Voice Range: Tenor – Baritone
Accents: All (dialect coach)
Fluent Languages: English, Mandarin, German, French, Italian
Awards: Multiple Earphones, Audie Nominee
P.J. Ochlan is a multiple Earphones Award-winning and Audie Award-nominated narrator of more than 150 audiobooks. His acting career spans 30 years and has included Broadway, the NY Shakespeare Festival under Joseph Papp, critically acclaimed feature films and television series regular roles. He has worked with countless icons including Jodie Foster, Robin Williams, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood and Garry Marshall.
As an instructor, P.J. is the founder of www.DrDialect.com and works as a dialect and performance coach for film, television, stage and VO; for audiobooks, he is the co-founder of the Deyan Institute in Los Angeles and has guest coached from coast to coast including at conferences and universities.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I’ve been an actor for 30 years. I had always done VO, but I didn’t get started in audiobooks specifically until a few years ago. I was performing in a Shakespeare production and a fellow cast member introduced me to the legendary Bob and Debra Deyan of Deyan Audio, one of the industry’s leading audiobook production companies. They were impressed with how I played multiple characters and spoke several languages in the play. I auditioned for them and got started. We became close friends. Tragically we lost Bob to ALS. In his honor, Debra and I began serving with the board of the ALS Association, and together we co-founded the Deyan Institute, where I now teach audiobook narration.
What do you do when you are not narrating?:
Prep. Other acting and VO work. Some film directing. Prep. Family time with my wife and our big pack of pets. Prep.
Many audiobook narrators do other voice over work, where else could we hear your work? Do you find there to any big hurdles to jump when going from audiobooks to something else or vise versa?:
Over the years my career has included a range of VO work — commercials, video games, etc., and even about a decade as a Southern California radio personality with shows on several stations. There are different technical and performance considerations between the various disciplines, but I don’t see them as hurdles. It’s not unlike going from stage to screen.
Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?:
A little of both. I like being busy — I often joke that I’m a complete disaster at not being busy. And I’m fortunate that I work regularly for many different producers and publishers.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?:
Well, there’s nothing more rewarding in the grand scheme than hearing how you’ve positively affected lives. It’s a great feeling when listeners and authors reach out to share that a performance has had an impact on them. And I think that feeling is magnified with audiobooks because of how isolated the work of narration is.
On a more superficial level, I have fun challenging myself with personal records. I’ve gone 29:30 without making a mistake; I’ve recorded 9.5 finished hours in a single day; and I did 243 different character voices in a single book.
If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?:
Supernatural creature. For no reason other than confirmation of the supernatural.
If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?:
What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?:
The inconsistent pronunciations of “Maester” on Game of Thrones.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another narrator?
What is the first book you remember reading on your own? What do you remember most about the experience?:
I worked quite a bit as a kid actor, and I remember going to “school” on the Universal Studios lot. The set teacher had me read Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.” I cried like a baby and my relationship with books was forever changed.
You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?:
I’ll use real life for this one. I did a Tough Mudder event to support the Wounded Warrior Project — 13.5 miles of mountain insanity involving a couple dozen nightmare inducing obstacles and far too much 35-degree water. I did it with two good (real) friends, and yes, as is the Tough Mudder custom, ice-cold beer was waiting for us at the finish line. Right after we got zapped by 10k volt wires…
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?:
There are usually clues in the book, which I discover during prep. Sometimes if the clues aren’t overt, a bit of deductive reasoning comes into play — coming to conclusions based on what they’re not. But although I’m a character voice and dialect guy and teach workshops on those very skill sets, I always aim to focus on who these characters are as people. They are real individuals with real backstories and lives. How they sound on a technical level enhances the package (and that’s always fun), but prioritizing who they are is I think what most connects with listeners.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?:
Some publishers and producers have their own studios here in Los Angeles which I sometimes work in, but most of my recording is done in my home booth. The vibe coincides with that of the book.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?:
I usually record around seven hours a day. In that time, if I’m at a studio working with an engineer, I’ll typically complete about 5.5 “finished hours” of audio. Self recording at home I do less.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?:
So hard to say. I’m fortunate that I get to narrate across the spectrum, and I’ve grown to love the variety that comes my way.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?:
I use it! As long as it doesn’t cross into commentary on the book, real emotion can contribute to the honesty of the performance – especially within character dialogue.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?:
No preference. I just do what I do and leave the labeling up to the judges.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?:
Both for sure. The narration itself is a performance – so it hopefully qualifies as art (though that’s entirely up to the beholder) – but there are countless technical considerations that must be mastered and forgotten to achieve that performance. I say “forgotten” because as we do on camera or on stage, actors have a lot of business to contend with – memorizing dialogue, blocking and hitting marks, etc. – that we need to have running in the background like a computer’s operating system, so that we can focus on being in the moment and deliver an honest performance.
Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?:
I think we have a responsibility to capture the tone of an author’s intent and passion in the fairest and most compelling way possible, regardless of whether we naturally feel the same connection and passion. So it’s our job to get there honestly as actors if we’re to do the book justice. That said, when it’s a non-fiction topic I’m especially interested in or a novel I can’t put down, the gig is certainly more fun.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?:
Explore and learn the craft. Accept that it’s very challenging and not for everyone, but don’t let that stop you from finding out if it’s for you. Join us for a class at the Deyan Institute – www.deyaninstitute.com
What has been your favorite project and why?:
My wife Camilla is an author, and I got to narrate short story she wrote called The Seventh Lane. It’s a fun noir fantasy and it was a special treat to perform her words.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?:
That’s a matter of semantics really. If you’ve listened to a particular book have you “read” it? Sure. But does listening improve one’s ability to “read”? No.
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