Interview With Actor and Director JB Blanc
Dr Barry Goodman from Breaking Bad, Bane in Arkham Origins, Caustic in Apex Legends. We could go on all day listing roles this talented actor/voice actor plays. After all, JB Blanc is a prominent name in the gaming industry. Particularly having directed, acted, and coached for many, many years.
JB was kind enough to lend us some time for an interview, despite his already busy schedule. Wendy and Humaam sat down to speak with JB during a rare break in his work. After introductions, and some light-hearted chit chat sharing our love of Northern England – a place we all call home – we began our discussion.
Editor’s Note: The following interview took place on 15th July 2021. We have since reached out to JB regarding his experience at Blizzard but, at the time of writing, have not heard back.
WENDY: Do you see like a massive difference in terms of how things are done over in the US versus how they’re done in the UK?
Very much so. I began as a theatre actor, the most impoverished kind in England. For me, back in the UK, acting feels a bit like a lottery. In the US, there is a massive hunger amongst casting agents to meet new actors and send them over. But in England, the amount of work available is precious and people want to protect their little commodity. That’s why you often see the same people in the same things, again and again.
If I get a job in England, I feel like I’ve thrown some dice, gotten a lucky number and owe someone something. But here it’s like you are a professional entity. Once you understand yourself as a professional entity, you have a bit more control over your career because it’s gearing toward something.
You can put all your effort in, in the UK, and not get anywhere. I worked in theatre, some of it I had to generate myself and some of it was pure luck. Whereas here, It’s very much a business because I’ve been able to engineer a career and feels like I’ve had more control over things.
WENDY: Yeah, because it’s like I was talking to another interviewee, who was saying if you don’t have the business mentality, then you aren’t going to make it. Regardless of how much talent you have.
Yeah and I think it’s different on camera than off. With voice over stuff, you have more control because no one cares what you look like – which can be handy if you look like this! You know on TV, I look like a foreign dodgy geezer, so I get all those roles.
They’ve cast me as Arabs, Israelis, Russians, Americans, [In New York accent] lots of New Yorkers. [Back to normal voice] But I get everything else, and very rarely do they look at me and go ‘what? He’s clearly British’. Even though I’m pretty British. And, of course, all of my history is French.
HUMAAM: Do you miss the Weather in England?
Absolutely not! The last time I was over, it was that blazing hot summer 3 years ago. When England is like that, I don’t think there is anything prettier. Especially where my mum is in Yorkshire. It’s gorgeous! It’s breathtaking! With the Hedgerows full of spring flowers and rolling hills, and the North York Moors.
I took a friend up into the Dales, and we went to the brewery at Masham, and had a couple of pints with lunch. And it was just an England I remember from the ’70s as a kid. Where people would be tearing around in Triumph Spitfires that they spent most of their weekend under than in. Life was sort of more carefree; there weren’t many rules. I miss the fact that not every pub was a chain. I miss that simpler, easier England and maybe that’s just a constant of getting older.
WENDY: Where did your love of acting and theatre come from?
It was at school; there weren’t any performers or actors in my family. I was a French kid so I was seen differently at school. Being a little overweight gave me a lot of shit. I quickly discovered that either being funny, doing silly voices, or doing imitations of teachers got me into (and out of) trouble. It was also a way of getting people on your side and became this survival mechanism.
I then went the traditional route, through an English boarding school at the age of 7. They were very strict. But interestingly, in these institutions, you can get these revolutionary English teachers and one of them said to me – ‘you know I think you might be an actor.’
That made me start doing plays and stuff at school. So, when the sporting jocks would approach me and be like [in British jock voice] “yeah… that was really good” – I knew I was onto something. I knew I could make people think in a way they haven’t thought before. Just by showing them a character.
The deeper thing is that, for most voice actors, they aren’t comfortable being themselves. So they decide to pursue being other people. I certainly had a lot of that. There were things I was confident about – but in myself I was insecure. And when I was young, I was fascinated with human behaviour. Why do people make the choices they make?
My home life was interesting yet puzzling, so I wanted to explore that. Acting also felt like a way to exercise my demons and get my frustrations out. That allowed me to focus on something that was very difficult to do and still is.
HUMAAM: Would you have an interest in working in theatre again?
