Welcome to another edition of Voice Actor Tuesday! The idea for Voice Actor Tuesday came from playing games and recognising the voices of certain characters, looking them up, and discovering that the same voice actors had appeared in tons of games. The voice actor who really sparked this idea was Gideon Emery, and it gives me great pleasure to present his work here today, along with something extra special: an exclusive interview with the voice actor himself!
Although he was born in England, Gideon Emery’s family moved to South Africa when Emery was only 4 years old. He attended St John’s College in Johannesburg, followed by Wits University. His first video game role was Everquest 2 in 2004 as various characters, and he’s been in dozens of games since then. While you may recognise his voice from his roles such as Balthier in Final Fantasy XII, Sam Gideon in Vanquish, or Fenris in Dragon Age II, Emery has also done a lot of theatre work, as well as live action roles in TV series and films. He’s also done motion capture as well as voice work for games like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
And now, here’s that interview I promised! A huge thanks to Gideon for taking the time to answer our questions.
Q: When did you first realise that you had a talent for voice acting?
A: For as long as I can remember, I imitated voices from radio and TV. My earliest memory of a character voice was me at maybe 9 years old doing Max from Hart to Hart. For those under 40, he had this deep, smoker’s voice, which was quite something coming from my skinny little body.
Q: How did the process of getting voice acting jobs differ for you when you first started out, compared to now?
A: I was lucky when I signed with my first agent, that they took us by the hand to make voice tapes. Then I’d audition in a studio and after a while, most of my work was an offer. Back then I was doing commercials and promos. These days I do mainly voices for video games and occasionally voice matching other actors in film. Pretty much everything is auditioned and those auditions are from home. Everyone in LA has a home setup, we get auditions from our agents, record at home and email an MP3 to the agent to submit. Sometimes there’s an in-person callback, but it’s rare. So the process enables the actor to do far more auditions in a week than they could driving around town. But you also don’t get any face time with the people who can hire you, so that’s been lost.
Q: It’s nothing new, but we’ve noticed a rise of celebrities voices taking lead roles in games. Is this becoming a potential problem for professional voice actors in the gaming and animation genres?
A: They’ve definitely used them for a while now. Call of Duty: World at War used Gary Oldman and Kiefer Sutherland in 2008. Turok, which I worked on, used William Fichtner (Prison Break) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) in the same year. Neither game used the celebs to promote them, so it’s more for the “cool factor”, kudos for the studio, if you will. If they’re actively promoting the celeb, as they did with Kevin Spacey for Advanced Warfare, that’s a different story. That shifts actual units. Is it a problem for people like me? Hard to say. Sometimes I get to voice a major role, sometimes not. But I do know of a few instances where I’ve been paid a few hundred bucks on what I’m led to believe is a small game recording in a tiny studio, only to discover later that it’s filled with celebs. That doesn’t seem right. Especially for actors who’ve worked on over a hundred titles. Some producers have threatened to go the non-union route and cast, essentially, amateurs. Well I reckon if they have budget for A list celebs, they can pay professionals commensurate with their experience. It certainly doesn’t help the cause when Chris Rock jokes at the Oscars (as he did a few years back) that voice acting is so easy, in and out and they pay you a million bucks. Well the majority of us are working long sessions, week in week out, often screaming and yelling, for scale.
[quote]There’s a common misconception that actors are sifting through scripts or, even better, have someone else doing the sifting for them.[/quote]
Q: How do you get into character when acting for a video game role?
A: Very quickly! There’s not much time. Typically I find out what role I’m playing on the day. If I do know beforehand, I never see script beyond the audition, which might be 2 or 3 scenes or a simple paragraph. Everything is so top secret, I have to sign an NDA just to audition for most roles. Seriously. So character is based on what I did in the audition and then being guided by the director at the first session.
Q: Do you do any training/work when preparing for a role that requires a certain accent?
A: Once again, there’s no time. When I get an audition, it’s usually for the next day, sometimes same day. That means the accent already has to be in my bag of tricks. There’s no “oh, I’ll spend a week working on this”. You either can or you can’t.
Q: How do you decide what roles you’ll take? or What about a character says to you, “Yes, I want to play that one”?
A: I wish it were that way, but this is a business. Many games are one session only, if it’s a minor character. I’m always looking for the next job. This is my bread and butter. I’ll pass on auditions where I don’t feel I can do the character or accent justice. But I read on pretty much everything that comes my way. There’s a common misconception that actors are sifting through scripts or, even better, have someone else doing the sifting for them. For voice and on-camera. That’s simply not the case for me or any actor I know.
Q: Do you have a dream role you would love to be cast in?
A: I’d like to play someone who does his level best to be a good guy, but is forced through circumstance to surrender all morals and becomes corrupt. Something like Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down. He’s just trying to keep it all in, but reaches this breaking point and just snaps. Doesn’t excuse what he does, but it does make for an interesting character study.
[quote]I’d like to play someone who does his level best to be a good guy, but is forced through circumstance to surrender all morals and becomes corrupt.[/quote]
Q: Name one person you loved working with, or would love to work with?
A: I’d love to work with Gary Oldman, because I’d love to see him work first hand and to be able to study from him. Same goes for Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino and Damian Lewis. Sadly, in video games, I’m always alone in the booth. Maybe I’ll meet those guys on the motion capture stage…
Q: In your experience, how does voice acting differ from live acting?
A: In on-camera or theatre, my looks determine whether or not I get to audition. Maybe I’m not handsome enough or too tall or too blonde or too skinny. In VO, none of that counts. All that matters is my ability to lend a character a voice. My playing range is much bigger. I don’t have Hollywood good looks, so I’m frequently cast as villains on screen. But in VO, I can be the villain, the hero, the old man, a hundred other roles. In on-camera, I get a script ahead of time, to prepare, to know the bigger storyline and the arc of my character. In games, I will only see the script at my first recording session. That means I have to make dozens of decisions within the first few minutes of arriving, including what voice I give this character. I don’t get to sit and live with the material for a week, a month or even an hour, during which I might find some nuance or hook. In VO, I can audition from home in my underwear in a few minutes. For on-camera, I need to learn and prepare pages of material, find an outfit, then sit in traffic to get to a casting office, where I’ll wait for an hour or more, before I go in and audition for a few minutes, then drive home. But man do I love them both. I wouldn’t trade what I do for the world.
Q: How often do people recognise you by your voice?
A: Almost never. I am often recognized for my on-camera roles. That said, I think they might first find my face familiar, but when I speak, they know it’s me. So maybe a bit of both.
Q: Are you a gamer? If so, what is your favourite video game (or genre)?
A: I grew up playing Asteroids, 1942, Space Invaders and Spy Vs Spy. So point and shoot is my thing. Yes, I have been known to play a little Call of Duty with fellow South African, Cliff Simon. We may not be competitive level, but we do have a laugh.
Q: Which character has been your favourite video game role so far, and why?
A: I really enjoyed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Mainly because the role was an all around badass, he looked like me and, hey, they even named him after me. We also did motion capture for that, so it was more rounded acting experience. I love the level of detail in the cut scenes. And I’m proud of the work we all did on that. It also didn’t hurt that I got to work with Kevin Spacey.
We’ve also prepared a short video with clips of some of Emery’s roles: