Andrew: You keep mentioning all these people involved in this whole audiobook process. I'm wondering how many people exactly are involved just working on your narration between the editors and the people listening to you...
Jim: Well, I would say the immediate people there would be me sitting in a small cubicle not daring to move because you have to just face the microphone constantly.
Jim: Through the glass divider there are three people sitting out there. One is the engineer, one is the producer, and one is a somebody who can be called the producer's assistant. It's just another ear. What they are listening to is you - waiting for you to make a mistake...
Jim: Because that's when they stop you. You put an "S" on that word. You left out an "a" or you left out the "the." You left something out or we couldn't hear you on that one. So it's stop-start, stop-start quite a lot. So those are those people. And then the tapes are then sent to the editors, and on a Harry Potter book there could be six editors in the next room and someone is in charge of them. And then after the editors then come the other people who will be doing all the packaging design, and then the people who will be working in the factories. So there are hundreds of people involved in it.
Aziza: Do you ever get to just read it for your own enjoyment?
Jim: I've not the time.
Jim: I really don't have the time. I go from - see, I'm not just a narrator. I'm a working actor in the theater.
Jim: And I have scripts that I have to read, I have scripts that I have to learn. I have rehearsals that go on from 10 o'clock in the morning until 5:30 at night. And then I have things to do in the evening concerning a one man show. So there's quite a lot of activity in my life other than narration.
Aziza: Right. Did you ever have a part of the books that made you laugh out loud or even tear up or anything like that in your fast-taking?
Jim: Oh, you mean of Harry Potter?
Aziza: Right, right.
Jim: Oh, yes. There were so many things. I would fall off - I'd be falling about with laughter at some of these silly voices. Aunt Marge is a lovely example.
Jim: You know, you have to find these voices. Aunt Marge, you know, [imitating Aunt Marge] she sort of talks like this. She was wonderful! She, or, he, I saw in a pub once. He was sitting - this fat, jovial sort of colonel with a big red nose and a bushy mustache and he had a gin and tonic in his hand, and it was the way he was talking! And then I realized that, you know, when you get a lady and a fellow - an older man and an older lady, there's not much difference between them, so the voice was quite acceptable to be that of a woman as well as a man. I realized that. You know, when you see two people sitting on a park bench, an old man and an old woman, you can't tell which is which! She sits just like he does. She doesn't sit with her legs crossed with her toe pointed. She sits like an old man sits...
Jim: [laughs] People get almost identical later on, not just the way they behave sitting there, but the way they talk as well.
Jim: So Aunt Marge - I don't know what his real name was, bless his heart, but he was the inspiration for Aunt Marge.
Jim: When I was using that voice it made me laugh a lot, so that's when you - the producer was saying, "Will you please stop laughing? We've got a book to read."
Jim: But you've got to have fun or it would drive you crazy.
Micah: Yeah. Well, I think that's a fair assessment of Aunt Marge. But looking back on the whole series, what character's voice was your favorite to do?
Jim: I suppose Dobby. I think everybody knows the story about Dobby, but if you'd like me to repeat it I will.
Aziza: Right. I would love to hear it too, because it's one of my favorite things.
Jim: Well, it was Dobby was when I was in a theater - I was doing a pantomime called "Jack, Jack, and the Beanstalk," but there was also another pantomime in the same group of buildings, one called "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," and I didn't know that there was a dwarf in the elevator when I backed into it. There were people coming in and we were squashing in and then suddenly in the silence while the elevator was going up I heard this voice saying, [using his Dobby voice] "Excuse me, sir, can you take your bum out of my face?"
Jim: And there was this little fellow standing there. I said, "I'm sorry. I do apologize." [using the Dobby voice again] "It's all right, sir, they all do it. They all do it."
Jim: And I remembered that voice, and from a long time ago when I was a young pop singer in England when I was about twenty-two years old. So these voices stay with you. You know, you really have to try to bring back memories of distinctive voices, and I've found that the most distinctive voices of the people from my youth were those of the comedians on the radio. You had to have a distinctive voice so that people would know who you are or, you must admit, all comics just have to say "Good Evening" and you know exactly who they are, and it was the same in the old days. So I remembered a few old comics, and I used their voices as a stepping stone towards the characters' voices, and it worked many, many times.
Micah: Yeah, and because Dobby was your favorite, I mean, was that death scene in Deathly Hallows particularly difficult to do?
