There are a lot of great voices. The ones that capture you with their signature sound, whether it’s Garrison Keller leading A Prairie Home Companion, Morgan Freeman narrating The Shawshank Redemption, Sam Elliott’s drawl in truck commercials, Alan Rickman reading sonnets by William Shakespeare, Maya Angelou reading her own works aloud or actors Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Gambon emoting onstage.
There is also Richard Armitage, whose trademark baritone has spawned a decade-long career in voice work in addition to his celebrated screen and stage roles, which currently includes Kenneth in Roundabout Theatre’s limited Off-Broadway production of Love, Love, Love and Daniel Miller on EPIX’s espionage thriller, Berlin Station. (Both the play and season one of the series draw to a close on Sunday, Dec. 18.)
“There’s nothing nicer than having a story told to you by a great reader,” Armitage tells ET by phone. Having narrated texts by Bernard Cornwell, Georgette Heyer, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, Armitage is lending his voice to Romeo and Juliet: A Novel, a reimagining of the Shakespeare classic by David Hewson, available exclusively on Audible on Dec. 6.
This time, his baritone oozes temptation and whimsy as he reads the story of two star-crossed lovers. (Listen to ET’s exclusive clip of Armitage narrating a passage about Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss.) In press materials, Armitage’s voice is described as “swoon-worthy,” to which he reacts with a bemused laugh.
“I don’t know whether it would be appropriate for something like the sinking of the Titanic. You don’t want to be swoon-worthy for that,” the 45-year-old actor says. “But it’s appropriate for this book. It’s one of the greatest stories ever written, so you have to put your head into that space and seduce people into listening.”
But his key to a successful recording is a simple one. “You have to dive in and be really brave and go for it,” Armitage says. Recorded in five days, Romeo and Juliet: A Novel was a rather simple assignment for Armitage, unlike the time he narrated David Copperfield. “That took 12 days,” he reveals. “Charles Dickens is quite a complicated writer and some of the sentence construction is really lengthy, so it was frustrating but entertaining at the same time.”
But Armitage enjoys a good read, no matter how difficult. “I don’t rule anything out as long as the subject is interesting and it’s told in a way that’s accessible,” he says.
It’s also why he enjoys Love, Love, Love, a fine-tuned comedy of wit written by Mike Bartlett. “There’s a rhythm in the writing, which is compelling and undeniable and really, it’s essential for the success of the play,” Armitage says. While subtle, the lessons he has learned in the recording booth apply to his work onstage, in which he has to portray his character at three different ages from 19 to 65. “There's definitely a vocal quality that changes as you age.”
When asked about his favorite voices, he mentions both Gambon, famous for playing Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film franchise, and McKellen by name. “He is another one who has the most extraordinary voice,” Armitage says of the latter. “He can contact you on a personal level in a huge theater. In a way, doing an audiobook is the same dynamic: You’re reading as if you’re talking to one person and you’re telling the story just for them.”
And in this case, Armitage is reading Romeo and Juliet (or David Copperfield or The Convenient Marriage or Classic Love Poems) just for you. But a warning for the uninitiated: Armitage may cause you to swoon.