In 2006, British actor Tim Curry performed a hat trick of children’s audiobook narration, as the voice of A Series of Unfortunate Events #13: The End by Lemony Snicket (HarperChildren’s Audio), the series finale, as well as of Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, two titles in Simon & Schuster Audio’s inaugural lineup of children’s titles. Curry spoke with PW from London’s West End, where he is completing a three-month run as King Arthur in the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot, a role he originated on Broadway in 2005 and for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.
PW: When did you start recording audiobooks?
Tim Curry: I started maybe 16 or 17 years ago, in California. I’ve done a huge variety of books. Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven was one of the first. I had to create eunuchs’ voices and, at one point, two eunuchs making love, which was something of a challenge, as you can imagine. I was the voice of Anne Rice until she changed publishers. I was also the voice of Martha Grimes, and I read some Ken Follett and Umberto Eco, which I loved. For children, one of the first things I did was a version of The Velveteen Rabbit, which has since been re-recorded by Meryl Streep. I loved doing it.
PW: What most appeals to you about recording audiobooks? What makes recording trickier or easier than stage, television or film work?
TC: Growing up in England I was a child of what today would be considered austere surroundings. It was all radio; we had no TV until I was about 10. I believe, as a result, that I became a good reader of imagination, which is an enormous part of recording work. I do quite a bit of voice work for film and cartoons as well as audiobooks. Living in Los Angeles, you can wait a long time between films, so it’s nice to jump in the car, go to a [recording] studio and invent a world. It’s a creative, lovely thing to do.
I find there is something very intimate about being the voice in someone’s ear when they’re driving. I’ve received letters from people who’ve said, “You took me all the way to Tuscaloosa.” It’s you, the author and your own imagination, and you’re trying to engage the listener’s imagination.
I don’t know that voice work is easier or more difficult—it’s just different. You do get to be yourself as the narrator, which I don’t get to be on stage or in film, and it’s wonderfully greedy to play everybody. I have been lucky to have sympathetic and witty producers, and in the studio I can see through a glass darkly, so to speak, that they are silently enjoying themselves.
PW: The 13th and final Series of Unfortunate Events installment came out this fall. What strategies do you use to keep things fresh over a series like that? And how do you feel about the series ending?
TC: When I got Lemony Snicket, I was quite happy. He’s such a wonderful writer. He’s not afraid of the dark for children and that’s terribly important. We protect children too much from the dark. Even though the books are essentially amusing stories of the very terrific adventures of wonderfully brave children, there are lots of literary jokes in there for their parents. And there’s a huge variety of characters throughout the books. The writing itself is so fresh it’s not been difficult to keep the performance fresh. As each manuscript arrived in the letterbox, I tore it open. I couldn’t wait to read about what happened next. The stories were so marvelous, convoluted and exotic, and there were always new grim villains to play.
PW: Peter Pan is such a beloved classic, and the sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet, caused a bit of a stir in the children’s book world. What was your experience working with both the original and the new material? Had you been a fan of the original book as a child?
TC: I was a huge J.M. Barrie fan as a kid, as most English children are. The idea of children never having to grow up is a miraculous one. I have to say that I was very nervous to read the sequel because Peter Pan was such a classic. With a sequel you always worry for its integrity. But she [Geraldine McCaughrean] did an extraordinary job. It’s very richly imagined and richly written—more rich than Barrie, whose prose is very lean. I deliberately didn’t go back to the original until after I recorded the sequel. I didn’t want it to be colored by that. To read both was a feast.
PW: Do you prefer working on children’s material?
TC: In recent years I have been sought out to do it. Perhaps because I’m a big kid myself. I still find it quite easy to find my way into a child’s imagination. We’re all Peter Pan ourselves in some respects. Everybody should keep some grip on childhood, even as a grownup.
PW: What are you currently working on?
TC: I did Spamalot on Broadway for a year, and I came to London this fall to open the show here. I finish January 4. I hadn’t done a play here in almost 20 years, so it’s been an amazing way to come back. I’ve been able to visit with my nieces and see some old friends. And one great thing about the theater, all sorts of people show up to see you. I just got a card from Colette Kelly, who was in the original cast of Hair with me in 1968! That’s going to be interesting, meeting up with her.
I haven’t as yet scheduled any other work. I was going to go to Las Vegas and open Spamalot there, but I decided that I was just too physically exhausted. I plan to go home to Los Angeles and have a bit of a life for a moment. I’ve been doing Spamalot for a very long time, and it’s time to go home. But to all you publishers out there—I’ll be very near a studio.