The Order: 1886 Actor Talks Power of Video Games as a Storytelling Medium

Q&A: We talk with Steve West about his role as Sir Galahad in the new PS4 game, the future of storytelling, and lots more.

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PlayStation 4 action game The Order: 1886 arrives in stores today. We've already brought you a review (and a roundup of reviews), but we've also spoken with Steve West, the man who voiced The Order's main character, Sir Galahad.

Steve West
Steve West

Not only did West lend his voice to the game, but he also performed motion-capture, as is becoming an increasingly frequent thing for actors to do.

Our full interview with West, which you can read below, touches on subjects like how he broke into the industry, the amount of freedom he had on set to try new things, the power of video games as a storytelling medium, what's next for him, and lots more.

I've spoken previously with voice actors, and their stories about how they broke into this business have all been different; how did you get started?

"For me it was the case of a friend passing along my materials to one of the large agencies when I moved to LA. An agent there heard my demo and liked my voice, called me in to meet and we just took it from there. Of course then it's many, many auditions later before things start to roll. I will always remember an actor's photographer once telling me that the people who make it work in LA are the ones who stay there and just stick at it. I would agree. I just kept going at it and learned as much as I could every time."

If I understand correctly, this is your first starring role in a video game. How did the relationship with Sony and Ready at Dawn come about?

"It was actually out of the blue. My voice agent called me and asked me to go meet Ru Weerasuriya, the director, and some of the people at Sony for a new mo-cap game that would be coming out. They were looking for stage and TV/film actors with good voices. I knew a bit about mo-cap but not a lot and certainly not how extensive the project would be. I was sent some material and met them and read a few of the scenes from the game pretty much as I would for film or TV. The exception was we were on a large-scale sound studio and they also wanted to see movement and how you worked the space. I then got a call to go back and work with one of the other actors. After that they offered me the part."

What were you thoughts when you were initially pitched on the project?

"I thought it sounded great. I had no idea at the time of all that was involved in making a mo-cap project of this caliber, but I loved the idea of the story. It was clear that we would effectively be making a full-length movie, an epic, full-length movie at that and one with a fantastic storyline and characters. I didn't know how that would translate as far as the technicalities of filming mo-cap but it sounded like it would be very exciting to be a part of."

The Order: 1886 is being described as "one-of-a-kind" for the way it blends cinematics with gameplay. What attracted you to the game to the role of Sir Galahad specifically?

"I think every young boy has wanted at some point to play an action hero. The thing about Galahad that's so interesting is that he isn't your typical hero. There's a real darkness and complexity to him. His moral compass is firmly set but he also has inner demons which emerge throughout the game as both his world and beliefs are turned upside down.

What is great as an actor is having the opportunity to play this complete transition, so that where we begin with Galahad is very far removed from where we end up. I won't give the details away but there's a lot thrown at Galahad in this game and not just physically."

What did you do to prepare for the role? And how was is the same or different from how you prepare for other jobs?

"I prepared largely as I would for a movie. The Order: 1886 to me is an epic interactive movie. For the role itself I researched into Victorian England as well as the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and some Greek mythology like the story of Lycaon--the king Zeus turned into a wolf. Anything that would build this world for me, a world we would inhabit for the next two years. I also talked a lot with Ru since he was effectively the creator of this story and had a huge knowledge of the history pertaining to The Order. He and I also delved into what had brought Galahad to this point in his life and his relationships with the other characters in the game. On the physical side we also received weapons training from guys who had served in the armed forces."

What was the most challenging part of getting into character?

"I think the major challenge was at the beginning of filming when we began working in the suits and on the sound stages. I'd say that was quite alien for all of us except [The Hobbit actor Graham McTavish] who had done a lot of this type of work before. It was the translation of everything we'd thought about and created as actors onto this minimal stage--where rooms can be marked out with tape and walls don't actually exist materially--except they do 'cyberly' and you only realize that once you're told you just walked through a brick wall!

That and the suits you wear which resemble something like a wetsuit, the multitude of green dots covering your face and the mini camera attached to your head shining a light into your eyes! I mean technically speaking it was a challenge, although once you got used to all that--which actually didn't take too long--it was surprising how it all sort of melted away and you were able to project the world of The Order onto this wide-open sound stage."

