In the world of romance audiobooks, there’s one name that nearly everyone knows – Phil Gigante. Phil is probably best known around here for his narration of Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander Series and, most recently, his performance of the male characters in Dreamfever, the fourth book of Moning’s Fever Series. Phil reprises those roles in Shadowfever, the final of the Fever Series which is set for release in both print and audio on January 18th. What better time to conduct our very first narrator interview?
To celebrate the release of Shadowfever, we are giving away the entire set of the Fever Series audiobooks (five in all) on CD, courtesy of Brilliance Audio. Place your name in the hat by commenting on this column by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, January 20th. Due to the cost of postage, the giveaway is open only to listeners in the U.S. and Canada. We ask that you comment only once and if you review for another Web site or blog, please refrain from entering. The winner will be notified by email on Friday morning and will have 24 hours to respond. Another winner will be selected on Saturday morning if the winner has not responded. Now, let’s talk with Phil!
– Lea Hensley
Allow me to start by saying I truly enjoy your audiobook performances. In 2008, I first experienced your performance in Karen Marie Moning’s Kiss of the Highlander and found myself totally captivated by those Scottish voices and that signature deep, sexy voice. Now, as a fairly new follower of KMM’s Fever Series, I must admit that part of my decision to finally start listening to the series was based on the fact that you joined in on the narration at Book 4.
Thank you, Lea! I appreciate that very much- and I hope you came for the voice and stayed for the story!
Speaking of that fourth book, Dreamfever, what were your thoughts on beginning your narration at that point in a series? How did you prepare for your performance in Dreamfever? How did you approach reading characters already established in listeners’ minds?
Jumping into Dreamfever when I did was a very exciting, and very nerve-wracking experience at once. There was a short amount of time between when the decision was made to add a male voice to the series, and the time we actually recorded the book. It was a whirlwind of skim-cramming the first three books–paper and audio– and lots of time on the phone with Karen Marie Moning.
Karen was my first and best source of info, since my first job is to perform the characters as the author wants them and make her happy. She gave me a great deal of insight, and even some spoilers about certain characters, things that wouldn’t come to light until Shadowfever, but that were necessary for me to know so I could “color” the way some characters were presented. The best part was that I only had half the workload since Natalie Ross was performing all the female roles!
With all the excitement over the release of Shadowfever and the secrecy surrounding it, I won’t ask that question romance readers are clamoring to discover (will Mac hook up with her guy – whoever that might be). But, what can you share with us about your experience while working on Shadowfever? What was your sense of the series as a whole? What are some memorable moments from working with KMM’s team?
Ha! I’ve been threatened with several…unique…punishments should I give spoilers! But…what makes you assume it’s a guy? LOL!
Shadowfever was a one of a kind experience for an audio narrator. I got to read the book ahead of almost everyone else and I got to have long conversations with Karen about the plot and characters. This is a Moning fan’s dream—and a bit of a nightmare for me, since I’m dying to discuss the book! But…the punishments, so…I had the benefit of recording in a new, intimate studio with Natalie Ross—who I love to work with—and our director Kris Kessel, who also directed KMM’s The Dark Highlander and Dreamfever. We could work out issues as a team, and if need be, could call Karen any time with questions. As a group we also tend to have very dirty minds and senses of humor which really helped get us in the mood for some of the truly racy scenes!
We laughed a lot during the recording, and there wasn’t a day I didn’t want to go to work. I was even invited by Karen and her husband Neil Dover to contribute on Neil’s next CD, Shadowsong. That was the best! Neil is an amazing musician, and I was thrilled to be asked to sing a couple of his songs. One of them, J.Z.B., is based on the character of Jericho Barrons from Dreamfever. It is now playing on the first page of Karenmoning.com, and it always startles me to hear myself when the page loads! Lol. Sexy song, though…
As for the series, I feel Karen has pulled out all the stops with Shadowfever. It is an amazing work, one that will keep the readers guessing to the very end. It wraps up most of the loose threads…leaving a couple “unwound” for the future (wink, wink), and is a very satisfying climax to the Fever Series. To me, Karen started to weave this tale all the way back in Kiss of the Highlander…she went from a pure “romance” writer to this complex “urban fantasy with a heavy dose of romance” style flawlessly. Her work has grown, the characters are deeper—even the love scenes have an amazing gift of being incredibly, mouth-open-and-panting HOT, and at the same time staying true to the characters in the moment and the “reality’ of the book. The sex mixed with danger or humor or…plot things I can’t talk about…really made me feel it to the bone. Yes, I said that.
In reviewing your backlist, it appears that an impressive number of audio releases have your name attached since 2007. Does narrating take most of your time these days? Can you tell us a little about your background?
