Marvel star reveals reality behind new role
Performing as a digital character in a modern video game has more in common with traditional theatre than film or TV, according to actor Jon Bernthal.
Famous actors appearing in video games is not a new phenomenon - Sir Patrick Stewart lent his voice talents to the 1993 game Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos - but celebrity faces and performances are an increasing part of gaming, with full motion-captured and voiced appearances an increasing drawcard for games such as Call of Duty: World War II (featuring Josh Duhamel) and the upcoming Cyberpunk: 2077, which will include Keanu Reeves as a major character.
Bernthal, known for his starring roles in TV shows The Walking Dead and The Punisher, plays the main antagonist in Ubisoft's upcoming open-world adventure game Ghost Recon: Breakpoint and spoke exclusively with news.com.au at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles about what it's like to act in a modern game.
"Acting is acting. We're doing it in these crazy suits with all these dots in our face, and I think that makes it a bit different. But you get over that pretty quick," he said.
Bernthal said he enjoyed how rehearsal driven the acting process was in games.
"Because there's so many cameras in the room, it requires you doing it (the scene) in one perfect take," he said.
"You can't have any flaws, any mess-ups, you can't mess up a line. You can't mess up choreography. Sometimes these are pretty elaborate 10 or 11-minute scenes. You do not have the ability to slice scenes together.
"You've got to get it perfect. I really dug that."
He said video game acting offered a unique challenge that reminded him a lot more of the theatre than TV or film, and it really appealed to him.
"You spend the majority of your time perfecting it and getting it right and you finally shoot it. I like that," he said.
"There's nowhere to hide. The pressure's high. Everybody's got to work together to get that one perfect take, and I really wish more TV and film was shot that way.
"I think it makes it more raw and authentic."
His character in the game, Cole Walker, is a rogue US Special Forces operative who has seized control of a fictional island and its hi-tech drone factories for an as-yet-unknown purpose - a complex character and one which required an absolutely spot-on performance.
"One of the things that I appreciated about the process more than anything else was the fact these are special forces soldiers (in the game) and the fact that they had real special forces soldiers on set at all times," Bernthal said.
"That's something that I take enormously seriously. I think it's an honour and responsibility any time you portray somebody in the military, and the fact the people making this game took the time and had the respect and the integrity to have folks like that there at all times meant a great deal to me.
"They were just like the director. They could call 'cut' at any point; they could say, 'That's not real' or 'You're not holding your weapon right' or 'You're not talking right or 'You're not holding yourself right'.
"Again, it's an opportunity for me to learn and it's also a check on our own authenticity (as actors)."
One of the highlights of Bernthal's involvement with Ghost Recon: Breakpoint has been working with the development team and seeing the reach of games like it and how much they mean to people.
"I think that anytime you get to play a character that resonates with the fans in a really unique way, it's a great opportunity," he said.
"Being a character in these games, you get to go into these people's homes. You get to go into their gaming systems that they spend hours with.
"Unlike a movie, where you go to the theatre and spend two hours together, these folks are going to spend hours and hours and hours with these characters, and I can tell that meant so much to the people that made the game and was sort of why the path and the process was so geared towards perfection at all times, and why everybody took it so, so seriously.
"I was really grateful to be a part of that; that was something that I really dug."
The challenge of playing a complex antagonist over a traditional "good guy" character was the name of the game, Bernthal said.
"I don't think there's any such thing as good guys and bad guys," he said.
"Playing the villain, antagonist in the movies, it's my job to make his wants and desires and motivations completely resonate truthfully.
"He has to think at all times he is doing what's right, what's just, what's good and that what makes things rich and hopefully layered and not one note or spoon fed.
"Hopefully we were successful with that."
Royce Wilson is attending E3 as a guest of Ubisoft