Interview with Robin Sachs

Robin Sachs

British actor, Robin Sachs has narrated the audiobook versions of my Glasgow-based crime novels, Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss, published by Blackstone Audio, Inc. The books were released as audio exclusives by Blackstone Audio, Inc in August and September 2012 respectively. Robin generously agreed to an interview for my blog. For the Kendrick Chronicles series (the collective name for my books featuring DI Tom Kendrick), I can’t imagine a better voice actor. Robin has that combination of sexy and sinister that is, I feel, the perfect tone for the novels.

First, some brief biographical stuff. Robin was born in London, the son of Leonard and Eleanor Sachs. His onscreen acting credits include roles such as Adam Carrington in Dynasty: Reunion (we all watched Dynasty, didn’t we?), several characters in Babylon 5, Ethan Rayne in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and General Valen in Star Trek: Voyager. He’s also appeared in major movies including Galaxy Quest, and Lost World: Jurassic Park. Not only that but he’s even voice acted characters in video games – in particular my Xbox favourite, Mass Effect (2 and 3). Recently he has also made an appearance in the British scifi series, Torchwood (the Miracle Day episode).

AudioFile magazine listed Robin as the best voice of 2011 in the Mystery and Suspense category for audiobooks.

First of all, Robin, congratulations on the AudioFile plaudit. Which makes it a double honour for me that you’ve narrated my novels – brilliantly, I should add. Can we start with the basics? How did you first get started in acting and what do you consider your first big career break?

Many thanks for the “brilliantly”, John. It’s always a huge compliment when an author tells you he/she enjoyed your reading of his or her book – after all, as the guy who created the characters and brought them to life so vividly (and quite excellently, may I add), there’s always a fair chance my intepretion of your creation may not be exactly what you had in mind. So, again, thank you!

Sarris from Galaxy Quest
Sarris from Galaxy Quest

As to how I started out in acting – well, my parents were both well-known actors in England – my father was a very prolific character actor, but was probably best known for his 32 years as chairman of the BBC’s The Good Old Days and my mother, Eleanor Summerfield, was mostly recognised for her wonderful comedy performances – she was at one time dubbed “the British Lucille Ball”. With that background, it was highly unlikely I’d turn out to be a brain sugeon or a merchant banker.

So, having spent most of my school life studying French, Latin and English and playing  Rugby, Athletics and boxing (only one term of that as too many noses got broken) – actually, most of my school time was dedicated to trying to get as many of the girls at the Corona Acting School into bed as I could – they were just across the road from my school, Latymer Upper – I realised the thing I really wanted to do was act.

So, having told my parents my intentions and waited a bit while they pulled the (figurative) arrows out of their hearts, I followed their extremely sage advice and auditioned for RADA. While I was waiting to hear whether I’d got in or not, I spent 3 months as an assistant stage-manager at Windsor Repertory and then went on to RADA. The rest is history – or my career, anyhow!

Stage acting versus TV and film. Do you prefer one over the other (I noticed that you’ve been doing Shakespeare recently)? And if you have a preference, tell us why.

Always a tough question, John, but since I’m now based in Los Angeles, I guess you could say I’ve made the choice through location. I have always loved the immediacy of theatre and the joy and thrill of being in front of a live audience, but I also delight in the intimacy of acting in front of the camera – that ability to fine down the performance to it’s subtlest tonalities.

For one reason or another you’ve done more than your fair share of science fiction and fantasy in TV and film. As it happens, I am a huge sci fi, fantasy and horror fan, so now it’s triple-cool that you’ve narrated my books. How did that trajectory come about?

Well, my first movie and actually my second gig out of RADA (after a couple of months at Harrogate Repertory), was a Hammer Horror vampire flick which, I believe, has become a bit of a cult classic, called Vampire Circus, which was great fun to do, so I never had that disdain for “genre” movies which was so rife back then. Now, of course, everyone wants to do ‘em as they’re frequently seem to be among the top grossers at the box-office! Also, some of the best screenwriters – and authors – around write them, so there’s absolutely no reason not to want to be in them!!

In terms of voice acting (we’ll get to audiobooks later), you’ve done animation like Square Bob and Sponge Pants and, as I mentioned before, the Mass Effect console game. Can you say something about these experiences, what the challenges are for an actor, and so on?

Basically, the main challenge is the fact that you have to get everything done, in terms of character, solely with your voice. So any physical attributes and abilities are of absolutely no use whatsoever in front of the mic, other than being able to stand there for up to eight hours at a stretch and do the lines over for multiple takes – so, I guess a good set of pipes and breath control comes in handy! Also, for some reason, I seem to get to die, or at least be horribly wounded, in practically every DVD-ROM game I’ve done and for that you really need to be able to yell, scream and make generally very loud noises indicating that you are being/have been/are about to be killed in as many and various ways as the director/writers/producers can think up for what always seems to be an inordinate length of time. That, I must admit, can be a touch wearing on the larynx!

