Steve French Details the "Great Responsibility" of Hosting the Unsolved Mysteries Podcast
Debuting in 1987, the original Unsolved Mysteries TV series would present viewers with a number of [...]
Debuting in 1987, the original Unsolved Mysteries TV series would present viewers with a number of hard-to-believe cases involving murder, disappearances, and even supernatural occurrences. As implied by the title, these cases remained unexplained, with each episode asking the viewers for their help in solving the events of what they just saw, sometimes even resulting in leads that would solve these mysteries. Just as memorable as any of the frightening cases explored in each episode, host Robert Stack would introduce audiences to these bizarre events. Following the massive success of the Netflix revival of the series, Unsolved Mysteries has debuted an official podcast, which is hosted by Steve French. You can check out new episodes of the Unsolved Mysteries podcast every Wednesday.
The new podcast is described, "Since its premiere in January 1987, Unsolved Mysteries has been one of the longest-running programs in the history of television, and the first series to introduce an audience-interactive 'call-to-action' that requests viewer tips to help solve real cases. Now, the Unsolved Mysteries podcast -- in partnership with Cosgrove/Meurer Productions, the creators and producers of the Emmy-nominated series -- will offer a variety of brand-new cases from their vast archives, exploring cases from every angle in a weekly series, with each episode focused on one mystery.
"As with the television and Netflix streaming series, each episode will end with a call-to-action directing listeners to the Unsolved Mysteries website (unsolved.com) to provide clues that could help solve the mysteries. Each week, the series will feature guests closely associated with the case, including family members, those who have experienced mysterious events in their lives, law enforcement, and forensics experts."
ComicBook.com recently caught up with French to talk his connection to the original series, carving his own cadence, and his personal opinions on the bizarre events.
ComicBook.com: Since I get to work on the internet, I've been very appreciative to keep my job the past year during quarantine, and with your job relying so heavily on narration, have you been fortunate enough to keep plugging away or has the pandemic limited the amount of content being created that you can contribute to?
Steve French: No, it's a great question, and I feel exactly the same as you, I'm so fortunate and, just by the fluke of my career path, that I'm doing this thing where it's literally been another day at the office for me because my office is in my office. My voice is right here and I've been working from home for years. I was still going into the city occasionally, when I need to, but now I've been working exclusively from home for over a year. Very lucky and fortunate that my work continued and I was involved with projects that I do and, actually Match Game was one of my other gigs, but that went by the wayside this year for obvious reasons, but other than that, my work continued relatively unabated, so very lucky for that.prevnext
You've had a lot of opportunities over the years when it comes to acting, do you remember specifically deciding when you wanted to pursue voice acting? Was it someone else who recognized your talents and encouraged you to pursue voiceover work?
I was very lucky to have very sweet people throughout my life who would say things like, "Oh, you've got a special voice, you should be in voiceover. Are you making millions of dollars in voiceover?" And I would say, "Ah, no. Definitely not." But I was such a passionate stage actor for so long. I went to the Harrt School in Hartford, Connecticut for acting. I got a BFA in theater arts as a classically trained actor and that was my dream. My dream was Broadway, I was going to be a Broadway actor and I was able to have a career for a while, I never quite made it to Broadway, but I was a stage actor for a long time doing regional theater and musicals and singing, but I had always thought of voiceover as the kind of side gig where a stage actor could make a little extra money doing a commercial here and there, or something like that.
And then, eventually, I personally grew a little weary of traveling around the country and living life on the road and doing shows that way. I made incredible, life-long friends and had a blast doing the shows themselves, I just knew that that sort of lifestyle wasn't maybe for me, and I started working with my voiceover agents in 2011. I got my first big voiceover gig that was keeping me a little busy, and so it's been about exactly 10 years now from when I started going, "Hey, maybe I can start doing a bit more of this voiceover stuff," where now it's my career and that's what I do.