Absolutely! My first love. I, unfortunately, can’t afford to do the Shakespeare festival down here, even when asked. So if I’m in a position where I don’t have to worry so much, I would jump at the chance. It’s terrifying though. I haven’t done a play in 7 years and I haven’t worked like that in a while. There are different muscles you forget how to use, so you’re like, fucking hell this shit hurts.
It’s a different discipline, or rather a very demanding one. That’s the reason I went to RADA and trained. And, in those days, we didn’t get any TV or film training. Pure theatre training was what we got.
HUMAAM: So, what is your favourite Shakespearean or renaissance play?
God that’s hard. They’re all different for different reasons and I’ve done a lot of them. I do love Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night. I especially love A Midsummer Night’s Dream for its mayhem. And, if it’s done well, it can be really great.
I got to play Mercutio years ago in Hamston, for Romeo and Juliet and I love that role. Who doesn’t like being killed at half-time? He’s just really, really fun to play. Also, this was a role people didn’t expect me to play, which was nice because often you don’t get that challenge. But anyway, I’ve got endless numbers of ancient and modern pieces that I adore.
WENDY: Do you still get nervous now? You talk about these years of experience, do you have more confidence because of that or do you still need to rally yourself up?
I have more confidence in the voice-over stuff. Imposter syndrome is always lurking in the background, though. I’m literally expecting someone to ring at the door and go “Mr Blanc, yes sorry, we’ve discovered you’re a fraud. If you could give back the keys to the video game industry, that would be great”.
On camera, a certain level of nervousness is useful. When you’re in my position – which is the perennial guest star – you get dropped in a situation where you’re working with big names. It’s quite hard to pull off! Especially when they’re quite cold with you. At least until they know you know what you’re doing.
Also with coaching and teaching, I was nervous starting that off. But I regard that as a huge responsibility. When I started teaching I was like ‘oh! There’s stuff I know that can help these kids that can help people.’ I guess after a lot of work, you realise that knowledge and experience are meant to be imparted. Which is something I also love doing when I have time.
WENDY: I suppose that, when you’re acting, it takes a different form of confidence than when you’re teaching. Especially as you need confidence in yourself first, in order to teach?
Yes, or you rely on the character to speak for you. There are things my character can do where I can’t do myself. That’s certainly been the case with theatre, where I’ve pulled off physical and emotional performances that I probably couldn’t imagine in real life.
I’ve worked with some amazing people and had some incredible opportunities. It can be intimidating but Judi Dench for example (and I’m name-dropping, now). At the National Theatre years ago, I was talking to Judi Dench and I said “why do you always seem nervous about where you’re next job is coming from? You seem to believe that you’ll never work again”.
She looked at me and said: “you know JB, I think that’s what keeps me honest”. It was then I learned that this was a different energy and you need it to keep yourself straight and diligent. Acting is a very free-form thing to do for a living and if you’re going to study, it’s your responsibility to do so.
I was taught a very good work effort from the drama school I went to and I think it’s something that is waning to a lot of people. In my experience as a director, you can tell the difference between trained, disciplined people or those that aren’t.
WENDY: There seems to be a large wealth gap appearing in the acting industry. Do you find that there now is a bigger difference from how people approach acting and the industry because of their backgrounds?
Absolutely. We’re all going to sound like boomers, now. But if I was researching a role, I had to head to the library, check out seven books and read them all. These guys have google, I didn’t. There’s a couple of things: one is that we’ve stopped teaching critical thinking in schools. That means people have stopped using the mentality of ‘question everything, think about everything and make your own opinions‘.
Instant gratification also comes to mind – the desire to shortcut. I’ll get kids approaching me like “what’s the secret to getting into video games?”. And I’ll go [whispering] “listen! Come closer, here’s the secret… there’s no fucking secret!” Just put your head down, worry about what’s on the page in front of you, and work your arse off. That’s the only way I know.
It took me 30 years of hard work to get me where I am. I’m not inherently talented. I’m still trying to figure it out. And I have the mentality of doing it to learn. When you take that attitude, you’ll never have a dull time – even on shitty jobs. Experience matters, whether it be good or bad.
I’ve had people who have recommended their friends to me and asked me to teach them. Yet, as soon as I mentioned all the prep work and homework they have to do, they’re off. I’m stood there like ‘what did you think was going to happen?’
WENDY: But if you’re not taking joy from those moments, then you’re not going to enjoy the job anyway. Why would you want to do it?
Because it’s a Kardashian view thing – ‘I just want to be a star’. That’s not what this is about, and it’s not what it is for me. It’s about the joy of the work, and if you don’t have that, I don’t think you belong in the business.
