The lights are on
Dan Jeannotte has a history of doing radio voice-over work, improvisational comedy, and even some small parts for other Ubisoft video games. But taking on the role of Arno Victor Dorian for Assassin's Creed Unity, of whom he provides the motion-capture and voice performance, is a big step up for the Canadian actor. At Comic-Con this year, we got a chance to chat with Jeannotte about injecting humor into an Assassin's Creed protagonist who questions the authority of the Creed, and what it's like to perform an on-screen kiss while wearing a motion-capture leotard with a camera mounted a foot in front of your face.
Game Informer: Have you played the Assassin’s Creed games? Are you a gamer? Do you like video games?
Dan Jeannotte: I’m not really a gamer. I was a computer gamer back in the day. I got really into role-playing games. I guess, I called them role-playing games then, but they’re not what they are now. What got me into games was like King’s Quest and Space Quest – the old Sierra games. Monkey Island, stuff like that. Then I sort of moved into playing like longer strategy games like SimCity or Civilization. I’m always a bit worried that I would become like an addict if I started playing because I have played some games. I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for six months straight every day and I was like, “I should probably stop. I should do something else.” So I’m not a huge gamer now, but I think what’s happening with games now is amazing. The way that they are really focusing on storytelling – even more-so than they used to – and having an emotional arc is amazing. When I read the script for this I was really impressed by the commitment to an emotional arc. A journey for the character that wasn’t just black and white, good guy fights the bad guys. It was much more complicated and nuanced.
Some video games leave the protagonist as kind of a blank slate. The idea is that the player inserts themselves. Do you feel like Arno is like that?
I think what’s cool about being able to play a player character… it’s quite an honor and it’s cool because you know that the player is going to be projecting themselves onto this main guy. So in my mind, it was about making Arno relatable, but also admirable, like you want to be this guy, you know? Once the story gets going and he kind of grows up a bit – because in the beginning of the story he’s young and inexperienced and kind of a brat, which I think people can identify with because I used to be like that – and then through the course of the things that happen to him, there are some tragic events that occur, he’s forced to take responsibility and then he really becomes someone who I think is quite admirable. You can project yourself onto him because he’s a badass and he’s funny and those are things we wish we could be. He can take care of a situation and then make a snarky remark about it, like in the way of one-liners.
So he’s genuinely funny? I know you haven’t really played them, but in Assassin’s Creed II, the lead Ezio was pretty charismatic and funny. And then for Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag? They were more blank-slate characters.
I understand that Connor was stoic and super serious.
But you feel like Arno is a little more charismatic?
He is, definitely. He uses humor as a bit of a weapon – or as a bit of a defense, rather, not necessarily a weapon – to kind of deal with the craziness around him. He’ll kind of make jokes – snappy, sarcastic little remarks as a kind of shield. I do think he’s funny. It’s always just these little one-liners. What’s fun about it, too, is that he questions what’s going on, so when he becomes a part of the Brotherhood he’s not just a 100-percent convert. He’s a bit like, “What is this weird thing you guys have going on?”
He’s skeptical. I think that that’s fun in this kind of game because obviously there’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief that’s needed to get into it. To have the player character not poke fun at what’s going on but rather raise legitimate questions, “Oh, so you guys all hang out in this underground cavern together conducting secret meetings?”
You guys all wear similar clothes with hoods? You don’t think that makes us stand out at all?
Yeah, so I think it’s fun to have a guy do that. He doesn’t undermine it, he just points out…
Do you put on an accent for him?
Or are you putting on an accent now…? You are from Canada, right?
Yeah, you can’t tell [laughs]. Yeah, I am doing an accent – we haven’t actually talked about this yet, but it takes place in – what do you know about the game?
I know it takes place during the French Revolution. That’s pretty much about all I know [Editor note: this interview took place before our cover story was complete].
It takes place in Paris during the French Revolution, using the cinematic conceit of having historical British accents like you would in something like the movie Gladiator.
It’s one of those things that strangely makes sense, even though it absolutely makes no sense. It just sounds appropriate.
Yeah, it sounds appropriate. And I think it’s just become common enough in films that we get it now. The past is British [laughs]. So I’m doing a British accent which, they certainly discussed doing French accents, but French accents just don’t come across as … cool? As British accents do? So, yeah I’m doing a British accent but also speaking a bit of French.
Head to page two to learn the length of a typical Assassin's Creed script.
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