Talking with Nicholas Boulton
In June 2023, Nicholas Boulton was inducted as a Golden Voice, AudioFile's lifetime achievement honor for audiobook narrators.
What’s your favorite thing about narrating audiobooks?
I love a good story, and getting to voice the characters that pop up on the page and being the one to bring them to vivid life in the listener’s ear is its own reward. Narrating has also seriously expanded my library—I’ve read books across the genre spectrum that I might never have consciously chosen, and have found some real gems along the way.
Tell us about a memorable character you’ve given voice to. And please share a couple of your favorite performances.
Any one of Dickens’s or Wilkie Collins’s characters would be a shoo-in here, but if I were forced to choose, it would have to be the slippery, serpentine Uriah Heep from DAVID COPPERFIELD. Honorable mention goes to the outrageous Darian from Alexis Hall’s GLITTERLAND.
Where do you find inspiration for accents or other aspects of your performance?
I’m an audio magpie. Can’t help it. I’ll be listening for and subconsciously sorting and storing character voices at every waking moment. Old movies are a particular favorite goldmine that I love to plunder. Overheard conversations on public transport can be very useful too (you have been warned . . . ).
What is the funniest moment you’ve encountered when narrating an audiobook?
I can’t think of any one event/mishap that has stood out as side-splittingly funny in the hours and hours and hours of recording that I have done but I do enjoy the between-take banter that I have with the various producers I have worked with—especially with John Foley, my long-suffering producer on most of my recordings for Naxos Audiobooks.
If you have an unusual accent or a quirky turn of phrase, watch out. Actor Nick Boulton is liable to borrow it. “I get caught out all the time,” he laughs. “I’ll look tuned into the conversation, but I’m really just trying to remember how someone said something so that I can go home and practice it. I’m constantly assimilating.”
Boulton has been assimilating since childhood, when he discovered drama at school and decided to be an actor. By age 16, he had charted a course to the Guildhall School of Music And Drama in London. “It’s been a lifelong passion,” he murmurs in his cashmere-warm baritone. As befits a passion, he embraces it all, acting on stage and screen (he was in Shakespeare in Love ), as well as in audiobooks, BBC Radio dramas, and video games. “It’s a wonderful panoply for me. A feast.”
Boulton started in audiobooks when a producer asked him to have a go at reading A BATTLE WON by Sean Russell Thomas. “It’s a nineteenth-century naval romp on the high seas. Terrific fun. They liked what I did and asked me back to do more.”
Recently he won an Earphones Award for Alexis Hall’s sexy steampunk adventure, PROSPERITY, which features a protagonist with a Geordie accent from northeast England. “It’s beautifully physical and satisfying to deliver,” he enthuses. “Although swapping from Geordie to Yorkshire to Edinburgh and back for the different characters--whoa!” He exhales in mock relief, adding, “It does leave you a bit scrambled by the end of the day.”
Speaking of scrambled, the actor who has galloped down a steep ravine while facing an artificially manufactured sandstorm and 200 extras dressed as Saracens says, “Narrating is some of the most taxing acting work you can get. It’s the physicality of it. You’re in the studio for maybe six hours a day. When you emerge, your tongue has swollen to twice its normal size, and you feel as if you have”--his voice assumes a booming magisterial tone--“‘Spoken for England.’”
And then there are the steamy scenes found in romances. “More often than not, they appear before me at 10 in the morning. You have to take a deep breath and go at it,” he chuckles. “Seriously, though, you turn off your own sensibilities and honor the words. Let them do what they want to do.”
Whether narrating the romantic UNCERTAIN MAGIC by Laura Kinsale or the classic WIND, SAND AND STARS by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Boulton revels in his role. “It’s a god-like position, although of course you’re a minor deity compared to the author. Mercury to their Zeus. But to be given the opportunity to explore a world and bring it to life for the listener--that’s a rare privilege.”--Aurelia C. Scott[APRIL/MAY 2017]
© AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
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Photo by Dan Reid
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