Some artists make their entire careers out of some combination of talents and opportunities, but Al Tuck spent more than a decade in Halifax's music scene before adding another skill to his resume.
"Well, I have a daughter now, so I've read a lot of stories with dialogue to her," Tuck says of his prior experience. "But I hadn't done too much in the way of acting."
Recently, Tuck has been reading Maurice Sendak's Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life to his little girl, setting her up for his upcoming voice performance as a milk-delivering cat in an animated adaptation to appear on the upcoming DVD of Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are.
"I hope it's OK for kids!" Tuck says.
How he got from being a familiar name among Halifax music aficionados to sharing frame time with Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker (who star in the film, though Tuck never shared a recording studio with them) is a story of chance encounters, maintaining ties and being open to new experiences. Tuck was taking a train ride years before when he happened to meet Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski of Clyde Henry Productions, and the team behind Madame Tutli-Putli, the 2007 Oscar-nominated animated short about a woman's dangerous train ride, which they happened to be researching at the time.
Their stunning short caught the eye of Jonze, who offered them the opportunity to do Higglety-Pigglety Pop!, with Jonze acting as executive producer.
Tuck got in touch with the team around the time they were casting for the short. He was merely alerting them to a show he was playing in Montreal, where Clyde Henry Productions is based.
"Right around the time, they were floundering, wondering who they were gonna cast as the milk-truck-driving cat," Tuck explains. "When my email came through, they described having a eureka! moment. They thought, 'Hey, maybe Al would be good for this.'"
A requisite audition followed, where the team confirmed their suspicions about Tuck's viability for the part, and then later, an initial recording session, which Tuck compared to his previous experiences recording music in a studio.
"It's similar to recording vocal overdubs for an album. The studio is basically a music studio and I was familiar with the environment," he says. "These guys were helpful in trying to coax the right performance out of me. It was all pretty comfortable---if anything, maybe easier than recording vocal music."
Only recently, Tuck was called back into the studio, this time in Nova Scotia---with Tuck being directed over the phone by Spike Jonze, Lavis and Szcerbowski---to accommodate Jonze's desire for the reading to be more toned down and naturalistic, employing less of Tuck's vocal tics.
"I resisted it at first and was so set in the way I had read it," he says. "Me, I'm more prone to leaving pauses in things or trying to put a different emphasis on different syllables than you'd expect. I think that comes from listening to a lot of Bob Dylan and just from singing a lot and playing around with things. You realize there are different ways to do stuff and you can subvert people's expectations.
"But Spike wasn't so much after that. He wanted closer to a straight reading. I had taken more of a Southern approach, seeing the character as maybe a Southerner. But Spike was looking for more of a Yankee rendering," Tuck says ruefully.
Tuck's reflections on the experience of Higglety Pigglety Pop! speaks to the coincidental nature of his journey there. His animation adventure sounds just like that: an adventure.
"I felt like I had success treating it as a lark at the audition. I figure I'll keep that up. It felt like work the day we did it---we were really going after it---but it didn't seem so different from stuff I'd done before," he says.
"I wouldn't say it changed anything, but it could open up more work and maybe over time I'll be changed by that. I'd be open to doing more on a case-by-case basis. I guess it would depend on if my scene stood out to anybody, or if these guys had any more work for me in the future."