Armando Durán Interview by Malcolm Hillgartner
MALCOLM HILLGARTNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Malcolm Hillgartner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Armando Durán. Durán is an actor who has appeared in films, television, and theaters, and is currently a fourteen-year member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival company. Durán is also the narrator of several audiobooks by acclaimed authors including Jon Lee Anderson’s Che Guevara, Oscar Hijuelos’ Dark Dude and Beautiful Maria of My Soul, Stefan Kanfer’s Somebody, and Johnston McCulley’s The Mark of Zorro, among others, winning AudioFile’s Best Voice in Biography and History for his narration of Che Guevara. Durán also narrates Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, which Blackstone Audio published in audio format on September 15, 2013. Welcome Armando Durán. Thanks for joining us today. You’re here in Blackstone’s studio recording Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. What has this experience been like for you?
ARMANDO DURÁN: Absolutely terrific. When you undertake a book of this scope and this kind of literary importance you want to make sure that you’re surrounded by a terrific team of people who can make your job easier. That was absolutely the case for me here. Bryan Barney took remarkable care of me throughout the recording process and it’s been an absolute pleasure.
MH: García Márquez is the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature and is considered one of the most influential writers of the twenty-first century. How did you feel when you were asked to narrate one of his most popular works?
AD: My first answer, the political one, would be to say that it was an amazing gift to have the opportunity to participate in the recording of what is undeniably one of the great works of literature. The fact that it is part of the pantheon of Latin American literature makes me even prouder to be part of this effort. I guess my real and honest reaction is “gulp.” I’ve been a huge fan of Márquez since I was in college, and there was no denying the weight, the importance of Márquez to all Latinos, to Latino readers, and to literature in general. So once I was able to get passed that big gulp, I decided to approach it as I would any book, which is to understand that you have a set of objectives and a mission to tell the story, to make sure the reader understands the story in the best way possible, and to do the writing itself as much credit as you can.
MH: Love in the Time of Cholera is a story of love that is so strong it binds two people’s lives together for more than half a century. What type of research or special preparation did you do prior to recording this book, particularly for the main characters Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.
AD: Malcolm, I always find it useful to immediately go back and reread the book if I have had the opportunity to read it before. And if not, obviously, to read it through for the first time after I’ve been given the assignment. Also, I find it very useful to gather as many essays and critical analyses of the book as I can put together, because it helps me look for thematic content that I sometimes as a reader might have missed. I think it’s really useful to find elements of the story in analysis, either from journals or newspapers that will help me to understand a theme that I can more clearly convey to the reader. Secondly, as I read I try to listen in my head to the voices that pop out to me from the story. This was useful in terms of putting together the tone that I wanted for Fermina Daza, for Florentino Ariza, for Doctor Juvenal Urbino. The kind of voices I look for are things out of my own personal experience, as well as in other art forms, whether they be musical voices, theatrical voices, or film voices. Things that stay with me in the back of my head, characteristics, are often useful to me as I’m reading through the book.
MH: Gabriel García Márquez is known for the use of magical realism in his fiction. What approach or mindset did you go into the project with?
AD: Magical realism is a very, very, interesting genre being a Latino. As an actor I have often been cast in the theater world in plays which have an element of magic realism. Now my understanding and the way that I approach the genre is that magical realism is a genre in which there are elements, literally of magic or reality, outside of our normal world that seep into an otherwise real world. As you can imagine, being a Latino actor with aspirations to appear in all kinds of work, one does get a little bit weary of constantly finding yourself in plays where you have magical brujas and curanderas—that is to say witches and magical healing women—popping out of the closet or of your dreams, fully formed. Márquez’s work I think transcends this genre. It is as real as anything ever written, and yet it has the magic that brings the elements of everyday life to their full richness.
MH: How did you get involved in audiobook narration to begin with?
AD: I was very fortunate through my employment—I’m part of the acting company at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—and several years ago a wonderful actor who I worked with for many seasons named Ray Porter recommended me to Blackstone for a book by Oscar Hijuelos called Dark Dude. I came into the studio and auditioned, and they were very kind and were able to see past my nervousness and decided to give me an opportunity to narrate that book. It began a relationship that I’m very happy to say continues right up until now.
MH: You’ve acted in film, television, and on stage. What are the similarities or differences between acting in these mediums and recording audiobooks in a studio?
