Stephen Lang is now officially part of the two biggest entertainment franchises of all time. He’s already prepping a return to Avatar with James Cameron, and now gamers can see his first motion capture performance in Activision’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. The actor, who plays Elias Walker, talks about going virtual in the new Infinity Ward shooter in this exclusive interview.
How far have you seen video games come even since you worked on the Avatar game a few years back?
First of all, my disclaimer is that I am by no means an expert on video games. I know more than I did since I got involved with Call of Duty. Clearly, one of the things that I feel that’s happened, since movies are my line, is I’ve notice in many ways that movies are becoming more like video games in a way, and the corollary to that is true as well, that video games are becoming more like film. When they asked me to do the Call of Duty: Ghosts script, it did have many, many cinematic aspects to it where I found myself playing scenes that had emotional content and emotional arcs in them. The role that I play in the game — I have two sons who are both warriors as well — and a lot of that paternal feeling and a lot of the emotional pride, the worry about your son, that’s all in there as well. The dramatic aspect of the game is increasing. It’s becoming an emotionally immersive experience for the player. The more emotionally immersive the game is for me and the team as we make it, the more dramatic it will be for the player as they play it.
Where was Call of Duty on your radar when you were asked to voice Elias?
I certainly had heard of the game, although I hadn’t played it. But I called my experts on the subject, which are my two sons and two daughters. I ask my daughters what I should wear. I ask my sons about things like this. And I said, “Fellas, they’re asking me to do Call of Duty, what do you think?” And their response, both of them was, “Duh, yeah dad. This is the biggest video game that’s ever been in the history of the world. It’s fantastic. You’re doing it.” So that was it. I just called up and said, “Count me in. I’m in.” I didn’t really know what it was going to be, but I went out there to work with the Call of Duty team on four or five occasions over the summer. It was a lot to get done. I found I was doing some things that were familiar to me in terms of motion capture and in terms of some of the voice work, but I was doing an awful lot of things that were quite distinct, quite new that were unique to gaming. One of the things I liked so much about it was that, here I am almost 40 years into this business, and I’m doing something I’ve never done before.
What were some of the things that were new to you specifically for the game?
I’ll give you a good example. If you read a play script, you’ll see there will be a line, and then there will be parenthesis where the writer for some reason tells you how the line is said, like spoken with anger or something. Eventually, actors will cross that stuff out because we don’t need playwrights to tell us how to say the line, but what I kept noticing in the game script would be parenthesis that would say NAG, and the line would be “Move it.” I’d see it over and over again, and I said I don’t need to be told to nag, but in fact it’s a video game term called a nag line. That line is designed for the voice to move the player along: “Get through that door, get through that hatch.” You can stay where you are as long as you want when you’re playing the game, but we’re not going to move on to the next set of obstacles until you move through that hatch. When they clued me in on that, I got it.
Another example would be recording an hour of grunts, where they say you got a bullet in the shoulder and you have to make sounds based on things like: does not penetrate armor, almost penetrates armor, bullet right through the shoulder, penetrates the armor. So you’re doing these painful sorts of grunts, which is not something that I had ever done before. The team working on the game has been doing this a long time. They’ve had a lot of experience in this, and they’re very specific about it. I found that to be really terrific because I was having to really use my sensory imagination in ways that you don’t have to do all that often, but they wanted it very specific.
Have you seen your character in the game?
I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t seen anything. They’re sending me a box with games and stuff. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been pretty busy, and as long as I feel the work has been done and they don’t need any more out of me, I’m kind of quite happy to wait for the premier, as it were. If they are happy with it in its final state, because they know what this is supposed to be, then I have a feeling that I’ll be quite satisfied with it as well. Right off the bat I’m satisfied because I know I gave it a great effort. I worked hard on the game and I enjoyed working with it so much.
What are your thoughts about the premise of these Ghosts being the underdogs in this new game?
We were making it in pieces. I don’t know the entire arc of the game. I like the idea of these huge bolts coming out of the sky and smashing things. It really appealed to the kid in me a lot.
It also has elements in space right out of Gravity.
It’s great that it combines boots on the ground with sci-fi.
And then there are some cool underwater fighting sequences.
I saw some of that. I thought that looked great.