He really doesn’t need much of an introduction but here goes anyway. The narrator of the extremely successful FEVER series, Phil Gigante, is with us today. Yes, that sexy voice that brings Barrons to life!
We got a little taste of what goes on in his world.
We heard you’re working on perfecting your voice for Ryodan’s character. Do you find it difficult to master a character’s voice? What do you hope listeners will feel when they hear your voice as Ryodan’s?
Some voices come easier than others. A lot of times, as a narrator you will be given a book based on the strengths of your own voice, so you can use that, or a close variation for the lead character. As an “accent guy”, I do try to take what I know and stretch it each time, while keeping the characters believable. They must, however, still be understandable to the listener, so it can be a fine line! I’m not sure if I ever “master” a voice, even over several books, because both the character and the actor keep growing and learning. At least, I hope so!
Ryodan, Karen Moning’s creation in the Fever series, has changed a bit from Shadowfever to Iced. He had to; the writing dictated that. Karen and I always discuss the book ahead of time (THANK YOU, Karen!), so I get her take on the character; how she hears it in her head. This does lead to me knowing some necessary spoilers ahead of time that will color the character, even if those spoilers don’t come into play for two more books! In the Fever series, Ryodan was a cold, calculating businessman running a covert and powerful organization. Very no-nonsense. Now in Iced, he still has all those qualities, but Karen has given him a very strong sexual and sensuous side, and more “personal” ways of reacting with the other leads, now that he’s a firm male lead in his own right. Karen told me, “I want the listeners to either love him or hate him, never be sure if they can trust him, but still want to f*** him regardless.”
And if the listeners think Ryodan is complicated, wait until they get a taste of a certain Highlander who’s going to blow their minds!
You will be working with Natalie Ross on ICED, BURNED and FLAYED. Come on, spill. What’s it like working with her?
Who? Oh, right! That tall, gorgeous woman who’s always talking back to me in the studio! Ha! (I told her you asked me this question, and she said “It’s ok; you can tell them I’m a real bitch.”) In all sincerity, Natalie is one of the most talented, generous, lovely actresses I’ve ever known, and all that goes for her as a human being as well. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with her on stage several times, long before any studio work. We were in two theatre companies together over the years, so we have a great understanding of each other’s craft, and how to deal with each other personally. That can’t always be easy with me, but she does a damn good job. She also never lets me get away with anything! She also makes fewer mistakes than I do, damn it! We know each other far too well to let any egos get in the way of our craft, and we get turned on or giggle at the same bits in love scenes. We direct each other in a lot of audiobooks. I think our interplay is much sharper for all that, and we can almost read each other’s minds. Which scares me a bit!
What do you think of Karen Marie Moning’s decision to switch from Mac’s POV to Dani’s? This change will undoubtedly affect the way readers experience the books. Do you prefer one POV over the other?
I think it was a great decision, though it must have been a hard one for her to make. To leave the mind of such a firmly established heroine and chart a new course could frighten readers who had grown so comfortable. But I know Karen, and she isn’t afraid to blaze a new trail. I’m sure her publishers must have been sweating a bit! The amazing thing is that Dani and several other established “supporting” characters get the chance to strut their stuff, while keeping the fantastic world that was built in the Fever series intact. Dani is an amazing character, with so very much ahead for her, that I think the level of energy and life in the tale has jumped right off the scale. She is very young, and yet jaded by hardship; she has such a smart ass attitude, but can’t help being a bit naïve sometimes, and she hasn’t experienced the ultimate highs of love and the devastating personal lows of pain and grief and evil. Everything that she experienced alongside Mac and Barrons affected her, and continues to affect her in this new story. Karen also deals with sex—always an important factor in her writing—and how a 14 year old heroine reacts to it in all it’s permutations; very tastefully and with a great deal of humor. Dude! Dani is damn funny to boot! I don’t have a preference—as far as I’m concerned, this is like the separate traveler’s tales in Lord of the Rings; the fellowship has different missions, but the objective is the same, and no journey is less enthralling than the others.
Pronouncing names and mastering accents can be quite difficult. Would you agree? And if so, how do you overcome these obstacles?
Yes. Scotch and swearing. I’m mostly joking, there. For pronunciations, especially fantasy-genre names, it is a gift to be able to ask the author. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with several authors who are kind and generous with their time, and will give you their pronunciations, which are canon law. Sometimes I have to make a detailed list, send it via the publisher, and pray. For actual foreign names, the internet is a tool that rivals duct tape in its usefulness. I don’t know how narrators got along without it!