It’s funny…after I narrated my first book, I didn’t get another for almost six months and I thought, “Oh, well…that was fun. Guess that’s the end of that career.” Then things started to snowball. Now I’m often recording two books a week, and I built a home studio to make things a little easier. Less travel time, and I can work nights or weekends if I want. The publishers and casting people have been brilliant at keeping me busy, and for that I’m very grateful. Especially in today’s economy!
I’ve done film, TV and radio work, but I’ve always been primarily a stage actor. I would direct, produce, go out on grueling tours, and then work many crap jobs in my down time. I love the immediacy of the theatre, the rush, the exhaustion and the fact that no two performances are ever alike. I used to act in any play I could, just to get that thrill. Now, I have to be selective about which shows I’ll do because of the huge time commitment required. I played The Music Man recently because my son was playing Winthrop, the boy lead, which was my first musical role. I thought it was poetic to complete the circle.
The introduction to Linda Howard’s Dream Man states “Performed by Phil Gigante” rather than narrated or read. I know your admirers here see your works as such – a performance, not just a narration. How would you compare narrating a book to one of your stage performances? Does one require more of you than another?
Hmmm…I do the same kind of character homework for both. I search for the meat of the characters, their truths, their desires, and discover how they grow and change within the arc of each scene and the arc of the play/book. With audiobooks, the opportunity is there to do this with multiple characters, as is the task of setting the scene, lighting it, adding an almost musical flow to the dialogue and narration depending on the circumstances the characters are going through. I use the Folio technique (thanks Chicago Shakespeare!) for nearly everything I read—in other words, a good author will always show a performer how the scenes should be performed. It’s all there in the writing. The other big difference is that I don’t have to wear costumes or makeup for an audiobook. Though I sometimes do. With plays, I can rarely get by performing without pants…though, there have been some…
The term “Folio technique” was new to me and I’m sure will be to many of our readers. Can you give us a brief explanation?
Shakespeare’s first printed collection of plays was the First Folio, circa 1623, and was “coded” by Shakespeare himself—much like a composer “codes” a piece of music. His rhythm choices, poetic conceits, and even how he used punctuation told the actors how he wanted the plays and characters performed. Many of these techniques can be used in any literature today—though it takes a little more detective work to find them! It is subtle and complex and wonderful—much more so than my explanation! If anyone wants to know more, try this with Google: arik.beatty.googlepages.com/TheFirstFolioTechnique.pdf. This is a good basic primer, and can help explain the difference between a big “Oh!” and a big “O!”
Most of the Gigante comments we see at our column start with something like, “What a wonderful sexy voice!” As I prepared for our Male Narrators column in 2009, I listened closely to clips from a number of your romance audiobooks and realized there is much more to your narrations than just that sexy voice. You’ve mastered that all-important sense of timing, as well as imparting the character’s attitudes purely through hearing their voice. Add to that the fact that your narrations make it clear that you, a male narrator, understand the romance genre! From past interviews, I’m aware that you didn’t know much about romance books prior to your involvement with KMM’s Highlander Series. How did you go about gaining this sense of understanding that your romance audience so needs to hear?
I’ve always loved romance and the intricacies of love. The highs and the heartbreaks. I’m very passionate in real life. I’ve played “romantic” characters on stage. It was learning the romance novel style that was the challenge. Two of the first books I ever narrated were KMM and Nora Roberts, so I had to lose all the “chick books are dumb” male attitude fast! The key, I feel, is to take the material seriously—really believe in it. Let go of all inhibitions when performing the characters. For the male characters, I have to let my own inner beast loose, to be able to say and do things that make the particular romantic lead a pure, perfect fantasy for the listener. Things I would probably feel awkward or embarrassed about trying in real life! Though, I have…with mixed results…
As I listened to your Horny Baby outtake at KMM’s site, I imagined you hanging your head in bewilderment at the type of hot scene you were reading before throwing your head back in a laugh of surrender. It was as though I could hear you blushing. I know listeners often must gear up to hear those sexy scenes all the while hoping frantically no one overhears. What were your thoughts when you first narrated these hot scenes? Have you become more accustomed to reading these scenes and do you think it is more difficult for a male narrator?
I was blushing—good ear! There was lots of blushing at first; there still is sometimes. I really have to let that romantic, primal side come out. My passionate, slightly dangerous side—the one that lives the moment completely and knows that nothing is too dirty or revealing or awkward where true love is concerned. The way we wish life was really like! Sometimes, I can get too into the moment, and have to go and walk around outside for a bit. The worst part is when I’m doing a love scene—really into it, nearing the climax of the scene (so to speak), and the engineer pops into my headphones with, “Uh, Phil? You said you love kissing her firm, pointed nickels. Wanna try that again?”
I’m not sure if it’s more difficult for a guy. I’ve done some dual-read love scenes where we both dissolve into laughter at some of the…euphemisms…used for body parts! My producer says I do the love scenes with élan, so I guess that’s the secret. Élan. Though I’m not sure if she means “with passion” or “quickly”!