AD: Recording audiobooks in a studio is a really unique situation. You have the challenge and the luxury of complete solitude, where you can create a world in your own head that manifests itself through your voice into the microphone. The concentration and attention to detail that are required are very much like acting on film in that they happen at the spur of the moment and your focus has to be absolutely complete. The other similarity that I find with film is that any trace of anxiety, any trace of anger carrying in from the parking ticket you got outside, or discomfort—perhaps your back is having a bad day—manifests itself in the recording. Whatever is in your heart at that moment comes through in your voice. So you have to be able to find a state of relaxation as well as concentration to make sure that the purity of the word comes through your voice and into the microphone.
MH: AudioFile magazine said of your Che Guevara narration: “A gifted bilingual narrator, Armando Durán speaks both American English and the book’s abundant Latin American Spanish without a trace of accent from the other. His fluency with both languages synchronizes the messenger with the message.” What does it feel like to get such a wonderful review that speaks so specifically of your talents and ease with languages?
AD: Well, I’m absolutely certain that the generous reader [listener] who made those comments had had a martini or two before he sat down and put those words onto the computer. That being said, I am gratified. I am a Mexican American, born to first-generation American parents. All my grandparents were born in Mexico. So I feel honored that I’m able to continue this tradition, the bilingual tradition, maintaining the culture of my family, as well as being part of the great American culture, all of us at some point or another being the children of immigrants here. It makes me proud to be described in that way.
MH: What is it like narrating in such different genres? For instance, going from The Mark of Zorro to Cesar Millan’s A Short Guide to a Happy Dog.
AD: I’ll tell you the truth. You would be amazed how much heartbreak you can find in Cesar Millan’s A Short Guide to a Happy Dog. Between you and me, I will tell you that when I got to the final chapter of that book, in which Cesar very honestly and generously describes the challenges he went through as his first TV incarnation was coming apart, I found myself choking up. I know. Don’t laugh. But I found myself choking up when I was reading Cesar’s words. It reminded me that any place where you find honesty on the page, it can have an effect on you and by extension on the reader.
MH: Who or what has been your biggest influence?
AD: Certainly in the studio my greatest influence has been Grover Gardner, and I have often thought back on some of Grover’s advice, his encouragement, and just his example by way of listening to some of his many, many, many audiobooks in order to inspire me, to find a through line sometimes. At points when I’m having difficulty with a particular assignment, I always hear Grover’s voice in my head and try to use that as a guideline to work forward.
MH: What was the greatest help in preparing you for a narrating career?
AD: There’s a variety of things. I suppose coming out of a Latin culture that’s very verbal was invaluable. Coming out of the world of theater is very helpful because you learn basic tenants of how to use your voice—questions of support, vocal relaxation, articulation. I will say it’s been a real pleasure to be able to get back into the studio at Blackstone over the last six months. About three years ago, I suffered a really catastrophic vocal cord injury that required surgery to repair. It left me quite scared for a while as to whether I’d ever be able to produce any kind of good vocal quality, let alone be back on stage or in the studio here. So it’s been a real enjoyable return, capped off by this great opportunity to read Márquez’s book.
MH: When did your interest in acting begin?
AD: Let’s see. Sometime around the age of four I was cast as Humpty Dumpty in a nursery school pageant. I don’t think that actually made my mind up to become a professional actor but sometime around third grade I was taken to see a roadshow of The King and I at a local movie house turned theater palace. That put the seed in my mind pretty deeply. Surprisingly, I actually was a political science major my first two years of college, wanted to go into the law. I discovered that there were a lot of theatrics involved with the legal trade so one way or another I drifted through a couple of incarnations and found myself here.
MH: So any thoughts about what your next project is going to be or might be?
AD: No, but I’m open to suggestions.
MH: Well, Armando my friend, thank you for joining us today. We’re really looking forward to hearing your narration of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and are excited about the audiobook release. Thanks again.
AD: Thanks Malcolm. It was great to be with you.
MH: Thank you for joining us for this Downpour.com interview with Armando Durán. You can find Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, other Márquez titles, many of Armando Durán’s narrations, and all of Blackstone Audio’s titles, at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in August 2013.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
Love in the Time of Cholera
From the Nobel Prize–winning author of One Hundred Years of Solitude comes a masterly evocation of an unrequited passion so strong that it binds two people’s lives together for more than half a century.
In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career, he whiles away the years in 622 affairs—yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he does so again.
With humorous sagacity and consummate craft, Gabriel García Márquez traces an exceptional half-century of unrequited love. Though it seems never to be conveniently contained, love flows through the novel in many wonderful guises—joyful, melancholy, enriching, and ever surprising.