Interview: Talking with Adrian Hough, Assassin's Creed 3's Haytham Kenway
It may only be hours since our last present opening, turkey leg, and carol singing, but we’re back in the saddle, ready to continue delivering our readers excellent content daily. To celebrate, a special guest, Adrian Hough, the voice of Haythem Kenway from Assassin’s Creed 3, joins us to talk about his role on this year’s blockbuster and his role in the gaming industry as a voice actor.
GameZone: Mr. Hough, thank you for joining us. We hope you had a fantastic Christmas Holiday. For those unfamiliar with your work prior to Assassin’s Creed 3, can you give us a quick run through of some of your most known work, and perhaps where your interest in the video game industry stems from?
Adrian Hough: Thanks! I did! Most of my work has been on camera, films such as The Fog, X-men 3, Dawn Rider, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and tons of television episodes in various shows. Details can be seen on my IMDb page. Despite years of being an actor, and a number of starring and featured roles, I manage to live a fairly private life. Voice wise, I was the original Nightcrawler in the X-men cartoons, which is how the first video game voice work came about, so I think I am the only actor who can claim to have done both the men cartoon AND the movies, (but you better check that with Snopes, ha!).
GZ: If you take a glance at your IMDb, your only other work in the video game industry is a voice-acting piece for X-Men: Mutant Academy 2. How did a role in Assassin’s Creed 3 come about? Did you contact Ubisoft, or did they notice your notable resume and knock on your door with an opportunity?
AH: Ubisoft was doing a wide-ranging search, I think. A year and a half ago, I was called in by the casting director in Vancouver who knew my style of acting for what was called 'a mini-series shooting in Montreal when I saw the description, and read the 4 pages of audition sides (script excerpt) I had one of those, "I KNOW this guy" actor moments. The first audition was just on camera. Weeks later, I got the call back, and the night before, I was sent longest Haytham scene to learn, so stayed up late into the night hammering it into my memory. It was then that it occurred to me that it was a somewhat larger role than I had thought at first. And as things turned out the callback audition went very well, they asked me right then and there to sign a non-disclosure agreement, then told me if was for AC3…I have to confess, I was not a big gamer so didn't realize the impact that particular audition would have. So, in short, I earned it the old fashioned way. Audition.
GZ: Assassin’s Creed 3 is a vastly unique title in the sense that the game’s antagonist, Haytham Kenway, is staged and developed long before we’re introduced to Connor, the title’s hero. As the voice of Haytham, did you feel any added pressure to deliver an engaging performance, because of your character’s early, vital role that undoubtedly set the tone for the entire experience?
AH: As an actor, I always feel that pressure, I put it on myself, but my past experience as a theatre actor in the UK, gave me a solid anchor as to what and who Haytham was. I try not to let outside pressures like "oh this could be the big one!" get in my head, as I have found over the years that it just gets in my way. That's the sort of thing I am becoming aware of in hindsight.
GZ: Voice-acting in gaming is an art – an art we as gamers weigh heavily on, but do not always recognize in and of itself. What challenges come with video game voice acting that aren’t present in your normal TV and movie roles? Was there anything Ubisoft asked of you in your role that you didn’t initially expect? Perhaps something that pushed your acting in a different direction?
AH: I know that I have been defined as the 'voice actor' but really most of what happened was motion/performance capture. Haytham's movements, physical shape, and postures, were very much part of what I brought to him. There was a few days of being in studio, with a helmet capturing face movements, as well as voice at the end, but what you see is mostly mo-cap. We had to wear the black tights with the dots and helmets with a camera on our faces (#stylin').
The thing that was extra challenging for me was the amount of scenes we would shoot in a day. On a film or television set, you might in a day shoot 4 or 5 scenes, but with mo-cap there are no sets to move, no lighting changes, and no breaks in between. There was one day we shot 38 scenes in one day; in 6 of them I had major speeches. It was intense, emotional marathon, playing Haytham. And all the time with an uncomfortable helmet on your head and nothing but the other actors and your imagination to work from. Noah (Connor) and I would tease and joke to keep the energy going. We had a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker patter going on at one point.
What ever you do as an actor has to be internalized somehow, given a psychological, emotive and physical 'truth' if you like. My intention was to embody the Haytham, and I would often do a few versions of a scene; one more ironic, sarcastic, meaner, more threatening, and sometimes even gentler, kinder. Motion capture does require a slightly more theatrical delivery because of the layer of animation that will be on top of your skin. The hundreds of subtle facial and eye movements that you see in a close up on film or television are not quite apparent in video game animation. But wait 5 minutes; what they can already do is amazing, and it will be possible in no time, I am sure.
But the hardest part was keeping the damn thing secret for over a year. Actors love to talk about their work, and I was very much into the role, but couldn't even tell my kids!