the Los Angeles Times in 2002, the mechanical version of Andy was intended to perform in a stage production based on Warhol’s diaries.

The projected cost of the robot was more than $1 million dollars. But when the money never materialized, the robot was left unfinished, the Times reports.

Based on the artist’s forays into mechanical representation, Rossi suggests to EW that Warhol may have even approved of his A.I.-generated voice: “I thought that cloning Andy’s voice could function like a Warholian portrait, and the [Andy Warhol] Foundation approved,” the director says.

A black and white image of three men, left to right: a young Black man in a deep V-neck, a white man with glasses in a turtleneck and suit, and a Black man in a white shirt and fedora
From left to right, pictured in 1984: artists Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Fred Braithwaite (Fab Five Freddy) Photo by Patrick McMullan / Getty Images

In 1982, the ever-experimental Warhol launched the development of a robot that was supposed to mimic his sounds, movements, and voice exactly. (A clip of the computer-generated Andy speaking about this robot can be heard in the trailer.) As Al Ridenour reported for the Los Angeles Times in 2002, the mechanical version of Andy was intended to perform in a stage production based on Warhol’s diaries.

The projected cost of the robot was more than $1 million dollars. But when the money never materialized, the robot was left half-finished, the Times reports.

Based on the artist’s forays into mechanical representation, Rossi suggests to EW that Warhol may have even approved of his A.I.-generated voice: “I thought that cloning Andy’s voice could function like a Warholian portrait, and the [Andy Warhol] Foundation approved,” the director says.