Friday, November 23, 2007

The Voice of Hannah Baker: Debra Wiseman

[Below is an interview Jay conducted with Debra Wiseman, the voice of Hannah Baker on the Listening Library audiobook of Thirteen Reasons Why. And remember to leave a comment for your chance to win a free copy!]

Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in the great area of Palo Alto, California. I was always interested in the performing arts and Silicon Valley was rich with theatrical options. I did as many shows as I could and gained a lot of valuable experience. I visited New York City at the age of 11 and saw Les Miserables on Broadway. From that moment on I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. The Big Apple!

What attracted you to acting?
Acting was just a natural extension of my first love...singing. Just listening to good vocals isn't enough, there has to be emotion behind it and that's where acting comes in. I prefer comedy to drama, but I do both. My grandfather was an opera singer and cantor in Europe and that is from whom I got my voice.

What have been some of your favorite acting jobs?
I got my very first job in New York from an obscure ad in Backstage (a trade magazine) and after auditioning, I got a call that I had gotten the job. There was a catch: Would I cut my hair? Yikes! I was just out of school and had printed up 500 brand new resume pictures. Not to mention, my hair was long, curly,and extremely important to my persona. So I said, "No, I couldn't cut it," and the man said he would call me back to tell me if I got the job or not. I then asked about the project. He said it was Woody Allen's fall project (soon to be titled Bullets over Broadway). I said I would pay him and be bald to do the film! It was a fantastic experience in every way and I didn't have to cut my hair!

How did you get started voicing audiobooks?
Luck! I had my first audition for one and felt very at home in the medium. I booked that job and that led to others and ultimately...this job! I would like to work more in this medium. I really enjoy the challenge.

Is there anything special you do between when you get the script and when you sit in front of the microphone?
I read the script and make a list of all the characters and their personality traits. I then think of voices for each. Some voices are more of a stretch, but if the character is minor then I can sustain it. I usually keep the main character's voice close to my own sound since that is the voice for most of the book. In this book, my normal sound was too perky and light for such a troubled character, but we tried a few variations until we got one that sounded and felt like this young girl.

What did you enjoy most about recording Thirteen Reasons Why?
I really enjoy the challenge of choosing character voices that fit the style of the book and help relay the story effectively. This was a profound book and I felt that is was very important for the listeners to feel this character's honesty, so they could really experience what the character was going through.

Was there anything that made recording Thirteen Reasons Why more difficult than other audiobooks?
This book is not a flimsy or silly read. It is a serious novel depicting deep issues that can arise in high school. I knew going in that we had to keep the serious tone of the book, but also be real as to the whims and humor that goes with being a teenager. Well, by the end of the book I was completely invested in the character (just like when you read a good book). There was an emotional scene and I started crying, which was just a reaction to speaking her words as honestly as possible. If I was just reading the novel silently at home, I probably would've cried for the character as well. It means it's a good book, it pulls you in!


Anne Marie said...

Great interview, Debra and Jay!

Debbie (coollibrarianchick) said...

I had in my head an image of Hannah's and Clay's voice in my head after reading the book....I just want you to know you did pretty good in my book. I appreciate that you internalize the characters you read to make them come alive. I bet I know where you broke down and cried because that is probably where I did to

Anonymous said...

Oh. I am so intrigued. Your book sounds awesome. Good luck with it.

Beverly McClure

Jodi Lyn said...

Jay, thanks for sharing this interview! It's always interesting to hear from the actors behind the voices.

SCBWI Moscow Critique Group said...

Very cool insights. It was interesting to learn there was more than one attempt to get the audio voice just right to fit the character's voice. Can't wait to listen to it and to tomorrow's interview.

Amber said...

Love the interview - I'm glad you were able to keep your hair!

JuliaK said...

Awesome! I did not want the clip to stop!

Anonymous said...

The book was fantastic! Looking forward to hearing the audio version :)

-missy t from the Blueboard

FrecklesandDeb said...

Interesting interview! I didn't realize so much preparation went into reading an audiobook. I'm eager to hear the audio version.

Linda D. (sbk) said...

Great interview!

I'd love to hear the audio book some day.

debi in holland said...

The book would lend itself so well to the spoken word -- after all, that's what it's all about, right?

The part I really want to hear is Jay's wife singing . . .

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview and congratulations on the book. It seems to be doing very well.

-Laurel Handfield

~Mrs. Stu said...

When I did a "preview reading" of TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY with a group of teens, I read it aloud until I got to the portion where Clay pressed play, and then...I let Hannah take over. I should have had someone recording their expressions. I didn't tell them ahead of time that I was going to do that and they were completely taken aback. With mouths agape & several noticable "arm brushes" to ward off chillbumps, they were a completely "captured audience". So I'd say "bravo" to Debra...job well done. :)

"e" said...

I have my copy on hold at my local indie, but I'd love to listen to 13 Reasons too!
Elizabeth O. Dulemba

Bettina said...

Nice interviews on the actors. I usually just think about the author and the characters on the page. This brings an entire new dimension to my listening experience.

I also love audiobooks.... the only reason I bought an Ipod!


(on verla kay: bettrest)

Disco Mermaids said...

I'll be out of town doing school visits on Monday, so any comments that come in that day before 10pm (west coast time) will count!

- Jay

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I am so excited to read this book after the great reviews I've seen!

Mac McCool said...

Jay! You made an actress cry!!! No wonder you were feeling stunned when you listened to the audio version of your book!

Candace said...

I -love- living on the West Coast :) With one hour to go, lol. The interview was really neat. I'm gonna read it again.


Rita said...

Man, that is so awesome. GREAT interview.