Yesterday I reviewed You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin. While I was reading about how Victor and Sara’s relationship was stripped bare, I wondered what the experience of narrating was like for real-life couple Johnny Heller and Jo Anna Perrin. I was so happy when they agreed to speak with me about their experiences with this book and each other.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet the pair in New York City during BEA week. They are a joy to be around and I trust you’ll be as touched by the bits of their relationship that shine through in this interview. The picture is incredibly sweet, too.
Without further delay, here is my interview with Johnny and Jo Anna:
Literate Housewife: As this book deals so much with relationships, memory, and miscommunication, I was very curious to know more about how it was for a couple to narrate this book together.
Johnny Heller: It was great to work with the lovely Jo Anna. She’s quite gifted and I found that when we read out loud together, we fell into a rhythm. It wasn’t our own but a rhythm of the two characters and it was revelatory for me. We were, I think, speaking to one another as the characters through the author and to the listener and that is, after all, what the job is all about. We talked very little about the scenes we needed to record together – besides where to stand or sit to get the best sound but we chatted about the scenes after the read and it was a very fulfilling experience from an acting standpoint.
Jo Anna Perrin: I have to say that it was, and always is, great to work with Johnny. Since we know each other so well, we have nearly telepathic shorthand in communicating, and that always travels into anything we work on together. However, in this particular case, he’s absolutely spot on when he says that we fell into a rhythm that was foreign to our own, but completely honest to the two characters of the book. Especially in the scene at the lake, when the “ghost” of Sara argues with Victor…Those two people took on a life of their own beyond us as narrators. We both felt afterward, that we had been taken over by them for the duration. Whether it was that the scene was so well written and honest, or that it touched some odd chord in us for these people, whatever the reason, as actors it was emotionally satisfying.
LH: Did you read it for the first time together, or did you prepare separately?
JH: Separately. It isn’t possible for me to get much out of reading out loud. I need to read a book and let it settle a bit. If I read with someone, I get all actorish and worry more about doing well as a performer than just trying to get a handle on the story and the characters. Research, I think, is a personal and private enterprise.
JP: We prepared separately, using our own individual routes. Interestingly, we didn’t rehearse any of our “duet” scenes either; we just took it on the fly, without discussion. It seemed to organically gel, and we did our work together in one take. We hoped it all sounded natural, because it all did come naturally. Even in our separate moments in the book, I felt an innate kinship to Sara. We can all equate to loss, and fear of failure, and a sense of sadness for the road less traveled, or the one untaken. If we’d taken the right turn one day instead of the left, would life have been different?
LH: Where did you read the book? What was recording together like? Is it different than working with another colleague?
JH: In our home studio. Recording together was wonderful – the only problem is that our booth is set for one narrator, not two. Jo sat at the mic and pulled her head back on my lines and I kneeled next to her and shoved my head in front of the mic on my lines. Very professional! As to the difference in working with Jo vs. another colleague — it’s hard to say since it’s rare to work on an audio book with another narrator. Since it was necessary, I was very happy it was Jo that I was kneeling near as I’m very very fond of her.
JP: Hah! The feeling is mutual! If I had to have someone’s head in front of my mic, he’s my first choice! But, yes, tight quarters. After we got past the giggling and innuendo and down to business, it was easy to make the adjustments necessary to actually record. It was great working with him in the booth, because there was no pressure. We just made the physical adjustments, and went for it! There are really so few chances to work with a colleague in narration, it’s primarily a solitary endeavor, especially if, as is more common these days, you are recording from home. Working with your life partner, well that is an exceptional joy, and obviously has many more layers than just working with another actor.
LH: Did the dysfunction in Victor and Sara’s relationship have any impact on your own?
JH: Not at all. Our dysfunctions remained unchanged. Jo Anna still thinks I’m immature and silly and I think she thinks I’m immature and silly. We cling to that.
JP: Well, he clings to that, at least! Sometimes I am reminded of Woody Allen’s line at the end of Annie Hall. Basically, I guess I just need the eggs…even if they are a bit scrambled.
LH: Tell me about the character Aunt Betsy. How much fun did you have with her? I could certainly feel it as a listener.
JH: I found Betsy to be the most interesting and wonderful character in the book. So full of life even when life was rapidly leaving her. I hope I can be as sharp and as wise and as wonderful when I reach that point. She was so feisty and so delightfully blunt. Wonderful character.
JP: She certainly had what people used to call grit. I remember being sad that I couldn’t be Aunt Betsy in the recording. I think everyone should have an Aunt Betsy in their lives.
LH: What are the two of you working on now? Any chance there’s another duet coming up soon?
JH: I’m doing some work on a cyber terrorism series for Macmillon and I’m about to start a wonderful book for Tantor called Buddy — it’s about a man and his rooster…sort of. I’m looking forward to it. Jo and I are thinking of doing some old comedy scripts from the days of radio. There’s some very funny stuff out there and if we can get the rights, we’ll do some and release them through our website: www.AbbreviatedAudio.com — right now, we’re both pretty busy. If things slow down, we need to take a vacation before we do any more projects!
JP: I just finished—literally moments ago—Beyond Dealmaking for Audible through Tantor Studios, and earlier this week, a photo shoot for AudioFile’s Listening With segment that was great fun. Now I have to direct some energy to the facelift for Abbreviated Audio, that I have been threatening, er, I mean promising…
Thanks so much to Johnny and Jo Anna for spending a little time at Literate Housewife. They are certainly welcome to stop back by any time.