Interview with a Narrator: Vanessa Johansson


Vanessa JohanssonVanessa is a film & theater actress and voice over artist who graduated from Carnegie Mellon and later trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. An Earphone Awards-winning narrator, she has recorded over 60 audiobooks. Her training and work as an actress bring a richness to her narration and character work. Vanessa’s pleasant, mid-range voice is very agile, and she has narrated many different genres of audiobooks including mystery, young adult, romance, memoir, chick-lit, and books for children. A native New Yorker, she lives in Greenwich Village but loves to travel whenever she has the opportunity!

How did you get started narrating audiobooks, and what were your earliest experiences like?

I had been doing voiceovers for a while, but had never ventured into the audiobook world. SAG (the actor’s union that I am a member of) had a seminar introducing actors to audiobook work that guaranteed an audition at Audible. I attended the workshop and was immediately intrigued – I’ve always loved reading and doing different kinds of character voices, so this seemed like a perfect match. I auditioned and booked a gig right away.

You have performed in film and live theater in addition to audiobooks. How has your film and live theater experience enlightened your audiobook narration?

When you are acting on stage or in film, you have to be “in the moment.” The minute you think about something other than what’s happening, you are pulled out of the situation and you’ll probably forget your lines. Acting requires tremendous concentration – audiobook work is similar. When you narrate, you enter the world of the book and the characters that live within. If the material is good, it can be so much fun to get lost in that world.

How do you prepare in advance to record a book?

I read the book! I’ll look up anything I don’t know – whether it’s the meaning or pronunciation of a word, a historical situation, a place – it sounds pretty basic, but for the listener to understand the book, the narrator needs to know what she’s talking about. I’ll decide on character voices based on traits they display, where they’re from, and where the book takes place. I have had to learn some accents for certain characters, which is something I love to do.

I just love your performance narrating the Cats in Trouble mystery series by Leann Sweeney. You really sound like you are smiling as you read. How do you create such magic?

The Cats in Trouble series is such a fun one to narrate. The characters, with all of their quirkiness, are very loveable – and at this point seem like old friends, I’ve narrated so many of these books! I love coming back to this series to see what mischief will occur next – and who doesn’t love a good whodunnit?

You directed your sister, famed actress Scarlett Johansson, in narrating Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What was it like working with your sister? Did you enjoy getting to be the boss?

We had a lot of fun working together – the material doesn’t get much better than Adventures in Wonderland for a performer who likes to do voices. I actually had never read the book till this job. I think I am like a lot of people who have just seen the Disney cartoon. It really is such a wacky story! … and I’m her big sister, so I’m already the boss 😉

You have experienced narrating various genres, including mystery, young adult, romance, memoir, chick-lit, and books for children. How does your approach to a book change as the genre changes?

My approach to the book doesn’t really change depending on the genre – the preparation is the same. I think about who is telling the story, who is the audience, and try and gauge the “feel” of the book – answers to these questions help define the voice of the narrator, the general tone, and pacing. I love working on different genres – it keeps things interesting.

Thinking back over the many books you have performed, which books most stand out to you as memorable?

The most memorable ones are probably the best written ones with stories that really grabbed me. When I’m narrating, the quality of the material trumps anything else as far as making it an enjoyable experience – the genre doesn’t matter.

What characteristics are necessary for a person to have in order to make that person an effective audiobook narrator?

Some characteristics that help are having fluidity as a reader, confidence in your interpretation of the material, an ear for dialects, good attention span and endurance – enjoying reading helps too, of course! Some people just have an innate knack for it and they intuitively get the process, which was my experience. I was pretty confident this was something I could do and do well – not that I didn’t learn along the way. I think there is definitely a progression in the quality of my performances from when I first began narrating – as with anything, the more experience and practice you have, the better you get.

What advice did you find especially helpful as you started out performing audiobooks that you like to share with new narrators now?

Don’t be afraid to get started on your own – you do not need an agent to get into the business. ACX is a helpful site to begin sending out auditions to authors who are interested in hiring narrators directly. Do not invest too much money in a home set up right away – you can record adequately high quality audio at home without a lot of money. It was only after I started booking work steadily that I invested in a home studio, though I do prefer to work with sound techs and directors in studios outside home when possible. It allows me to focus only on the performance and not have to think about technical stuff.

What is your favorite part of narrating audiobooks?

I love creating characters, doing different accents, being moved by stories, and conveying that in my performance. I love the independence it allows me, to be able to do this alongside my acting work; I can record during the day and perform in a play at night. It is a wonderful outlet for a creative person, to use a lot of skills I’ve honed as an actor in another way.

Read my review of The Cat, the Quilt, and the Corpse.

Read my review of The Cat, the Professor, and the Poison.

Read my review of The Cat, the Lady, and the Liar.

Read my review of The Cat, the Wife, and the Weapon.

Read my review of The Cat, the Mill, and the Murder.

Read my review of The Cat, the Vagabond, and the Victim.

Read my review of The Cat, the Sneak, and the Secret.

Read my review of The Cat, the Collector, and the Killer.

 Interview with a Narrator: Vanessa Johansson
Article Name
Interview with a Narrator: Vanessa Johansson
Vanessa Johansson is an audiobook narrator with over 60 books to her credit. Today she shares about her career and experiences.
Publisher Name
Fangirl Nation

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