Most gamers realize the importance of acting in a video game. While acting may not be prominent in every game such as Mario or LittleBigPlanet, it is important for video games that strive to present some narrative substance to the player. Over the last decade or so we’ve been lucky enough to see video games improve, not only through the technology that powers them and the gameplay that is dished out, but also through the acting. With advances such as different motion capture techniques and actors simply being more comfortable performing in a way that may be unorthodox to them, we’ve been lucky to receive some amazing performances – some of which have been from actor Brian Bloom.
A veteran actor in film and TV, Brian Bloom is one of the few actors out there that provides a level of depth that’s rarely seen in video games. Known the most for on-screen appearances in projects such as “OZ”, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, and “A-Team: The Movie” which he also co-wrote, Brian is the type of actor that lets the role envelop him and in the case of video games that results in performances that are nuanced, layered, and ever engaging. It may surprise some of you out there to hear that the voice behind Kane from the “Kane & Lynch” series also does the voice of Jackie Estacado in “The Darkness II” along with portraying the first Avenger that is Captain America in both video games and animation, but such a thing simply shows the talent that Brian has as an actor.
I was extremely lucky enough to chat with Brian a bit about some of his performances, how he tackles a role, and what he thinks of the new media. As always I hope everyone enjoys the interview as Brian gave some incredible insight.
Ian Fisher: This is a bit of a basic question but since everyone has a different journey can you tell us how you became an actor and how you subsequently made the jump to acting in video games and animated projects?
Brian Bloom: Well I became an actor by taking public speaking classes when I was a young man and those classes led to some acting classes in a rather obvious route once you retrace it since the guy taught both of those things. From that point on I was fortunate to work as a teenager and in my 20s in different kinds of projects like television and film.
This is actually kind of a fun anecdote that I think is sort of memorable and different, but I tried some of the classic stuff and the classic stuff really didn’t work for me. One day a friend of mine who is very successful in the voice industry was at my house, and this was about 10 years ago before cellphones were totally omnipresent, and he couldn’t get a signal where I was; nobody could at that time. He asked if he could make a phone call and give them my number, a very common practice that sort of died in the modern era. The person he was calling was his voice agent and when she called back and I took the call she said “Who is this?” and she said it in that kind of way that was interesting enough to start a little playful game on the phone and subsequently she asked me to come in during that phone call to set-up possible jobs and appointments and that was that.
Ian: One thing that is common about your performances is that there’s a constant intensity to them. Whether it’s in a live-action drama such as your role in the HBO series “OZ” or assuming the role of a former mercenary like in “Kane & Lynch” you really bring a level of intensity that adds a tremendous amount to the character, either through a physical presence or simply by hitting a certain tone. With that being said, as an actor how do you know when you should dial things back or perhaps up the ante when taking on a role?
Brian: I don’t know, I think it would be selfish to answer since these things are procreated on different levels. Sometimes you’re close to being completely by yourself which can be a good thing or it can be a terribly dangerous depending on who you are, who you’re working for and all that stuff. But I can’t say there can be a clear cut how do you know. Different projects have different tones and if there are things that can be gleamed from artwork if that’s available or things that can be ascertained from the full script or table read. All of those things and none of those things add to who you are and what you’re doing. There’s the director’s input and an unimaginable plethora of things and then a little bit of instinct and luck and an eye of newt and you put that in a cauldron and mix that around.
Ian: In general what was it like for you when you started your first voice acting role? Was stepping into the recording booth and being isolated from your fellow actors something that you had to get used to, or was such a thing a welcomed challenge since it allowed you to really fine tune your performances and find the center of your characters?
Brian: Yes but at the same time when I was a kid I dreamt of being a DJ so I recorded a lot of music in my room and played with my voice a lot so it wasn’t completely foreign to me. I understand a microphone being over your head and there are other dynamics to it since it’s not live-action unless its mo-cap to some extent. But I certainly had a lot to learn about “working” the microphone, what kind of microphones sounds certain ways, and that’s an ever ongoing and changing learning curve that goes on now and I’m only beginning to understand, or think I understand some of that stuff.
Ian: What was the dynamic of motion capture like? Was that something you enjoyed doing or were you thrown off by that a little bit?
Brian: I’ve done some of that for other film and television projects and for stunts I’ve experienced some different, let’s say elements of motion capture. But I’ve never exclusively done a project that was motion capture and entirely 100% mo-cap as far as what my contribution would be. It’s a blast and although it has a new set of ever changing and unfurling rules to itself and the fact that it’s kind of built on breaking the rules it’s an exciting medium to be part of. Everything related to the new media kind of turns me on and piques my interest. Some of the background as an actor means that being isolated in the studio that wasn’t crazy but also working in mo-cap and moving around that wasn’t so crazy either. Adding the dots to some of those suits can be funny and it’s just another form of performing.
