Interview with Audiobook Narrator Peter Berkrot
Lowe: How did you come to voice acting?
Berkrot: I started acting and training
in New York in 1973 when I was in 13 or 14, so how
I came to voice acting is like how I came to Massachusetts
or marriage. The longer the trail, the more paths
there are. My focus then was theatre, of course. I
was a theatre major at SUNY New Paltz but when I was
cast in Caddyshack halfway through college, I began
to see my career through a more expansive lens. The
majority of voice work came when I left New York in
1989 and moved to New England. Very soon, I was doing
VO work for documentaries, occasionally playing the
American translation voice for the on camera speakers.
That eventually translated into a great relationship
at WGBH in Boston where I’ve been doing that
type of work for FRONTLINE since 2004.
Wow. A fav movie, and a fav PBS series! As a footnote,
I once communicated with Frontline’s main narrator
Will Lyman, who also did the voiceover for Jonathan
Goldsmith, the World’s Most Interesting
Man, who has a biography out titled
Stay Interesting, which Goldsmith reads
on audio. Interesting story, too. Jonathan says he
was living out of his truck, and was killed on screen
as an extra more than anyone, until that Dos Equis
commercial. Lyman can’t talk about it, still
under contract. Other formats? Commercials, games,
There was a ton of industrial work in
the 90’s and 00’s so I did all sorts of
on camera and VO work, often playing characters with
a variety of dialects. Then I did a bunch of local
games, creating a character called “I.M. Meen”
at the end of the MS-DOS revolution. Google it. People
have taken my song and twisted it around so I’m
saying all sorts of nasty things. I started looking
into audiobooks in 2006 and did my first in 2007.
You recorded The
Art of War,
a big seller. Any thoughts to share on the Machiavellian
Sun Tzu philosophy, and if you think it relates in
any way to Leadership and Self Deception, or maybe
the stress levels described in Why Zebras Don’t
Get Ulcers, both of which you’ve also narrated?
I was lucky enough to come of age between
wars so I never experienced the horrors of war either
first or second hand. I actually always feel a bit
like a fraud when I’m playing all the real life
and fictitious Navy Seals and marines I do in books.
Art of War I found
that I was most authentic after channelling my inner
Klingon, giving context I could understand to experiences
I could not. As for Leadership
and Self Deception, unlike many
self-help books in the Business category which are
about leveling the playing field and getting the edge
on the competition, this is a much more spiritual
approach to leadership, asking the listener to look
within him or herself to deeply evaluate ones relationship
to oneself, to others, to work and so forth. It is
about growing and getting out of your own way and
not blaming or undermining anyone else along the way.
It’s tremendous popularity is probably attributed
to the creative prose which is a series of scripted
scenes and opportunities for self evaluation. There
actually are some connections between The
Art of War and Why
Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, although
it may seem to be reaching. The ability to reduce
stress will add years to your life. Planning for every
contingency in battle and holding the better defensive
position requires a calm and logical mind as well
as strength and resolve. In Dr. Sapolsky’s book,
he brilliantly illustrates through the explanation
of his title why we can also live longer, though the
war is internal. Stress is supposed to be a survival
mechanism. If you’re a zebra running from a
lion, you absolutely require the adrenaline and hormonal
barrage that stress brings to make sure you’re
not the slowest zebra in the herd. The moment the
threat is gone, the stress levels drop to neutral
and the zebra renews his strolling and grazing. A
human being would lie there on the steppes and worry
about the next lion until one came and he’s
‘run and worry and run and worry’ until
eventually, he’d die of a heart attack or diabetes.
We’d eat pizza too while worrying. Comfort food.
What did you read as a teen that may have influenced
I loved series books as most kids do. And
Dr. Seuss But I was 6 or 7 when the original Star
hit the air and 12 or 13 when I saw my
first Twilight Zone. Those were my major influences
which drew me from the small screen to the small page.
I started writing a lot of Horror and Science Fiction
stories, big on time travel. Then the real reading
kicked in. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger
in a Strange Land was
huge for me and everything by Kurt Vonnegut. Then
and Stephen King.
You narrated a couple of Richard Matheson titles,
who was a short story master, like Ray Bradbury. You’ve
also done Philip K. Dick and Dean Koontz. That’s
a lot of genres under the umbrella “speculative
fiction.” Any preferred genre?
Yes! Time Travel! Anything related to time travel!
Trek and Twilight
Zone naturally led me to Harlan
Ellison, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov.
Of all the comic books I read as a kid I liked Legion
of Super Heroes best because they were
in the future. When I get to narrate anything by Philip
K. Dick or the others in this genre, I feel it as
an honor and a challenge, a thread connecting me to
my past and my future.
Another footnote, did you know Harlan Ellison is an
audiobook narrator too, and he knows the scoop on
both Star Trek and Scientology first hand? His tell-all
is the audiobook The
City on the Edge of Forever, the story behind
the script he wrote. He actually saved Star Trek from
cancellation, early on, by petitioning for it. Bradbury
helped launch Playboy magazine, too. Fahrenheit
451 was first published in the first issues. What
is next for you?
In terms of books, “Caddyshack,
The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story”
by Chris Nashawaty is just released, certainly
the most personal and bizarre narrating experience
I had, especially quoting myself. Next I go into the
booth to record Blown
by Mark Haskell Smith, the sixth
novel of his I have had the extraordinary pleasure
of narrating. Funniest. Guy. Ever. Then, the opposite.
The brilliantly crafted but emotionally shattering
End of the World as we Know It
by Robert Goolrick for HighBridge Audio.
And then I’ll be spending 46 hours with Dwight
D. Eisenhower courtesy of Audible Studios. More books.
More teaching! I haven’t talked about my teaching
or private coaching but its one of my strengths and
passions. More Skyping, and maybe one day I’ll
save up enough money to do a play again. While I can
still memorize. And walk.
I once saw a woman walk into a tree while reading
a print book. As I passed her with my iPod, I said
one word: “Audiobooks.” Thanks for taking
time for an interview.