interview

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’s Daniel Cudmore Talks About Playing Master Chief

by Kyle Hilliard on Oct 12, 2012 at 07:30 AM

The second episode of Halo’s live-action web series premiered today, and we had a chance to talk to Daniel Cudmore, the actor behind Master Chief’s mask. You won’t see Cudmore’s face in Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, but if you did, you may recognize him from the X-Men films where he played Colossus, or the Twilight series where he plays Felix. We asked Cudmore about taking on the role of a beloved video game character, and whether or not Master Chief flashes a thumbs-up when he gets a solid head-shot.

Would you consider yourself a gamer?

I am and I’m not. I enjoy playing games and then I’ll have a bit of an ADD moment and I can’t sit around for too long, but I think it also depends on the game too. The funny  thing is, I think I was bought Halo 3 by my girlfriend at the time, who is my wife now, she bought it to kind of impress me and I think that’s the only game that I played front to back. There might have been some other ones, but I think that was the one.

Do have other favorite games other than Halo 3?

I do remember when I was in college when the very first PlayStation and Call of Duty came out. I remember everyone went away for Thanksgiving and I was one of the only guys stuck in the dorm, and I think I played Call of Duty 8 hours straight every day – it was ridiculous. I’m a pretty good fan of Assassin’s Creed. I enjoy that game too.

So you’re playing Master Chief in the Forward unto Dawn series, were you nervous about playing a character that has such a strong legacy in the world of video games?

Yeah it’s always daunting, especially that kind of character who is the staple of the series throughout most of the games. It’s funny, I was talking to people about how you become him. Each player becomes him. Everybody has their own interpretation of who the character is, but I just did a lot of research and bounced as many questions as I could off of all the guys at Microsoft and 343. I just read a lot of fiction and I just thought, "I’m going to go with what I think it is and I’m not going to stray too far from what they created and just add a little bit of myself to it and hopefully everyone likes it."

In the games Master Chief is a little bit of a blank slate for the sake of the player. He is a badass but he doesn’t exude a lot of personality. In the show were there opportunities to add more humanity to Master Chief? How much were you able to accomplish working behind a mask?

Well that’s also a tough part of it, you’re really going to see more humanity though someone’s facial features in their eyes and various other places, so when you can’t see his face it makes it hard. There are definitely moments where there is a little bit more humanity in certain aspects, but at the same time he’s really trying to just helps these kids get out of here alive and there is not a ton of opportunity to really kind of interact as much as you would like to as an actor or a character, but it’s really not who Master Chief is.

Can you tell us a little bit about the casting process? How did you win the role of Master Chief?

It really was through various people that I worked with in the past. I worked with some of the producers and the stunt coordinator; I have more of a stunt actor background. I started with acting and I fell more into stunts and was given the opportunity to do that, so it kind of spun that way and I just met with the director and we hit it off, and then I met with all the guys at Legacy who designed the costume and it just kind of went from there. There was never necessarily an audition process, because you’re not seeing my face and things like that. There is the acting aspect that I had to do as the character for the other actors, but a lot of is body acting it’s a lot of movement and things of this nature.

Where you doing his voice too? Or was that sort of a Darth Vader situation?

I had to act out all of the scenes with all of the actors, but I believe they hired someone else to do the voice.

You did all of your own stunts?

Yeah, everything action-wise, and it’s funny because I did everything that was asked of the character too. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Read on to find out if tea-bagging made it into the series' final cut.

With a production like this, a live-action web series, is it different than working on a film or television show?

It’s funny, because going into it you have these sorts of visions in your head of what a lot of live-action web series have been. The problem is that it’s not a medium that a lot of the traditional movie makers and TV show makers work on. They really don’t understand it as well, so I feel like they never really invest that large amount of money into it when the audience is just absolutely massive on the internet. It’s funny, you look at some of the stuff that’s out there, and even though its production value is not quite there, just because they don’t have the money obviously the imagination and hard work is there. You kind of think, “Well how is it going to be when I have to work on big-budget things? Is it kind of going to be like that?” Honestly just showing up it felt like a feature film movie set the whole time, and everything just felt the same so I didn’t really notice a difference at all.

Can you tell us all of the secrets about Master Chief that they told you in confidence? So you could understand the character? You can tell us all those, right?

I can’t tell you anything. I just read some of the fiction that explained really where all of the Spartans came from, and what sort of training they had, and how they become who they are now, and how Master Chief has sort of become who he is. So that helps a huge amount with his sort of psyche and what he’s been through and how strongly rooted he is in his duties. Almost in a way, brainwashed the way he is, but that’s the only life he has ever known so he believes it whole-heatedly that he has to protect and do his job no matter what.

Was there a lot of input from the game designers at 343? Did they have specific actions that Master Chief did or doesn’t do? Like Master Chief wouldn’t do this, did they give you directions like that?

There was a lot of discussion on the certain way he carries himself, the way he shoots guns, the way he just sort of moves a lot. I took a lot of it from the featurettes they have done for advertising for some of the Halo games were they have done these CGI scenes, and just following the way the character really moves. Obviously 343 and Microsoft had a plethora of guys on set all the time who were just absolute encyclopedias of Halo and any question I ever had I could fire off of them and anything they kind of thought didn’t look quite right they would fix. It was really cool working environment.

Where there any strange things? Like did they ever say Master Chief doesn’t give thumbs up? Did they have any weird Master Chiefisms?

I think there was the tea-bagging  – you don’t want that. There are things like thumbs up and certain things like that, that you think would be fine but there like, “nah he doesn’t do that kind of thing.” He is very kind of simple in his approach to what his goals are and he is not really showy or that kind of G.I. Joe type “Thumbs up kids.” I’m trying to think over the days if there was anything specific or weird but I can’t think of anything.

So are you excited about Halo 4? As being part of this production were you able to demand an early copy for research purposes?

I wish! I don’t think anyone has gotten an early copy, though I want a copy of the game. I got to play it down at Comic Con and it’s funny, I haven’t played games in a while and away from how quickly and how good the quality and how fast the gameplay is nowadays. I got to play the little small pieces that they had that they were advertising down there, and I was getting beat down so badly by the other players. I felt like a grandfather who tried to sit down with a 13-year-old kid and try to play video games. It was ridiculous. The quality of the game was unbelievable. The amount that they put into the game and the amount of things you’re going to get out of the game – it blew me away.

Be sure to check out our interview with the director of the series, Stewart Hendler.

[Special thanks to GI intern O'Dell Harmon for his help on this piece]