NEW YORK – He speaks for Harry -- and Hermione, Ron and everyone at Hogwarts.
Fact is, Jim Dale has spoken for every character in every one of J.K. Rowling's (search) series ever since they started turning out the audiobooks.
"I'm the voice of Harry Potter," Dale told The Post the other day -- and if that voice sounded husky, no wonder: He'd recently finished taping Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, all 896 pages and 134 characters of it.
Even after the taping began, on April 7 -- the manuscript having arrived in New York a few days before -- Rowling was still tweaking the book, "a word here, a word there."
"We started recording without knowing how certain words would be pronounced," Dale says, "so when we finally found out, we had to re-record them."
The audiobook -- due out Saturday, the same day as the book -- took more than 145 hours to record; it uses 17 cassettes (and 23 compact discs) and takes 26 1/2 hours to listen to.
The way the wizards at Random House Audio Books (search) figure it, if you started listening to it at the George Washington Bridge, drove 55 mph and didn't hit traffic, you'd be pulling into South Dakota's Mount Rushmore (search) park when it ended.
Not that Dale - the British actor who razzle-dazzled 'em on Broadway years ago in Barnum -- has ever heard any of the tapes.
"I just can't do it," he says. "I'd be too critical."
He's also critical of leaks. Like the previous Potter books, Phoenix has been kept under lock and key, if not armed guard - though a few books seem to have tumbled off trucks along the way.
Indeed, didn't the 67-year-old grandfather of five have to sign a confidentiality agreement?
"I'm not allowed to say," he deadpans. "Yes, of course I did. If you blab, they cut your tongue out -- then you have a problem [making] future audio books."
Turning serious, he adds, "It's only fair that everything's kept secret, because children love surprises. If they didn't, then why not tell them what they're going to have for Christmas?
"Some people have let the cat out of the bag, which is a big disappointment. If I was a kid, I wouldn't read it. I'd want to find out for myself."
And he did. He read the book 100 pages at a time, invented the voices, then went to the studio the next day to record them.
"On a good day, we'd try to tape 20 pages in an hour," he says.
"At least I didn't know who the villains are, which is good, because then I didn't deliberately put something into their voices.
"I didn't know where the hell I was going."
The biggest challenge was keeping all 134 characters (and voices) straight - not that he didn't slip occasionally.
"If you could only put out the outtakes for the Harry Potter audiobooks, it would make a book itself," he muses. "A blooper reel. But what language! They'd have to sell it only to those over 18."
To simplify things, Dale says, he decided from the start to make his own voice Harry's - for Harry, after all, is the heart of every book.
Nor could Dale readily switch off the book after a day's recording.
"After reading an audio, you begin to act your life," he says. "'Hi, darling, I'm home!' Jim said as he opened the door, seeing his wife leaning over the kitchen sink. She said . . . Come on, darling, say something!' "
OK, one last try: Can't he say anything about what's in store in Harry 5?
"It's long, darling -- very long," he intones, shaking his head.
"What good will it do? Let every page be a surprise; let every new character and what they do be a surprise."