THOMAS & FRIENDS LONGEST-STANDING
AMERICAN STORYTELLER TALKS TO SiF!
Michael Brandon has been the North-American narrator for Thomas and Friends since 2003. In 2007, we were led to believe that Michael Brandon would be replaced as the US Storyteller by Pierce Brosnan, fulfilling an international, all English-speaking territories role. However, Michael returned to Thomas & Friends in Series 12 and has remained onboard ever since. Here, he speaks to us about his time with Thomas up until that point.
~ Reply to James Gratton 26 July 2007
DISCLAIMER: All answers and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the Michael Brandon, and in no way purport to represent those of HIT Entertainment
1) How did you become involved as a narrator with the north-american dubbed version of the series?
I was approached by the people at Hit Entertainment during my run of Jerry Springer the Opera at the National Theatre. We met after the show and talked for hours. I felt we had a wonderful connection creatively, I really liked them and felt they truly cared about all the aspects of the show and felt excited to be involved.
2) Did you have any prior knowledge, or exposure to Thomas and Friends, or of the Rev. Awdry's stories prior to signing on as narrator?
Yes, I was already a dad and my son Alex was born in Los Angeles and we watched Thomas the Tank together in his early years before moving back to London.
3) Could you describe what a typical day is like recording your lines for an episode in the studio? Do you use a video of the episode as a means to cue your lines and set the mood and tone for your storytelling?
I usually received the stories in script form, sometimes with videos, and in the last years on dvd. I read them and worked on the various accents needed for each episode. Scottish (Donald and Douglas), etc., American Western, English (Bertie the Bus and Spencer), etc. and then I worked on the voices for new characters. When I felt I had the story and characters in my mind, I watched the tapes and DVDs to see what other ideas came from the situations and images.
I would go into the studio at around 9 am and work until 4 pm. Most times there was a monitor for me to see the story and characters, and I change voices as each comes on screen going straight through the story. Sometimes it's quite interesting when all the trains are in the yard and all talking. Then I might be seven or so different voices in a row.
4) Who is your favourite character to narrate? (For Ringo, it was Gordon, because it permitted him to use a 'deep' voice.)
Really hard to say which voice was my favourite, I really did love them all. Toby is very adorable and Percy is so cute, and Sir Topham Hatt (the Fat Controller) was Dad to them all, and Thomas is very mischievous, but I have to say, Diesel is lots of fun for me.
5) Do you have any role models for how you narrate the personalities of the other characters?
There are over sixty characters and I tried to give each their own sound. A sound that fit their particular personalities. I kept files on each one and tried to keep each one the same year after year. Kids get to know their characters and like them to be the same.
6) Do you have friends or young relatives who are fans of the show, and who recognise your voice?
It was always very gratifying when people wrote to me, or come up to me to say how happy I made their children, and how well they liked my voices. Last January, a man hugged me so hard, he said his son was autistic and even now as a teenager he still loved Thomas and all his friends so much, and he wanted me to know how happy it made him. That made me cry.
7) While in London, did you ever have the opportunity to visit the model set at Shepperton Studios, or met with your British narrator counterpart - Michael Angelis?
Yes, I was When I was filming Miss Marple last winter, I was walking to the production office and stopped in my tracks. There was a huge picture of Thomas on the studio door. I went inside and there they were. Everybody and all the tracks and stations, and all of Sodor. Wow! and Yes I did get to meet Michael Angelis and he is such a nice man, and we had a wonderful evening talking at a Thomas the Tank party.
8) A few years ago, there was a little stir generated in the Thomas Community about the U.S. narration of the character 'Rusty', whose gender somehow switched from being 'male' to 'female' when the script was rewritten and narrated on our side of the 'Big Pond' (e.g. Duncan and the Old Mine). This 'oversight' with Rusty's gender was happily rectified shortly thereafter. Were you privy to this little scandal? ;-)
The problem was not Rusty's I can assure you, but a conflict in production. I remember it well. We are all glad for Rusty it's sorted.
9) You've been narrating the series for North-American audiences since 2003. What is its special appeal that kept on bringing you back year after year?
I had a wonderful opportunity to work with great people. Simon Spencer, Graeme, and Pete, we were a team. The hours flew by and the work was such fun. We loved finding the little moments for the wonderful little trains and helicopters to help each other and make it all work out. Truly one of the best opportunities in my career.
10) We've recently learned that actor Pierce Brosnan will be taking on the mantle as narrator from 2008 onward. Do you have any advice to pass on to Pierce? Are you sorry to be leaving the series?
I think you can tell how much I enjoyed working on the series. Yes, I am very sorry to leave. I hope that Pierce keeps each character important and real and has as much fun as I did.
11) In closing, would you like to say anything special to the fans of your narration work for Thomas and Friends?
It has been my great honour to have been a part of the wonderful world of Thomas and his friends and everyone on the Island of Sodor. Maybe someday I will be invited back. I was very grateful to have been there.
We at SiF would like to thank Mr. Brandon for devoting some time from his busy schedule in order to answer my questions. We wish you all the best, Michael!
We would also like to extend our thanks to Mr. Joel Dean of Talentworks, for passing my message on to Mr. Brandon.
Footnote: for reasons that are not known to us, we were pleasantly surprised to hear Michael in his role as Storyteller in Series 12 and he is indeed confirmed for Series 13. Dry rails and smooth running to you Michael!