Forgive me for making assumptions, but if you're reading a blog like TheFeed, chances are you're into science fiction to some extent. Television, movies, games...at some point you've probably journeyed to outer space, traveled through time, dealt with paranormal activities, and slaughtered a xenomorph or two. And during this time, you've assuredly run into Lance Henriksen. Best known for his role as Bishop in the Alien series, Henriksen is one of sci-fi's most reliable character actors and lately, one of video gaming's more prolific voice actors. We sat down with him a while back to chat about the upcoming Aliens vs. Predator game, how technology changes movies, and the appeal of fear. Also joining the discussion were Sega's Darius Sadeghian (producer) and Rebellion's Paul Mackman (producer) for more insight on AvP's development process.
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G4: You’ve been doing voice work for games for 7 years?
LH: Not constantly. [laughs]
G4: What have you learned about voice acting for games in that time?
LH: There’s a new thing going on right now, there are people doing green screen for just the Internet. And the digital world is coming in full guns, like the games and everything else. And as a combination of all those things…since I started out in theater in New York we just had a black stage with maybe a couple props on it and the rest was all about language and creating it for an audience with language, and now the green screen is the same thing.
G4: So it's coming full circle a bit?
LH: Yeah it’s almost come full cycle and back to theatre again. But I don’t have to hit the balcony with the voice.
G4: When you hear people complain about the prevalence of CG in movies…
LH: I don’t hear it. I met Jim Cameron on the screening of Hurt Locker and he said to me, we had it seen each other in a couple of years because we're all busy, he said “Lance you’re not gonna believe what I’m doing." He said "you’ll be able to do anything and I can change it, you don't even have to have makeup." He was so excited about this thing, and I thought "wow." It’s all an adventure. If you freeze up and decide “I’m a purist,” you're kind of in denial, because there's a lot of great stuff going on.
G4: Was he talking about Avatar?
G4: What he's doing is kind of concurrent, making the movie and the game…do you see games invading Hollywood's space?
LH: No. I remember when games first came out, you know, the early days of video games. I'm not talking about Pac-man. I’m talking about…one had a very dead atmosphere, and it was going though doors…
LH: Myst. Yeah, and I saw that and I thought "it will come more alive than that." I don’t think games are only going to action, because I can imagine a game being made out of just about anything, depending on the imagination of the producers that are producing it. Because there are some people who are more cerebral than wanting to shoot guns. Like Myst was a very, people loved it, chess players loved it. Guys that played Go, that kind of stuff. And so I think that there's no end to what can be done.
G4: Do you play games?
G4: Is there anything that you might want to play?
LH: When I’m not acting, I don’t play golf and I don’t play games because that would eat up my life. I make pottery when I’m not acting, no 1s and 0s, no golf balls. I’ve seen a lot of games and I’ve watched people play them, but I see this strictly as an artistic extension of acting. When I did GUN, I remember being in the room with the main actor and him and I improvised scenes and it was wonderful. Run Like Hell was another fun thing. It’s all an adventure to me, whatever comes up, I see it as an adventure.
G4: Do you prefer working on one side or the other, movies and games? Or is there something to like about both?
LH: There’s an odd thing, you brought up something that’s really true. That games are made over a long period of time, with a great investment, And it depends on where I was picked up in doing this. I haven’t been part of it very long. I mean they’ve done all the work and now they’ve asked me to come and focus this character and be that. I’m in a luxury department. They’ve worked their asses off to make this concept and I just have to give them whatever they need. It’s an exciting kind of practical matter.
G4: Is there a difference between working on animated movie versus a game?
LH: Yeah, big difference. When I did Tarzan, I remember Glenn Close was in New York and I was in LA. I played Kerchak the gorilla and she was my wife. And we’d hear from each other on the headsets…it was a very different process than this [working on AvP]. I think with CGI coming in as strong as it is, I think because it's come in so fast and so hard, that a lot less poetry is involved, and there will be choices. I saw a movie the other night where a guy was laying in a bed and looking up at the ceiling, and it was about him going crazy a little bit. And it went from his eyes closed, to as if it he were seeing thru his eyelids and then his eyes were fully there. And I thought "wow, that was a shocking image." But again it’s all based on creative concepts.