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I've heard before that actors, those who also do motion-capture, often ad-lib lines. Was this the case during your performance, or did you mostly stick to a script?

"We had a lot of freedom. Ru was very open to allowing us to say something, change something and try something other than what was in the script. The real luxury was that we filmed this story over a long period of time and each time we came to film we would have a day of rehearsal so we could get the technicalities out of the way and really play the story. Ru would also take things that he saw in us and put them into the script. On a creative level we had a lot of freedom; it's one of the biggest pleasures of having worked on The Order."

Throughout the voiceover and mo-cap process, I'm guessing there was a lot of back and forth with director Ru Weerasuriya; can you talk about the nature of that relationship?

"It has probably been one of the best working relationships I've had. His level of attention to detail and willingness and ability to talk you through and discuss things was brilliant. TV nowadays is very fast-paced and time is money. And the same can be true of film so you don't necessarily have that luxury. I talked a lot with Ru and however much we needed to get done we always made sure that we had discussed anything that needed to be talked about. Not only that, but the set was a fun place to be. We were all determined to make this the best game it could possibly be but at the same time we all wanted to enjoy the process and the people we were spending our time with. We had a lot of laughs in amongst all the angst and fighting."

You didn't just do voicework for The Order. There was an extensive, multi-year motion-capture process. What was that like?

"I guess I've touched on elements of that already but it really was like shooting an epic fantasy movie. The only thing I would add is that after the technicalities I mentioned before, the actual work we got to do as part of the motion capture was fantastic. Really intense scenes physically and emotionally. I don't think I've ever been asked to access that level of rage before on stage or screen. It was awesome."

Are there any interesting or funny stories you can share from your time either doing mo-cop or voice over for The Order?

"Well there was a lot of banter and Graham is a real joker, although I don't think I can repeat any of that here. I did find some surreal moments when we came to do the ADR voice work, especially when it came to recreating my own death for any possible player fails. I remember Ru telling me I was now going to die by fire and that I would first suffer a small death by fire, then a medium one, and finally a large one.

I don't know where else in the world you'd suffer a small, medium, or large death by fire! I mean when you die by fire, you die by fire and I'm sure it's excruciating! I do also remember recreating a big water torture scene in the sound booth. So it's me, the TV monitor, the mic, and a head cam (strapped to my head) and I'm trying to watch the monitor, move to the action being played there without hitting the mic stand or pulling the wires from the walls, dunk myself into the nonexistent water tank by the two nonexistent guards whilst continuously gasping and clawing for breath. I remember having a moment after that thinking, 'My brother drives trucks for a living--I have the weirdest job in my family.'"

I've heard some actors don't like to watch or hear their performances after they're done recording--do you?

"I never used to but I've learned to really value it. I've learned a lot from watching what I've done and listening to what I've done. The things I've liked, haven't liked, maybe technical things that I would change about a performance. The main thing is to really feel what you're doing but it's also good to see and hear how that comes across in the final frame."

What did you learn about video games in the process of recording for The Order? Did anything in particular stand out or surprise you in a big way?

"The sheer scale of what's involved and the demands it makes on an actor are a lot more intensive than I imagined. You really are putting together this alternate universe from scratch and a lot of that is done in the animation part of production, but in order for them to do that you have to give them all the possibilities to work with. And since this isn't just a story you watch there's an incredible variety of scenarios and options that have to be filmed and voiced. It's an intense job but a very fun and satisfying one."

What do you think about the possibilities for video games as a storytelling medium?

"I think it's one of the most exciting mediums there currently is. Not only do you get to play the game, with The Order: 1886 you come as close as I think you've ever come to actually BEING the game. The cinematics are out of this world and the story takes you on an incredible journey. I think out of all the storytelling mediums available this is as immersive as you can get and one that will only continue to be more so as technology advances."

Do you have any future game projects in the works?

"As is the nature with the gaming world it's all highly confidential until its released so currently I can't say anything about any other projects but I will say there are definitely some exciting times ahead."

You can follow West on Twitter @SteveWestActor. He's also on Facebook and his official website is www.stevewest.la.

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