While it’s never surprising to see his name on the short list for acting accolades, he’s a prime contender for thematic industry’s biggest honor, a Grammy.
Courtney B. Vance is nominated for Best Spoken Word Album for reading Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang‘s book, Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military and we caught up with him to find out how he tackled the 600-page book and put himself on the road to an EGOT.
We all know that in order for an actor to get a Grammy you got to read a book so once I discovered that I thought, ‘Oh, I need to read someone’s audio book. When this was presented to me when I got back from Angela’s doctoral celebration at Yale I said ‘Oh wow, this is what I was asking for. But its Tyson and it’s 600 pages and it’s complex thoughts and processes,” he told TheGrio during an exclusive interview.
“Mr. Tyson loves lists but he doesn’t love colons and semi-colons so it was very challenging to figure out what we were saying. It took a lot of time for us to read it and then go back and figure out how to do it. The punctuation tells you where to breathe and where the emotion is. For me not to see the punctuation, I thought this was gonna be agony because of the grammar. We pushed through and the subject matter is completely fascinating.”
Vance is well on his way to achieving EGOT status. He already has a Tony and an Emmy under his belt and an Academy Award is certainly a feasible possibility. The actor admits tackling Tyson’s work was no easy task but he went in with his sights set on earning himself a Grammy nomination.
“His mind is huge and the book is huge and I said if I’m gonna navigate this man’s monstrously huge mind and do this 600-page atone, the book company needs to make sure that they nominate me for a Grammy otherwise I don’t need to do it,” he explains.
“It’s very rare to read the book without being the author and to get the nomination so it’s a double honor. To be a Grammy-nominated person is one thing but to do it knowing it’s rare in this genre for someone to be nominated without writing the book, I was very pleasantly surprised.”
While reading a book into a microphone may sound easy enough, it turns out that the task at hand was a lot more complicated than that. Fortunately for Courtney B. Vance, he has spent most of his life listening to audiobooks.
“I listened to audio books my whole life. My mother was a librarian and she used to get the recorded book tapes from work, copy them and then build her own library. She had an immense audiobooks library and we grew up traveling while listening to books. We drove across the country listening to Frank Muller read a 22-tape book,” he says. “I know great readers. I know what it takes to be a great reader and it’s sitting in that booth while the walls come closing in on you. It also takes a great director, someone who will sit down with you to keep you on task and make sure you know what you’re saying and what’s going on.”
Vance has some competition from some pretty big names including Questlove and Tiffany Haddish who are both nominated in the same category. There’s also some controversy to contend with. The book’s author, Neil deGrasse Tyson has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women. According to the Los Angeles Times, production on his National Geographic series StarTalk has been halted while an investigation is carried out and Tyson vehemently denied all three allegations in a lengthy Facebook post entitled On Being Accused.
Courtney B. Vance offered his thoughts take on the matter exclusively to TheGrio:
“As the father of a daughter and son, I strongly condemn the mistreatment of anyone. That said, it would not be fair or appropriate for me to offer an opinion on these particular allegations because there appears to be an investigation and the facts are still unfolding. I completed the audiobook last summer, and I can only hope that my performance will stand on its own merit.”