A chat with Dennis Kleinman, Voice Over Actor
Dennis Kleinman is an award nominated voice actor. His works cover a broad band of genre, ranging from deep and sultry romance to killers without conscience.
Rik Stone: Welcome, Dennis, and thank you for breaking from your busy work schedule to chat with us here today. Before we go into the interview in detail, let me congratulate you on your recent award nomination. You must be feeling both proud and more than a little excited. What can you tell us about it?
Dennis Kleinman: Thank you Rik. It is a great honor to be nominated amongst all the other great voice talent that are narrating and producing audiobooks. I am very excited about the nomination. The nomination is for Best Audio Book Narrator for a Biography as part of the Voice Arts Awards, which is regarded as the “Emmy’s” for voice actors. The book is called, Out of the Shoebox written by Yaron Reshef, an Israeli whose father emigrated to Palestine, as it was called in 1934, from a small village in Poland called Chortkoff. In 1935, his father purchased a plot of land in Haifa and Yaron only found out about the land in 2011 (his father died when he was young in 1958). This led him on a journey of discovery of the history of his family, many who died in the Holocaust. It is written as a detective novel and was a great experience to work on.
RS: Sounds great, let’s listen to a clip from Out of the Shoebox before we carry on.
Yes, I can see where that nomination came from. You live in Los Angeles and have been there many years, but I believe your origins are quite far removed from that. Is there a journey you can share with us?
DK: I have lived in Los Angeles for almost 37 years. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. My voice however, is regarded more as non-regional British and international and that is the genre in which I work – as an international voice. I call myself, “A World Voice”
RS: Before you tell us about where you are with your career, would you like to tell us your motivation for being a voice actor in the first instance?
DK: I have always been interested in the arts and in entertainment. I have done some acting in front of the camera, but voice over really is my love and joy. I get a lot of satisfaction bringing the written word into the world of audio. When I was in my late teens, I was at a gathering and someone who I didn’t know well, came up to me and said that he thought I had a very dynamic voice and that I should be in radio. I did not get into radio, but I never ever forgot that comment.
RS: That must have given you the feel-good effect; there’s nothing like being told you are cut out for the work you love doing. Tell us a little about your work. How much of your own personality is filtered into the stories you narrate?
DK: I have recorded over 30 books that vary in content and genre. I enjoy working on a book that I am interested in and enjoying reading, it makes all the difference and I think it certainly affects the performance. But the bottom line is that we are voice actors, and thus as an actor we draw on our own experiences and in this part of the industry, express it through attitude and adjustments in our voices, various accents and different approaches to the character by changing the delivery of the voice.
RS: I know a lot of voice actors begin their careers in the movie or television industry and move on to perform in audio, is this how your audible career started?
DK: No, actually I started working in the business world but always felt drawn to the entertainment industry. About 16 years ago I started taking acting classes which led me to the voice over industry.
RS: Most actors have been influenced by other past or present actors. Who has been most influential to you?
DK: I grew up in an artistic home. My mother was an abstract painter and I also had an aunt in London who was an actress, with whom I was very close, and I gained a lot of insight from both of these women. I always felt completely “at home” in the arts environment. As a young child, we traveled often to the UK and I was always mesmerized by the theater and seeing artistic films which in those days, were limited in South Africa. As far as actors that have influenced me, I would say that Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton – some of these people conjured up a lot for me, but I try to not be too influenced by others and really try to dig down inside when I am working. An actor that I sometimes model off of these days is Mark Strong. I think his voice is so rich and can fill so many different roles.
RS: Your schedule is a busy one, do you have a regime or is it as and when you can fit things in? However you work, how do you keep focused?
DK: I work every day on voiceover. I will usually start working on an audio book later in the day and tend to go into the night. It’s quieter and there’s something about working at night that I enjoy. I do still have some business interests that I am involved in during the day so a lot of my work is during “off hours”. I am starting to expand my VO work and have some games and animation projects that I am getting involved with, so my schedule will most probably be changing in the near future.
When I am recording a book, I basically shut out the world. I turn off my mobile phone and really try to zone in on what I’m doing. It’s a strange animal though – sometimes it flows and I can narrate for hours – other times, it requires some stops and starts. But it certainly requires discipline.