WENDY: Has there ever been a point where you thought I can’t do this anymore? I’m done with acting?
Oh god yes [laughing] how many times a week would you like to talk to me about? There was a major one…
I got into regional theatre, then I got auditioned for nation theatre and I’ve worked there for about 3-4 years. And I got to work on two Greek tragedies directed by Peter Hall. That should’ve been a dream for a young actor – but he had kind of given up.
It wasn’t a fun experience and the other guys weren’t into the show. I was a little disillusioned and I was feeling stagnant. Theatre is the ‘real stuff’ because it’s the best job in town, but I could barely pay my bills.
A friend of mine had a web design company, and he offered me a salary and a car if I worked for him. Like an idiot I said sure and I dropped acting. Instead, I was doing sales for 2 and a half years. Although I had great money and a lovely car, I wanted to stab my eye with a fork. I was a part of this corporate world and it was horrible.
This is a true story, but I came home from the office one day and said to myself “Jesus what have you done man? You used to have passion in your belly and fire in your eyes, and you used to get up and lust for the work. And now you lost all your contacts and agents”. Then the phone rings, and I pick it up and go hello?
Hi JB, it’s Priscilla John, do you remember me?
Yeah, I remember you.
Are you still working?
[Pauses]…Yeah, yeah I am why?
There’s this movie: The Count Of Monte Cristo, the director’s coming into town, I think there might be stuff in there for you, do you want to meet him?
[Pauses]Yes! yes Priscilla I do. I absolutely do, thank you so much.
I just burst into tears at that moment. because this was the branch that was offered. So yeah I fully stopped, I fully quit, and I swore I’d never do it again. It shocked me how easily I diverted and went on this path. One that was never meant for me.
WENDY: On the other end of the scale, has there ever been a time where you thought your life was going to change for the better?
Oh god yes! I did it once with Steven Spielberg; in a film called Catch me if you can. I thought it was going to change my life, but it just didn’t work out and the part ended being cut out of the film. There were countless times, but you very quickly realise that no job is going to change your life.
You got to get into that. Otherwise, you walk into the room with far too much pressure on yourself. That’s what I coach people all the time. Because the business is designed to make you fail. There are endless blocks, and rejection is going to be most of what you hear.
The life of an actor is also expensive because you need a lot of tools to do it. You will be travelling around town to auditions, and putting yourself on the line for people who may or may not know what they’re doing. However, what’s important is getting rid of those worries and, instead, worry about what’s on the page in front of you. That is what your job is. If you can do that at the exclusion of everything else, then I think you’ll come through with clarity.
HUMAAM: With all these various accents and dialects, how do you remember each one? And what form of practice and research do you do for these?
It’s about addressing the character that you got in front of you, at that moment, and acting as instinctively as you can. So, when I was cast as Bane in Arkham Origins, I turned up for the first session. But, unfortunately, I didn’t know who I was playing or what game it was. That’s because game companies are very private – and you don’t get the script beforehand.
Within ten minutes, I’ve got to make a decision with the team, on what voice I’m going to be doing for this character. That can be pretty intimidating because you’ll be voicing this character for the next possibly on-and-off year or two [chuckles]. However, it’s trying not to take up too much of the information and focus on who the character is on the page. And I think that keeps you honest and true.
So, firstly, we broke down Bane’s voice from the comics. We decided to go for a Latino accent to match the prison-island-off-Cuba voice. But Bane’s different because he’s a big giant fellow and supremely intelligent. [In his Bane Voice] We dropped him down into this big voice here and made it so that his pace of speaking is more intelligent. Which is different than what it would be if he was [changes to a brutish, unintelligent voice of Bane] a big brute you know. [In normal voice] so we formulated bits of information from them and from me to create it.
In terms of dialect, it was doing funny voices. Particularly, watching American shows and picking up American accents. I’m musical as well; being trained as a classical singer helps so much. But it’s fun to dive in! I love the fact that dialects not only have to do with what you say and how you say it – but it’s to do with geography, even weather, and history.
[In Russian Voice] With Russian, there is always terrible pain. So even if you play Russian villain: “why are you hurting me? Answer the question. It’s not fair that you make me go through this process. I have to break your fingers one at a time? That is not fair to me”. [In French Accent] French accent is very pushed forward and you’ll find the location of the accent. [In Italian accent] Italian is much more back of the throat.
