By Candace Levy
Many listeners may be most familiar with Nancy Wu’s work on audiobooks with Asian themes, settings, or characters. Her performances always engage, whether she’s narrating fiction, thrillers, contemporary culture, or young adult audiobooks.
Wu’s impeccable sense of timing keeps the audience glued to whatever audiobook she’s performing. She keeps the dialogue flowing and the action zooming along. What’s more, she can deliver comedy as easily as she can build suspense.
Her thoughtful and believable characterizations never stray to stereotypes, even when performing dialogue from individuals whose first language is not English.
AudioFile and The Big Thrill would like you to to meet Nancy Wu, the woman who enlivens all kinds of great stories and delivers them to your headphones.
AudioFile: Which genre will you always say yes to, and why?
Nancy Wu: I would never turn down good historical fiction or young adult fantasy adventure. My original niche, possibly the one dearest to my heart, is Asian-inspired fantasy, filled with dragons, magic, heroic battle, and intrigue. I’m lucky to be seen as both a YA actor and as a mature voice that can authoritatively read nonfiction and contemporary literary fiction. I have some producers who specifically cast me for wacky characters, one who gives me dense history titles, and another who said, “I only give you difficult books!” I’m in the middle of a Marvel X-Men series now—talk about the pressure of coming up with scores of iconic superhero and villain voices. It’s been a mission!
AF: Tell us something surprising about yourself.
NW: I lived on the Thai/Burma border for almost a year, where I was suspected of being a spy! I was a human rights activist before the fall of Burma’s dictatorship in 2011, and I lived on the Thai/Burma border, home to the longest protracted refugee situation in the world: For more than half a century, persecuted ethnic groups have fled to Thailand into cramped, makeshift jungle camps, in which generations have been born and raised. With my energy and curious American personality, I became suspected in town of having ulterior motives.
It wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, because some of my colleagues were in fact international journalists uncovering some dangerous stories. And a number of us did indeed get smuggled, or sneaked, through the border to observe conditions in Burma itself, and not in the safest of manners. My life was much more exciting then!
A second little-known fact: I was a Wall Street equities analyst and Hong Kong/Shanghai management consultant before becoming an actor.
AF: What are you doing when you’re not working?
NW: Traveling. I began traveling at a young age to Asia with my family, where we have relatives in many countries. There began my love of travel, and I studied and worked abroad for many years in Europe and Asia. I began rock climbing in Hong Kong and Thailand, and ever since, I have ventured to many beautiful places in nature on climbing and exploring trips. My favorite places to climb have been China, Slovenia, Italy, and Croatia. I can’t travel as much as I used to right now, but I still make sure to take at least one trip far afield every year.
AF: What are the pros and cons of recording a series?
NW: Pros: You become so familiar with your characters and invested in their adventures that you’re excited to reunite with them to see what happens next. It’s also nice to have established main characters who are already in your head, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I’m so invested in my Peasprout Chen series that I hope she goes on for as long as Harry Potter did.
The cons are forgetting to bounce and save voice clips and trying to remember who’s who out of all the secondary characters. Sometimes the author surprises you years into a series by giving a character detail she never revealed before. Once I had an obnoxious mother-in-law character to whom I gave a Jersey accent, just to discover in book five that she was from the Midwest. There’s that dilemma. I changed it for that book, but then a fan got upset, complaining about the loss of the hilarious Jersey mom, so I switched back.
AF: What’s the first task you tackle when given a new audiobook project?
NW: Creating character voices and doing foreign language and accent research. First, I skim through to find out who all the characters are, how they’re described, what they look like as well as their motivations, relationships, and purpose in the book. With voices, sometimes you just have to go for it. Make a bold choice, trust that the audience will forgive you for it, and move on. Sometimes you fail. Sigh. When you do challenging, interesting books, you inevitably put a lot of time into research and prep. Researching historical names, places, and events is time-consuming, especially in a foreign language—as is highlighting the script, which I find necessary for scenes with dialogue between multiple characters. However, when you’re lucky enough to get all that done—all you have to do in front of the mic is sit back and live the story. That’s the joy of it.
To find more audiobooks performed by Nancy Wu, browse our reviews.
Thrilling Listens for November from AudioFile Magazine
In order to help you prepare for Thanksgiving, AudioFile Magazine has selected five historical audiobooks that will get you in the mood for a celebration that marks a long-ago event. They all combine blow-you-away narrations with standout writing. Grab your earbuds and start listening.
By Raymond Khoury, read by Raphael Corkhill
The year is 1683, and the Ottomans are at the gates of Vienna. Then a couple of heavily loaded camels blow up, and the history of Western Europe is completely altered. Have fun!
by Lori Roy | Read by Catherine Taber, Dorothy Dillingham Blue, Chris Gebauer
Part history lesson and part twisted family drama, this audiobook spans three time periods and encompasses three perspectives on a shocking crime involving the KKK. How does one live with the past?
by David Baldacci, read by Edoardo Ballerini
In this post-WWII crime noir, recently released ex-convict Aloysius Archer moves to a fictional city in the Midwest and meets not just one, but two femmes fatale, and a host of other good and bad folks. Here’s looking at you, kid.
by Lara Prescott | Read by Cynthia Farrell, Mozhan Marno, Carlotta Brentan, Saskia Maarleveld, Jonathan Davis, David Pittu, James Fouhey
Random House Audio
A captivating new telling of one of the great Cold War coups—the smuggling into the West of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. In Washington, the narrators include “The Typists” at CIA headquarters, a young Russian-speaking agent, and a glamorous senior agent. Cue “Lara’s Theme.”
By Kaite Welsh, read by Mary Jane Wells
In 1890s Edinburgh, Sara Gilchrist pursues her determination to become a doctor while scorning her putative fiancé. Then there’s a death in her fiancé’s home and Sara steps in to investigate.