City of Girls Audie Award 2020 Fiction
Actor Blair Brown began her narrating career when her son grew too old to read to. “I really love to read aloud. I love parsing language and looking at the structure of chapters and sentences.” Eventually, she realized that between theater and audiobooks she could make a decent living.
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve done a lot of good books by good female writers.” She loves recording the works of Anne Tyler (BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS, DIGGING TO AMERICA), Isabel Allende (INÉS OF MY SOUL, MY INVENTED COUNTRY), and many others. Of her recent narration of Elizabeth Gilbert’s CITY OF GIRLS, Brown says, “I love the book--the idea of a young woman showing up in New York City in the 1940s and having that mad aunt who ran a theater. The lore of what the theater was like then and what the personalities are--I know all of them. Also, to have a woman who really likes sex--that’s rare, even now. I love the individual nature of all the women, trying to make sense of their lives in unconventional ways. The men were beautifully delineated as well.” Brown tells us, “When we got to the last pages of the book, the director, the engineer, and I were all weeping. It was so beautiful.”
Although she’s a multiple AudioFile Earphones Award winner, Brown doesn’t listen to audiobooks herself. She concedes she might listen to a poetry audiobook, especially if it’s read by the poet. “I love to read, but I don’t want anybody between me and the words, particularly in novels. I want to imagine the person without being influenced by anyone else.”
Brown graduated from The National Theatre School of Canada. How did a young American woman find herself in Canada? “My father was in such despair that I had decided that I wanted to go to England and be a busker on the street. Not quite what he imagined for his daughter!” She laughs. “I said I was going to apply to some drama schools and be an actress, but I really had no intention of doing that. It was just a way to get away from home.” Her father contacted a friend with the Canadian embassy who recommended a very good theater school in Montreal. “The next thing I knew, I had a ticket and an appointment in Montreal--which was not like my father at all.”
Brown won a Tony Award for her performance in Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, and she’ll soon appear in The Minutes, a new play by Tracy Letts. Fans will remember her Emmy-nominated TV series “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” and she’s made guest appearances on “Frasier,” “ER,” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Brown’s charismatic personality, the smile in her voice, and her finely honed acting skills have kept her a favorite of fans and critics alike.--S.J. Henschel
©AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
Though Blair Brown is a leading narrator of audiobooks, she admits she doesn't listen to them. "I guess it's the performer in me," remarks the Tony Award-winning stage actress (Copenhagen, The Threepenny Opera, Cabaret) and star of television and film. "I like doing rather than listening."
Brown acknowledges that audiobook storytelling harkens back to the most basic elements of theater. "Narrating an audiobook is like reading to your children. People want to listen and imagine it for themselves. The shared experience of listening is quite different from just reading a book alone. It's nice to be told a story."
She prepares to narrate in a way that is quite similar to preparing for a role in the theater. "I like to read the book three times," she notes. "The first time is to see what it is and if I want to do it. It's so important to like what you read. The second time is to concentrate on how it's structured, how the sentences flow, who the characters are, and how I'll read it. The third time is when I record it."
Recording audiobooks is a pleasurable experience for Brown. "I like it particularly when you have such good material. It's fantastic when you bring it to life. I'm a big reader myself." She has narrated a virtual cream of the crop of top-notch authors, including Sue Miller's THE SENATOR'S WIFE ; John Grisham's THE CLIENT ; titles by Luanne Rice and Linda Fairstein; several books by Isabel Allende, including her newest, THE SUM OF OUR DAYS ; and Anne Tyler--to name just a few.
In each, Brown simply tries to tell the story. "I feel protective of, and very much a part of, the writers and their work, and I feel a responsibility to successfully create their characters. I feel the need to honor the writer."
Brown acknowledges several tricks she uses to arrive at those definitive characters. At times, she has worked with a voice coach so that she can arrive at the perfect foreign-accented English that the characters demand. Many times, she admits, she gets an image of another actor who might play the character and then works to bring that person's qualities to the character. "The hardest recording for me was THE CLIENT by John Grisham. There were--like--45 Southern men! I had to identify and imagine who each of those men was and embody them in actors I know to keep them all straight."
When Blair Brown returns to television this fall as Nina Sharp, a manipulative corporate executive in J.J. Abrams's new drama series, "Fringe," narrating audiobooks will remain part of her career. "The greatest compliment is when I'm asked to record a second book from the same author," muses Brown. "That means you have the author's approval and they want you back."--Martie Ramm Engle
With fond memories of reading children's books aloud, Blair Brown recently completed a children's book, SUN AND SPOON, for Listening Library. Blair thoroughly enjoys the work she does with audiobooks and notes that, while she's rigorous with her preparation for the book, she can arrive at the studio without dressing up, relaxed in a T-shirt and jeans. Blair has recorded numerous titles by Patricia Cornwell and received an Earphones Award for IN POTTER'S FIELD. WHILE I WAS GONE is the second audiobook Blair has recorded by Sue Miller.
Photo courtesy of the narrator
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