G4: Rather than the tech?
LH: Rather than the tech. When it's noticeably the tech, it falls a little bit short.
G4: I was watching The Incredible Hulk on TV randomly before this interview, the one with Edward Norton, and it's very evident when the movie switches from character acting to green screen monsters fighting each other…
LH: Yeah, when we did Aliens vs. Predator I sat with Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis, the guys who did all the special effects and makeup, and [they were] shocked how seamless it was to go from the monster that's real to the CGI. They had done such a good job, it was flawless, seamless. That’s when it really works
G4: Are you most comfortable working in science fiction?
LH: No, I’m never comfortable. If I get comfortable, they're not going to hire me anymore. [laughs]
G4: But you like science fiction, obviously.
LH: Yeah I love it.
G4: What do you think it is about your acting style and experience that lends itself to that?
LH: I think it's because I am flawed. I am a very flawed very kind of character. I never have been a leading man, I’ve always been a character actor. And my meaning of that is flawed people don’t have to be perfect looking, because God knows I wasn’t born with that particular edge. So I love science fiction because it’s always so overwhelming, and as people living in science fiction world, we are overwhelmed. And I understand that, and I’m very good at portraying that and wanting to fight back.
G4: Video game makers always cite Alien and Aliens as big influences, especially in action games and sci-fi games. Why do you think that is?
LH: When Ridley [Scott] did his Alien, and Jim [Cameron] did his Aliens, there still was no CGI, it was either miniatures or models, but that’s it. And those movies still hold up. When I first saw Alien, I was so shocked by the quality of that grade-A movie. It was the first time there was really a polished, incredible thing you could follow and see like that. It was a ground-breaker, man. And to see what Jim did, again it was all those things without CGI. And when you moved into CGI, everybody had to launch from somewhere, and they're all going "if I could do an Aliens and have all the things in CGI that I want to do," that's what happened. So they're all connected at the hip.
I’ll always be connected to an old black-and-white film, The Thing. But I was a little kid when I saw it, and it scared the living shit out of me. I couldn’t even walk on the sidewalks, I was afraid something was jump out of the door ways, so I’d walk on the yellow line at night after I saw that movie. So I was connected to a kind of fear, and a kind of excitement over aliens and spaceships and all that shit that never left me.
G4: Can you describe that fear? Is it the unknown, or the possibly real?
LH: Fear can be very exciting. I mean, if you’re with a girl and nothing's happened yet, and you’re full of excitement and fear, and you don’t how this is going to go. It’s in a pleasure zone -- I wasn’t afraid I was going to die, I was kind of reliving the movie and taking part. I didn’t want to let it go.
G4: How does that fear translate in games?
LH: I would say protracted adrenalin. Once you start a game, from what I've seen and what I've played of some games, I think that my excitement level is raised to a point where man, I'm just on the move. It's as good as gambling -- it’s the same kind of addiction, I think. When you’re in it, you have no thought of time, or responsibilities, or anything else, I just want to be there. That’s a high level of excitement.
Darius Sadeghian: I think a lot can be translated from that as well into what we try to do. We take a look at the environments, and we look at where they're good and where they can be special. It's about taking the player through that path, but like it's an exciting fear, rather than "Oh my God, I’m scared." If I go that little bit further, and I hear a noise…"what’s gonna happen next?", sort of like how the movies did so well..
LH: In worlds that you would never visit any other way…
Paul Mackman: I think pacing is a big part of it. For AvP, for the marine in particular for which fear is a primary part of the gameplay. It's about creating tension and suspense, and then delivering action, and then reverting to tension and suspense. You have to build up to the shocking moments and the action moments, otherwise you don’t value them. It’s the old notion of that
DS: We like to keep it in tradition with how the films did it, rather than relying on the huge set pieces, it's "how do we build that naturally," where you had the cat dash across the screen. It's little touches like that that we watched and thought "how can we do something like that? and help the player feel like something's going to happen, you just don’t know where.