[Normal voice] You build up this lexicon of stuff. But I think having a good ear is key. It’s more how you hear it than how you say it. Once you locate that, it comes forward. But again, it’s based on who that character is at that moment.
You can also do different characters at the same time. I have Caustic and Blisk in Apex Legends. Blisk is this [In Blisk voice] very hard, South African bastard you know. So for South Africans, you have to get into a certain way of thinking and your whole mouth shape changes. [In Caustic voice] Caustic is just a guy with lung damage and lots of pain, and he loves death and is very cynical.
However, I think too often people in animation and video games think that you’re doing a voice. And, yeah, you’re kinda doing a voice. But it’s got to be rooted in some kind of truthful meaning to their character.
This is why I hate the phrase ‘voice acting’ because it’s acting. I’ve actually had interviews where people have been like “have you done any legitimate acting?”. It drives me crazy because voice acting is the hardest thing you can do. You don’t have any costumes, or props, or sets; it’s got to happen with your emotions and voice. And when you do a 4 hours session, you’re going to be pooped. It takes a lot of discipline and physical energy.
WENDY: It seems so common for most VA to start off in anime, but that’s one of the hardest things to do. Is that a rite of passage – for voice actors to start on the hardest stuff, first?
[Laughs] Well it’s the hardest thing to do and the least well-paid voice over work. A lot of young actors look to cut their teeth, and they’re more likely to get that than the high paid jobs. This is because they’re just starting out. Also, a lot of the people working on anime are anime fans themselves – a lot of nerds in this business and that helps. And I was a shitty nerd and that has acted out against me. Whereas they grew up on it, I had to research extensively.
But after 20 years I’m getting it, but initially, it was hard. But I cut my teeth on anime as well with the help of a friend I knew, who was asked to do voices in a show called Helsing. And yes it is very dramatic. However, it’s like anything else – it’s a genre you learn.
Also over the last 20 years since I’ve been here, the voice work in videogames and animation has changed. It used to be very overdramatic and overblown. Now the technology, the animation, and what video games can do is so much more realistic. You need a more film-based approach: you need better actors, writers, and directors.
I can also tell you as a director of a lot of games, the genres are changing so quickly. They’re developing and becoming more sophisticated. We’re in a situation now where games want to be movies, and movies want to be games.
WENDY: Do you do all the mocap as well or do you try to stay away from that side of the industry?
I’ve done a lot of mocap and now I’m directing the performance capture. Another fascinating thing is that a good theatre actor works best for that – because it’s all imagination. When you’re on a mocap stage, you’re shooting a film and a play at the same time.
The irony is that the skills you need to do performance capture – which is this cutting edge technology – are the ones the Ancient Greeks taught us 2000 years ago. It’s an awareness of physicality in the character. That’s why I think theatre training is the best thing you can do because you’ll work in every aspect of the business. That’s why I’ve had a long career… so far? Waiting for the doorbell any second… but so far so good [laughs].
HUMAAM: Not only did you play as Bane in Arkham Origins, but also in Telltale Batman – was this like putting on an old suit?
It was different from the one we did in Origins, but there was a marriage of that. I wanted to hold onto as much as that character as I hoped they hired me for, and merge that with what they are looking for. Again it’s ‘what is this project?’ ‘What is this specific thing in front of me?’ And some of it felt wrong, it felt wrong to the Bane I developed. But again, it’s not my game, it’s their game. Some of it can feel wrong, but it’s not my job to leave because I don’t agree with their vision.
I want them to tell their story. They wrote this, they put it together, and they put in the hard work. I just come in and [He imitates a circus seal with a ball on its nose]. As I said, it’s an effort to try and retain what I bring but do what they need.
WENDY: One of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve heard, was when Nolan North got cast in Prince of Persia, and he was torn to shreds for using an American accent. And it’s wasn’t his choice, he’s just doing his job.
Something to also say, I’ll lurk in the background and play like 7 minor roles. I’ll very rarely play the big league guy and there’s a risk to that. Troy and Nolan, who are like brothers to me, they’re fantastic actors. But if the industry says, we love that Drake voice and want to use it in other games, it’s not Nolan’s fault.
WENDY: He’s doing what he’s paid to do
Right. And since ¾ of the way through the Uncharted series, people have now discovered what else they can do, because those voices have run their course. And I defy people to know that it’s Nolan doing certain roles that he does, and Troy, they’re both phenomenally talented – much more than I am.