I’ve always had an ear for accents. My dad is from Italy, mom from Scotland, and I was raised between the UK and Texas, developing the strangest accent in the process. I had to work to NOT speak with one. I think the biggest challenge is studying the right accent for a character, and then deciding how much authenticity is right for the medium in which you present it. Example for the Romance genre listeners: most American audiences are geared to hear what I call a “movie Scots” accent. If you time travelled to 1369 and met a strapping Highlander, odds are you would have no clue what he was saying. Even if you are a modern Scot. By contrast, many modern Scots accents can be so integrated culturally that, to a general non-UK audience, they might as well be British. I love to be as authentic as possible with every accent I do, but I’m always aware that it has to be understood, or it’s a fail.
You’re able to tweak your voice so that every male character has a distinguishable accent. How are you able to do this and do you find it difficult to make each voice unique and their own?
Thank you! The bane of a male narrator is what I call the “conference scene”—usually 10 military types sitting at a table in the Pentagon, all throwing lines of dialogue out there, and the author’s only character descriptions are about their height or weight. Ugh! There are a lot of standard “tools” to differentiate voices; age, speed, pitch, accent, etc. I always take those things into account, but even a story about identical twin brothers raised together in the same place have to be distinguishable. In all roles I’m reading, I want to use an internal motivation to affect the voices. Is the character a deep thinker, a lothario, a type “A” personality? The way we live and love and think internally always affect the way we appear externally, and that certainly colors the voice.
What are you currently working on right now and how is that going?
Well, after finishing Iced, I recorded A Bomb Built in Hell by Andrew Vachss. Andrew is a great friend to me, and I consider his work some of the best I’ve ever read, never mind that I get to record it. This was his first (fiction) book, written in the 70’s, and was considered “un-publishable” then because he wrote “impossible” scenarios— terrorists (foreign and home grown) blowing up buildings in New York, madmen going on shooting sprees in schools, foreign cartels establishing bases in America—things the publishers were certain were too far fetched to ever happen. I wish they were right…
I also just finished The Cowboy and the Cossack, by Clair Huffaker, one of Uber-librarian Nancy Pearl’s “Book Lust” lost classics, and it is an amazing, genre expanding Western, set in Siberia in 1860! Beautiful, exciting, heartbreaking—I have no idea why this isn’t required reading. It is brilliant!
For the Romance fans, I’m continuing the new “Wyoming” series by Diana Palmer, about three modern cowboy brothers and their individual love stories. It’s got great action, wonderful dialogue, and mad, passionate romance between feisty, strong women and rugged, hard as nails cowboys. These are some steamy books that will melt your ipod!
Who is your favorite character to record and why?
I love every character created by Karen Moning (Lor in particular is making me smile these days!), as well as anyone Andrew Vachss writes, because they always make me reach into places I don’t necessarily want to go to bring them to life. Also, M.J Rose and Joe R. Lansdale each write lyrical epic characters, though on opposite ends of the spectrum. But…
…my all time favorite character to record is “Slippery” Jim diGriz, created by the late, great Harry Harrison in his Stainless Steel Rat series. He’s an intergalactic con man, criminal and saver of worlds, with the most perfect sense of sarcasm, comic timing, personal (criminal) ethics, a hot-and-deadly wife by his side….it doesn’t get any better than the Rat’s adventures! Those books inspired me to read as a kid, made me want to grow up and BE Slippery Jim, or at least play him in the movie. When I got the chance to perform the books AND become friends with Harry Harrison, a childhood idol, I became a 12 year old kid again, and the happiest narrator on the planet. I never, ever felt the drudge of “having” to go into the studio to work, and I recorded the series surrounded by laughter, excitement and unbridled happiness. Harry Harrison died very recently, and it is still painful to me, but I am so happy he got to see and hear his iconic character enter a new medium and garner new fans. The audiobooks got great reviews and accolades, and the first Stainless Steel Rat book won the APA Audie award for Best Science Fiction. Harry loved the audiobooks, and would write to me while he listened, pointing out bits and lines he loved, like a little kid himself, like he didn’t create them in the first place! That he was so happy was a dream come true.
If you could narrate any book, what title would you pick and why?
Ah—an easy question to end on, eh? Wow…there are so many great books out there, and I’m lucky to be doing many of them now! I’m just going to end this with a small spoiler…..I want to narrate the book that I’m currently writing…
Check out the books he’s narrated here.