PM: That’s probably the most successful part of James Cameron's Aliens is the build up in the beginning, the tension building and then release of that when the aliens finally attack. And that’s the bit everyone remembers, the blips on the motion tracker.
G4: Because it took like 40 minutes before you even saw an alien…
DS: And we've taken that into consideration, we’ve really managed when we want to first show the alien experience, and what we are trying deliver before that. And it's hard thing to get right. You can do it a lot of times and then lose it, so we naturally put it out there and see what happens. We’ve had some really good feedback so far.
LH: How long have you been working it?
DS: It's coming up to a year now, but obviously the actual dev team have been a lot longer, when Sega signed it...
PM: Yeah, a number of years.
DS: …this is legacy title, for the guys that are making this it's coming on 3 years.
PM: It’s a big investment of time, people have put their hearts and souls into it.
DS: But it’s beautiful, when you walk in [the studio] all you see is just homages to the movies, models, designers are always reliving the film scenes and you go back and you see them watching the same thing over and over again, trying to get all those things right. It's beautiful to see because it's like "great, you're watching the same things I like," It's great when you see them in-game, as well.
G4: How much has the game changed over the last three years? Has it been significant?
PM: It's been set on a path, and it's been doing down a path, but it's evolved. You make discoveries, you’ll implement something and then something will come out of that. You get emergent behavior from the AI and you get gameplay that you didn’t necessarily intend. But it's been on a certain course and it's been following that course.
LH: There is some stuff that just blew my mind where they took this, but I won't talk about that…
G4: In regards to the franchise?
LH: Yeah, in regards to how far they took this journey. It's just terrific, man. I was real happy.
DS: There was a big part of us that wanted to make sure that the narrative delivers to the fans, at least. Here’s a true, sort of spiritual sequel if you like to the original AvP movie. We're expanding on what they created and we're trying to just fill that gap. And all us geeks who love the movie, we're getting a stab at it, it s a great opportunity.
PM: Our primary reference points are James Cameron's Aliens, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and John McTiernan's Predator. But we take all of the films, all of the good stuff in all of the films…
G4: How does it relate to the last 2 or 3 movies?
PM: There are references to all of them, there are story elements from all of them -- in some ways I think we’re trying weave together elements.
DS: Even artistically as well, you’ll see levels in there that just go “that looks so like that part,” and it may be. We don't say, but it may be…
G4: Same thing with the Predator movies?
PM: Yeah, absolutely.
DS: When we showed it at E3, the Predator jungle area, a lot of people we're like "that's like the actual jungle area from the movie," because we set it up just like that. You've got marines out there, and you're this Predator out there hunting them…now you’re doing it from the Predator's perspective rather than watching it from Arnold’s perspective. We like to put that twist on it.
G4: How protective do you feel about the Alien series?
LH: Not at all, I don’t have to protect it, It's alive on its own. The only thing I feel is…I somehow over the years since we’ve done these movies, I've thought of a hundred things that could have been done, should have been done, would have been done…but again, I’m this a creative word bubbler. I think about it often, like when we have a conversation, I'll leave here and go "Wow." The effect it has on people is really remarkable. But it's been a long haul. I’ve bought houses and cars…this has been a very long haul from starting back in the 80s.
G4: Do you see the franchise as having an extended, long life…something like Star Trek and Star Wars?
LH: Absolutely. It's all so metaphoric. The characters, the aliens, the Predators…they’re very metaphoric characters. The alien, to me -- Giger's work, the "necromancia" -- he converted something that used to be just plain fear to the love of fear, to being unafraid of death and really looking it in the face. All these things he's done, they’re sexual…there are so many levels to it, and that’s just happened in the last 20 years. It’s a study in itself. I'm sure there are 100 books on this, if not more. And Fox owns it all! [laughs]
Fox is more protective of it than I am. I’m like a surfer riding on the waves; I can only protect so much of the ocean.