June 4, 2011 at 2:20 PM ET
You’ve seen him on TV in AMC’s sizzling new crime drama "The Killing," as well as on shows like "Mad Men," "Big Love" and "Generation Kill," but now actor Eric Ladin will show the world what he can do with a part very different from those he’s played on television.
Starting next week, gamers will get a look at how Ladin put his acting chops to work in the highly anticipated video game "inFamous 2." Ladin plays leading man Cole MacGrath, a bike-messenger-turned-super-hero in the PlayStation 3 exclusive from Sucker Punch, which launches Tuesday.
Ladin spent the last year flying between Los Angeles and Vancouver B.C., working on both "inFamous 2" and "The Killing"(in the show, he plays Jamie Wright, campaign manager to mayoral candidate Darren Richmond). It’s not the first time Ladin has worked on a game — he previously voiced Ellis in the game "Left 4 Dead 2." But "inFamous 2" found the actor not only voicing Cole but, for the first time in his career, performing all the motion-capture work for the character as well.
I recently talked to Ladin about his work on the new game. We chatted about why doing motion capture terrified him, about how Cole has changed in this sequel and about why video games are vital to Hollywood actors and vice versa these days. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to the "inFamous 2" project?
I initially got the meeting from my voiceover agent who put me in touch with the casting people and then, once I met with them, I met with not only the director but some of the people from Sucker Punch and a couple of the other actors who I had chemistry reads with. Being the lead character of the game, they wanted to make sure that I not only had chemistry with the other actors in the game but they wanted to see my physicality and make sure I could handle the motion capture aspect of the game.
When they realized that I could handle that stuff, we then had meetings discussing the character of Cole MacGrath and once I got the role that’s when we really dove into who this character was and that's when I really became enamored with the project.
What was it that drew you to this project and this character?
I think what initially drew me to Cole was the fact that I would be able to play a super hero. I've said it before — I think every boy at some point wants to play a super hero. All of a sudden I was given the opportunity to do so. As I sat with Sucker Punch: and really got into it, Cole is an everyday guy. He actually shied away from the spotlight and became a bike messenger because he didn’t' really have any interest in doing things that could possibly lead to the corporate world. Then, when this super hero status was thrust upon him after he opened this package, it was 180 degrees and all of a sudden he was forced to save this world that he lived in.
That kind of complicated story line is what really drew me to the character. I loved that the fact that It wasn't something he wanted, but being a guy, being a boy and being someone who was inherently a good person, he had no choice but to live with it. And then once he had these powers he found that he was starting to enjoy what he was doing. I love that.
Can you tell me about how Cole changed from the first game to the second?
Basically when we leave him at the end of "inFamous 1," he's gone through so much turmoil – he's lost a girlfriend, the love of his life, he's been betrayed by his best friend and it’s almost as if all of these powers that he's gotten — that he thought 'wow this could be a really great thing and I could do great things with this' — they've all backfired and everything has gone haywire.
A normal person would want to crawl into a hole and die but he can’t do that. He wants to avenge the death of his girlfriend and he wants to find the person who can make right all the wrongs in the world and he wants to make sure people understand that he is not the devil, which a lot of people in this world think that he is.
As an actor, how do you prepare for this kind of role? Is your process any different than it would be for a TV or film role?
This is the first time that I had ever done a motion capture and voice role in a video game. I had done another video game — "Left 4 Dead 2" — but it was only voice work. But I approached it the exact same way I would approach a TV and film role.
The role is just as intricate — it’s still a living breathing human being. The way these video games are made now, these are characters you're meant to fall in love with and invest in. As a gamer, not only are you playing these characters, you arethem. I think that was one of the reasons they asked me to come on – they wanted somebody the audience and the players could relate to. So I really wanted to find what it was about Cole that was relatable. So if anything, I probably spent even more time making sure he was somebody the audience could relate to.
With that being said, I did the same exact thing I would for a TV role. I made sure I was completely clear about where Cole was coming from, his relationships with the people around him, his relationship with the world he lives in and why it is he is in the position he is.
