The acting triple threat: Theatre, Film, and... Video Games? In recent years the gaming world has exploded with exponential opportunities for actors to lend their talents in motion capture and voice acting. From new comers like Kit Harrington in Call of Duty and Natalie Dormer in Mass Effect, to seasoned veterans like Nolan North (Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, and more) and Mark Hamill (Star Wars and Batman: Arkham City), video game characters are crafted with a professional, engaged, and ever-memorable touch from the actors who play them.
Ruffin Prentiss, who plays Marcus Holloway in Watch Dogs 2, is now on the exclusive list of video game protagonists that the public will play, re-play, and play some more for the times to come. To him, the most beautiful aspect about video game performances is that they mirror real life - just like any role and story we've seen in film. And with the constant evolution of video game technology, characters are more life-like than ever.
Prentiss discusses the fascinating process of mocap, Marcus, gaming systems, and more in this exclusive interview:
GEEKS: If you could choose any old school video games to lend a voice to, which would you choose?
Ruffin Prentiss: If I had to choose, I think I would want to voice one of the characters in Star Fox. It was a game that I really enjoyed as a kid and I thought the characters of the pilots were really fun and really dramatic. “Foxxxxxx…Noooooooo!” (as he gets blown up). (Laughs) That would be fun.
What was your first gaming system, and which do you always return to? What are your favorite games to play?
The first personal system I had was a Super Nintendo. However, my Dad owned an Atari so I played that with him before I got the Super Nintendo. My favorite system that I return to is a Nintendo 64, though. My favorite games that I played were the Mortal Combats, Mario Kart 64, Golden Eye, and NBA Hangtime.
Do you approach an audition for a video game the same as any other audition?
Typically, there are two types of video game auditions, voice and 'mocap' (motion capture). The mocap audition is very similar to that of a television or film audition. I approached it in the same way I would any other. The beautiful thing about performances in video games that mirror real life, is that the graphics and technology make everything so life-like. I feel because of that, the only way to approach the role is to be as true to the circumstances of the script as possible.
How much secrecy surrounded the audition process? When did you find out what you were actually acting for?
There was a lot of secrecy around the process. For the audition itself, I was given a fake character name as well as audition sides that did not exist in the game. The name of the project was also fake or a codename. However, because I was playing the lead character, I found out the details of the game about four months after the audition and three months before we began production. They flew me to Montreal and walked me through the character and the storyline of the game. They wanted to set me up for success because they wanted Watch Dogs 2 to be a success.
When you initially began as a professional actor, did you know that the video game market was another medium for acting?
I definitely knew it was a medium for acting, but I never truly expected to be a part of it. In my MFA program, it was a market that was never discussed. We learn about theater, TV, film, commercials and voice-over but never motion capture or video games. So it was a real blast to be a part of WD2.
Has there been a rise of motion capture capabilities in games, thus increasing the demand for more actors?
As far as the capabilities of motion capture, the technology has come a long way. Even from the beginning of my shoot to the end, the technology Ubisoft was using had been changed and upgraded. I think this definitely increases the demand for actors because it expands the range and type of stories that video games can tell.
How much creativity and freedom did you have in creating your character?
When I entered the project, the creative team had been working on Marcus and WD2 for a few years. So the foundation was very present and the writers created such an interesting character. However, it was wonderful how collaborative the process was. If something didn’t feel right in terms of a line, they let me ad-lib or come up with a new line. I think the aspect of my work that you see onscreen the most is just Marcus’ movement, behavior and personality. That was completely up to me to bring the lines to life and have fun building the human being that is Marcus Holloway. It was a blast to play, especially with such a great cast of actors surrounding me.
It is weird playing yourself in the game, when you sit down for a gaming sesh?
I have to say that it is definitely a little weird, because Marcus doesn’t look exactly like me but it’s my voice that I am listening to. The weirdness is always trumped by how cool of an experience it was to be a part of and how good the final product is. I may be a little biased, but I love WD2!
Is the video game industry different from Hollywood?
There are definite differences, in the way things are shot and in the way things are complied. To make a video game, you have hundreds of people working on one game, doing story, graphics, animation, etc. And they are doing all that not only for the characters, but for the living world. It’s an extremely collaborative and team effort. But in terms of budget, I think that just depends on the company making the game. It’s the same as comparing the budget of an indie film to that of a major summer blockbuster.
How has acting evolved in the digital era that is the 21st century?
I think the range of effects has grown so much that we can make many of the things we imagine in our minds, real on screen. From movies set in the far future in outer space, to the Ninja Turtles movies, everything looks so real. The digital era has allowed us to expand our ability to tell stories.
As a whole, how do the Watch Dogs 2 characters differ from the original Watch Dogs?
I think there is an overarching tone shift between Watch Dogs 2 and the original. WD2 is a game that has a much lighter and more playful tone. The original Watch Dogs is a darker world built around revenge, and WD2 opens up the tone so the player can troll and be more playful in how they approach missions and address the open world. And I think that’s the major difference between Marcus and Aiden. Marcus likes to joke around and spend time with his Dedsec crew while Aiden was more of a lone vigilante. This is what allows the player to fall in love with Dedsec, because the relationships are so fun between all the characters in WD2.
Can you provide us with any cheat codes (or tips…) for playing Marcus in Watch Dogs 2? ;)
(Laughs) I don’t have any cheat codes, but my only tip is to follow your heart and instinct when it comes to completing missions. That’s how Marcus approaches them. I have my own personal views on what missions require violence and which ones don’t but that is simply just how I chose to play. But overall, it is up to you. The world is yours and it's waiting to be hacked!