A clip of Brian from The Darkness II.
Ian: An upcoming project that video game fans can hear you in next is “The Darkness II” in which you portray Jackie Estacado, a mobster that just so happens to have a demonic entity living within him. With this being the second installment of the video game you’re replacing Kirk Acevedo who portrayed Jackie in the first game. When you find yourself in a position in which you’re inheriting an established role, especially one that’s loved by the audience at hand, do you consciously think about what the previous actor did or do you go in with a fresh take on how to proceed with the role?
Brian: What I could say about it that I think is hopefully a little more insightful is that you got to ask yourself a number of questions such as why is the person being replaced. If there’s a reason that they’re being replaced and that reason isn’t only because the person wasn’t available or wasn’t interested, then doing the performance they gave, even though the fans may expect and have become used to that, there needs to be some space between that and offering something new to it. I think the best way to balance those dynamics is really not to balance them. Why is the guy being replaced? Replaced is a very interesting word, and why are they making another installment of the game, and are there other elements that are new? And how has the game or the new take on the character evolved?
I don’t think it’s cool to get bogged down in all of that and what’s exciting is that there’s a new chapter in the life of Jackie Estacado and I know the guys that developed the game and I myself worked our asses off to make it as interesting, intense, beautiful and heart felt and this incredible melding of taking that monster that’s inside a crime boss and taking that potential energy that’s kinetic and tactile like giant arms. I think there’s an allegory there, obviously it’s not allegorical only because its physical and you see that in the game, but I’m more interested in those elements and what I can do with those things than trying to do what someone else did and copy them. I think that’s rooted in the idea that unless somebody asks me to do that, and there are times when that’s the case, I don’t think that’s what all of us as actors or individuals, you as a writer and an interviewer, unless your job is to imitate somebody else that’s not what you are really there for or have to offer.
Ian: A key occurrence amongst some of the more memorable or known characters you’ve portrayed is that they’re villains or less than reputable people such as the character Pike from “The A-Team” or even portraying the near silent killer that is a Terminator on “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”. Do you find yourself fonder of portraying villains as an actor, perhaps because of the challenges it provides since you need to keep things fresh and perhaps add more depth than when playing a more straight-laced role?
Brian: I do like that but I think it’s just because different people have different things to offer. What’s cool about being a guy who has done on-camera and VO is that you get to portray things where your physicality, your size, and your ethnicity are let’s say not the initial factors that one is judged by and therefore there are lots of possibilities and things you can do that if they were on camera or they were seen they might not work. There are plenty of people of one ethnic background that end up playing one of another, or someone of particular sex that plays another sex, and we know of the most famous ones from animated primetime television so there are those kinds of things.
Ian: As an actor who has been in the business for quite a long time what has it been like for you to see video games become a major source for legitimate storytelling? Over the past few years you’ve lent your skills as an actor in some rather dramatic tales such as “Silent Hill: Homecoming” and the “Kane & Lynch” series, both of which strive for a rather intense and somewhat grounded approach in how the narrative and emotional aspects are laid out. So it is generally pleasing as an actor to receive the chance to portray roles in video games that are more engaging than something you would receive in a film or TV project, even with the caveat that your voice is the only defining factor to your performance?
Brian: Well again I wouldn’t limit that answer to a yes or no thing and like I was saying before there’s the chance to do stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily get to do character wise and there’s also other elements that aren’t there. So without quantitatively putting one as better than the other or worse or more or less interesting they have different things to offer. I appreciate parts of both of them but I think that video games are such a growing and evolving kind of three headed hydra right now in an exciting way and again, being part of the new media on all levels is interesting to me. Whereas some people in my generation of actors are coming to the party a little late and then maybe “stealing” the party from some of us who knows. I was always interested in this kind of thing, although I’m not a gamer myself, for one reason or another I was interested in the new media before some other folks in my peer group.
Ian: At what point do you think we’ll see the gap close between how people view video games and films/TV shows? There’s obviously a level of appreciation for video games, but when it comes to looking at them as pieces of art when such a thing is justified people still have the notion that games are just for kids or are mindless pieces of entertainment, sometimes leading them to use the term video game in a negative connation. So as an acting veteran who has dabbled in both the video game and movie industry, when do you think people will appreciate video games for high level storytelling and more importantly actually widely praise the acting that’s found in them?