They follow what the developer needs them to do and you can’t control that. You can make certain choices, but if you’re a big role in a videogame, that’s potential 2-3 years’ work. And “Why are they in every game?”, because they’re that good. It’s hard to find people that good.
Wendy: Precisely, like Laura Bailey is in a lot of games because she can work in games and do motion capture, for AAA games. And you want someone who’s easy and can make your day short.
And by the way, she’s the prime example. I directed her yesterday or something. And I’ll tell you a story, I’m directing this big giant franchise. But we had an actor playing a character and she was in a TV series and got taken away from us. We thought it was going to work out and it didn’t, so we had to recast.
We put out a casting net and I said, ‘Listen, do you want me to call Laura Bailey?’ And the developers were sceptical because they thought she wouldn’t want to do it. I called her and said, “listen I think there’s a great character for you, I need you to save my ass on this one”.
Because of our history going back years, she agreed and just slew it. The other person was great too, it’s unfortunate it didn’t work out. However, in that situation, you want someone who can walk in and go Bang! And that’s Laura.
WENDY: And, in 5 years’ time, you’ll get the people who are working their arse off now, who get the new roles.
Exactly. We’ve been doing this for a long time and I was very lucky. I started off in video games just as they were coming off in early 2000, so I was got there just in time. I also grew up with a lot of these guys. Troy Baker – I met him at the very beginning of my time here. We were doing a group session for animation and he looked and me and said:
‘oh you’re good, who are you?’
I said, ‘My name is JB, hi’.
He’s like: ‘Oh I’m Troy Baker, hi how are you?’
I didn’t know anything about him, but he said ‘do you know XYZ, this guy, this guy this guy?’
I said, ‘no I don’t know any of them’,
He goes ‘they’re all great directors, I’ll introduce you to them’. And he kick-started my career and introduced me to a bunch of people who then hired me. So I’ll always always be grateful to Troy.
HUMAAM: So Apex Legends isn’t just a game but also a massive community of players and voice actors. How does it feel to not only be apart of that community, but have a hand in creating it?
So you’re in this cast, and for an old campaigner like me, it’s like “Oh god, will they like me?”. They’ve been fantastic, and a couple of weeks ago we went to a BBQ together. That drove the internet nuts. Also, I’ve known some of these people for a long time. I’ve known Roger and Erica forever, I’ve known Mela for a long long time. Johnny, we kind of tolerate it because he’s Johnny. We give him a lot of shit but he loves it.
But that’s sort of a nice surprise. Especially since I was one of the original characters and you don’t know whether this thing will blow up. This wasn’t marketed and it blew up in a week. The voice-over community exists so it’s more than likely you’ll enjoy the people you’re working with.
WENDY: Now here’s the thing, Humaam has this cracking question and I really want to hear him ask because I know how nervous he is about this.
Ok Humaam, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, I AM wearing trousers.
WENDY: See now I’m just disappointed
[Laughs] or am I? [Stands up and shows his trousers].
HUMAAM: The Apex community has renamed you as the one and only Gas Daddy. What is your reaction to that?
I LOVE IT! I love it! It’s great! I sign as the Gas Daddy. He’s a total daddy, he’s got the dad bod, he’s got the dad beard. I wonder how I relate to this character? The similarities I don’t get it.
When the communities take on something like that and give you a nickname…? Oh my god, it’s awesome! What a compliment. What a MASSIVE compliment. And he’s not even a very likeable character, he really pisses people off because he lurks around and can gas you.
He’ll fuck up your shit. People are like “OH I’M SO ANNOYED! I’M SO ANNOYED! The actors have done a great job, but I’M SO ANNOYED!”. Well, then I’ve done my job then [laughs].
WENDY: Out of all the communities, which ones have been the most fanatic?
I direct everything that Blizzard does. Like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo, StarCraft. I mean those fans will pick you up but if you get it wrong, they will let you know. However, The Apex community is one of the most responsive, because Respawn is too. They communicate very closely with their community, and we try to too. I’m not good at the social media thing and I’m being taught by these pups to figure it out.
HUMAAM: By the way, my condolences for you not being verified on Twitter.
Unbelievable! Maybe I’m just a little too big for my boots. It seems like there’s a bunch of people who haven’t done what I have done and been verified. The good thing is I’m NOT bitter [stares at the camera ominously].
HUMAAM: You mentioned before that you were a voice director. Which means you work quite intimately with the script and the characters. Does that help you with your own performing? Do you have rely on other voice directors to help you out?
Definitely yeah, I don’t self-direct. I’m more reliant on game directors because they know what the game and story are about. If you all don’t work together, it won’t work. That’s my approach when acting or directing, I believe that working together always leads to the best result.
My experience as an actor has been able to inform me as a director and it’s why actors enjoy working with me. Like them, I’ve been in every crappy, shitty situation they’ve faced. That’s how you can see when an actor’s in trouble and remember when that happened to you. That in turn lets you share your experiences with them, and lets you work better with them.
Everything is co-dependent in a way, and it builds your experience. But the approach is to make everything easier for everyone, because that’s how you make the best work. I’ve never understood why directors go out to bully other people because it’s not about my ego – it’s about the product and the story.
HUMAAM: Have any directors ever seen your experience with directing and been like “hey I need a second opinion on this” or asked for advice?
Oh, I think they rather die than do that. There are young directors who have asked to shadow me, and I’m happy to do that. In the on-camera world, everyone is paranoid about being secretive because, in LA, it’s about image. I wouldn’t want to be a female in that town for all the tea in China – it is judgemental and hard. They think you’re over when your 40, which is horseshit, and it’s really, really tough. No wonder these girls go crazy because it’s a lot of pressure. I completely understand it.
Voice acting is kind of the best-kept secret. That’s because you can be whoever you want to be as long as it’s vocally viable and no one cares. If I can’t get a job, there are 5 people I would recommend, and they would do the same for me.
My biggest competitors are my best friends. Where does that happen? There’s a brother/sisterhood with how hard this is, and we know someone will be right in something we’re not. There’s plenty for everyone and I got a lot of great friends in the voice acting side of things.
HUMAAM: You’ve been directing quite a lot. when you first started, did you jump in head on?
As an actor, I knew my way around the studio but I didn’t know it was going to happen. There was a producer at Warner Brothers, who came to me and said “hey we got this game, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, we think you’d be the right person to do it”. It was an incredible gesture, and I think they saw my history as a dialect coach which prompted their decision.
You have to believe the hard work will pay off and expect the unexpected. There have been a lot of surprises in my life: one being Karen Fishman saying I’m the best person to direct this thing and the company agrees.
So I was thrown straight into the deep end, but it was familiar territory. My concern was working with a lot of my peers, because I wondered whether they were going to play ball. However, they did and were incredibly supportive, and continue to be. That led to greater opportunities, like when a company called me up looking to have me help with performance capture. They tell me that my name keeps coming up, and I’m like ‘…how are you spelling JB?’.
WENDY: What makes you happy?
My kid laughing.
WENDY: How do you handle stress?
(Laughs) A little bit of weed, some meditation and cooking. I like to cook.
WENDY: How do you keep yourself organised?
I learned very quickly what I’m good at and what I’m bad at. I can handle my career but the home life I get help with. I think it’s smart to get help; my bookkeeper is wonderful for helping me with that. I also learned that it’s better to preserve my creative brain rather than try to be good at things you’re bad at.
WENDY: Do you prefer working with people or on your own?
With people. With people. With people. With people. With people. Always.
WENDY: Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Don’t be an asshole [laughs]. That and never eat yellow snow.
WENDY: What’s one thing you can do that can never be taught?
Oh my goodness! That implies an inherent skill! But I guess my ear is solid. Also, I was blessed with good teeth too [laughs]. you can’t teach that.
WENDY: What’s the hardest thing you had to learn?
Personally? Be sure before you marry – sort of a joke… sort of. Professionally, I think no one deserves to work. Tragically, it doesn’t correspond exactly with how much work you put in. But as soon as you get into that position of: ‘wait a second, I’ve been here for 5 years, I’ve been doing all the- I should be working.’ If you do that, you’re in a downward spiral to destruction. It’s a very, very dangerous place to be and I’ve been there. It’s one of those distractions that stop you from your work in front of you.
WENDY: Do you ever read reviews on work you’ve done?
Not for film and TV stuff. And I don’t get reviewed much anyway; I’m just lurking in the background – about to open my mouth just as they cut away. For games I do, because they tend to be less personal. Also, it’s important to me how a game is received because they do translate to sales. And that does ultimately decides whether you’re a success or failure, when it shouldn’t do.
WENDY: What professional work have you done that’s helped you personally?
