Audiobook Q&A: 50 Shades of Becca Battoe

Adam Boretz -- July 31st, 2012

Our Audiobook Q&A series is back — and this time, we’ve gone GREY. Today, we bring you our in-depth audiobooks chat with Becca Battoe, the narrator of E.L. James’s wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed.

1. How did you come to narrate the audio editions of the 50 Shades books? Were you a fan of the series?

I have worked with Random House Audio for a few years now, so they have me in their databank as a reader. When E.L. James and her people called Random House looking for voices, mine was one of the many options she was given to choose from. Apparently, she chose my voice as the reader for these novels, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

2. Once you signed on to narrate the series, did you feel a certain amount pressure give the popularity of the books?

Fortunately, when I got the call from my producer offering me this job, neither one of us had any idea how huge this title was going to be. I was still recording the second and third books when they released the first one, and I was astounded at all the press it got right out of the gate. I’m still at a loss for words. They were released over 20 weeks ago, and all three are still in the top 10 on Kindle, audio and paperback. It’s amazing!

3. Did the “adult” nature of the books present any special challenges to you as a narrator? Were there any passages that gave you pause as you were recording them?

Since I generally read Young Adult novels, this project was definitely a new challenge for me in general. Although I’m sure there were moments during recording that I was blushing a little, overall I felt very comfortable. It was just myself and my amazing director, Cathy Thornburn, in the recording studio, so I felt free to live as the characters as best as I could.

4. You’re getting a lot of press for 50 Shades, but you’ve been narrating audiobooks for a while. How did you get your start in audio narration? And what tips would you offer aspiring narrators?

I was so fortunate. I’d been working in Los Angeles for years trying to get work in film, theatre and TV. One day I randomly went to visit a friend who was recording a series of books for Random House. I met a director there, gave her my headshot and resume, and was later called in for a general audition. A little while later, I landed my first Young Adult novel, and since then the books have been coming in fairly regularly.  As far as tips go for new readers… Get your demo finished and make sure it’s strong, and send it out with your package (resume, cover letter, headshot) to any production companies, casting directors, or agents that work in the audiobook and voice-over field. I don’t think there is any one way of “making it” in this business. Stay positive, work hard, take class, work harder, be genuine, work even harder, meet people. That was my secret.

5. Because of the press you’ve been getting, do you feel like this is a breakout moment for you?

I hope it is a breakout moment for me!!  It is certainly the biggest, most high-profile project I’ve ever been a part of. I am definitely hoping that this work begets more work for me. As an actor, that’s all you can hope for…more work!

6. Do you prefer solo narration or working with other narrators? What do you see as the challenges of both types of narration?

Honestly, the few times I’ve worked with multiple narrators, the process for me is the same as when I am on my own. The books I’ve narrated with more than one reader have been books with points of view written from various characters.  So when it came time for my portion of the recording, I was on my own in the studio. My process stays the same regardless.

7. Do you have a preferred genre of book to narrate? And do you think narrating different genres requires different skills?

I’ve done so many extremely well-written Young Adult novels that I tend to prefer that genre as far as narration goes. But, I really LOVE to read. I love all types of books. Any opportunity that is granted to me to be the voice of a novel, I simply jump for joy. I think with all genres, the job as the narrator is to tell the story as best you can the way the author intended. Choices you make will often change due to the source material or the characters. Those choices often vary from genre to genre, so the “choices” you make as a reader/actor are really made for you.

8. Who are some of the narrators that you most admire? Who have helped you in your own career?

I’m a huge fan of Justine Eyre. She is simply amazing. Ilyana Kadushin is also a great reader. I tend to listen to mostly female narrators, strangely enough. I listen to audiobooks all the time and I think each narrator I’ve heard has helped me in some way.

9. What is your proudest professional achievement to date?

I’m so grateful for and happy with all of the opportunities I’ve had in the entertainment industry. I’ve played roles on stage that I dreamed of as a child. I’ve narrated for Judy Blume, who I have been an enormous fan of for many years. One of my books (with the help of my fellow narrators) garnered an Earphones Award from AudioFile magazine. Fifty Shades of Grey alone has given me some amazing fans. I’m constantly learning and growing, and when I look back at projects, I’m always proud of that moment, but I’m also thinking of all the ways I could have done it better.

10. Do you have a dream project? An author whose work you would love to record? A book you would love to narrate?

A close friend of mine is the sister of a very famous author that happens to be one of my favorite writers. I keep telling her I want to voice one of her books, but it hasn’t happened yet… Are you listening, Jennifer Weiner? I’m talking to you.

11. Before you step into the recording booth, what do you do to prepare? Is your preparation process always the same or does it vary from book to book?

I generally try to read the manuscripts at a minimum of two times, hopefully three before I step into the studio. Depending on how many prep days I have, I’ll usually read it first “for fun.” As in, as a regular audience member. Then the second time I read it, I’ll make a list of all characters — which is basically an excel sheet of who they are, what they do, their relationship to the main character, and “who” they are to me. Then I go over pronunciations and definitions of words I’m unsure of, and mark the dialogue for each character. The last thing I do is work on parts that feel weird or seem tricky vocally or seem like tongue twisters. For me, the most important part of narration is preparation.  The more I do before I get to the studio, the easier it is for me to just tell the story the best I can, stay present, and live and breathe as the characters.

12. What are the three biggest challenges of audiobook narration?

After the preparation, the biggest challenges in the studio include keeping your mouth lubricated so as not to have mouth noise, sitting for hours at a time without moving much, and tiring out your face muscles and vocal chords by the end of the day. Luckily, for all the technical stuff, you generally have a director checking pronunciations for you, and listening for errors/mistakes.

13. Do you ever have any interaction with authors prior to recording audiobooks? Do they ever offer tips? And if so, is this helpful? 

I have unfortunately never had the opportunity to speak with any of my authors prior to working on the books. I have written emails to a couple of the authors of the books I’ve done, but that was after I had already recorded. Suzanne LaFleur of Love, Aubrey wrote back to me a few times, and was simply a dream. Also, I was in New York this past spring while E.L. James was there on her book tour, and I was able to meet her and thank her for the opportunity  It was really incredible. She was very cordial and kind to me.

14. What are you working on next? 

I’m currently working on a project called WAUPACA; it stars TV and film actor Patrick Gallagher and me.  I also just finished another audio book entitled Losing Charlotte. Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve gotten a new agent, I’m going out on bigger auditions, and I’m hoping that I’ll have even more news next time you hear from me.

Photo Credit: Dana Patrick

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