Mysterious Cities Of Gold: Janice Chakelson interview

The voice of Zia from The Mysterious Cities Of Gold joins us for a quick natter...

Janice Chakelson

Janice Chakelson had already worked with Mysterious Cities Of Gold director Howard Rysphan before she got the call to work on the project. Here, she talks us through her time on one of the finest childrens’ TV productions of all time…

What do you remember about voicing Zia?

I remember being able to leave school, secretly, in the middle of the day to go work on the series. Everyone used to ask me where I was going, but it was a secret between me and my teachers, even though I did let my closest friends in on it. I remember going into a very dark room – the dubbing studio – and getting to work. Everyone around was smoking, so I always left with a headache.

Shiraz, who did the voice of Esteban, was usually there when I was. We got along very well, though I was always annoyed that he made so many mistakes with his lines. I was good at getting my lines right on the first reading. They used to call me ‘One Take Janice.’

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In addition to my lines, I generally had a whole lot of grunts and groans and more shouts of “Esteban” than one could count. But it was just so much fun to play the only female lead in a cartoon series.

How did the job come about?

From the age of 6, I was doing quite a lot of professional acting for all different types of Montreal-based productions. I was a member of ACTRA and had an agent. I had already worked on several dubbing projects, including ones with Mysterious Cities Of Gold director Howard Ryshpan. I was asked to audition for Mysterious Cities Of Gold. I guess the director thought I had the right voice to play Zia!

Once you’d finished your work on the programme, did you watch it when it went out? What did you think?

I never actually got to see the series myself, and no one I knew throughout high school or college had ever heard of Mysterious Cities Of Gold. I knew that the series aired on Nickelodeon in the US because my grandfather used to make sure to watch the show every day when he and my grandmother were in Florida for the winter. He used to say: “It’s 3 o’clock. Time to go watch Janice!”

He had recorded a few episodes for me that I got to watch, but it wasn’t until about four years ago, when I had this pang of nostalgia and thought “wouldn’t it be nice to have a copy of the Mysterious Cities Of Gold series? I wonder if itexists” that I even realised what a following the series had. When I Googled the show, I found quite a few fan sites. In fact, in researching a good bootleg copy, I was asked by one website if I would do an interview with them. I thought it was a little strange, but of course I agreed.

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What are your thoughts on it today?

To be honest, I still have not watched the entire series. My daughter and nephew have watched the whole thing through twice and are dying to watch the fully restored set. I’ve caught bits during their viewings, but I have not had the time to watch all 39 episodes from beginning to end. I am quite thrilled, however, that the series has such a large cult following. In fact I now have a few friends – one from the UK, one from South Africa, and two from the US – who know and love the series. They are quite excited to be friends with the voice of Zia and can’t wait to get their own copies of the DVD set.

And what do you do for a living these days?

After graduating with a degree in advertising from Syracuse University in 1992, I began a career in marketing in New York City, eventually becoming the Director of Marketing for The New Victory Theater, a non-profit theatre for kids and families on 42nd Street in Manhattan. These days I keep myself busy raising my two daughters, ages four and six; teaching theatre, cooking and art to preschoolers; running an exclusive cake business for which I bake and decorate elaborate, made-to-order cakes; and doing party planning as well as a lot of freelance marketing and graphic design work.

Janice Chakelson, thank you very much!

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