Jim: Absolutely! Yes, of course it was.
Jim: But as I've said you have to get into the head of all of the characters, and there comes a time when the characters are, you know, they become real to you. And I think you've got to see the world through their eyes, and it was very, very sad. Very sad.
Micah: What would you think was the hardest voice for you to come up with?
Jim: Not the hardest but the most aggravating. I hated doing too much of Hagrid.
Jim: Well, the first time I did Hagrid it was a lot of dialogue, and I lost my voice within twenty minutes, and we had to stop recording. That's how bad it could be, because Hagrid, you know, the gravel voice, I won't do it now.
Jim: It really does - you shouldn't ever treat your vocal chords like that. Your vocal chords are your instrument, and you can play various tunes on the instrument, but if you break that instrument or cause it to malfunction, then you're going to be out of a job. You're not going to be able to do it. So you really have to take great care of your voice, like all opera singers have to, like all pop singers have to as well. Of course it's the way of earning money, and if you destroy it or ruin it by treating it like that then you're not going to be around for very long. So I really hated it. There was one scene, I forget what book it was, but Hagrid had been on holiday. Now J.K. Rowling could've asked Harry to say, "How was your holiday?" and Hagrid to say [does Hagrid's voice] "Fine, I'm back now."
Jim: That's all he had to say, but instead he went on for four, five pages explaining where he'd been, what he did, who he...you know. Oh, it went on and on and on.
Jim: I was dying for him to give it up and fall asleep.
[Andrew and Matt laugh]
Jim: So that was a problem. Anything that's a strain to the voice be very wary of.
Jim: But what it does is teaches you not to create voices with that gravelly effect.
Andrew: [laughs] Right.
Jim: Don't do it, it's silly.
Matt: You pretty much give all of Jo Rowling's characters' voices. Does she ever put any input in voices when you're reading?
Jim: No, not really. I met J.K. about three times, I think. The first time was after - she had already published books three and four, I think, so she arrived in New York and I was asked to go and meet her in this party, so I took along all my four books and she very kindly signed all four books, you know, she listened to me recording. She never - she said she knew my work as an actor in England and trusted me. So that was enough and she didn't tell me I was doing anything wrong, and we really only had - the communication between J.K. Rowling and the producer was about the pronunciation of certain words that she herself had invented and perhaps wanted us to read in a certain way, or pronounce in a certain way. So those are the only contact notes we had with her. I did do a reading on American television one morning with J.K. standing at my shoulder. One shoulder was a white owl and the other shoulder was J.K. Rowling, so it was all a bit weird and frightening. Actually have the author listen to you read.
Jim: But she was very complementary and she's a lovely lady.
Aziza: Do you have a blooper reel of maybe when you have messed up in the series or have misread something?
Jim: Do I have what?
Aziza: A blooper reel? Kind of like, um...
Jim: Oh, I wish we did. There was no time for doing that. If it was - see what happens between - I know nobody's listening to this, so just between you and me.
Jim: If I really want to do it again I just swear.
Jim: And they have to stop the tape. It works every time.
Jim: But that's sort of very seldom. Because I, you know, when you jump from one character to another to another, each character's in a different mood. One is angry, one is sympathetic, one is appealing, one is frightened; and they're all on the same page. So not only do they have different voices but they have different emotions that must come out in that voice. That can be very straining. And there's no practice, there's no rehearsal time for that. We don't rehearse in any of these, we just turn the mic on and say go. And that's it 'til lunchtime.
Jim: Those are the problems, you know. Like I said, trying to create all that from - with your voice the way you would read it on the page. I have to transfer all those emotions into something that can be heard by the listener. And sometimes when there are five or six different characters on the same page the dialogue jumps from one to another to another to another. It can drive one crazy.
Aziza: Right. You mentioned that you have to take care of your instrument, which is your voice, very carefully.
Jim: Yes, mhm.
Aziza: Do you drink tea, or do you do anything to do that?
Jim: The only thing I take is not ice cold water, that's crazy. You have a room temperature water. And a lot of people said, well, do you keep going dry? The answer is of course you do because every time you talk moisture is coming out of your mouth in the way - in your breath. So consequently, you can go all day without having to go. Do you know what I mean?
[Aziza and Jim laugh]
Jim: And so I just drink water occasionally. But sometimes there's more saliva in your mouth than there should be and it can be heard in your voice. So for those occasions the secret that all narrators know, or should know, is that you have a green apple in the studio with you.