Brian: Again I would ask you what people, you know what I mean? I don’t think people who are exclusively gamers, those people who bought a billion dollars’ worth of Call of Duty, I don’t think the people who make that game or play that game are interested in closing any gap; they’re interested in creating a further gap. With all due respect for all the mediums this doesn’t mean I’m interested in creating a further gap or that I think one should be ahead or behind the other. More power to all these different things and these are the arguments they had about the radio or when people began to mass produce ink and feathers.
I can’t answer that question from that standpoint because to me it’s a flawed question since it’s built around the premise that it’s a gap that should be closed. Another thing you might be looking for is “when will people who don’t understand and don’t play video games respect them?” No sooner than people who don’t understand or watch football will respect it. Yeah there’ll be some people who catch up in the wake of all this stuff but I think this is an epoch change so I don’t know if it’s a gap that gets closed but I think it’s a gap that gets opened further.
There might be people who integrate a movie with a game and a game with a show and that kind of stuff is cool, but what’s great about games is that they’re not movies and they can be thirty to sixty to a hundred hours of entertainment. The Star Wars: The Old Republic that I play the Trooper Male in we recorded that in three different years and we’re still adding supplementals that’ll be coming in the future. I don’t see the value in trying to make that anymore like anything other than what it is and I don’t see the value in trying to make a movie that is supposed to be a different form of entertainment in which you’re not controlling the outcome.
Maybe another thing to look at is what will happen for a generation of people who have learned to play more character driven games like let’s say Dragon Age where I play Varek, where you control the attitude of these characters to some extent in helping the player “win”. Will people who have controlled outcomes want to see a set piece of entertainment that has only one outcome? I don’t know if there’s a gap to be closed but I think there’s a gap to be opened.
Ian: There’s always a constant debate when it comes to video games about the content that’s in them and just how graphic or mature things should get. Even when a game is clearly rated M for Mature there’s still an uproar to degree about seeing some action that may be a bit extreme or even something risqué such as a love scene or nudity of some kind. Having contributed your talents to the Kane & Lynch series, which didn’t hold back and provided a very raw and mature experience that I personally enjoyed, what are your thoughts on including mature or at the very least grim content in video games? Do you think game creators in general should push the envelope a bit merely to evolve how people see video games or do you think it should just be on a case by case basis?
Brian: There’s no doubt about that and it’s hard to speak to that although it’s important I wouldn’t know where to start and where to end. In general our relationship with computers and our ability to have more and more “realistic” and dynamic experiences that seem more and more real or “better” and more “phantasmagorical” and “sexier” than our real lives there’s something wonderful and beautiful about that and something incredibly dangerous about that.
Let’s hope that we don’t get too drugged up and too lost and that we can mostly enjoy what’s fantastic and awesome about that and not grow giant brains and soft bodies and live behind avatars and that kind of stuff. I say that with a sense of humor but I think that’s the spirit of that kind of question – where does this all go and do the games have a good or bad effect on adolescents and this or that.
More importantly I think all of our computerization and impersonal lives that feel real are probably influencing us in a way that we have yet to determine and there’s probably a whole lot of good and there’s probably a whole lot of wicked, pernicious, iniquitous danger as well.
Ian: Since you’ve portrayed so many different characters in video games ranging from horror to sci-fi to action, is there a particular type of video game or narrative element you would like to see explored in games more? Just as a fan of film and creative things in general, is there a narrative concept that you think would work extremely well in the context of a video game if executed properly or would generally love to explore as an actor if given the chance?
Brian: Well I mean it’s happening more and more and I’m writer too and I would love to write a video game and I’ve talked to a couple folks about that. Again, narrative content I think is great and what’s great about games is that you can find games that are so deep into narrative, if you want character you can find games so deep into character, if you want blind blood lust you can find that. I’ve had the honor of being part of projects that cover all those different things
Narrative is fantastic and that attracts me. Working in cartoons, I play Captain America in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, those stories are amazing and I can’t believe it sometimes yet they’re totally understandable but they’re filled with the lore of all the characters.
Ian: One extremely cool thing you were able to do during your career was appear in the film adaptation of the classic TV show “The A-Team”. Now along with co-starring the film you also co-wrote it. As a fan of your work and a huge fan of “The A-Team” film I just had to ask how you joined the project and what was it like working on a film of such magnitude. And in general do you want to write more if given the chance?
