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Audiobook acting: What goes into their roles and how a woman can be Edward from 'Twilight'

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Most of the thousands of audiobooks recorded every year are read by literary character actors — you don't know their names, but you recognize their voices.

Heard a good book lately? Monday, the Audio Publishers Association announced its five finalists for the best audio book of 2014. The narrators were mostly celebrity authors, with people like Amy Poehler, Oprah Winfrey and Nelson Mandela nominated for reading their own books.

But the thousands of other audiobooks recorded every year are performed by the literary equivalent of character actors — you may not know their names, but you'll recognize their voices. 

We invited two of the more acclaimed narrators of audiobooks to talk with the Frame: Ilyana Kadushin, who has recorded Stephenie Meyer's best-selling “Twilight” novels, and Kevin T. Collins, who has read the Navy SEAL story “Lone Survivor” and the teen romance “Beautiful Creatures.”

Lone Survivor audiobook excerpt

Audiobook sales now top $1 billion every year, and Amazon’s recorded books division, Audible, hopes soon to have nearly 200,000 recorded titles for sale.

How an audiobook actor prepares

When it comes to recording an audiobook, Kadushin says the publishing company might only deliver a book to the actors/narrators days before they record. She says you'll usually get one pass through the book where you can identify storylines and character voices while making goals for what you want to do with the book, then you have to take that preparation and make decisions in the moment.

Collins says that he's relaxed as he's done more audiobook work, going from marking up his script a lot and deciding how everyone would sound to learning to trust his own instincts.

Sometimes, actors get extra direction from the authors, Collins says — Audible has policies where they encourage actors to contact the authors, especially on smaller projects. Collins says you're probably not going to call up James Patterson, but the project's director or producer can contact him.

One way that the industry has changed, Kadushin says, is that there's more isolation of the actors and narrators. More projects had a whole team behind it, including a director and an engineer producing the book, who you could go to with pronunciation questions and story questions. Now, Kadushin says, you're more likely to have to do your own research, often emailing authors or getting them on the phone. She says they're happy to do so, though — they want their books to be great too.

The Twilight Saga

One of the strangest compliments Kadushin has received: She says that she used to get letters from Twilight fans telling her they liked how she read romantic lead Edward better than Robert Pattinson's take in the films. Now, this may come off to some as a shot at Pattinson's acting, but Kadushin says that she thinks her success reading that character comes from how she would focus on how the female character was experiencing the male character. She said it made for an emotional narration that listeners could tap into, being inside the interaction between the characters Kadushin having a distinctly feminine voice.

Twilight audiobook excerpt

How they became audiobook narrators

"I think great acting makes great narration," Kadushin says. She said that she was brought into the world of audiobook narration when she heard Jeremy Irons narrating "The Alchemist," letting her realize that there were high-level film and theater actors doing audiobooks.

Meanwhile, Collins says that he "Forrest Gumped" his way into being an audiobook actor. His mom is a retired musician who listens to audiobooks "whenever she's conscious," and she's the one who told him he should be in this field. Collins landed his second audiobook audition, which was for "Lone Survivor," and that launched his career.

Where they find inspiration

Both Kadushin and Collins say that their biggest inspiration comes from listening to other people, and that living in New York City makes it easy to come across a diverse group of people.

"I love listening to people, and I'll imitate them. Not to their face!" Kadushin clarified, "But if I hear an accent in the street, I'll kind of capture it and play with it."

"Occasionally I'll walk around with my voice memo and just do kind of crazy voices, and just do weird things, and try and make myself laugh. And I copy things from movies," Collins says.

However, he added that he takes most of his cues from the writing itself and from his own instincts, finding how it sounds in his head and trying to make it sound like that.

Listen to the audio to hear Ilyana Kadushin tell Frame host John Horn what groceries to pick up — in her sexiest vampire voice. You can also hear Kevin T. Collins do the same in his best aircraft carrier commander voice.

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