I was so pleased with the way Raphael Corkhill narrated the Audible version of The Real James Bond that I just had to learn more about him and his narrations.
(One of the highlights of the audiobook, by the way, is Raphael's narration of a Jame Bond ornithological parody called "Goldfincher." Raphael called the parody "hilarious," and he made even more so.
(I wish I had written the parody but the culprit was Bond's pal, the late Kenneth Parkes of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg. Kudos to the American Ornithological Society for letting me use it.)
You can read more about the British-born and Princeton-educated Raphael here.
How long have you been narrating audiobooks?
I got into audiobooks almost immediately after I finished drama school, about nine years ago.
Audiobook narration was among my first jobs as a professional actor, and narration has been a mainstay of my career ever since. It’s a blessing and pleasure to be able to learn so much about a wide range of topics and help bring the subject, story and characters to life for listeners.
What has been the biggest challenge with narrating them?
One of the trickiest skills to develop is “reading ahead”: while I’m narrating, my eyes are actually scanning roughly eight words further on so I can anticipate what I’m saying next.
This really helps with smoothness, fluency, accuracy and expression, but it’s a little like rubbing your stomach while patting your head!
Accents are a matter of practice. I have a background as a musician and having a keen ear helps as well.
What was the biggest challenge with doing The Real James Bond?
Narrating “The Real James Bond” was actually a lot smoother than some of the other books I’ve done! The quality of writing was superb, and it felt very natural to read.
Pronouncing all the specialist ornithological terminology with 100% accuracy was definitely a priority for me. I have no doubt that listeners would get very irritated if I mispronounced something, and the last thing I want is for listeners to get distracted. So plenty of practice saying “meliphaga flavirictus crockettorum” like a seasoned ornithologist!
Are you a birder? (You were in "The Goldfinch," after all)
[Laughs] The Goldfinch was a wonderful experience and the project was certainly full of special creatures. No bird-watching experience myself, I’m afraid, but my uncle is a birder - he lives in South Wales and I gather there are some lovely opportunities for bird-watching along the Gower Peninsula.
How about a spy?
This was a fascinating aspect of The Real James Bond. I had no idea that spycraft and bird-watching went hand-in-hand but upon reflection it made total sense, from the skills required to the convenient cover story. Whenever I meet a birdwatcher in the future I’ll definitely be on high alert. Wait, maybe my uncle…
I reckon I’d make a superb spy… on film. In real life, however, I imagine that there are certain unteachable abilities and instincts that spies possess and which intelligence organizations look for. Spies prefer the shadows but I’m all about the limelight!
What are some of your favorite roles as an actor?
Darkly ambiguous characters are the roles I most love to play. I’m fascinated by people who choose to reject the paths laid out for them by family, society, culture etc. and opt instead to strike out on their own. This often leads to moral dilemmas and questionable decisions, but who among us hasn’t struggled between the pressure to conform and the desire for independence?
If I can get the audience to understand or even secretly root for the “bad guy,” then it makes for an even more thrilling story. In fact, if I had to choose between playing 007 and a Bond villain… I might well go for the latter!
What do you have cooking these days?
I recently co-produced and starred in a short film called “The German King” that qualified for Oscar consideration and has received awards and critical attention on the festival circuit. I
t’s based on a true story about an African king who rebelled against oppressive German colonial rule on the eve of World War I -- the king was actually raised in Germany and turned against the man he once considered his brother, Kaiser Wilhelm II. I play Kaiser Wilhelm and we’re currently raising funds for a full-length version of the film.
I’m also playing the lead role in an independent film about a boxer who lives a secret life as a drag queen. So two rather different films and characters but both extremely powerful and juicy roles.
Anything you’d like to add?
I grew up and remain a big fan of James Bond 007. But it was a joy to learn more about the inspiration behind his name. Jim Bond contributed an impressive amount to his field during his life, but I was very much drawn to his personal history. I can’t imagine it was easy losing his mother then being ripped away from America and sent off to Harrow. I couldn’t help but sense sadness surrounding his childhood, which makes his achievements all the more admirable.
Here’s to hoping more fans of 007 get to know James Bond’s namesake and the valuable work that Jim Bond performed as an ornithologist.