By James Kenney
Sure, I’ll occasionally sit down and enjoy a celebrity profile piece, learning what Val Kilmer thinks about holistic medicine or Alyssa Milano’s political views. But with the recent unfortunate passings of Mark Blum, a theater powerhouse perhaps best known to larger audiences as Roseanna Arquette’s suburban husband in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and Allen Garfield, best known for CRY UNCLE, NASHVILLE, BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 and CHIEF ZABU, due to Coronavirus, I was reminded of the Working Actor, the guy or gal who goes on auditions and who is certainly doing it for love as it is not for wealth (yet, anyway!).
I recently listened to an audiobook called BIGFOOT HUNTERS, by Rick Gaultiari, that I picked up on Audible.com. The enthusiastic reader was Charlie Romanelli, who I realized was someone I had gone to school with back on Staten Island and has been a working actor for some time, recently in Marvel’s THE PUNISHER television show, as well as shows like THE BLACKLIST, LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, and BOARDWALK EMPIRE, feature films such as Vince Vaughn’s DELIVERY MAN and AMERICAN DRESSER, and theater including IN ARABIA WE’D BE KINGS.
Here’s a short reel of some of Charlie Romanelli’s work with actors such as John Goodman and Tom Berenger!
A bit of an addict to audio books, and curious about how one goes about being an audio book reader, I tracked Charlie down and plied him with some questions about the process and other facets of his career:
When I recorded “Bigfoot Hunters” I read through the book twice. The first time just to get a feel for it, the second time to t separate characters from narration. Also to build a character background, as much as I could, for each character. I had never done an audiobook before, had not really listened to many, but it was an opportunity to act. There are a couple of different styles for audiobooks. Some narrators only subtly change their voices for characters. Implying their masculinity or femininity through slight changes in their voice. These tend to be the better narrators that work frequently. Then there are other approaches, trying to give each character a unique voice, including men and women and sometimes even Bigfoot. As an inexperienced narrator, this was the approach I took.
The book had a running time of about ten hours. All in all it took about sixty hours of recording to get it done. I had an excellent engineer to work with (Crugie Riccio) and he was extremely patient and always spot-on in his suggestions. I recorded straight through from the title page on for four to five hours at a time. Some days less. There are definitely techniques that I learned through trial and error to streamline the process. Many narrators can cut the recording time down to two hours of recording to hour of running time. Maybe on the next one!
I asked Charlie how he found this process compared to traditional stage and film acting:
Narration is a very different performance than stage or film acting. Even different than voice-over for a commercial, depending on recording style. In film, television and stage, your entire body is part of the character. How you carry yourself, the manifestation of emotion in your face and gestures. With voice over and narration, the idea (at least mine) is to try and convey all of the physical manifestations of characters within the voice and delivery. It’s very difficult to master, the best of them Jim Dale, Steven Fry, Nancy Wu are all brilliant and in high demand.
I also asked Charlie if he had a juicy anecdotes related to his calling:
In one of the first plays I was part of, the director thought it would be a good bonding experience for everyone to smoke some weed together. We started off talking about the play, but as we all got higher, the conversation changed to aliens and other lifeforms in the universe. After “rehearsal” I was walking across Varick street below Houston and there in the middle of the street was a book called “Project: World Evacuation. By the Ashtar Command.” It was all about aliens that had been visiting the planet and would one day soon come and rescue us. I would like to find that book again and narrate it because I’m pretty sure the world is heading in a downward direction and those Ashtar Commandoes may be here any second.
I was once an extra in a Heineken spot. It was Martin Sheen talking about “what is real” in relation to Heineken as a beer. I was just the bartender in the background. He goes into his monologue on “what is real” and at the end I slide a Heineken to him. That’s it. No other action.In between takes Martin Sheen and I chit chat. It turns out he lived for a period of time near Curtis High School in Staten Island where we grew up. Then I told him how I had met him once before as a busboy in a restaurant in Albany while in college and how cool he was to me. He says “on the next take I want try something.” The next take, after I slide him the beer he slides a $100 bill to me and turns to finish his tag line. I grab the hundred, hold it up to the light to check it, and Martin Sheen, without turning around, perfectly timed to my checking the bill for authenticity, says “it’s real Charlie”. A fucking king of actors.
I recently got a chance to play a lead in a short film called “Here Comes Frieda” about a dystopian future earth plagued by super hurricanes and what the inhabitants do to escape. It was produced by Ripple Effects artists and directed by Robin Takao D’Oench. I got to work with a brilliant actress from London, Ellie Wallwork, and an excellent and super friendly crew. We shot it over a weekend and I had no one to watch my twin ten-year old sons. So they got to hang on the set for three twelve hour days like troopers. They watched the monitors during my scenes and otherwise were pals with some of the crew by the end of the first day. They loved being on the set. I had to take them for a feature shot in Syracuse and they were a hit there too.
As far as the future, first I hope to continue to get work. Second, really, I love to do anything. Network TV, low budget indies, big budget films. Just more regular work. I would also like to do a role where I have to shave my head. I feel like the male pattern baldness is setting in and I want to get ahead of the curve. But I can’t just do it on my own.
Thanks to Charlie for taking a little time out from work and raising his two sons to talk about the nuts and bolts of audio book recording and to reinforce how cool Martin Sheen is. For more information about Charlie Romanelli, check out his IMDB Page.