Close-up: An Interview with Emily Lawrence

PRESTRIDGE² spoke with talented actor Emily Lawrence about the art to audio books, her favourite authors and her love for aerial cirque.

Q: You have recorded more than 150 audiobooks. When did you discover your talent for voice acting and when did you realise it could be a career?

A: I AM actually currently narrating my 175th audiobook if you can believe it. I did not discover that I had a talent for it until I started doing it. I always loved to read, but I had never listened to an audiobook. I took a workshop that went over the different kinds of voiceover and audiobooks was one of the topics.

When I realized there was something that would combine two of my favourite things (reading and acting), I knew I had to do it. I did not know if I would be good at it and certainly was not sure I could turn it into a career. I just knew it was something I could be passionate about and love doing. I was not aware I was any good at it until I started getting regular work.

Within six months, I was able to quit my survival job (tutoring) and do it full time. There is still a part of me that cannot believe this is my job. It is just too good to be true.

Q: I have really enjoyed listening to your work. Is there a secret to your voice acting talent? Do you have any special practice routine or technique?

A: WELL, I have many years of experience as an actor, including four years of voice training at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

My training has taught me invaluable vocal technique skills as well as important tools for vocal health and hygiene. I do not think I could be doing this without my training.

As for the secret to narrating audiobooks, it is all about story telling. It is the ability to understand the words in real time as you are saying them and make them come alive. To be able to get behind the point of views and emotions of every character in the book – and then to channel that understanding and empathy into an expressive voice.

There is not really a single secret. It is the ability to live in the stories and express that truth through your voice. I am really not sure how I do it – I just kind of do. As far as I am concerned, it is magic.

Q: Do you still find time to read for pleasure? And when you are not reading, how do you like to relax?

A: I DO not really ‘read’ any more per say, but that is because I listen to audiobooks instead of reading physical books.

I love it because I can listen to stories while I am driving or eating or going about chores. I have always got my head in some idea or concept and it keeps me artistically alive and creative.

It is also great as research for my work to hear what my fellow narrator colleagues are doing. I absolutely love books, but there is something about the spoken word that really brings stories to life.

If you think about it, humans were telling each other stories for millennia before we had the ability to write them down or distribute them widely. There is something more immediate and personal about it. It is the oldest form of story-telling there is and it is really an honour to be part of that kind of tradition.

Q: Do you have any favourite books or authors you can recommend?

A: ABSOLUTELY. My favourite authors are Neil Gaiman (American Gods is my favourite but really any of his novels), Tom Robbins (Jitterbug Perfume and Still Life with Woodpecker would be my recommendations) and Kurt Vonnegut (all of his books are great but I think Slaughterhouse-Five is where his ideas really coalesced into brilliance).

There are many, many others. I could go on forever, but I would say generally that the classics are classics for a reason – and I would include modern classics in that group as well.

If you could see someone finding enough value in the book to study it in a literature class, then it is likely worth the read. Even if you do not like it yourself, it is worth seeing why others think it is worth passing on to future generations.

Q: You are a keen writer. Can you tell us about any of the screenplays and scripts you have been writing?

A: SURE. My most recent script is a half hour dramedy about the awkwardness of making friends as an adult. It has drawn the attention of a digital media company interested in developing it. So who knows, maybe that will go somewhere exciting.

Before that, I wrote a romantic comedy feature script about a woman who becomes her best friend’s social media executor. She falls for someone who professes his love via a Facebook message, not knowing the best friend is deceased. I have got at least half a dozen spec scripts floating around in varying genres and styles.

Q: On that note, what kind of stories do you like to tell and what kind of characters do you like to create?

A: I CAN get inspired by any story that really delves into the human condition and what it means to be alive in our world, especially if it expresses a point of view that resonates with me or I have not seen before.

More particularly, I have always been attracted to stories with a certain moral ambiguity. I believe strongly that our world is not black and white, but shades of grey. I think the more we can all understand that about ourselves and each other, the better our world will be.

I do not believe in evil – I believe in human beings just doing what they can to survive or believing with all their heart that they are doing the right thing and just not being able to see the full picture.

I think that stories that show us this are so important, especially in our current political climate. I also think that many stories show people as being effortlessly heroes, to the point where their heroism loses its meaning. I would rather see someone who struggles to do the right thing. It is just more real.

Q: As well as writing, you have done work as a producer and screen actor. How have you found these different experiences and do you have a preference for one?

A: I CANNOT say I enjoy producing. It is a kind of headache. I am really organized and self-disciplined, so I have all the necessary skills for producing, but I hate wrangling with people and trying to get other people to do things. Producing is just a necessary evil for me.

Between acting and writing, I really love both. I’ would say acting was my passion before writing and it is the thing I have far more experience and training in. But I am not sure I could really give either of them up.

Q: You have also co-authored books on American history. Is there a particular historical figure who inspires or fascinates you?

A: ALL of the books I have published revolve around members of the Vanderbilt family. This is because I grew up volunteering as a tour guide at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in New York. It is an old Vanderbilt mansion so that is what drew me to that subject matter. While I find the various Vanderbilts I have written about fascinating, I cannot say they interest me more than many others. They are just the ones I had more immediate access to.

I think I am less drawn to certain historical figures and more to historical periods. There have always been certain pockets of history which have interested me more than others.

Q: We recently spoke to Rosie Fellner about her circus background. How has your aerial cirque training helped you as a performer?

A: I ABSOLUTELY adore aerial cirque and have since I was a pre-teen. It is really more of a hobby than anything else. As for how it has helped as a performer, I think it has helped instil a certain tenacity. Sometimes there are tricks that you do not get right away. Maybe you are not strong enough or just cannot get your body to move the way you need it to, but you do not give up. You keep trying. You keep working until you get it.

There was one trick I was trying to learn on the trapeze when I was 13. I worked on it for an entire summer and did not get it. The next summer, I worked on it again. No luck. I stopped doing cirque during high school and returned to it when I was 19.

Five years later, I went back to the same trick and got it on the second try. I had been dreaming about it for all those years and still knew exactly how to do it, but now I was bigger and stronger. It was a great life lesson in how important it is to just keep trying and never give up.

Q: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

A: THERE is a short film that I wrote, star in, and successfully kick-started. It is nearing its final picture cut. Hopefully it will complete post-production in the next couple months.

Beyond that, I am always working on different things, especially audiobooks. If anyone wants to keep tabs on what I am up to, I recommend following me on social media:


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