Voice Actor Travis Willingham: I Love Anonymity
“Right now, in video games, we are being paid for one single thing, and that is to show up and to read our lines and perform the part that we are being paid for,” Willingham explained, making the contrast between his typical gig and the way some star screen actions are expected to “bring their creative process with them” on set. This does occasionally happen in games, Willingham did note.
“It’s nice to see and hear stories from people like Troy who say that Naughty Dog was very open-minded about taking his opinions and putting stock in that and it being a very collaborative process. We witnessed a lot of that with Sucker Punch [on inFamous: Second Son] as well.”
Willingham credited some of Sucker Punch’s flexibility to his long-standing relationship with Baker; the pair have known each other for more than a decade. “He was in my wedding, I was the best man at his. So we already had that element of closeness. For any professional actors, you’re bound to find a way to be comfortable with the person that you’re acting across from, but with Troy and I, it’s already there, so whether in rehearsals or a scene, I’m not afraid to do anything to him.” It also helps that their characters in the game are brothers.
These collaborative experiences may inform how Willingham interacts with his overlords on other projects, but he doesn’t expect too many of them to play out like that.
“With these games now allowing us to collaborate a little bit more, you can be spoiled by such a notion. You can walk into your next job and say, ‘Do you think it would be better if maybe this happens?’ and it’s 50/50. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Yeah, that may work better,’ and you begin a collaborative relationship. Other times it’s ‘This is what we have. Let’s just get it as we have it and maybe we’ll get an alternate.’”
“If we’re asked to collaborate, then amazing. It makes it all more of a rich experience for us. If we’re not, I am totally fine with that, because that’s what I expect.”
Having a sort of gun-for-hire mentality may not sound particularly appealing from the outside, but that’s how the business works. People like Willingham and Bailey and Baker tend to have multiple projects going on during a given week, which is another factor that separates video game stars from their counterparts in movies and television, who work on one project at a time. Working on a voice actor’s schedule, individual projects can become less personal.
“These are projects that are not ours. We didn’t write them. We haven’t spent months, years developing an IP or continuing a franchise,” Willingham said. “We go home and we’re not thinking about it. We might think about a script when it’s given to us, while we’re preparing for it, while we’re performing it, and after we’re done, we’re done.”
That said, Willingham does appreciate having a career that offers such freedom, as well as the acting ability that makes it possible.
“We get to make a living utilizing a talent we feel like we’re very lucky to have,” he said. “And we don’t have to pay for it with — not that we would ever be paparazzied, but nobody cares what we do. We can wear whatever we want and nobody is keeping tabs on if we check into an airport or not, and we’re not limited to the use of our face or what our age or type is. No offense to Troy, but he’s not Joel [in The Last of Us], and neither are we any of our other mocap characters.”
“I’m no cop. I’m no special ops soldier.”
*Addendum: After we spoke, I discovered that the box art for Beyond: Two Souls does indeed have “Ellen Page” and “Willem Dafoe” on the front above the title. When I told Willingham about that, he replied “Ah geez.” Beyond is of course a special case what with it being a David Cage game and those two being famous screen actors, so it’s not likely to be the start of a new trend.
Phil Owen is a freelance contributor to Game Front, among other publications. Follow him on Twitter.