The lights are on
Sledgehammer Games surprised Call of Duty fans and caught the attention of gamers everywhere when it revealed Kevin Spacey’s role in Advanced Warfare (check out our cover reveal here). The seasoned, Academy Award-winning star of House of Cards is lending his performance chops to the near-future narrative with the whole nine yards: facial capture, motion capture, and voice acting. Spacey’s involvement is a dream come true for Sledgehammer, and the actor seems quite enthused to be onboard the Call of Duty franchise himself. I spoke with Sledgehammer’s founders and Kevin Spacey about his involvement and how he elevates video game acting.
Sledgehammer Games founders Glenn Schofield and Michael Condrey light up when I bring up the topic of securing legendary actor Kevin Spacey. The duo that created Dead Space usually take playful, contradictory jabs at one another, but they unite in their excitement for having Spacey on board.
“Right from the get-go, he was number one,” Schofield says. “The guy is one of the best actors of our generation.”
Spacey’s acting credits span huge films including American Beauty, Seven, and The Usual Suspects. On the Netflix-exclusive TV series House of Cards, Spacey plays Frank Underwood, a powerful, manipulative politician shaking hands and stabbing backs in Washington. Obvious parallels exist between Underwood and Advanced Warfare’s Jonathon Irons, the ruthless, charismatic CEO of the private military company Atlas.
“I think he has such a great range,” Schofield says. “We’re asking him in this case to be a guy who is really likeable from the beginning and throughout the game. Somebody who is smart, can be smart, act smart, and can act like a CEO. And the same time, in another scene there’s a bunch of grunts on the ground and he has to be able to go over to them and say, ‘Hey, let’s have a beer.’”
Kevin Spacey as Atlas CEO Jonathon Irons
Spacey himself acknowledges the similarities between Advanced Warfare's Irons and House of Cards' Underwood.
“I think they both enjoy making s--- happen and not playing by the rules,” Spacey says , “which in a game is the ultimate disruptive act.”
Schofield and Condrey were chasing after Spacey long before Netflix subscribers fell for anti-hero Frank Underwood. Jonathon Irons was created with Spacey in mind every step of the way.
“Us wanting [Spacey] started way before [House of Cards],” Schofield says. “I remember the first time I heard of House of Cards, I was like, ‘That’s Spacey, maybe I won’t have a chance to get him now. Maybe he’s too busy.’ So it was a little bit of a bummer, there. And then you watch House of Cards and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s the guy. We were right.’ So we just kept pushing for that.”
Schofield recounts the determination Sledgehammer felt when pursuing Spacey for the part.
“It was a long, drawn-out process trying to get somebody that big to do a video game and explaining it to him,” Schofield says. “I remember writing a couple of emails saying, ‘I’m quite disappointed that we’re not trying to…’ and just trying to make everybody feel guilty. Because creatively, quality-wise, story-wise, this is the guy. When we thought we were [landing Spacey] – because it took a long time – we started to write things in his voice a little bit. We pictured him doing it. We never really put anybody else’s face in there.”
Spacey as House of Cards' Frank Underwood playing Killzone
Condrey and Schofield point to the likeable-yet-morally-bankrupt protagonists of popular TV series like Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Game of Thrones as an example of what they wanted for Irons. The developer’s publisher agreed. “Activision has been a huge supporter of delivering on the greatest narrative we could,” Condrey says.
Spacey is one of the biggest celebrity names ever to be attached to a video game, and the actor’s latest move comes during a pivotal time in his career. The actor is very vocal about pursuing new opportunities outside of Hollywood. Spacey says, "Unless it's Martin Scorsese, and it's a really significant role, f--- off," in an interview with The Hollywood Report. The actor is turning to cutting-edge platforms like Netflix’s strategy of releasing a full season of House of Cards episodes simultaneously.
“People thought we were crazy when we made the Netflix deal for House of Cards,” says Spacey in the same interview. “'They're out of their minds, it'll never work.' I'm used to people thinking I'm nuts. And you know what? I kind of love it."
The eccentric actor’s immersion in a new medium and the new performance capture technology that comes with it is an extension of his outspoken mindset. Sledgehammer Games is using the same facility where James Cameron’s Avatar was shot.
Condrey says Spacey’s enthusiasm is infectious. The actor purportedly shows up very early to shoots, asks exhaustive questions about his character, and enthusiastically embraces the new technology.
“I remember when we were at the last shoot with him and we ended up taking multiple shoots,” Condrey says. “One of the creative directors said, ‘Wow, we could’ve used the first shoot.’ He’s that good. Just straight off script, and I think you’ll see that come through in his performance in the game.”
“He’s a real pro,” Schofield adds. “On [Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3] we had Idris Elba [Thor, Pacific Rim] and Timothy Olyphant [Deadwood, Justified], and they have maybe B-list names but they’re A-list actors in terms of talent. They would walk on and do their bit, but [Spacey] gets excited. He says, ‘Direct me, tell me what to do! I’ll try it another way. No problem, I’ll do it this way!’ He was really excited about getting the scans done, and they take like three hours. He sat there…. Here’s the other thing, we scan his face – and I’m wrong with the numbers – they usually get like 60 different [facial movements]. You usually get about 60 in that amount of time. But he’s so good, what’d we get like 80 or 90. He just gets it.”
According to Sledgehammer, Spacey’s performance as Irons elevates the rest of the crew. “We cast and got a lot of great actors,” Schofield says. “We never told them that Spacey was the big guy. So he walks in and they were stunned. You see their faces going, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And they have to lift their acting as well.”
Spacey says he’s not a gamer himself, but House of Cards’ Frank Underwood definitely is. The swindling politician can be seen playing PlayStation 3 games like God of War and Killzone.
“I exchanged an email with his [producing partner Dana Brunetti] this week, saying, ‘Hey, what would it take to have Frank Underwood playing Advanced Warfare in season three of House of Cards?'", Condrey says. "They’re like ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ And we’re like, ‘That’s awesome!’ Because imagine bringing fans full circle there to see that. I mean how awesome would that be? Wouldn’t it just be the craziest thing ever just to go like, ‘Hollywood meets Silicon Valley meets Hollywood.’ If we can pull that off.”
Even if Sledgehammer doesn’t manage to blend Spacey’s fictional universes together, the developer is already on its way to one of the biggest Hollywood-meets-video games crossovers in history.
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