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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Dec 14, 2021

Interview with Mamie Parris: Broadway star, concert singer, audiobook narrator

I feel so fortunate that the amazing actress and singer Mamie Parris narrated the audiobook of The Limits of Limelight. The production process was smooth and entirely professional, and I couldn't be more pleased with the result. And the reviews!

My own history as book narrator is limited to nonfiction and instructional manuals. So I was curious to get Mamie's perspective on narrating novels--and this novel in particular. She very generously responded to my questions.

Relying on an audiobook narrator with a strong performance background was important for several reasons. Many of the characters are themselves performers, in film and theatre. Ginger Rogers, for instance, arrived in Depression-era Hollywood from the Broadway stage--where you have also appeared. Her cousin Phyllis Fraser, is striving to become an actress. Did you feel a connection with them, or other actresses in the novel, by virtue of being an actress and singer yourself? What impact did that have on your approach to the material?

I absolutely felt a connection to every performing artist in this book. Since the age of 17 I've been in New York City struggling, then working, then finding success as a professional actress. I'm very familiar with the kinds of struggles and triumphs relayed in the stories of Phyllis, Ginger, Anne, and Peg. I've even trod the same boards as many of these actors at theatres from New York to Connecticut to Maine. Our business is unique and very intimate. I felt privileged to give voice to their stories. 

When voicing the well-known Hollywood personalities, did you carry out any background research, apart from the words on the page? Create some sort of profile, as I do before writing about them?

I research and create characters for audiobooks the same way I would for a play. When I have the opportunity to narrate a book that features real people, my goal is never to imitate, but to take all the information I can gather, and create a fully realized person in my mind. The way they breathe and think is as important to me as how they sound. 

I’m curious about what aspect might have been the most enjoyable about recording The Limits of Limelight. And what you regard as the greatest challenge.

The biggest challenge was also, in its own way, the most enjoyable to me. I loved voicing some of the most recognizable actors and personalities of the era. But with that opportunity comes a great responsibility to their fans. I hope I haven't let them down.

Did you have a favorite character to portray? Or a favorite Astaire and Rogers movie musical? (I can never decide which one is mine!)

I loved Ginger, of course. She's confident and carefree, and grows into a real firebrand. Phyllis's journey was most rewarding. Of course, poor Peg Entwhistle was enjoyable for other reasons. She was complex and so fragile, I wanted to make sure I treated her with respect and love. And who wouldn't relish the opportunity to step into Katharine Hepburn's shoes?

I love a Gershwin tune, so Shall We Dance might be my favorite Fred and Ginger flick, though my favorite number has to be "Night and Day" from The Gay Divorcee. I'm thrilled that Ginger's incredible feathered dress has a mention in the book (with a killer story to it).

You have a home studio, set up with all the necessary technical equipment for recording books and commercial voice-overs. What is your typical work schedule when recording an audiobook? Is there an optimal time of day to do it? How long is your average recording session for an audiobook?

It all depends. I can generally tell right away how dense the material is: The number of characters and scenes involving dialogue, the type and length of the book itself. All this dictates my timeline. When I'm actively recording a book, I expect to spend anywhere from 4-6 hours in the studio at a time. I'm fond of working in the afternoon, when my voice has had plenty of time to warm up and settle. When I finish recording, I can expect anywhere from a few days to a week of editing and engineering, to make sure the finished product sounds the best it can.

With in-person concerts and stage performances possible again, after more than a year of theatre closures due to the Covid pandemic, please share upcoming events and locations.

I'm thrilled to be back in theatres again! Future performance dates and book releases can be found at my website.

Thanks for the great insights, Mamie! I couldn't be more pleased with the audio version of The Limits of Limelight.

This audiobook is available from AudibleibooksGoogle PlayLibro.fmChirp, and many other vendors.