At this point in the series, Cole is this super hero with all these powers. In the first game, yeah, he starts out as this everyday guy like the rest of us but now, in this second game, his powers are already there. So how do you make him relatable despite the fact he’s this godlike person?
That not only comes on me but it comes on the writers of the game. And they’ve done an incredible job with some of these cut scenes in the game. When you play the game you can see scenes between my character and the character Zeke (Cole’s best friend from the first game) when they're sitting on the roof and they’re sharing beer and the relationship between them is palpable. And that's when the audience member can see, OK, this is just a guy and amidst all of these electrical powers — sliding on wires, throwing electricity, throwing cars, jumping off buildings, scaling things — he’s still just you and I. He’s still just a guy with his best friend on a roof drinking a beer with the same problems.
I mean, his problems are escalated but at the same time, he still has this sexual chemistry with the character Nyx, he still has this kind of brother/sister pitter-patter with the character Kuo. He still has this brotherly/best friend relationship with Zeke. The writers do an incredible job with this, and that’s why it was important for us as actors to make sure we could bring this life. That's where you really see the humanity in these characters.
Is there anything especially challenging about acting for video games?
Extremely! I'll never forget the first day we got into the motion capture studio — I was terrified! After the first few hours I pulled the director aside and said, 'I am so sorry for whatever I've been doing. If you want to let me go now I’ll just pack my bags and go.' And he said, 'What are you talking about? Everything’s fine. Are you OK?' I said, 'I am, I just feel so out of my element.'
You know, as an actor who's so used to being on a television and film set, we go through hair and makeup and then we go through wardrobe. And then we walk onto these elaborately built sets that immediately transport us into, say, the 1960s and we’re handed these props. And so between the wardrobe and the hair and the makeup and the props and the set and everything else, you are in that space. So you don’t have to do much imagining. But in a motion-capture studio, you are essentially in a leotard with ping-pong balls all over you. You kind of have to transform back to when you were 7 or 8 years old and try to imagine it all.
It sounds like it really pushes your imagination.
It does! It is very challenging at the beginning, but it’s a ball once you allow yourself to go there.
When it came to your motion capture work, what was the most surprising thing, or most taxing thing you had to do?
I think what surprised me the most about motion capture was just how drained I was at the end of the day. We would usually shoot in three-day sessions and by the third day after an eight or nine hour day I was just zonked.
We were doing quite a bit of physical work. We did some stunts which were really fun — hooked up to harnesses, launching off buildings and grabbing onto a helicopter. It was a blast but I think the physicality of it took me by surprise.
Did you get to work with the other actors in the game or did you all perform your parts separately as is often the case in video games?
I did. I worked with the other actors in the motion capture studio and then I also worked with the other actors in the voice capture booth — which made life just awesome. But it's a luxury in the voice over world to be able to do that. After we did it a few sessions together and they saw how well we were working off of one another, I think they just wanted to do everything in their power to keep us in the booth together because of the life we were bringing to the scenes. I think it’ll make a big difference in the final product.
You worked on "Left 4 Dead 2" and now "inFamous 2."How important have video games become to actors today.
Huge. Huge! It's such a big medium. The video game world is calling upon TV and film actors I think a lot more now than they used to because of the technology they're implementing in their games. Now you look at, for example, the games "L.A. Noire" and "inFamous 2," and you’re seeing expressions on these characters’ faces and you can relate to these characters.
The camera is catching every nuancet of the actor’s face. And that’ why they’re calling on TV and film actors who have experience in front of the camera to be able to portray that to the audience and the people playing the games. I think it’s become a huge medium for actors.
Do you find that actors are excited about this? Are they savvy to how important video games are?
I can’t speak for all actors, but the ones that I know that have worked in the industry have had a blast doing it. I think it would be extremely narrow minded to look the other direction. Financially speaking, it's an extremely lucrative businesses. And it's just one more medium in which we can do our craft so it would be silly not to explore that. I urge any other actors who are hesitant to give it a go because it was an amazing project to work on.
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