So far the reaction to Dante’s Inferno from both gamers and critics seems to be the very definition of polarized. Some love how the game adapted the classic poem by Dante Alighieri while others really didn’t dig the thematic choices it made along with the gameplay which is like a scaled back version of God of War.
But the one thing that everyone agrees that the game did an excellent job with was the voice acting. Featuring a relatively small cast of characters, at least by today’s standards, the game was still memorable as the three lead roles of Dante, Beatrice and Lucifer were all portrayed by their actors with a wonderful dramatic nature that worked perfectly.
Film/TV actor Graham McTavish portrayed Dante in the game and chances are you've probably seen some of his work before in projects such as Prison Break, Red Dwarf and the recent Rambo film. But video game players may be familiar with his work as the villainous Zoran Lazarevic in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Mr. McTavish was nice enough to take some time out of his schedule to discuss his work in Dante’s Inferno along with sharing his thoughts on voice acting and what it’s like to work in video games.
Ian Fisher - As an actor and someone who has worked in a multitude of projects including Shakespeare what was your initial thoughts when you found out that a video game was being made based on Dante’s Inferno? Were you a bit hesitant in jumping aboard the project or were you interested to see how such a classic piece of literature was going to be adapted into a video game?
Graham McTavish - My first reaction was one of being intrigued. I certainly wasn't hesitant. It's important that as an actor you keep up with emerging art forms, and I believe that gaming is making some significant strides towards being a powerful and artistic form of legitimate storytelling. My knowledge of gaming was virtually zero, until recently, so it has been an eye-opening experience to see how sophisticated it has become, even in the last 2 or 3 years.
How did you make the transition from acting in films/TV to voice acting in video games and animated projects? Was that something you always saw yourself doing?
As a child myself I always loved "cartoons", so it was a real treat for me to be asked to be involved in Marvel projects like HULK VS, WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, and AVENGERS. These are characters I grew up with, so to play them was a boy's dream come true. As for gaming, I think that more and more it is becoming an actor's medium in terms of the level of performance it requires. It is no longer simply shouting over the sound of gunfire. Real characters have to be created in dramatic contexts, which is a;lways something that will excite any actor.
Was the shift to acting in video games easy for you? Obviously you’re stuck in a both all day and don’t have anyone to play off of so was that something that you had to get used to or did the challenge (if any) that it offered excite you as an actor?
Well with UNCHARTED 2 and DANTE'S INFERNO, both were done on Mocap stages, so it felt very much like being back on stage, apart from the gimp suits! You are playing scenes with other actors and encouraged to help find the solution to how a scene should be played, sometimes improvising, but always collaborating with the director and your fellow actors. But even when you are just in a booth, your responsibility as an actor is to place yourself in the character's situation.This can be in a conventional war scenario, or a jungle, the ninth circle of hell facing Satan, or, in the case of TRANSFORMERS, being a robot from Cybertron. It's a lot of fun, and you don't have to worry about how you look!
With your role in “Uncharted 2” you provided both the voice and motion capture for your character. What was it like for you stepping into the mocap suit and interacting with the other actors in that setting? Was it the “purest” acting experience you’ve participated in since acting in a barren stage with other actors almost harkens to the old days of stage and theater acting?
I guess my previous answer covers this one, but, yes, it is like being in a rehearsal space with minimal props and just your imagination to help you. It distills the experience into being just about the character you are playing.You have to "believe" you are carrying a scythe, (in DANTE), and that you are facing the embodiment of evil to, hopefully, make the gamers believe too.
Recently Jonathan Knight (Executive Producer on Dante’s Inferno) revealed that he’s wanted to make a game based on Macbeth for a long time. With you having acted in various Shakespeare productions including Macbeth, what are your thoughts on a possible game adaptation of Macbeth? Would the concept work if it’s tinkered a bit like Dante’s Inferno and would you have any interest in working on the project if it becomes a reality?
I didn't know that JK was interested in doing MACBETH, but his background, like mine, is in the theatre so it makes sense. I think it would be a great candidate for a video game. It is probably, out of all of Shakespeare's plays, the most obvious choice for a game. It is very fast paced, plenty of action, and short for one of his plays, (it's often performed with no interval). It's interesting to imagine what Shakespeare would make of it. I suspect he would love it. After all he was creating new works out of old stories himself, and was very much on the cutting edge of "modern" art forms in his own time. But I also suspect, like me, he'd be terrible at playing them!
Following up the previous question what are your thoughts on more classic pieces of literature being adapted into video games? Should developers stay away from certain stories since the essence of everything may be lost in translating it from text to an interactive experience? Or should game developers have the freedom to do what they want when adapting literature as long as it pays respect to the source material?
I think you always have to be careful about getting too tied up in "respecting source material". It is too early for us to know whaty will happen to gaming in the years ahead but I think iot is already emerging as its own "respected" unique art form. As such it has to be bold in taking old stories and re-inventing them. That is the essence of all literature after all, Shakespeare included. I don't think anything should be excluded from a re-interpretation in whatever form. R. Crumb's reworking of the Book of Genesis for instance is a recent example. DANTE'S INFERNO is an adaptation of an old story, but I'm sure in creating it, Jonathan Knight has turned a lot of people on to the original. Revolution in any art form is necessary to keep it fresh and relevant.
