Oct. 19, 2010 at 12:59 PM ET
You've seen William Sadler in what seems like a thousand movies. He's one of those character actors – versatile, memorable and seemingly everywhere.
He's had roles in "The Green Mile," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Die Hard 2" and he's appeared on TV shows like "Roswell" and "Murphey Brown." Meanwhile, everyone who grew up in the early 1990s will remember Sadler as The Grim Reaper in "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey."
Sadler, who's now 60 years old, says he missed out on being a part of the video game generation. And yet, he's found himself voicing several video games of late. In fact, one of his most recent acting gigs landed him in the role of the robot Victor in "Fallout: New Vegas" – a game that launches for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC today. (See Todd Kenreck's review here.)
I chatted with Sadler about playing the Grim Reaper, voicing video game characters and his role in "Fallout: New Vegas." Here's what he had to say:
How is preparing for a role in a video game similar or different from preparing for a role in a movie?
I don't think there is a great deal of difference. You gather as much information about the character and their background as you can. In the case of Vic in "Fallout: New Vegas," Jason (Bergman, senior producer at Bethesda) helped me a lot because I didn't really know anything about him before I went in. We talked about the fact that he embodies the personality of Vegas Vic – that classic old sign from Las Vegas – and that he's sort of the quintessential '50s cowboy.
There are parallels between what I did with the Grim Reaper in "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" for example and Vegas Vic. They are both these sort of iconic figures who perhaps are not the brightest bulbs but they are funny and helpful allies in your journey.
How was the process of preparing for the Grim Reaper similar to preparing for Victor?
As an actor I often start with the voice. Every actor starts somewhere. I think Dustin Hoffman will start with a walk or a twitch or a mannerism of some kind. Every actor goes about it a different way. But I've found that If I can locate the voice, the rest of the character starts to appear and it doesn't sound like me. And after a minute or two of living inside the voice it really isn't' me. He has his own rules and his own personality.
And that's what happened with the Grim Reaper. I found the Czechoslovakian accent and it was funny but also it gave me a way into the character and it gave me a way to embody this character. Vic came about that way. When I learned that he's the embodiment of Vegas Vic the sign – the old classic iconic sign – I started playing with that sort of '50s cowboy voice and before you know it he started to appear in all his glory. And then line by line as we went through the story he became richer and more colors started showing up and so on.
To help you prepare, did the game developers show you pictures of Victor ahead of time or footage from the game?
They showed me bits and pieces. They showed me the trailers that they were working on at that time. So you get a feeling for the world that we're all occupying and I saw pictures of the character but the character is this strange looking robot, and in his chest is this television screen and on the screen is the face of this silly cowboy guy Vegas Vic.
It was one of the most fun recording sessions I've ever had because Victor doesn't always know why he's saying what he's saying. That's always one of my favorite things to do in playing characters – to determine how smart they are and dial it up or dial it down. He either knows everything and is three steps ahead of you or he can only see the thing in front of him and he's a half step behind everyone.
And which one is Victor?
Victor is not the brightest bulb. He's very helpful but he sort of lives in this immediate world. He reacts to your situation. I guess it's what computers do as well. That’s part of him being a machine – he's not thinking 17 moves ahead. He's just programmed to be helpful at the moment.
Can you tell me a little bit about the recording process?
I had a script with thousands of individual lines and Jason would read the prompt for the line – like the question that was asked for example – and my character would answer it and we would play with each line until everybody in the recording room was laughing.
There was a great deal of laughing while I was doing it, which made me happy. I would do each line until they were laughing or they were happy with it and then move onto the next one. You repeat the process thousands of times or hundreds and hundreds of times. You keep going through the script with all the myriad variations.
It sounds like it can be pretty intensive work.
It is. You have to make each one of those lines sound like it’s the real character responding to a real situation and they're all slightly different. It is exhausting actually. You'd be surprised. Even though you're sitting there on a stool in front of a microphone reading, it always takes a tremendous amount of focus and energy and it goes on for hours and hours.
Back when you were playing the Grim Reaper, would you have thought you'd be voicing video game characters as part of your career?
No, I would have laughed at you if you had suggested such a thing. But video games are coming into their own. The world of gaming has become so sophisticated and wide spread. I watched the computer-generated graphics that they used in this game and they're just astonishing. They are so realistic and so cool. It's absolutely remarkable. And games are playing more and more of a role in our business.
But it's funny because the whole video game movement happened after I was an adult so there's a great deal about the world that I don't know. I came home and told my daughter who's 24 that I had just done this voice for "Fallout: New Vegas" and she almost fell on the ground. She said, 'Your'e kidding me! That's amazing! Oh my gosh oh my gosh! That is so cool!' It was very nice. I'm glad it meant so much to her and her friends who grew up playing these games.
See Todd Kenreck's full review below: