Interview with Michelle Lee: Voice-Over Artist of “Snape: The Definitive Analysis”
by Lorrie Kim
To celebrate Severus Snape’s 63rd birthday, I caught up with Michelle H. Lee, the voice-over artist who narrated the audiobook for Snape: The Definitive Analysis of Hogwarts’s Mysterious Potions Master.
What’s your history with the Harry Potter series?
You know, it’s really funny because my friends were obsessed with Harry Potter in high school, and I was so against reading it at first. Surely it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, and I would be disappointed. So I resisted reading them for the longest time, and then finally, around when [Harry Potter and the] Goblet of Fire came out, I broke down and told my friend that if I read the first page and it hooks me enough that I have to turn the page to read more, then I would read them. And sure enough, I was hooked and then proceeded to binge-read all the ones available and then stood in line at the bookstore when the rest came out.
My Hogwarts [H]ouse is Hufflepuff. I’ve taken every quiz that comes my way and every time I get Hufflepuff, so I am most definitely a Puff through and through.
I identified with Hermione when I was younger, and her need for validation and perfectionism is still something that I can relate to, but as I’ve gotten older and had a kid of my own I think I’m a lot closer to Mrs. Weasley or Lily.
What’s the process for choosing what audiobooks to narrate?
Most of the time, we don’t get to choose which audiobooks to narrate. Of course, you can always decline a request, but unless it’s an open call for auditions, publishers will approach you with which books they want you to submit. In this case, I was asked to submit a sample, and I happily agreed!
When I told you that your narration made me feel like I was listening to a friend talk to me in the same room together, you said that’s what you had been picturing – reading aloud to a real-life friend who had gotten a lot of support from the Harry Potter series during a difficult time. What made you decide on that approach?
Because you’re listening to an audiobook for hours on end, the goal is to deliver a more intimate and close performance, meaning how you would perform an audiobook is different than how you perform on stage to an audience of many people. Most people are listening via headphones or earbuds, and having someone yelling in your ear is not pleasant. As actors, we choose a “scene partner” to play to. That person can change depending on the audience [of] the book. How you would narrate a young adult book or a children’s book is different from how you would narrate a non-fiction or adult book. This allows us as actors to be more connected to the text and therefore deliver a more engaging performance.
You’ve said that Snape is your favorite character. Do you mean within Harry Potter or including other media too? What makes him your favorite? Were there specific parts of his story that resonated with you most?
Snape is probably one of my favorite characters in general. He’s so flawed, and I prefer imperfect characters where you can really understand how they came to be who they are. His backstory is so tragic, and I feel like how he react [sic] to circumstances in his life [is] more realistic. Like, if he had a tragic past and then became a saint, that would have been disingenuous. I liked him a lot in the books, but I think Alan Rickman’s performance of him in the movies really brought another level to his character. Now the two are permanently entwined in my head.
What parts of his story were the most interesting to you to narrate?
I particularly liked the sections about Lily. In those sections, he shows a part of himself that he hasn’t really shown anyone else. The vulnerability there is achingly beautiful.
You’re Korean American, like me. Did you see Claudia Kim’s performance as Nagini in [Fantastic Beasts: The] Crimes of Grindelwald? I loved it, and I laughed thinking that a Korean snake ate Snape! Chomp. Speaking of Korean women eating, your Instagram handle is @kdramafoodie. Can you tell us about choosing that name?
I actually haven’t watched Crimes of Grindelwald! Movie watching after my kid was born has definitely taken a nose dive and unless my kid (who is seven, almost eight) approves of watching it, then we usually don’t get to see it, haha. Sadly, at the moment he’s more interested in Minecraft and Dog-man books [than] Harry Potter.
As for the kdramafoodie handle, I’ve had that name FOREVER. Like, before Instagram? Possibly before Twitter? I used to watch a LOT of K-dramas (not as much time anymore), and I like to eat. I like taking pictures of food because it’s pretty, and when it comes up on my timeline memories, I’m like, “oh yeah… that was good. I should go back…”
If you were to narrate writing about other Potterverse characters or topics, which ones would interest you?
I haven’t really given it much thought. I think one of the topics that interest me the most about Harry Potter is how to enjoy the story and separate it from the drama of the author. Is that even possible? How are fans taking Harry Potter and making it their own?
Michelle has voiced characters in animes such as Date a Live, Assassination Classroom: 365 Days, Tokyo Ghoul, and A Certain Scientific Railgun. She has also narrated several audiobooks, including The Red Palace by June Hur and Snow Roses by Taryn Tyler. Check out a sample of Michelle reading Snape: The Definitive Analysis!