February/March 2020

Discover the World of Audiobooks

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28 n AudioFile/ AudioFile's Josephine Reed spoke with Jim Dale, beloved voice of the Harry Potter series, about his long career on stage and narrating audio- books. This is an excerpt—hear their full conversation in a bonus episode of our podcast, "Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine." Josephine Reed: You worked with Lawrence Olivier, and he invited you to join The National Theatre. Jim Dale: Lawrence Olivier saw me playing the various Shakespeare's clowns in and around the Edinburgh Festival and in the West End of London, and he finally approached me and said, "We have a play at The National Theatre which needs an actor who can talk to the audience." It's called The National Health by Peter Nichols, who went on to write wonderful plays like Joe Egg, and so Larry invited me to The National Theatre and I stayed there a couple of years, sharing a dressing room with Derek Jacobi and Jeremy Brett, and I did a two-hander play with Anthony Hopkins, and I was on stage with Paul Scofield, and then Joan Plowright in Merchant of Venice with Larry himself playing Shylock, and I played Launcelot Gobbo. So it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. JR: An extraordinary career that contin- ues in various fields. How then did you get into the audiobook biz, where you are one of the shining lights there as well? JD: That was an accident, a sheer acci- dent. They were looking for someone with an English accent to be the narrator, and someone said to whoever it was at the publishing company, they said, "Well, there's a guy called Jim Dale. He's play- ing Off-Broadway at the moment with three other men in a play called Travels with my Aunt. One of the men doesn't speak at all, so three of them are now doing 33 characters between them," and of course, the publisher said, "Wow, that sounds fantastic. That's the sort of guy we need." So they approached me, asked me if I'd read the book, which I did. I loved it. They said, "Would you like to record it?" I said, "Yes," and it was only after I had signed the contract that one of them said to me, "Well, how many characters did you play in the play?" and I remember saying, "Just the aunt and the nephew. The other two guys played 31 characters between them." So there's a shocked silence on the end of the phone, 'cause they realized they'd signed some- one who may unable to do any more than a couple of voices. JR: And the book we're talking about is Harry Potter. JD: That's correct. There were seven of them, as you know, and so I didn't realize that the first book had, I think it was, 34 different speaking characters, but that was nothing compared to the final book, which had 147 different characters that needed a voice, so that was quite a challenge. JR: Well, it's like your first run being a marathon. JD: Yes, that's correct. JR: Well, it's also keeping all those voices straight over the course of seven books that got continuously longer as the series progressed. JD: Yes. JR: Now that's another feat. It's one thing creating it, which is extraordinary, but then to be able to remember, yes. JD: I don't have much time to read the book. I'm given the book, and from the last book, for instance, book seven, it was so urgent that they only gave me a hun- dred pages at a time, and then I would record the hundred pages, then they'd give me another hundred pages. So I had no idea where the storyline was going, whether a character was going to be a villain or a goodie. I had no idea, so it was very, very tough to keep track of all the voices, and the way I did it was quite simply as I invented the voice, I would read the sentence that that charac- ter speaks into a small tape recorder, and say, "Page 48, Dumbledore, line 23," and so that gave me some idea. When we came to it in the script I would stop and say, "Let me just listen to the tape recording of what I did at that partic- ular moment when I was creating them," and it would give me an idea of what that first sentence sounded like, and I'd be able to re-create that voice. JR: Boy, the world that you create with your voice. JD: I wish I could say I agree, but to be perfectly honest, Jo, I've never heard myself in any of the 40 audio books that I've made. I don't want to hear myself because I'd want to do it again because in films and television you're allowed to do take three, four, five, take fifty if nec- Narrator Jim Dale Photo by David Gordon, TheaterMania Behind the Mic with Jim Dale

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