All Harry/All the TIME!
The Voice of Harry Potter Can Keep a Secret
By MOTOKO RICH
Jim Dale is either one of the luckiest men in America or one of the most tortured.
A little less than two months ago, Mr. Dale, the veteran Broadway actor turned voice of Harry Potter, finished recording the audio version of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final installment in the colossally successful series by J. K. Rowling.
So that means that he knows how it ends.
His grandchildren, who visited from England after he completed the recording, literally twisted his arms trying to get him to divulge a clue. His wife is still in the dark. Everywhere he goes, people want to know What He Knows.
“It’s a surprise ending,” he said on Friday, during an interview in his Park Avenue co-op. “Let’s say that.” Editor's note: ARRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHH.
It is not quite four days until Harry Potter’s legions of fans can procure a copy of “Deathly Hallows” — in hardcover, CD or cassette — and find out for themselves exactly who does what to whom. Mr. Dale signed a confidentiality agreement so that he will not breathe a word of the plot.
But after spending eight years creating more than 200 voices for all the characters in the “Harry Potter” books, Mr. Dale really believes that readers — and listeners — should discover the end for themselves.
“For those people who say, ‘C’mon, Jim, how does it end?,’ it’s like parents who say: ‘There’s a surprise gift for you in the next room. It’s a bicycle,’ ” said Mr. Dale, whose apartment could easily make a Hogwarts professor feel at home with its eclectic collections of Victorian cake decorations, pewter plates and Persian swords. “Let the child find out for himself by opening this gift.”
Mr. Dale, 71, was born in central England and has had a long and storied career as a stand-up comedian, a pop singer and an actor in everything from the British “Carry On” series of films and Shakespeare at the National Theater in London to Broadway productions of “Joe Egg” and “Barnum,” for which he won a Tony Award.
Serendipity landed Mr. Dale the part of reading “Harry Potter.”
Back in 1999, Listening Library, then an independent company, acquired the United States audiobook rights to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first book in the series, for just $15,000. Timothy Ditlow, the son of the company’s founders, was at a dinner party with a group of avid theatergoers who recommended Mr. Dale. (In Britain the audiobooks are produced by Bloomsbury, and Stephen Fry, the actor, author and comedian, reads them.) Editor's Note: I would LOVE to hear a little of the Stephen Fry versions. Hard to imagine anyone doing it as well as Jim Dale...who is INCREDIBLE....but I hear Fry is excellent too.
Mr. Ditlow recalled Mr. Dale’s performance in “Barnum” and a few other Broadway shows. Although Mr. Dale had recorded only one audiobook, which was never released, Mr. Ditlow offered him the job. “I think it’s just one of those combination factors of luck and just going by your gut,” Mr. Ditlow said.
Since he first went into the recording studio in the summer of 1999, Mr. Dale has recorded every single word of the “Harry Potter” series, amounting to 117 hours and 4 minutes of reading time across the seven books — or a lot of long car rides. Including sales of CDs, cassettes and digital downloads, the audiobooks have sold more than 5.7 million copies, according to the Random House Audio Publishing Group, which now owns Listening Library.
For his work on the “Harry Potter” series, Mr. Dale has won a Grammy Award and holds the record for creating the most voices in an audiobook in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“Deathly Hallows,” which runs to 784 pages in the ink-and-paper version, took about two and a half weeks, working six-and-a-half-hour days, recording about 18 to 20 pages an hour, to finish. As with the other books, Mr. Dale received the manuscript only two or three days before he was scheduled to begin recording.
“That makes it impossible for me to actually read it before recording it,” said Mr. Dale, who does not possess the 13-year-old megafan’s ability to inhale the book in a weekend.
So he read about 100 pages ahead, and noted all the different voices he needed for the first few days of recording. The benefit of reading in chunks, Mr. Dale said, is that: “I don’t ever know how the book is going to end so I can’t unconsciously lead you in the direction that the book is going. I don’t know who the villain is because I am just reading 100 pages at a time.”
By now the publisher has digital files of all the voices he has used for long-running characters like Hermione Granger, one of Harry’s sidekicks, as well as more minor recurring characters like the Death Eaters, so that Mr. Dale can recreate those voices for the latest book. He takes into account the aging of the main characters, who started out as 10 and 11 in “Sorcerer’s Stone” and are now 17 and 18 in “Deathly Hallows.”
For new characters Mr. Dale uses an old-fashioned cassette recorder and tapes one or two sentences in the new voice and notes the place in the text. Then, when he shows up in the studio and starts to read, he will go to his tape recorder, rewind until he finds the right voice, and play it back to refresh his memory before recording the text. To create the range of voices, he calls on his knowledge of dozens of accents from across the British Isles and imitates the voices of friends and relatives.
For Peeves, the poltergeist, he used the voice of an old comedian friend. For Prof. Minerva McGonagall, Mr. Dale chose the voice of an aunt on his wife’s side, who, perhaps fortunately, did not live to hear herself commemorated that way.
As with the earlier books, Ms. Rowling (whom Mr. Dale said he has met twice) sent along a list of new words and character names and their corresponding pronunciations. Whenever he stumbled on a word not on the author’s list, Mr. Dale would record it in context in several ways to account for every possible pronunciation.
The producers are sticklers for absolute fidelity to the text. “If she says ‘someone laughs, ha, ha, ha,’ and I do four ‘ha’s,’ I am stopped and told, ‘Just do three,’ ” Mr. Dale said.
This Friday night, in the run-up to the release of “Deathly Hallows” at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Mr. Dale will appear at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square in Manhattan, where he will invite children onto the stage to do impressions of his voices. After the book is released, he will do a tour of Houston, Washington, Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C. Editor's Note: HOUSTON!!!! Woohoo!!!!
Since attracting a fan base for his “Harry Potter” readings, Mr. Dale has been recording other children’s classics, like “A Christmas Carol,” “Peter Pan” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”
“So if we can encourage the children who follow Jim Dale to listen to other books he records,” Mr. Dale said, “then we are really encouraging them to read or listen to other books that they may never find on their own.”
This fall fans will also be able to hear Mr. Dale’s voice as the narrator of “Pushing Daisies,” a new television series from Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of “Men in Black.”
But it is his role as the aural embodiment of Harry Potter that has brought Mr. Dale a chance at the kind of immortality that many performers crave.
“We have been part of history — big, big history,” Mr. Dale said. “It’s like the people who were connected with Lewis Carroll or the people connected with J. M. Barrie when ‘Peter Pan’ came up. It has been marvelous. Now my voice can be heard in hundreds of years’ time. We all need to leave something behind, and I am leaving behind a legacy of the ‘Harry Potter’ audiobooks.”