In your 2009 interview with KMM, you stated that it is now difficult for you to go back and listen to the female characters in some of your earlier audiobooks and that you believe your female voices have improved markedly. After listening to one of your earlier audiobooks, KMM’s To Tame a Highland Warrior and comparing it to Howard’s Dream Man (produced almost two years later), I can definitely hear a difference. How have the performances of your female characters changed?
Yes, some of my first female-intensive stories came at the start of my narrating career. I think I was trying to do a female voice, rather than finding a full and complete character and letting the voice evolve from that. After much study, and some great advice from female narrator friends, I realized it is much more important to concentrate on the character’s attitude and life circumstances, rather than let the pitch of her voice be a stumbling block. Heck, some women have lower voices than I do…well, ok, maybe if they drink a lot and chain smoke cigars. The joke is: Male narrators must try not to sound like drag queens when they do female characters—and female narrators doing males must try not to sound like angry lesbians.
Among your works there are a number of dual narrations. As an actor and audiobook performer, do you enjoy doing these dual narrations? Which do you prefer?
I do like the dual reads. There is a strong feeling of simpatico in working together to get the tone and message of the book across. Also, having an actress with her own take on a character, making choices I may not have made or even thought of, gives me the chance to react rather than just act. This may change what I planned to do for the better. You can also inspire your fellow performer—finding moments to play that weren’t apparent in a first read, or even just keeping each other’s energy and enthusiasm up. It’s also great to have an extra ear in the studio, one that isn’t afraid to let you know what works…or what sucks! Then there’s all that laughing during the love scenes… The majority of my books are just me, so I look on the dual reads as a fun exception to the rule.
Your backlist of audiobooks is quite varied and contains a number of genres including Mystery and Thrillers, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Fiction, and Romance. How do you choose your projects? Can we influence you to return to romance narration frequently?
I don’t get to choose my projects, per se; it’s really what comes down through the publisher, then saying “yes” or “no” depending on if I have that scheduled time open. I’d love to pick and choose—who wouldn’t? But I’m very thankful that I’m seen as versatile enough to perform many genres of books, and I’m not pigeon holed too badly. I’ve only actively campaigned for a couple of titles I wanted. I enjoy doing new styles and genres of books, and I find something to love about each project I do, so as long as I’m working I’m pretty happy. I always have fun with romance novels, and I’d love to do more. Most romance novels don’t lend themselves to a male narration, so when I get to do a book or series I’m grateful. I’ve done some great romance writers’ works in the studio. Karen Moning’s fans, the crazy and wonderful Maniacs, actually campaigned to get me into the Fever series. So…write your favorite author and ask nicely? LOL
One of the criticisms we hear again and again in our discussions is that the male characters don’t sound like men. Since heroes are all important to romance listeners, I believe you will find a number of us campaigning for you to narrate more romance!
Thank you! Kudos again to Laura Grafton, my casting director and first romance director who said, “I bet the female listeners would love to hear a male voice for these big Scotsmen!”
What are you working on now? Are there any upcoming releases you can share with us? As you know, I just finished Shadowfever, reading with Natalie Ross, and I think it’s going to be a huge and amazing book. I’m in the studio now with a few series. I do the dark noir Burke books by Andrew Vachss, the classic western series Wagons West by Dana Fuller Ross, and one I actively campaigned for, The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison. The Rat series is a pulp sci-fi comedy-action series I loved since childhood, and I think my joy in doing them is apparent on the discs!
I also did a short story called The Adjustment Team by Phillip K. Dick, which I think will be a companion release to The Adjustment Bureau, the film based on the story starring Matt Damon. After that…who knows? Any suggestions?
I’m taking that question seriously since we’re campaigning for more Gigante romance narrations. Linda Howard is a favorite author of mine so I’m hoping we’ll see your name on her future audio releases. A number of other authors (who have expanded into audio) come easily to mind including Anne Stuart, Elizabeth Hoyt, Rachel Gibson, Suzanne Brockmann, and Jo Goodman. Open suggestions to those romance authors who have yet to release in audio and I’m sure the list would be quite long indeed!
Thank you for visiting with us today and telling us about your work. You can bet we’ll be eagerly listening to your performance in Shadowfever. You have a dedicated listener base here at Speaking of Audiobooks and hope you’ll check in with us from time to time in the future.
Thank you, Lea! I had a great time. And a very special thanks to all your listeners. Knowing there are so many dedicated, wonderful souls out there makes it a joy to perform for them. Stay Passionate!
A big thanks to Phil for providing us with some insight into the recording of audiobooks and Brilliance Audio for the Fever Series audiobooks featured in our giveaway. Be sure to enter by commenting in this column’s discussion before Thursday, January 20th at 11:59 p.m. eastern time.