The one thing that I personally like about your performance in Dante’s Inferno is that you deliver your lines with intense passion and when Dante reflects on certain things such as his love of Beatrice you totally hit the nail on the head with the subtlety of things. With that being said what was your main inspiration when working on Dante’s Inferno and establishing the voice and identity of Dante? Did the dramatic nature of the story and its core themes remind you of your days doing Shakespeare to an extent?
Thanks for saying so, it was a great role to play. With a guy like Dante, you are being a gift as an actor anyway. He is a complex hero, a sinner seeking redemption as well as an old-fashioned quest-driven story. As with any role the main question you have to ask yourself in each scene is how would he react to this? I had to make decisions about who he was and why he acted the way he did and then all his subsequent actions are informed by that. Essentially it is about remaining true to your character whether it is a Shakespearean one or one from Cybertron!
I’ve been asking this question to all the people I’ve been interviewing as of late who work in the video game industry and those like yourself who work in film/TV and also do voice acting.
Do you think that the double standard with films/TV and video games will ever end? By that I mean if a game like Dante's Inferno, which is clearly marketed towards mature audiences, features nudity and graphic violence it’s scrutinized by the mainstream press but of course if a film or TV show featured content like that it’s another normal day.
I think to some extent if such a double standard exists it is due in part to fear and ignorance. Video games, especially as they are today, represent a very recent form of artistic expression. Many people either dismiss them orr just don't "get it". That is fertile ground for ignorance-based opinions, and double standards quickly follow that. I belong to a pre-gaming world, a world that young teenagers today can't even imagine. We don't know where it's all going to lead and I think that frightens some people. It represents "the future" and many people, especially as they get older, are more comfortable with the past. Films and TV are something they understand, video games are not!
With having worked in both the film and video game industries do you think that video games will ever break the mold of being for “kids” or will they ever be able to approach mature content and storytelling without raising unnecessary suspicion and media madness?
I think in ten years time we won't recognise the entertainment world we live in today. Games are already informing feature film content. At the end of the day games will come to be viewed like TV has come to be viewed after Film and Radio, as another, different, but no less legitimate form of telling a great story. Since we sat around fires in caves that's what man has always craved. Gaming is just another way of doing it, and it's getting better at it every day.
For a long period of time voice acting (both in animated projects and video games) was almost looked down upon by casual audiences with only the fans truly appreciating the acting that was done in various projects. With your work in Uncharted 2 and Dante’s Inferno do you think acting in video games has gotten to a point where it’s respected by casual audiences and people who don’t normally play video games?
Definitely. Look at Amy Hennig, writer of UNCHARTED 2, recently honored by the WGA. She had writers of shows like LOST coming up and telling her how great she is. So, yes it's changing. As better scripts are written, more actors will want to do them, and the public will get better products as a result. I can only see that curve continuing upwards especially with the growing sophistication of facial and motion capture. I just hope they keep asking me to do them.
Having been in huge projects such as Rambo and Red Dwarf along with a bevy of roles in other projects is there a particular role that you're surprised people know you the most for?
I guess I'm surprised how many people know me from RED DWARF in the United States. I didn't realise it was so big here. Other than that, the most surprising, and gratifying thing, is when people quote your own lines to you from a project you have done. It's spooky but it's fun!
You’re a veteran of the TV industry both in North America and aboard in your homeland of the United Kingdom. Do you prefer the production style and atmosphere of the U.K. or North America more or are things pretty similar?
I have to be careful here because I love the U.K. and I still like working there on occasion, but I do generally prefer US TV in particular. There are of course exceptions, but I think writing in TV has never been better here, and to some extent Britain rested on its laurels for a while. Having said that some of the most enjoyable TV and Film projects I've done have been British.
You’ve played a wide range of characters ranging from a chef, a crazed murderer and a mercenary. With having played such a diverse set of characters was there ever a role that challenged you as an actor in how you weren’t sure how to tackle the role? Or did you ever play a character that was emotionally draining to play to a certain extent? I’m sure your role in “Penance” wasn’t just another average job for you based on what the character does and the intensity it required from you.
I've always been lucky being able to seperate myself from the characters I've played. I believe that whatever you need to get you where you need to go with a scene is great, whether that's living in a forest to learn how to be a forest dweller or using humour as a way of accessing a character. I choose to do the latter. You'd be surprised how much laughter there is during the most serious of situations in acting. In fact, as a general rule, comedy is a more "serious" business than tragedy, when you're between takes. I've always found more humour on a set like PENANCE than on a set like ALI-G.
Do you have any projects coming up that you're really excited for or is there a particular role you would like to snag if given the chance.
I have been shooting on "24" since November last year, which I am really loving. as a fan of the show it's like stepping in to your own TV. Great fun. I am in three movies this year, all of which I am very excited about. MIDDLEMEN with Giovanni Ribisi, Luke Wilson, James Caan and Gabriel Macht, SECRETARIAT with Diane Lane and John Malkovich, and THE WICKER TREE, the follow up to the original WICKER MAN (NOT the remake!), in which I play lead as the grandson of Christopher Lee.
As for roles I would love to play: at the moment they are all stage roles - Macbeth, because I have done the play 3 times but never played the man himself; John Procter in THE CRUCIBLE, and Lee in Sam Shepard's TRUE WEST. Any offers very welcome for those parts!!
I would like to thank Mr. McTavish for taking the time to participate in the interview and sharing his thoughts on things. I'm sure we can look forward to more excellent performances from him both in film/TV and video games in the future.