Friday, October 09, 2009

Lis and I

Originally posted by Nabu San:

October 8th, 2009 is a date that holds special significance in my fan calender. Not only is it exactly a week away from the third series of SJA kicking off on the tellybox, but it's the day The White Wolf and The Shadow People audiobooks got placed on store shelves across the nation! Thanks to the lovely folk over at BBC Audiobooks, it's also the day that I had the supreme honour of chatting with the very woman we've devoted our blog to - Miss Sarah Jane Smith herself(!) I caught up with Lis yesterday morning to talk about her recent work.

The SJA audiobooks give the show a chance to branch out into new locations and scenarios, and even introduce some bone-chilling creatures, like the doppelganger alien from The Shadow People.

What do you think it is about this medium that engages young audiences so much? Does it allow you to get away with a few things you couldn't normally achieve on the show?

Well, an audience still have their imagination if they don't have any visual stimuli. It's amazing what a radio can do, it's so underrated. And it's such a shame that there's so little for actors now. I used to do so much work over in Leeds on the radio, and I loved it and I miss it so much. It's great, it gives you such a freedom because you don't have to get made up and you don't have to have your hair combed(!) You're just sitting at the mic...and if people could see you they'd think you were having an epileptic fit! When you're trying to find a monster, you're doing all sorts of things with your arms!


The freedom it gives you is...great! It really is, Nabu. It's not the easiest of mediums to do sometimes. I don't do impersonations and nor should you for this, but when I get in the third person I talk as other characters saying dialogue. But there are people who watch the programme and know how they speak. You've got to try and get a flavour of them, to give a visual picture.

It's not like reading a character in a Henry James book where you can choose what you make [the characters] look like in your voice. You've actually got to give a proper flavour of Danny, Haresh and Luke...

I think you've got the accents spot-on. I love your Clyde!

Oh my gosh! That's my most difficult. I get told off all the time about Clyde!

Oh, I think you've done a great job with him!

I particularly like your aliens, as well. They sort have this lovely oriental accent, I don't know if you've noticed that at all?


I loved you doing the voice of Deathy in The Ghost House...

Oh, my favourite!

Mine, too! I'm secretly hoping he comes onto the show someday!

Y'know, sometimes you just read something and think 'oh my god, they'll never let me do that!' I love him. [Deathy] just...happened... I had to fight for some of them in these two stories. But that was the one that I fell in love with.

Do you have a say in how the characters' accents turn out?

Yeah, you have to because you only have your voice to play with. You need to do what you can do. You can be guided and that but, I have a say...yeah, I usually do bring it about myself. And they'll either modify it or not.

Do you offer opinions on how the tone of a certain part will go, whether darker or light? Do you have a discretion?

I can be given a little more guidance on it. It's usually pretty straight-forward in the script. And maybe I think I'm doing it...but then, someone in directing says 'it wasn't quite fast enough' or 'go a bit slower'. It's usually a case of 'you're doing it, but you're not doing it enough'. That's what they're there for. It's just to give it an absolute distinctive shape if it's not right.

In The White Wolf, my personal favourite this year, I really liked the portrayal of the more gutsy and somewhat hostile Luke - evident during a scene where he tries to defend you from a child he instinctively deems a 'threat', which I thought was sweet - if a little terrifying. Does this forebode a more mature characterisation for Luke in series three?

Yes, you've got it in one. This was the series where we decided Luke was getting older. He's more comfortable with who he was and where he was in life. And y'know, he's more comfortable - therefore he's more confident.


I was impressed with your portrayal of the alien's loneliness at the end of The Shadow People. Very emotional; gave me a lump in my throat!

That was the one I was so worried about, because it's written on the page that he's talking as Danny. And I just said 'you can't do that', because my voice is the visual. So people would just be seeing Danny, and not this little person.

Well I don't know if it was written down on the script at all, but they've enhanced your voice a little in the final product - giving it a more ethereal quality when you're playing doppelganger-Danny. And the sad scenes were backed by a musical track to add more atmosphere to the moment, which is a great new device the audiobooks have started using. I thought it really brought the character to life.