RS: I guess audible acting is something where you can take on more than one project at a time. Tell us your latest news and the current work you are performing.
DK: Yes, that is certainly a true statement. I have recently completed some corporate films, an animation project and some eLearning projects and recently voiced some ads for Land Rover in the Los Angeles radio market. I also have completed a few non-fiction audio books, one of which was the story of Donald Crowhurst who entered a round-the-world yacht race in 1968 sponsored by the London Sunday Times. He was unqualified to be in the race and this was all documented and the book was an account of this event. His story is actually being released in 2017 as movie with Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz called “The Mercy”. Remaining in the nautical field, I have also completed another book called “Foolish Voyage” that is also non-fiction and have a fantasy paranormal novel that recently was published on Audible and iTunes. And I am halfway through your third book in the Birth of an Assassin series.
RS: Yep, looking forward to that one 😉 How would you describe your audible style?
DK: My voice has a deep and warm resonance to it so I would say that it is inviting and comfortable to listen to. I am always very aware of the “melody” of the read. One must find the rhythm and the music in the written word. I am an instrument and a vehicle to change the written word into an audible experience. Basically, it is all about the “pauses” and the space between the words that give them the meaning they are written to convey. And at the same time, the words cannot only be read as words, they have to live as phrases.
RS: What is it you hope your audience will come away with after listening to one of your works?
DK: I want them to be entertained, to be guided in imagery – to have an emotional reaction to my work.
RS: Do you consider your performances different to others in your field? If yes, how so?
DK: I believe that for most voice actors, they have to feel and know what their individuality is – how they can stand on their own two feet without relying on imitating others. There are some standard ways to read audio books and sometimes one can hear similarities in tone, in the phrasing. So, in my approach, I have to perform the book the way it touches me, and for the most part, I think that almost guarantees an individual response – I will interpret what is written my way, someone else might have a completely different approach.
RS: How important do you think social media is and which of the many platforms is your favorite?
DK: In today’s world I think it is extremely important – we are in a very different age to five, ten, twenty years ago. Initially when audio books started, they were referred to “books on tape”. Obviously the concept is the same, the delivery is very different and I believe that most marketing is almost exclusively social media based. I use Facebook and Twitter – those are the two that I have found work well – and then you hope that it generates further reach, the old fashioned way, referrals.
RS: I know you are comfortable with any type of work, but which of the genres get you going to the point you can’t wait to get back to it?
DK: I love a good thriller. They are usually very descriptive, colorful, exciting with a plethora of fascinating and hopefully quirky characters – that’s the juicy part to get enveloped in.
RS: Talking of thrillers, Dennis has performed on the first two Birth of an Assassin novels. Click the title to listen to a couple of clips.
What kind of work have you done outside of voice acting?
DK: As I mentioned, previously, I have been in the business world focusing on construction products in the concrete industry.
RS: What do you consider is your main character strength with regard to performances?
DK: I have a comfortable way of describing events with the highs and lows that that requires. I also will use various accents at times – it all depends on the book and its content. I have recorded some books in the “period romance” genre and, since I live and work in the US, I have heard that the readership, of which most tend to be female, seem to enjoy a deep and resonant British accent to tell them the stories of love and romance.
RS: There are many choices; fame, money, respect, or maybe just to hear that someone was ecstatic listening to one of your works. What is your take on success?
DK: The greatest compliment for me is when someone tells me that they had to sit in their car for fifteen minutes waiting for the chapter to end and couldn’t tear themselves away. We all obviously look to achieve financial gain from our work, but for me, voice acting goes a lot deeper. If I can affect someone with my work, then I am successful.
RS: Are there any words of advice you would give to those looking to develop a career in voice acting?
DK: It’s not easy – in fact it’s one of the most difficult areas of acting and entertainment because if you are in front of the camera, you have your whole body to work with, including your voice. As a voice actor, everything has to be conveyed with only that instrument, so it requires a lot of discipline and commitment and for anyone looking to get into this business, my first word of advice is to take a group class and see how you feel, how your peers react to your work. Not everyone can do this – I do believe that a lot has to do with your talent, some are better doing voice acting than others. I know many voice actors who do not work in audio books – they don’t like it, they prefer to get in and get out. Long form narration is a tedious task, and so you have to love it to do it!