Brian: I had the pleasure of working for and with Joe Carnahan a number of times and through a series of conversations about career and the future we found ourselves talking about writing. I have a mad respect for Joe, his brother and the various films they’ve worked on. Joe was able to read some of my stuff and see something there I guess. I don’t want to speak for him but I guess it’s ok to say he saw something there and that was around the time The A-Team was knocking on Joe’s door. I happened to have some ideas at the time and we had another project about four guys we were spit-balling a bit and some of the elements of The A-Team kind of naturally, coincidentally and serendipitously rolled into those kinds of circumstances and we started working on it together.
As far as playing that part I didn’t write it for myself or plan on playing it, but I’m a martial artist in real life and I was training up there and some people saw me doing my thing and Rampage [Quinton Jackson] and I had a nice simpatico going, I’m a big fan of his as well, and it was something I was reluctant to do because I was concentrating on the writing and was very happy to be doing that and didn’t want to be greedy about it. But I was encouraged and pushed which I was very thankful for and I was just trying to be cool and handle the one job which was very new to me and help my partner there. Playing that part was a whole other level and it was something I’ll never forget and I’m so glad that I talked into that.
I actually screen-tested for it and everything so it wasn’t like somebody tapped me on the shoulder like Glenda the Good Witch and said “you may know play this bad guy in this movie” so I still had to go through the process. I obviously had some insight seeing as how I contributed to writing Pike with Joe. And hey, we had a chance to put our sense of humor and sense of black comedy on the screen together and I think that was some of the most “Joe Carnahan” like scenes in the movie was some of the stuff with the Pike character. It was an honor and a pleasure to be a part of it on any and all levels.
Brian in the role of Pike.
Ian: I loved your performance in the movie and I tell anyone I know to check it out if they haven’t.
Brian: Thanks man. It was kind of received in a funny way and we got some reviews that I think were kind of unfair. The audience that Summer would’ve had a great time enjoying The A-Team instead of being told that it was something that wasn’t for them. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the movie and there’s good action that isn’t too overwhelming and doesn’t hurt your soul. It wasn’t too political but there was a story there about loyalty, friendships, families, and how the government uses some of their best in the wrong way. I think those are good elements that have mostly been forgotten and superhero movies tend to be the last place where that happens, if not on nightly crime time primetime dramas where there’s someone out there that’ll help you save your missing kid or thwart that terrorist attack. We all hope people like those people who are out there whether it’s Captain America, Hannibal from The A-Team and it’s cool to play some of those parts and I think The A-Team had some good spirit with it.
Ian: Since you’ve worked on so many video games and are fond of writing would you ever be open to perhaps writing a video game and explore the creative possibilities that video games offer?
Brian: I’ll be open to and lucky to take a swing at any of it. But a unique place I can make a contribution, and a place where I think there’s space to bring a little bit more story and narrative, is to the combat and mercenary games besides the classic simple here’s your assignment, go get this guy and if you don’t the world kind of ends. That stuff is all great, but what you can do with those perimeters and within those perimeters and with sixty, eighty or 100 hours of play, I think as they look for more of that I would love to make a contribution there with my understanding of story. Maybe the three-act, which again isn’t the most important thing anymore, but there has to be some elements of classic story to keep it interesting since it can’t all be done with graphics, voices, guns, medieval castles, and spaceships. Most of it can be done that way, but there’s still more space for it to go somewhere.
Ian: Besides hearing you in “The Darkness II”, what other projects can gamers expect to hear you in next and in general do you have any TV/film projects that you want to let people know about?
Brian: I mean there are a lot of games that are out that I’ve worked in, but most of the things I’m working on now have non-disclosure agreements. Besides from talking about the new season of The Avengers I always hesitate since I get confused about what’s ok to say and what’s not ok to say so I try to stay safe. There’s the new Mass Effect game coming and I have worked in that and I believe that is fairly omnipresent and something safe to say. The Old Republic is something I’m really proud of and happy to be a part of and I have a television mini-series [Blackout] though I’m not sure what network it’s going to be on because that deal is being made now. But I did an old-school four-hour mini-series that makes Pike look like a travel agent.
Speaking with Brian my respect for him only rose as he’s an actor that has a keen understanding on what not only makes for a good character but a good narrative experience. Brian isn’t deeply entrenched with video games on a personal level like some actors may be, but his enthusiasm for acting in games, what elements need to be explored, and the business in general greatly impressed me.
Again I want to thank Brian for taking out the time to chat with me as it was greatly appreciated. Besides hearing Brian in The Darkness II, you can hear him next in Mass Effect 3 along with his role of Captain America in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which airs on Disney XD. Maybe we can expect to hear Brian reprise his role of Kane in a third Kane & Lynch game but for now we’ll just have to sit tight and wait to see if such a thing happens.