I tried to think of him as, first of all, an alien. If someone is French, and speaking your language - it's the rhythm they don't get right, the stress. And then if you're on a very emotional was kind of like this little person trying to grasp at anything to become whole. And if I'd done it with Danny's voice as it was written, it wouldn't have worked. You had to see this little person, and that was the only way I could do it - and it really was a bit of a risk.

It came out very child-like, I think that's what you were going for?

Yes, because he's so innocent... He has to take on board that he has to find a place to let everything go and he can't be anyone else. It's really sad.

The scene feels as intense as the Andrea Yates/Sarah Jane story from the first series. Do you find it more emotionally draining recording audiobooks as opposed to acting in front of a camera?

Because an audiobook is just you, no interaction - you do feel absolutely exhausted. Especially if it gets a lot of emotional stuff going on. You can feel tired when you're doing something like the Andrea Yates scene, too. You just feel kind of...wasted at the end. But you pick up at the end because you know you've just done it and you can go onto something else.

When we were doing that scene, I asked Graeme [Harper] if he wanted to see me do it before the take. But he sad 'No, I know what you're going to do' because we have a little reading just before we film a scene, we just do a line-run. And people often waste that time thinking it's for them to remember their lines. But it's actually for the director to get a taste of what you're going to give him. So Graeme said 'I know what you're going to do, let's just do it'.

Your fellow cast and crew have a lot of faith in your abilities...

I can get it so wrong, believe me.


Oh yes. Sometimes things jump off the page and you can grab it, but it doesn't always do that. Sometimes you have to think 'this is not working for me'. How do I get a feeling, what do I do? And that's when you need to say 'I'm not clear on this, how can I get this?' Or maybe for some reason because of what's gone before, the scene doesn't work and we have to change it. That often happens.

Most insightful, thank you. I'd like to finish off by asking you a few random quick-fire questions on behalf of the fandom. Some pressing issues we'd love to get your thoughts on. Top of the agenda...are you aware that Sarah Jane's sense of fashion has a large online following? She's regarded as somewhat of a style icon!

I heard that, a while ago! My dresser told me. I had no idea it'd happened.

I think they'd love to hear what Sarah Jane fashion trends they have to look forward to in the upcoming series! I've seen her Prisoner of the Judoon outfit, the one with the orange shirt and leather jacket? But there's the wedding dress, as well...

Yes, we have a lovely wedding dress. And I'm allowed to wear frocks for the first time! Two dresses and a wedding dress. But I still keep the boots and the jacket, she doesn't let everything go(!) *mutual laughter*

Could I enquire what events and signings you have coming up?

I haven't any, sadly.

None at all? I'd have thought they'd have a DVD signing, at least...

Not that I've heard. But that would be nice actually, I wouldn't mind one. The only things that I have coming up is a Breakfast television appearance on a Thursday, the 29th I think, and The Wright Stuff the day after. Did Blue Peter yesterday, and actually forgot to give the programme a plug!

Oops! Could I also ask how your autobiography is coming along?

That's at a bit of a standstill, as I haven't had the time.

Busy schedule, eh?

Well...yes. We tried to do some over the phone
and it's just not happening.

Is there a deadline you've to meet at all?

No, not at the moment. We just don't know when Sarah Jane's going again...

Which leads quite nicely into my final question, are you optimistic about a fourth series of the show being given the green light?

Oh, from what I've heard there's no reason not to be. But you can never say!

MANY many thanks to Lis for the chat, and to BBC Audiobooks for approaching me with the squee-worthy opportunity to have it! The White Wolf and The Shadow People went on sale yesterday, and the third series of SJA kicks off with Prisoner of the Judoon on Thursday, October 15th @ 4.35pm. Following in the footsteps of its parent show, they'll be airing the new series on BBC HD alongside its BBC One slot! It's an exciting time to be an SJA fan, folks.

Join me tomorrow as I have a sneak peak at what fans can expect in the Series 2 DVD boxset, prior to its release in a month's time.

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