Max Payne 3 marks the return of grizzled, pill-popping, time-bending super cop Max Payne. It’s been almost a decade since gamers have worn Payne’s hard boiled gumshoes, but Rockstar Studios has made it a point to ensure Max’s return is as explosive and attention grabbing as he was when he first dive-strafed player’s hearts all those years ago. And while non-stop cinematic action is the core of the Max Payne series, the real heart and soul lies with the titular cop, more specifically actor James McCaffrey.
McCaffrey not only reprises his role as Max in voice, but now in body as well, having done the performance capture for Max Payne 3 as well. So to find out more about what it was like reuniting with Max, how the performance capture experience has changed since the previous game, and what players can expect from Max’s latest bloody journey, we spoke with McCaffrey via email. Read on!
It will have been nine years since we last heard/saw you as Max Payne when Max Payne 3 arrives next month. How did it feel to be back in Max’s shoes after all those years? Did you find they still fit, or had you/Max grown a bit in that time?
James McCaffrey: It was surprisingly comfortable. The guys at Rockstar have done a fantastic job at creating a story that fits perfectly with where Max might wind up in his life after so much time. So Max still fits, probably more so now after having to do much more work for the character this time, in terms of having to do all the motion capture work, which was all brand new to me. Ultimately, that makes the character more believable, but it’s also more of my own performance that winds up as part of the game.
Originally it was reported that you weren’t planned as the voice of Max in the new game. What happened to bring you back to the role? When did you officially start working on MP3? Are you still doing performance work, or are you finished?
JM: We’re still doing some very small finishing touches to the game, but I think I first met up with (Director of Performance Capture) Rod Edge back in August or September of 2010. My agent had been talking to the guys at Rockstar on and off over the entire period, and I’d often ask what was happening with the game. When we got the call, I was looking forward to getting back to the character.
Where did Max’s voice come from originally? What were your previous influences and inspirations - and what have they been for Max Payne 3?
JM: For the original games, it started with the script and the sense of where the character was going. Originally, I’d worked on a show called Swift Justice, and there were some similarities between the two characters in terms of them both having experienced some family tragedy and were familiar with the concept of vengeance, but there weren’t any specific characters that Max is based on. He’s his own creation and again, for that I give credit to the guys at Rockstar for developing the character through both the script and the performance, and making the transition from the original games as natural as it is.
As we’ve seen in the trailers and preview coverage so far, Max is a much more disturbed and down-in-the-dumps character this time around (at least initially). How has this shift in tone and narrative influenced your approach to 2012 Max?
JM: A lot of it comes down to how the script has developed, but by the time we came to Max Payne 3 I’d played a lot of down-and-out characters and with the help of Rod (Edge), who helped me find who Max now is, it came together fairly quickly. We would discuss ideas, and he might ask me if a line was something Max would say, and we’d work through ideas together. Performing scenes in motion capture helped match the dialogue to the character.
Many diehard Max fans have been voicing concern that the brighter aesthetic of MP3 means the game won’t have the same kind of edge that the previous games had. From what I’ve seen, Max’s latest journey looks to be even darker and more brutal than ever. So…which one is it?
JM: It’s a perfect mix. It’s still very dark. I don’t know…A lot of the color just comes from the location, but the Max brings the darkness to the situation he’s in. The edge is still there. He’s trying to make changes but that’s the thing with Max…trouble finds him. I think the fans will recognize the old Max in the new Max pretty quickly.
This is the first time you’ve done performance capture for Max. What has it been like physically performing a character you previously only voiced?
JM: It was a surprise. I’d never done it or known anything about that world. I actually remember initially when they said that I’d be doing a bit of mo-cap, and I thought, "Yeah, fine," but I definitely did not know what that meant. The first few weeks were very difficult, but I got used to it. There aren’t a lot of long dramatic scenes; there are a couple. Luckily, I was working with a lot of great actors who’d done a lot of motion capture before, so they were a huge help in adjusting to it. It’s a wild experience for an actor. It’s like having to act in Avatar.
How has the performance work influenced your voice work, and vice versa? Anything unexpected or surprising come out of finally having to give Max a physical presence as well as a voice?
JM: It just … puts it together. In the early games, it was mostly just me standing in a sound booth taking directions. I don’t know too much about the games business, but I know that the entire process has become a lot more sophisticated. So even though we still used Max’s monologue, we didn’t have to rely on it so much, which gives us a few more options.
Rockstar has their own sound stages, and they created giant sets for us to act out the scenes on, so the voice work sounds less controlled and more natural. The Rockstar guys would have me running through the box, up a flight of stairs and jumping off while I hurl obscenities at whoever’s chasing after me – it’s naturally looser, but it has to be...It’s definitely been much more physical, which was something I probably wasn’t as prepared for as I should be, but that’s good for the character.
Even after so many years and so many changes in the game industry, why does the character of Max Payne still get people excited?
JM: He’s just a pretty cool character, who has acted out his vengeance in a way that most people would want to if they were faced with the situations life’s put him through. He’s a bit like Charles Bronson in Death Wish – these situations pull Max in; it’s not something he goes looking for.
You’ve been with Max since the beginning. Would you be up for returning to him again in the future (assuming Rockstar has more installments planned)?
JM: For sure. He’s been with me for a long time. It’s surprising, I get asked about him all the time. ‘What’s Max up to?’ He’s endured, and that feels good to come back to.
You'll be able to witness McCaffrey's latest bullet-dodging performance for yourself when Max Payne 3 blasts its way onto Xbox 360, PS3, and PC May 15, 2012.