Friends, I am so excited to talk to one of the two super talented voice actors behind the amazing audio edition of Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World. I don’t know about you, but I constantly listen to audio books, as do my boys. So if you have ever wondered about the process of recording audio books and how voice over actors approach the project, read on! Let me introduce Emily Lawrence.
Based in Los Angeles, Emily is an actor and writer. Get this! She has narrated more than 300 audio books! Emily’s acting career also extends to roles in TV, film, and theater. Let’s dive in.
Anna – Congrats on such an awesome narration of this book! In my family audio books are king. We listen to them while running errands, eating breakfast, and falling asleep at night. Tell me about how you came into audio book acting?
Emily – I have a long background in acting. After getting my BFA in drama from NYU, I moved out to Los Angeles to pursue film and TV. Shortly after arriving, I took a workshop on different kinds of voiceover and audiobooks was on the list. I’d always loved to read and obviously loved acting so it struck me as perfect for me. I took a leap of faith, purchased a bunch of recording equipment, set up a booth in my closet, and started auditioning like crazy. Within six months, it was my full-time job.
Anna – How do you approach a project when you first read a book or script?
Emily – I think all bookworms create the world in their heads as they read. They feel like they know the characters. Some people imagine the characters visually or can hear them in their heads. I’m not a very visual or even aural thinker. I never really imagined what characters sound like when reading. I just thought about how they felt to me, what they seemed like. It’s hard to describe, but I translate that feeling into my performance. Where is this character in my body? What are their attitudes about the world or the other characters? That translates into how I portray the character.
Anna – Is it nerve wracking to audition?
Emily – Not really. It’s not like film or tv where you’re in the room with a casting director and on the spot. I audition from my home studio, by myself. If I feel like I want to do it again or try something differently, I can. I can do it as many times as I need to until I’m happy with it. Then I send it off to the ether (casting) and assume I’ll never hear from them about it. That way it’s a pleasant surprise when I do!
Anna – I love your ability to change inflection, tone, and pacing in a way that’s appropriate for the particular page you are reading. Is that hard to pull off and how do you do it?
Emily – I think it’s just understanding the emotional beat of the moment. We do this naturally. If we’re scared or there’s an action sequence or a love scene, we read faster because our adrenaline is up as we imagine it. We’re excited. We’re in it. Most of what I do as a narrator is experiencing the story as it’s written and acting as a conduit for the listener. I don’t want to actually think about it too much, because I think that’s me getting in the way of the story and the author’s intentions. I just want to feel and experience and take myself out of it as much as possible.
Anna – Tell me how storytelling plays into voice narration?
Emily – I’m honestly not sure I see a difference. I think all art is storytelling. Storytelling is the umbrella and all the different mediums (audiobooks, books, movies, music, etc) are just the method by which the story is told.
Anna – One of the things that I love about hearing you read ELON MUSK: A MISSION TO SAVE THE WORLD is I imagine the thrill of young women who hear a female reading a STEM-based biography. Did you think about that at all when you were recording this book?
Emily – Definitely. It was on my mind and actually, Guy Oldfield, the Macmillan Audio producer, and I discussed it from the moment I was cast. Representation matters. Typically, a book about a male public figure would be read by a male narrator. The choice to have Elon’s story primarily told by a female narrator makes a strong statement that the STEM world is for women too. If just one little girl listens to this book and decides to pursue a career in STEM because of it, that would honestly give my entire artistic career purpose. I do what I do because I love it, but the ability to inspire others and maybe help foster changes I’d love to see in the world gives my life and my work a whole other level of meaning.
Anna – Do you ever have people come up to you and recognize you by the sound of your voice?
Emily – I love that question. I literally laughed out loud reading it. No, that hasn’t happened to me. Mostly voice actors live in obscurity and I probably don’t leave my booth enough for that to happen. But I hope it does one day!
Anna – For young readers interested in voice acting, what steps should they take to follow in your footsteps?
Emily – If they’re interested in narrating audiobooks, they should read a lot and listen to audiobooks to learn from people currently doing it. I also recommend acting in general: school plays, summer camp, acting classes. When they’re older, they should take acting and voice acting courses specific to what they want to do. Hardly anyone just rolls out of bed and can make a living as an actor or voice actor. It takes years of training and hard work.
Anna – Was there anything about Elon’s story that surprised you or inspired you?
Emily – A lot, actually! I knew who he was, obviously, but hadn’t followed his story that closely. I didn’t know he’d had so many failed endeavors or that even his successful endeavors struggled so much. So often, we hear about people’s successes and not their failures and hardships. It’s so important to know the hard work it takes to be successful in any path you choose. I think, for kids and adults alike, that’s an important message that Elon’s story demonstrates. Pursuing your dreams is hard work, but you just can’t give up.
Anna – What are you reading right now?
Emily – I’m listening to “America and the World” by Mark Stoler, it’s a lecture series from The Great Courses about the history of America’s foreign affairs policies and diplomatic relations. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Great Courses series lately. It’s the best parts of a college course without the homework. Pretty interesting stuff!
Anna – What was your favorite book as a kid?
Emily – Oh man. That’s a hard question. I’ve always been terrible at favorites. I couldn’t even tell you my favorite book now. I can say, I always loved fantasy so the Narnia books and Harry Potter come to mind. I’ve always had a soft spot for anything by Roald Dahl or Dr. Seuss. The BFG always reminded me of my grandpa and I gave him a copy of it when he was on his deathbed so that book will always hold a special place in my heart.
Emily’s last answer really got to me–so powerful and tender. A writer could only dream of having their work play such an important part in a reader’s life! Now, if you want to listen to a sample of the amazingly talented Emily Lawrence reading my book…click here! Hope you are hooked and grab a copy of audio version of the book and check out Emily’s other work as well.
If you are interested in storytelling, check out my interview with book designer Raphael Geroni on how book covers tell stories!
Enjoy these fleeting summer days! I’ll try to keep to myself how much I miss the snow . . .
P.S. Want a signed copy of Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World . . . click here and not only will I sign a book for you, but you’ll be entered to win a plush Earth, also known as Zero G Indicator… just like the one Elon sent to the International Space Station!
P.P.S. And if you will be in Maine on August 4th, stop by Print: A Bookstore at 4pm for a geektastic conversation about all things sci-fi, Elon, and the cool symbiosis between emerging tech and some of the best science fiction ever written or filmed. I’ll be in conversation with adventure sci-fi writer Katie Slivensky, author of Countdown Conspiracy and The Seismic Seven.
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