Jim: And what you do is you take just a bite, not a great bite, just a bite of the green apple, chew on it, and then spit it out into the wastepaper basket. And that clears your mouth of all the sounds of saliva.
Aziza: Right. That's...
Jim: These are little tips. But you should never take chocolate in there to chew.
Jim: You mustn't do this. Just keep your voice as fresh as it can be.
Aziza: I think I may take that green apple advice, as well. [laughs]
Jim: Absolutely. Works every time.
Matt: That's perfect.
Micah: Jim, I know you mentioned before that you don't always get time to read the books for enjoyment, but have you ever listened to Stephen Fry and his narrations of the books?
Jim: No, I haven't. Stephen does it all for, I think it's just for England.
Jim: I do it for America and Canada. No, I haven't. I think my grandchildren haven't either because I - my publishing company over here immediately send my audiobooks over to England for my grandchildren, and my grandchildren have a queue of people, of their friends, who want to read the American version just to hear the different voices. I've no idea what Stephen sounds like. My relationship with Stephen Fry goes back to Me and My Girl, the Broadway musical that I did here in New York. And Stephen Fry wrote most of the dialogue for Me and My Girl. The original script, I think, was lost, but Stephen's wonderful at the old jokes. And I was complaining to him - he came to my apartment prior to his rehearsal - and I was saying some of these jokes are so old, Stephen, you know, and I knew them at school. Can we change them?
Jim: Stephen says no, I think we'll leave them in. And I said, but Stephen, look, there's one joke here, you know, he says to the chef - he says to the cook, what's this? And the cook said it's bean soup, and he said, I don't care what it's been, what is it now?
Jim: We've all heard this. No, let's leave it in. You know, it got the biggest laugh of the night.
Jim: Because what happens, you see, is what is an old - an old joke to me - an old joke to me is only a joke I've heard.
Jim: A new joke to someone is only a joke they haven't heard, and some of these jokes from Me and My Girl go back two or three hundred years. There was a joke book called Somebody Miller's Jest Book, 1740 or something like that, and some of these jokes were in that - Joe Miller's Jest Book, it was called - and some of the jokes that the children are still telling at school today - not originally from that book, but they were printed in that book as jokes that existed at that time. And so, you know, there's no such thing as an old joke - as a new joke - it's just a joke you haven't heard. And so, consequently, all the old jokes that we were brought up with here - that we were brought up with in England were incorporated into Me and My Girl, and the American audiences had never heard them and treated them as new jokes. And that was the terrific success of Me and My Girl; it went on for a couple of years - two or three years on Broadway. With Emma Thompson playing...
Jim: ....in the original production in London with Robert Lindsey.
Jim: And I did it over here with Marianne Plunkett, a wonderful, wonderful actress. It was great fun.
Aziza: Yeah, that sounds amazing. Jim, you had mentioned your family and your kids. Are they a fan of the books?
Jim: Oh, absolutely. In fact, we have a connection. I have three sons, all of them connected with show business. One of them actually is an actor touring in England at the moment in - what is it - Fiddler on the Roof. I have another son who runs a studio designing and making sets for commercials and for films. And my third son is connected to Harry Potter in a big way. Every film for Harry Potter that they do, there are helicopter shots, and my son, Adam Dale, if you Google him, the first name that comes up is Adam Dale, and he is a top, top cameraman; a helicopter cameraman.
Aziza: Oh wow.
Jim: And Adam's done the last - he's just finished the last - I think he's still doing it - the last Harry Potter film.
Andrew: You know, I was just going to say, we just found out last week they're filming at Millennium Bridge in London and they are doing...
Jim: That's right.
Andrew: ...helicopter shots. Is he in that?
Jim: Yeah, but what happened was Adam phoned me and he said, "it's been great fun today because I took my son down" - I've got a grandson called Angus. And he took Angus down to the film set - they were shooting this Bridge - and left Angus while he went up in the helicopter, shooting very low over the River Thames. Then the helicopter landed and they put Angus in it and so Angus went for his first trip in a Harry Potter helicopter last week.
Micah: That's awesome.
Aziza: I'm jealous.
[Andrew, Aziza, and Jim laugh]
Jim: So little Angus - he's about seven or eight now. Eight, I think.
Jim: He met all the cast, which was wonderful.
Aziza: Yeah, I'm definitely jealous now.
