Interview Cassandra Campbell adds her magic touch to Kate Alcott’s A TOUCH OF STARDUST

We all have a personal connection to the movies. Ask ten friends what their favorite film of all time is, and you’re likely to hear a variety of answers, and see many subtle memory-searching smiles, as they each recall where and when they experienced a dose of movie magic. In fact, I think the same can be said of books—and audiobooks! And Kate Alcott’s A TOUCH OF STARDUST may just be your newest favorite, with its irresistible mix of behind the scenes drama and Hollywood romance.

While the words “favorite film” may inspire an array of opinions, there are, without a doubt, certain movies that have undeniably made their mark to earn the title of “a classic”; a piece of Hollywood history that will never be forgotten. And so author Alcott smartly set her sights on one of the most intriguing, most history-making, and yes, one of the “most-often-named-as-a-favorite” movies of all time: Gone With the Wind.

cassandracampbellNarrator Cassandra Campbell takes us behind the scenes of her own journey with A TOUCH OF STARDUST, and explains how she brought this delightful historical fiction novel (and LibraryReads pick) to life on audiobook. So pop some popcorn, dim the lights, and keep reading…
Hollywood, here we come!

Do you have a typical preparation process?

I actually prepare each audiobook that I narrate with a different approach. This one was a bit daunting at first, with Gone with the Wind being so iconic! I read the book quietly, so I could try to get a sense of the author’s style and prose in my head—how it moves, how the author wants it to sound…

I typically make notes, if I need them, on a note pad. Not so much in the manuscript itself because I get distracted by them that way. In addition to making notes, some fun things that I always do are: look at pictures of places when I don’t know the locations; watch movies from the period (a real treat in this case!); and try to get the characters in my head.

I don’t do too much out loud while preparing. I was just taught not to—my theatre mentor used to call that kind of preparation, “rehearsing the rehearsal,” so I’ve just never been in the habit of doing that. I don’t map out how it’s going to sound because for me, it’s more fun and much fresher to have that happen when I sit down in front of the microphone. Riskier, too, but that’s part of the joy of it!

As soon as I started reading the manuscript of A TOUCH OF STARDUST, I began thinking about what a fun challenge it would be for an actor to narrate. What was your first reaction?

Yes, I was excited to get my hands on it because I love the period. I know the films of the era well, and I knew it would be a wonderful challenge to explore the style in audio format. Plus, it takes place in Los Angeles, where I live. But daunting, too! Rhett Butler? Scarlett? Selznick? Lombard?! I’d be a fool not to feel intimidated by the very idea of voicing these greats. But I was mostly excited, above all.

The audiobook suggests an old movie sound which brings this book to life in such a fun and stylized way—especially in your narration of dialogue. Had you done anything like this before?

I hadn’t done anything really similar, but I have done plenty of period pieces. [Kate] Alcott is great at capturing the lingo of the late 30s and the sense of snappy dialogue from the movies of that time. One of the biggest difficulties was to keep the pace that audiobooks require—not too fast!—and still convey a sense of the way dialogue of that period moved, such as that briskness you hear in the voice of someone like Cary Grant (who was my model for the character of Andy). Alcott gave me such vivid descriptions of old Hollywood, which are always fun to imagine. And, in some cases, still visible [where I live]!

Did you watch a lot of old movies and/or Gone with the Wind to prepare? If so, which films did you watch?

I watched some of Gone with the Wind, but the film is so embedded in my memory and the characters are so vivid. I quickly discovered the bigger challenge was going to be how to play both Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their fictional/real lives. So I watched them in other movies to get a sense of their range: It Happened One Night, No Man of Her Own (which they’re both in) and Made for Each Other. I hadn’t seen a lot of Lombard’s movies so I enjoyed discovering her quirky charm. I quickly fell in love with her, actually!

What are your favorite old movies?

I love Jean Arthur and used her as a model for Julie, the protagonist. Some of my favorites from the period are It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Bringing Up Baby, The Women, Topper, the Marx Brothers’ movies, A Star is Born, and You Can’t Take it With You. I also love The Little Foxes, The Petrified Forest, and many of Bette Davis’ movies. And, of course, the glorious musicals from the 30s and 40s.

How did you approach tackling the voices of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable?

I didn’t want to do an impersonation of either of them. I thought in Gable’s case, that would be an absurd mess! But I did listen for the particular way that each of these great stars phrased things, what their cadences were, where their voice resonated, and I tried to capture that. Lombard was tricky because she didn’t have an amazingly distinct voice—so much of her charm was in her wit and energy and sense of timing. I wanted to capture the essence of each of them, rather than try to imitate their voices, which was fun and allowed me to visualize them and get inside their heads. Also, what the author provided gave me a lot of insight into who they were off screen. So between watching them, doing a little research about their lives together, and what the author provided, I tried to make them genuine and real (well, fake-real) people. At least in my head!

You definitely succeeded with that! I always find myself intrigued by Hollywood stories. Do you also find this to be true for you? Does it make you think about any of your own experiences as an actress or how Hollywood has (or hasn’t) changed since the 1930s?

Yes, fascination with the Hollywood system and the history of the movies is such a wonderful subject for fiction. I grew up without television, but my parents had a good friend who worked in the film department of a nearby college who ran old movies every Friday night. So I watched MGM musicals and the great classic films all throughout my childhood. Old Hollywood has always been somewhat familiar to me. I used to pore over this book my parents had called, The Image Makers, Sixty Years of Hollywood Glamour. It’s full of pictures of the great stars of the glamour years (my sister and I used to choose our favorite outfits; I still do it with my daughter when we watch the awards ceremonies). I guess much of that glamour is still with us—we are still fascinated by the movies and movie stars.

Was it fun to do a historical fiction audio set in the area where you live? Are any of the locations in the book places you have been to or recognized? I know the Hollywood sign is there, of course!

The funny thing is, I only discovered the Selznick Studio house, now called Culver Studios, last year. I went for a walk one evening with my dear friend and fellow narrator, Kathe Mazur, and we randomly ended up there. We walked the neighborhood, peeked over fences to see more of the studio lot, and visited the Culver Hotel (one of the scenes in the book takes place there). So it was all very fresh in my mind when I narrated the book. Such a fun coincidence! And yes, I know Los Angeles well, having lived here for fourteen years, so it was easy to see the locales in my mind’s eye.

Want to hear more?
Listen to a clip of A TOUCH OF STARDUST:

“[An] engaging performance…Campbell’s interpretation makes Alcott’s intriguing speculations feel right.”—AudioFile

“The briskly paced narrative captivates…”—Booklist, starred review

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