interview with jim dale re harry potter and the goblet of fire
the potter audiobooks are all released unabridged in this country, and dale said it took him about 10 days to record the latest, and lengthiest of the books by j.k. rowling, "harry potter and the goblet of fire."
dale first became famous for a series of films in england called the "carry on" films. these comedies were released over many years in the cinemas, and dale said they are shown on british television in the same way that old "star trek" or "honeymooners" episodes are shown here. he said young children recognize him across the pond from those films. here, it is an entire generation of young listeners who know his name.
recently, jim dale spoke with rochelle o'gorman.
rochelle o'gorman: what has it been like for you since you began narrating the potter books? has it affected your career much?
jim dale: i don't think so. no. you see, my career is as an actor in the theater, on stage. this has just come along as an extra branch of show business that i had never explored and i am finding it a delightful journey. susan cooper, who is married to (actor) hume cronin, is a very good children's writer, and she heard that i was recording and asked if i could do her book, called "king of shadows," which i did. and so it's a new little adventure at my age to be traveling down this audiobook route and i'm enjoying every minute of it.
o'gorman: how did the potter books come your way?
dale: one of the gentlemen who works at the publisher's heard that they were looking for somebody who was capable of creating a lot of voices, because as you know, there are so many. he remembered seeing me in a play i did off-broadway called "travels with my aunt. he remembers four actors playing thirty roles. what he forgot was that i only played two roles, the nephew and the old aunt of 84. he suggested my name, and the next thing i know there was a phone call from my agent. i was absolutely enthralled with this world that she (rowling) had created. and i realized that there were seven of these books and should i be asked to do the first one it was almost inevitable, if it was successful, to be asked to do the rest. i thought it would be a wonderful feather in my cap just to have all of the seven harry potter books on the library shelf for my grandchildren.
o'gorman: how does one remember so many voices?
dale: you go crazy. you really go crazy. i was coming home at night not knowing who i was. i didn't even read book four all the way through because we didn't have time. i had it given to me on friday night and i had to be in the studio on monday morning. now, how the heck can you read 760 pages in forty eight hours, and invent 127 voices? it was too much. so, i said the only way we can do this is if i read perhaps 100 pages over the weekend and create the voices for those characters, and then we can record 100 pages on monday. on monday night i would read another 100 pages and create those voices for recording tuesday and so on.
it took about 10 days. but it was a fascinating journey, because there i was creating voices and speaking words and i didn't know where the story was going. i didn't know whether the character whose voice i was using now was a hero or a villain, which perhaps helped, because i didn't give the game away by unintentionally giving the wrong inflection or cruel twist to the voice. i just played it straight. and it was fun. i was dying to find out who the villain was as we got towards the end of the book.
o'gorman: did you make a chart for the voices?
dale: oh, you have to, yes. i would mark the book with different colored pencils and have a list of characters alongside the book with the pencil corresponding to their name. i could check on that as i was reading through. with regard to the tape, i would invent a voice and record it on tape at home with the name of the character, the page number and the line number. in the studio i had my tape with me and endless notes. of course, if i did stumble we stopped. in fact we stopped hundreds of times, but i don't think you would ever know by listening to the tape.
so, the magic of the harry potter books is really in the hands of the editors and engineers. they take all the mistakes that i make - and i make thousands of them - and edit them out, and splice the tape reading into such a beautifully seamless production. they're the geniuses; they're the ones that we should applaud; because nobody knows how much work they have to do.
o'gorman: have you had other roles that have required as much preparation?
dale: "travels with my aunt" had, i think, about 1,000 lines i had to memorize. that was a very, very big role. switching from one character to another without putting on makeup, without putting on costume, it was just changing your character with the flick of a hand. suddenly, from a man you flick the hand and became an elderly lady of 84. much preparation happens in front of the mirror.
lot's of preparation has to go into stage productions, obviously. the joy about the recording is that you are your own boss. you don't have a director telling you how to do it. you have a producer telling you that you perhaps should project it a little more, pull back here, do that. but there is nobody there who has their own ideas that they want you to interpret.
you have to go along, hopefully, with all the instructions that the author gives you. she will describe the character in detail in the book and then it's up to you to get into the clothes and skin of that character and see the world from his eyes, even though he may be a villain. you've got to love the villain if you have to play him. you've got to find something that you can live with in yourself if you're going to play the villain in a play on stage. and you search for the same thing when you're reading a book.
you see, when children in america read harry potter they create english character voices in their heads. if they have never heard the authentic accent, then they are going to miss the fun of it all. it's only when they hear someone reading the words spoken by a character in an english accent, with an understandable english dialect, that the whole character suddenly becomes real.
the reading (narrating) of the book brings the story to life even more because you are hearing what the author wanted you to hear in the way of the voice, in the accent, in the colloquialisms that are used.
o'gorman: what inspiration do you use for the voices?
dale: when you listened to the radio in the early days in england, there were people with very distinctive voices. those were the distinctive voices that made you laugh. what i tried to do was cast my memory back to the early days when i was listening to the radio and remember some clear voice that was perhaps a little eccentric, perhaps it was just a little bit over the top. i try to bring those into the book, because we are in a magical world. when you have to do voices of centaurs and elves and perhaps a giant spider, you can actually go a little bit over the top and use a little bit of caricature. you can push the voices to make them extremely original and funny, hopefully.
when you read a normal book you have to just use a regular voice, everyday voices. but in harry potter's world nobody is every day. they're all wonderfully strange creatures and they need strange voices on occasion.
o'gorman: i like that, "nobody's everyday." that's great. do you ever hear from kids?
dale: oh, yes! they write to the publishers. they just want to know questions like you've asked. they're just so inquisitive, so desperate to learn every possible thing they can about this new harry potter world.
o'gorman: do you write back to them?
dale: well, of course. i've always done this. any fan letter that comes in may take a little time for me to get around to, but i try to answer all of them personally. it takes time, but i feel if some kid has sat down and felt i'm important enough to write two pages of words to and take up a lot of his valuable time, then he deserves a few words back, or even a phone call as i have done on a few occasions.
o'gorman: do you have a favorite character?
dale: well, obviously the gentle giant hagrid is one of my favorites because he's just one of the lovable creatures of god's earth. and professor albus dumbledore is the head man, as you probably know - and it's a sort of john houseman voice i used. i didn't try to do an impression of john houseman, but i had this elegant, knowledgeable, sophisticated old man in the background when i recorded that voice. and then professor mcgonagall, who's the voice of my aunt, from edinburgh, scotland. maybe dobby takes first place now i come to think of it.'