Talking My Way into the Cast (The Guardian) 1996

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Talking My Way into the Cast (The Guardian) 1996

Post  DebraRatt on Wed May 16, 2012 12:02 am


"TALKING MY WAY INTO THE CAST: Actor Jeremy Northam on his own rapid transformation doing the audio of the film of the book.

Jeremy Northam, who plays Mr. Knightley in the film of Emma, played everybody in the audio book. Here he recounts a harrowing day`s work.

THOUGHTS of hubris pulsed through my brain and a nasty shrinking sensation at the back of my scalp broke my armpits into an unseemly sweat. `Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and`

`Shall we try that again?` Last autumn when filming Emma someone decided I was a suitable candidate to read the audio adaptation of the book. We had from 10 until six to turn out, with the help of producer Martin Franks, a three-hour version. Seemed easy enough.

But I soon realized that being everyone was a totally different proposition from simply playing Mr. Knightley. Could I keep the story moving along, stop myself from just doing a succession of voices, delineate character, produce different colours and shades, to some extent reflect the tone of Jane Austen`s voice? My tongue hangs heavy in my mouth. It is 11 o`clock and I am on page three.

More experienced actors have told me of their difficulties in this medium. Of course you have the disgusting luxury of being able to go back, re-take and erase glitches and inefficiencies. How many parents, I wondered, as I stammered and halted my way through, would have enjoyed this luxury, by how many bedsides across the years? The benefit of electronic wizardry merely compounded the sense of imminent failure. Page after page of Austen began to look like articulation drills, specifically designed to catch one out. I was not going to be outdone. I was starting to enjoy it. It was man versus mike.

By five in the afternoon we were nearing the end. I was feeling ragged. Martin, who had done a lot of these taped books, had coaxed, prodded and brilliantly kept me going. But my voice had sunk to a gravelly monotone. Emma Woodhouse `handsome, clever and rich` was now a basso profoundo. Mrs Weston had turned into Miss Bates had turned into Mrs Elton.

Martin professed himself `happy,` punch-drunk though the poor man must have been, and I left elated, neurotic and relieved. I recalled first nights, last takes and reminded myself that this had been only an abridgement. Perhaps I should practice bedtime story-telling to my nieces more often."

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