You’ve been narrating audiobooks for a while now, notably, though not exclusively, mysteries and suspense. How did that come about, and what is it that appeals to you about narration?

I’ve actually only been narrating books for a couple of years, but was fortunate enough to be picked up right at the start by two of the biggest production houses in the business – the huge and extremely loyal Random House Audio and the wonderful and prolific independent, Blackstone Audio.

Two very dear friends introduced me to them: Ros Landor (this year’s audie winner for Solo Female narration) introduced me to Dan Musselman and Janet Stark at Books On Tape (Random House’s Los Angeles production studios) and they have both, along with the New York based producers, Dan Zitt, Orli, Aaron and Kelly, been very kind and loyal in their continual use of my narrating abilities. I was first introduced to Blackstone by a wonderful audio director and close friend, Yuri Rasovsky –sadly, recently deceased and a huge loss to the world of audio – for whom I was playing Norfolk in his adaptation of Shaw’s Saint Joan for Blackstone Audio. Yuri then told the much-venerated narrator Grover Gardner, who does a great deal of the narration casting and production origination for Blackstone, that he should use me. Grover and I got on extremely well, so we tried a couple of books and, happily, he and Blackstone keep asking me to do more!

What appeals to me about narration work is that not only do you get to play more characters in the space of a dozen hours than most actors do in a decade of work, but you also get to read out loud – and get paid for it! – some of the most wonderful books around, both new and, occasionally, old. If your voice can hold up for eight or so hours per day of continual use, what could be better. And narration doesn’t exclude you from the more traditional acting gigs – in fact, producers rather like it if you’re appearing on TV and film too – raises the visibility quotient and helps sell books!

In terms of the Kendrick Chronicles books, I realise as the fine actor you are that you could probably do any accent under the sun. Somehow, though, you’ve captured the flavour of the Glaswegian dialect perfectly. And, having lived in that city for over 25 years, I know that Glaswegians would claim it’s a language unto itself, and not a mere dialect. How did you go about pinning it down?

Aah, a subject and a city I’m very fond of, John. I’ve actually spent quite a lot of time in Scotland, filming and touring stage plays and I was lucky enough to spend four months in Glasgow, playing Frank Osbaldistone in the BBC serialisation of “Rob Roy” back in the days when BBC Scotland was tucked under that little bridge Clydeside. I got to work with some wonderful Scots actors, including Ricki Fulton and the late great Fulton Mackay. I had the best time in Glasgow – this was before the Gorbals was “renovated” – and have an abiding fondness for the Glaswegians and their ability to be hugely welcoming and funny and extremely quarrelsome all at the same time. I’d love to spend more time there at some point.

Tell us about your current and forthcoming projects.

A: Well, there’s one very exciting TV drama project with a long-time producer friend, which I really can’t say anything about as it’s in the middle of rather delicate negotiations with one of the networks!

Narration-wise, I’ve just finished four books at the Books on Tape L.A. studios for Random House – the new Jo Nesbø, The Phantom; Peter Mayle’s wonderful Marseille Caper; a lovely, elegiac yet extremely witty novel by John Banville, Ancient Light; and Andy McDermott’s action-packed new novel in the Nina Wilde-Eddie Chase series Return to Atlantis – and one for Blackstone – The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, which is a beautifully written book about walking the ancient paths of Britain, Spain, Tibet and Israel and the amazing people he meets along the way. Macfarlane’s written it much more in the style of a novel than one’s come to expect from this type of book and it was one of those projects, as a narrator, you really never want to end!

Robin Sachs

Right now, I’m working in my home studio on a Moriarty novel – I set the studio up because I was being asked to do more and more projects for independent publishers and producers who don’t have a base in Los Angeles. In fact, Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss were both recorded in my home set-up, as are most of the projects I do for Blackstone. The Moriarty book I’m working on is for AudioGo (latterly B.B.C. Audiobooks) and is called The Revenge of Moriarty by John Gardiner and is the second in his Moriarty series after The Return of Moriarty, which released in June this year. Gardiner wrote these back in the 1980’s and is widely regarded as the best of  the many novelists who did follow-ups to the Sherlock Holmes books and I’m really enjoying narrating this new one as there is no pretense to being Conan Doyle, while at the same time keeping the tenor of the times and characterisations that Doyle wrote about so wonderfully in the originals.

Finally, Robin, is there anything else you’d like to say that I haven’t asked?

Only that I really enjoyed reading (both aloud and to myself) Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss and look forward to both reading and, hopefully, narrating any new Kendrick Chronicles you may come up with in the future – or anything else you may have up your sleeve!! Take care, John, and keep on writing!!!

Please check out Robin’s own website for all the latest news on Robin and his work.