June is audiobook month and we’re celebrating all month long! Today we’re shining the spotlight on Toni Lewis, the amazing and talented narrator of the audiobook Cult, a psychological thriller by Warren Adler.
What do you look for in a project? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards? What initially drew you to Cult?
I generally gravitate to the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, but my overall thirst is for amazing stories. The category doesn’t matter. I love reading and I loved reading Cult.
How did you specifically prepare Cult?
Because I am an actor, I break the book down like I would a script. I break each chapter into beats while asking questions about what each character wants and based on their actions, how much they have to lose in the process. I put myself in the character’s shoes and walk, run, trip, fall, or dance with the other characters in order to feel and communicate those feelings through my voice.
What kind of book would you consider Cult to be?
To me, Cult is a psychological thriller…A cautionary tale.
What did you take away from Cult?
I was frustrated and saddened by the cruelty of the human mind. Fear is a powerful weapon and the easiest to wield.
The author Warren Adler’s son was in a cult. How does that change your perspective about the novel knowing that a lot of the author’s experience is intertwined in the story?
I definitely felt the personal in the story of Cult. The anguish and helplessness and anger came through in the writing. I applaud Mr. Adler for using his gift to shine light on a subject that destroys people and families alike. Knowing that his personal experience was the basis for this work gives me pause as a parent. I wonder how I would approach this kind of situation and bring it to conclusion.
Is there anything you learned about yourself or life in general after completing the production of Cult?
I believe I have a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to issues concerning religion, but after completing the production of Cult, I had to admit that anyone, including myself, could fall under psychological manipulation. I am hypersensitive to lies and half-truths, especially in today’s political climate.
Which character did you like the most from Cult and why?
I found myself rooting for the Sheriff. I loved how his desire to do the right thing took him on a journey through his private and professional weaknesses and led him to the realization that there is no formula to life and age is no substitute for wisdom.
What were some of the joys and challenges of narrating Cult?
It was fun and challenging to use only my voice to portray the escalation of events in the story. There was an urgency that I needed to convey and personally being drawn into the story helped tremendously. As a female narrator, it’s always a little tricky with distinguishing male voices. In the case of Cult, there were two males with basically the same intentions. Establishing a distinct voice for each was a little difficult. The key was to keep it subtle.
Which character could you relate to the most and why?
I have to stay with the Sheriff. The Sheriff was all kinds of cool beans! I loved that guy.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by people with courage to seek and speak the truth against all odds. That is what this story is all about. I’m inspired by writers who venture outside their comfort zones to create new ways of looking at the human condition.
Do you have any rituals you practice while you’re recording an audiobook? Certain foods you’ll eat or stay away from? How do you take care of your voice?
I am also a singer, so I will do the same vocal warm-ups that I use in my voice training. I always have a cup of warm tea and a glass of fresh water at the ready and I generally stay away from dairy and a full stomach while working. I work from home, so I like to work at night when air and street traffic is low to cut down on noise. A healthy diet, a good night sleep, and well-timed breaks, keeps the voice healthy.
What was the most unexpected thing about narrating audiobooks that you didn’t foresee going in?
This is hard work even for seasoned actors! It’s hard physically and mentally. A lot of projects require you to not only perform, but produce as well. The pressure to make everything perfect never goes away.
What’s next for you? Do you have a project you’re itching to work on?
I just finished narrating a fun Fantasy novel about witches, and I’m in the process of writing my own novel. I plan to do the narration for it 😉
Listen to Toni narrate Cult here.
Toni Lewis is an actor/singer living in Los Angeles, California. Her first television role was for NBC in the critically acclaimed “Homicide: Life On The Street” as Det. Terri Stivers. Subsequent roles include: HBO’s Oz, The Wire, 10-8, House, and Heroes. Ms. Lewis also does work in Voice-Overs and also Book Narration for ACX that include: Anne Blyth: Actress, Singer, Star, CULT, Barely A Witch. She can be found singing lead and background for Commercials, Television, and Musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors, 1940’s Radio Hour, The Buddy Holly Story, Wild Dust: The Musical.