[Andrew and Aziza laugh]
Aziza: Did they ever ask you - your grandkids or your sons - did they ever ask you to do any of the voices?
Jim: The voices?
Aziza: Mhm. For Harry Potter.
Jim: My grandchildren? Oh yes. Of course, they love it. See, I don't see them a lot. If I go over to England and I stay in a hotel I have to wait there until everybody's available to me.
Jim: Some of them have homework, some of them have girlfriends, some of them are out, some are busy, some are...
Jim: The thing for me to do is bring them to America. Then I can wake them up at 2 o'clock in the morning and take them fishing if we're at my house in the country.
Jim: I do have them 24/7. Yeah, seven days a week, 24 hours in a day for me to talk to. So that's the time, and we don't have a lot of time talking about Harry Potter. We have a lot of time talking about who they are. I want to know who they are.
Jim: Trying to find out who my grandchildren are. I don't see them that very often.
Jim: Not often, so I have to take every opportunity in finding out who these little people are.
Micah: You mentioned your relationship with Stephen Fry, but do you have any sort of relationship with Mary GrandPre?
Jim: No, none at all.
Jim: One can only answer "yes" or "no."
Aziza: Well then, moving on.
Andrew: Moving on.
Matt: Neither do we, really.
Andrew: [laughs] Yeah. Let's talk about the books a little bit more. What are your feelings about the entire series as a whole? I mean, now that it's complete...
Jim: Absolutely brilliant. When I read the first book I was blown away by it, as were most people. I couldn't believe that this writer had so much to say and that she was going to tell this one story over seven books.
Jim: Ron L. Hubbard is reputed to be the one who has written the longest fictional story, which is over one million words long.
Jim: Now, I don't know how many words J.K. Rowling has written in the total seven books of Harry Potter, but I just admire someone tremendously who has - in her head, not on a computer - in her head worked out a very complicated story with so many different voices, so many different characters who are vocal and have their own say. And she had it all worked out from the word "go."
Jim: Anybody who has that kind of mind, to me, is a genius. I will use genius for J.K. Rowling. I think sheís absolutely brilliant. Iím in awe of the way that she kept this story in her head, on scraps of paper. Perhaps only later did she use a computer.
Jim: But she was quite prepared to plan the whole seven books without the computer. She didnít know they were going to be this successful.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. Well, did you ever have any questions about the series that were answered later on?
Jim: No, not really, because I knew that she had the answers. Itís no good puzzling your brain out. You know, everything will be explained as we go along and, sure enough, it was.
Andrew: Yeah, thatís true.
Jim: You just have to trust the writer and, in this case, she never let anyone down, I donít think.
Matt: Yeah, definitely. Jim, youíve read all the books, obviously. Do any of the characters in the book - do you relate to more than others? Is there any character you relate to the most?
Jim: You see, as a narrator, itís like an actor when youíre given a role - a character to portray in a play or a musical. You have to get to know that character and you probably get love him. It doesnít matter whether heís the hero or the villain, you are interpreting the authorís words to create a character. So, I love all the characters...
Jim: ...and I would create it on stage and off in narration. You have to. You have to love these people. Theyíre all so real to me.
Jim:I donít think any of these voices come over as caricatures. I think they all are a little more than real. I mean, Peeves, you know, yes, Peeves...
[Matt and Micah laugh]
Jim: Those eccentric voices, but that, you see, there are people in this world who we call in England - over here you call them, you know, great-aunts. In England, we call them eccentrics.
Jim: These people, at a certain age, they become acceptable to us. Those with the most outrageous voices. [doing a stereotypical great-aunt voice] You know, the ones who talk like this here?
Jim: But there are people who talk like that.
Jim: Theyíre not exaggerating. Thatís just the way they talk! [stereotypical great-aunt] They always have and always will, dear!
Jim: Wonderful. You know, Iíve met these people and they are real. They donít treat themselves as caricatures. You yourself musnít treat them when you use an outrageous - thatís the word I think, an outrageous voice. People do have outrageous voices, same as they have outrageous gestures, or they wear outrageous costumes.
Jim: This is who they are and you have to respect that.
Jim: They create far more as a character than just some normal bloke who always wears nothing, or talks in a boring voice, and when you say "Hello" to him, heís stuck for an answer. These are the people who are boring on Earth, but the eccentrics are the wonderful ones. We always wished we had an eccentric in the family. Every family in England wants itís own eccentric. You know, itís wonderful.
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