Video games have come a long way in the past ten, even five years, particularly when it comes to how actors are utilised. While chucking folks into a recording booth with a book’s worth of lines was the preferred method for quite a while, a lot of projects now call for full performance capture, recording both movement and voice in one hit. To get an idea of what it’s like to work on a set like this, we spoke with some of the main cast of Red Dead Redemption 2.
The latest Rockstar title was a mammoth production, taking more than five years to complete. Of course, it was definitely worth the wait, and a project like that is a huge job for any actor, but for Roger Clark (Arthur Morgan), Alex McKenna (Sadie Adler), and Rob Wiethoff (John Marston), it was an experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.
“I think a project of this length is particularly unique, it lasted longer than all of us anticipated,” Clark told PEDESTRIAN.TV via email. “To be honest, it was good and bad. We were working, necessarily, within a bit of a vacuum. The video game industry is extremely competitive and obviously, we didn’t want to spoil anything in advance for the fans so keeping our work private was vital.”
That sentiment is shared across the team, noting that it was tough to work within the confines of a non-disclosure agreement, but those circumstances also brought them closer together.
“It creates an insular closeness since no one else knows or understands what you are experiencing, and by the end of our five years, it truly felt like we were all part of a gang,” McKenna said.
Needless to say, they’re all stoked on the friendships made over the course of Red Dead Redemption 2’s development. In fact, Wiethoff says it was his favourite part of the project. “I am happiest with the friendships,” he said.
Playing a single character for such a long time has gotta have its challenges, and certainly, the possibility of that character nudging ever so slightly into the actor’s everyday life is something that could happen. While it wasn’t overtly true for some, Clark says he “probably did incorporate a little more stoicism” into his own personality at times.
Playing a character like Arthur would probably be the most difficult, not so much in terms of personality or writing, but in the realisation that he would be perceived differently by each and every person who plays Red Dead Redemption 2.
I was thinking about my work a lot. I knew that each player’s Arthur had the capacity to be very different. I wanted to come up with a performance that would fit as many different play styles as I could. I learned to embrace the complexity of people. Sometimes we contradict ourselves, some of us do it all the time! I began to learn that that’s ok. It’s the irrationalities that make us human, a bad guy can be capable of tenderness, good people may make horrible mistakes.
On the other hand, McKenna said that it “became very easy to slip in and out of character” over time, while Wiethoff is convinced that none of Marston’s signature coolness has rubbed off on him.
“I like all the cool aspects of John Marston,” he said. “I want to be cool like him! I don’t think that I am nearly as cool, though, so I guess I have to deny any “bleeding”.” I think you’re cool, Rob.
Working on a big budget game like Red Redemption 2 as an actor is a lot different from a traditional acting role. Not only are you suited up in some wild motion capture gear, but you’re also acting in a weird, mostly nondescript environment. There’s no visual context for the lines being said and the character being played, so it can be tough to perform, which is also something Terry Crews said about his work on Crackdown 3. For Wiethoff, this was also the case with Red Dead Redemption 2.
“The hardest part about working on a video game is having to use your imagination for almost everything,” he said. “Almost nothing on the stage looks anything like it would in real life. It’s the hardest, for me anyway, but probably one of the things that make the work so enjoyable. You have to really zone in and, somehow, make yourself believe you’re somewhere else.”
For McKenna, not having a sense of the whole story from the beginning presented some unique challenges. “Typically as an actor, you are given a whole script to read,” she said.
“Normally you get a sense of where your character begins and ends… The character arc. That isn’t the case in a video game so it’s tough to map out choices that make the most sense given the character in the whole story.”
Unlike seeing themselves in a live-action movie or TV series, all three actors said that seeing themselves in a video game is an extremely surreal experience, particularly for Wiethoff.
“I can remember thinking, why did they make him walk/run like that,” he said. “Then, I realized that they didn’t do anything to make him move the way he does. That’s what they captured me doing it. That’s my walk. That’s the way I run. So weird!”
For Clark, however, seeing himself in a different medium made it easy for him to take note of his own work, as, like many actors, he doesn’t really like to watch himself on traditional film. “The fact that Arthur only resembles me and wasn’t a carbon copy allowed me a certain objectivity to look at my work a little more critically and even enjoy it at times,” he said.
I would be happy with the way a scene played out or would be really impressed with the way the animators would seamlessly blend a cut scene into gameplay or with the editing and camera placement done by our amazing director, Rod Edge. Also there were so many aspects of the game that I had very little idea of while I was working on my part, so when I finally started playing the game what really struck me was the realization of seeing all the work that was being done by the all the other departments at Rockstar Games and how all of our work synergised.
One can only imagine what it’s like to see a digital representation of yourself and your hard work, especially in a finished product as amazing and vast as Red Dead Redemption 2. Not only that, it seems like such an interesting role to have compared with traditional acting work.
If you’re keen to hear a little more from McKenna, Clark, and Wiethoff, I also asked them what their favourite lines from the game were, which you can suss out at the link below. Guess who chose the line, “Have you seen my squirrel?”
Red Dead Redemption 2 is out right now on Xbox One and PS4.