But it's funny, it took a long time for me to say, "This is something that I could do and this could be my career, to be a voice actor." And there are so many different facets to the voiceover world that you sometimes don't even think about, all the different ways that people can make a living, or at least, participate in the voiceover world. It takes a while to make a living doing it, but there's a lot of ways that you can be a voice actor that you might not even think about, so I'm very happy that the chips fell the way that they did.prevnext
Vin Diesel has spoken a lot about how, as Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he only ever says, "I am Groot," but he has said he'll record dozens and dozens of variations on those three words. When it comes to providing voiceovers for promotional spots, where you might merely say two words like "action-packed," do you similarly put tremendous thought into each syllable or do you just repeatedly say those brief phrases until someone likes what they hear?
It really always, always comes down to storytelling, no matter what it is. I mean, voice acting is acting, right? I'm certainly not the first person to say that. So, even something like The Mandalorian, where typically, sometimes I get longer promos, but typically, I'm saying five words or six words or something, and often saying the same words virtually for free. You have to step out of it and look into it and say, "Who is that person, who are they talking to, what is his experience?" Even if it's something as simple, like you say, "I am Groot," if it's "action-packed," whatever it might be, what are you trying to convey with those words? And so once you start coming at it from an acting standpoint, from an intention standpoint, "What am I saying, who am I when I'm saying these things, and who am I saying them to, and why am I saying them," then you really start to find all different ways that you can say them, so it's really being honest and truthful with, sometimes, things that don't make a whole lot of sense just on the page and you might not think of them that way. If you can lend some truth and ground them in reality, then you can make a lot of sense out of them.prevnext
You serve as the narrator of the new Unsolved Mysteries podcast, what was your connection to the original TV series?
I loved the original TV show, I was happy to say that that's not just me making it up to say I was part of it. It was a poignant viewing in my house growing up. I love Robert Stack's voice, he scared the hell out of me. I can still viscerally remember certain images from that show, and, of course, the theme song, which is an absolute jam, was always in my head, all of those elements really made for this very specific, intense viewing experience, and it was like, I think even as a kid, I've always been a nervous person, scared person ... any of my college friends that tried to get me to go into a haunted house will attest, but I'm not strongest of the stomach to that kind of thing, but it's funny to think that, even as a kid, I would sit in front of the TV rapt with attention at what I was seeing.
Robert Stack was my guy, and I watched this for quite a number of years, and then moved away from it for a while, and then I really enjoyed the Netflix special when it came back. When this audition first came around, which I think was back in September of 2020, I started to peek into the old ones just a little bit, to remind me. I probably could have told you exactly what it was like and could probably have recited certain things in the show, but I wanted to just get a feel, to know what was it about the show that made me feel the way that I did? Then I quickly had to stop watching it because I said, "I'm just going to try and do Robert Stack if I keep watching these things." So it became, how did the show make me feel, why does the show work the way it does, and how can I, as the voice actor that I am, the narrator that I am, tell those stories and give the audience that sense of Unsolved Mysteries that they've come to know, but also, bring myself into it and make it new, this new chapter for them?prevnext
Leaving His Mark
Robert Stack is intrinsically linked with Unsolved Mysteries, so the Netflix reboot made the right decision by avoiding any host or narrator role altogether. The podcast is a different medium, so you wouldn't necessarily earn comparisons to him, but anything in the franchise will automatically be held up to the original's legacy. Were there any specific elements of Stack's delivery and speaking pattern that you aimed to embrace, or did you avoid offering anything that would resemble his tenure?
I think it's probably the latter. I think I would have been dead in the water, you got to forgive the pun for the show that we're talking about, but if I tried to imitate or say the things the way that he had said them. But I really wanted to come at as, "How did Robert Stack make me feel? How did he do what he did and what sensation did that bring out in me?" And the thing that I always came back to with him was that, despite the fact that he was sort of creepy, that he was stoic, that he was so mysterious, there always was, about him, something that made you feel like he cared, almost like he had the answers or something, in this weird way, I'm sure I'm projecting this and putting too much onto it, but almost like he had the answers and he was imploring us to look into the truth and find it ourselves. He wasn't able to solve this problem for us, but maybe, if we just look carefully enough, we could do it.
Maybe these are my own projections, but it's almost like he was an uncle figure as opposed to a parent. He might encourage you to take risks and witness something that might freak you out in a way a parent might shield you from, but he's still there to make sure you're safe once you take that risk.
Yes, yes. That's a great observation and that really is ... you knew that you were going to see something terrifying, something unsettling, but every week he was going to be there, and as long as he was there, he had a power over it and he could keep us safe. He just scared the hell out of us while he was doing it, but we knew we'd be safe at the end of the night. So, absolutely.prevnext
With the recent series focusing more on true crime than on UFOs or Bigfoot, audiences can't help but see the clues and jump to their own answers. When you're recording your segments, do you have to refrain from showing those biases? Do you ever have to stop recording and say, "Oh come on, of course it was the boyfriend!"?
Well, when I'm recording, which is typically working with Terry Dunn Meurer, one of the original creators of the show, so of course, Terry has literally seen all of these, she's had her hand in every single one of these, and so we do have moments where we're recording and we just banter back and forth before we lay a certain paragraph down where I say, "Okay, like what? Really, this is what? How can he do this?" And as you know from watching or listening to the show, there are facts about these cases that are so confounding that you can't even believe that it actually happened that way, but it does, and so a lot of the time what we're sharing is this mutual disbelief that life worked out this way for people, these crazy unfortunate circumstances that all came together, and so whether it's a true crime, or even some of the paranormal things, it's just bizarre, and I think that's one of the great things about the show, is that it brings to life some of these things that have happened in broad daylight that you've never believed and you never would know about unless you tuned into the show. So, I'm always thankful for it, and I'm always confounded by it, every episode there's some piece of information that boggles my mind.prevnext
Robert wasn't the only host, as Dennis Farina also served as a host, and then there was the host-less Netflix series, so with all these different iterations of the concept, what do you think it is about the podcast that makes it unique from what fans might be expecting?
I think it goes back to my original point; it's really about the storytelling. What I love about the podcast is that it strips ... I mean, I'm an avid podcast listener regardless of the fact that I'm working on one, but it strips everything else away, except you close your eyes and you can listen to this story, so you can put all these pieces together in your mind, and so I don't feel like you're getting distracted. A film can be beautiful to look at and you can take it all in, but really, we are getting down to the bare bones of these cases. So, a huge part of each episode are the witness interviews, the interviews with the victims' families, and so it's a really intense ... I mean, each episode is maybe half an hour, and there's just something really intense about the story and the details, the microscopic details of each of these stories that I think ratchet up the intensity even more because you're ... I don't know, it's like a vacuum that you get into when you listen to this thing, especially if you'd made the mistake of listening to them at night while you're lying in bed or something.
But that's what I really like about it. Storytelling is always the reason that I was telling you that I became an actor and that I love doing this, and so from the get-go, there was the emphasis on telling these stories, this variety of stories that Unsolved Mysteries has and with the sound design and with the incredible interviews that they've gotten, I think it makes for some pretty darn good storytelling, at least that's my hope.prevnext
Since you've gotten to do so many things in your career and found unexpected passions of yours, is there still a dream project that you'd like to get involved in some day?
Everybody, every actor has dreams, things they'd love to do, but I have to say, I think each gig is different, and something about this, I never in my wildest dreams would've thought, first of all, that I'd ever be considered one of the voices of Unsolved Mysteries, that in itself is like, talk about the pinnacle of an iconic property that you've loved your whole life, but I think there's something about getting involved with anything that has a built-in fan base and feeling like you have a responsibility to perform that project up to the satisfaction of the fans and people that really know what they're talking about. I don't view this job as a job. I don't view it as another voiceover gig. I feel like I have a great responsibility taking the mantel of the host for this podcast and so I think, at the end of the day, sure, there's lots of different voiceover projects I'd like to do, but every job that I do, every time I get behind the mic, I just hope that people realize that there's somebody there who loves what he's doing and takes it seriously and hopes that you're going to love it too.
New episodes of the Unsolved Mysteries podcast debut every Wednesday.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.prev