All of it. Take nothing for granted and there’s always something for you. Even if you’re helming the ship, you still want to be in a position to learn because it’s fun. One of my favourite phrases is “I don’t know” and an actor will ask me a question and I’ll say “I don’t know, let’s figure it out“.
Don’t be afraid of ‘I don’t know,’ that means that there is something to know, that’s great.
WENDY: What’s the biggest misconception you’ve faced in your profession?
That voice acting is not acting; people think we walk into a booth and talk. And this isn’t me playing the violin or asking for pity, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into it. If you think about a game, you can have 70 hours of stuff going on, it’s like a 70-hour movie. I directed Mafia III and there were 95 thousand lines of dialogue from over 200 characters – that takes a lot of putting together [laughs].
WENDY: Speaking of your sense of humour, has it ever gotten you into trouble?
Oh yeah. Americans don’t understand my sense of humour a lot of the time. The ones who know me know but often the sense of irony is lost. Also, I don’t have much censorship – so I need to be careful!
With Blizzard, we always work with a lot of writers so I could have 3 or 4 other people on the session, when I’m directing. I keep it fun and light but I’ll say some deeply inappropriate shit. I think they know where I’m coming from now, I have a big dopey heart, I’m not malicious.
WENDY: What are you working on in the moment?
Barry will start again very soon, and other stuff – but that’s all I can say at the moment.
WENDY: You said you did workshops and directing?
As and when I can. So I used to teach a lot more, I’m still doing all of Blizzard’s stuff, I’m directing Fortnite, and I occasionally do League of Legends and Legends of Runeterra. And I also have a career myself as a voice actor so I don’t have time to do anything.
But what I love the most is getting invited to other people’s workshops. Guest-teaching is a tremendous one, and I’ll say yes when I can. However it usually it means I’m going from 5 in the morning to 11 o clock at night.
WENDY: What’s the hardest job you’ve ever had to do, physically?
Oh, labouring. Just hodding bricks up ladders, digging hardcore, breaking concrete – it was awful! Construction work was the hardest thing in my life.
HUMAAM: What are some of your favourite roles, either voicing them or hearing them back?
On camera, I love doing Luigi Vampa in The Count Of Monte Cristo and that movie has a big place in my heart. That’s because it was the movie that brought me to America and changed my life. I love being a part of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul – they’re once in a lifetime opportunities.
For voice roles, Caustic I love him. Caustic and Blisk are two of my favourites, and Bane will always be a favourite. The recent ones have been fun. Kano, the loud brash Australian who has somehow become a gay icon now. Just because he’s got leather pants, a bare chest, scratches his balls and takes a piss before he says anything.
[In Kano Voice] And he’s a bigger swaggering Australian man and I only need one knife to cut you mate. [in normal voice] He’s just so much fun. I’m a lucky man! I get given really good stuff, so there are a lot of favourites. The one that I am excited about is the one I haven’t played yet, and that’s the greatest thing about this business.
HUMAAM: Hopefully it’s not another tutorial-father figure that dies.
It’s more than likely Humaam [laughs]. If that’s supposed to be my role in the world of video games then I accept [chuckles].
HUMAAM: What sort of companies, crew or actors do you enjoy working with as a whole?
Positive people. It’s one of the greatest things. I’m sorry and I apologise to everyone in the audience, but I did find culture in the UK and the industry to be negative.
WENDY: We do like to self-deprecate and be sarcastic.
Yeah, and I get in terrible trouble for it in America. If someone pays me a compliment, I sort of want to punch them in the face and they don’t really understand that. They’re very much ‘what the heck is wrong with you?’ when you’re like that.
And they’re right. America is a yes culture, and you’re up and running because there’s a sort of yes-it-can-be-done attitude – It can be infectious. But I’m not disrespecting England, I love and miss it terribly. I especially miss my friends so much, and it hurts.
HUMAAM: Who inspires you every day?
The motivation has got to be my daughter. On that note, I think it’s great for actors to have children because it’s no longer about them. And when you’re single and have no kids, you can get very self-consumed and involved in your own thing. But when you look at that little bundle that arrives, you’re like “shit, I got to feed that and put it through school”.
I think it’s a healthy way of understanding art and performance and all those things. But when it gets serious you got to settle down and have a family, you got to put food on the table. Therefore you manage your expectations and become more realistic. But also get a business-like measurement for how to make money in the business – which is really hard.