When you’re the oldest of eight children, you learn how to command--or as award-winning actress Kate Mulgrew puts it--“transmit emotion with a certain clarity.”
Fast-forward through a stellar career playing everyone from seductive Cleopatra to no-nonsense Captain Janeway from “Star Trek”; from actress Katharine Hepburn to “Red” Reznikov, a fierce Russian prison cook on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” Powerful women all.
“That seems to be a common thread,” agrees Mulgrew with her signature deep-throated chuckle.
Much like Mrs. Madrigal, in fact, the incomparable transgender grand dame of Armistead Maupin’s nine-book series Tales of the City, who says such things as “I was a weasel of a man, but I’m one helluva nice woman.”
“The Maupin series always titillated me,” says Mulgrew. So when she was asked to narrate the final novel, THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL, she agreed immediately and “immersed” herself in it.
The actress’s practice is to read through a book once or twice, “breaking it down,” and to develop a list of questions about anything that might affect her performance. “It’s very important that the producer/director be present for the recording and that he or she knows the literature to the letter.” For the Maupin book, she and Karen Dziekonski reviewed pronunciations and what Mulgrew describes as “the San Francisco setting and the essence of the time and the place.”
Although she experiments with some ideas for character voices, Mulgrew usually doesn’t commit until she’s in the recording booth. “I need to hear them in my own ear with headphones on and become the listener before I can finalize the sound.” Her prize-winning narration of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2--“a beautifully written novel about a bunch of psychopaths”--was an exception. “I conceived almost immediately of a leading character with a very difficult voice. A very, very difficult voice,” she emphasizes in a shiver-inducing raspy hiss. “And then I decided to make all 30 characters distinct and equally difficult. And then I wanted to shoot myself.”
No matter. Once the green light illuminates, the Voice begins. Mulgrew has won awards for narrating everything from popular and literary fiction to documentaries and kids’ books. “An adult book,” she says, “needs a different vocal dexterity and intelligence [from a child’s book]. These people are listening critically. They’re using all their senses to absorb this voice and analyze the story. So I raise the bar pretty high when I walk into the booth to do something like [NOS4A2 or THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL]. I want listeners to be both satisfied and uplifted by it.”--Aurelia C. Scott
Photo courtesy of narrator
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