Casting and Capturing Captivating Performances

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September 18, 2007

Casting Characters

We began the casting process by working with an agency, supplying them with a brief character bio and some sample dialogue that, while not actually in the game, provided an example of some of material the actors would be expected to cover. We intentionally wrote some very melodramatic scenes, just to see what kind of emotional range we could get from the actors. We also had concept art of the characters from which to work. It's really more happenstance that the actors cast as the four main characters -- the Secret Apprentice, Juno Eclipse, General Kota and Maris Brood -- ended up so closely resembling the concept art of their characters. We looked at a wide range of auditions, sometimes trying out people younger or older than their conceptualized ages. We often explored different actors who didn't match the concept art but provided an interesting direction to explore.

Cully Frederickson as General Kota was the first actor we cast. He was one of several people who read for the part. When he came in to read, you instantly felt how imposing he was, just from his sheer physicality -- something that his headshots didn't quite convey. The texture of his face, important for the likeness capture, was really interesting and he was able to do a wide range of expressions. Cully came in already in character, so I was a little nervous that he might be too standoffish and difficult. It was actually just a lot of Kota coming through him. After five minutes with Cully, you realize that he's incredibly talented and gracious, and a lot of fun to work with. He's the consummate professional and extremely versatile thanks to his acting history and stage experience.

In casting Juno Eclipse, we interviewed a lot of different actors, and came close to casting the role several times. Many of our early contenders had a lot of energy and looked the part, but didn't quite have the "Imperial officer" attitude and personality we were searching for. For example, some of the finalists brought a spunkiness to Juno that wasn't originally in the character description.We didn't realize it at the time, but we were making concessions and changing our original vision of Juno to match the candidates, because time was running out and the pressure was mounting to cast this important role. Our eyes were opened to these concessions when we met Nathalie Cox and realized she had the integrity and poise needed for a highly trained Imperial pilot, along with the ability to show her emotional connection to the Apprentice without words. It just so happened she also looked uncannily like the concept art. We had found our Juno.

When casting Darth Vader's Secret Apprentice, I have to admit, we were especially hard on Sam Witwer, the talented actor who eventually filled the role. Our audio lead, Dave Collins, knew Sam; they're friends, and Dave threw Sam's hat into the ring as a possible actor to play the apprentice. As a result, we were a lot tougher on Sam than on any other actors; we didn't want it to seem like he was getting a pass because of his connection to Dave. We really wanted to make sure we were getting the right person for the part, and that we were not giving him any breaks. We may have overcompensated by overly scrutinizing every part of his audition. That said, there were many things that put Sam far above the other candidates.

Firstly, he's a Star Wars fan and he puts an incredible level of thought and detail into his performances. I found that he continually surprised us. As an example, in his audition, there was a scene with the Secret Apprentice was sitting on the floor of a meditation chamber, using the Force to assemble a lightsaber with his mind alone. He's soon interrupted by another character, and a conversation begins. But, the early part of the scene offered no real descriptions of the action, had no dialogue, and no real cues as to how Sam should take it -- it was up to him to decide how to play the scene. To my surprise, Sam contorted his features, as if struggling to remember something long forgotten. Sam later explained his logic to me: the Apprentice is totally unlike other Force-users. For others, a duel against a powerful opponent may be the most difficult thing they face, but for the Apprentice, finding a moment of inner peace is the true struggle. The most difficult thing for him is to concentrate, using his powers to do something that requires great control, such as assembling a lightsaber with his mind alone. He came to that conclusion before being fully briefed on the concept of The Force Unleashed, and it totally made sense that a character who routinely acts as a Force wrecking ball would be stymied by an act of fine manipulation. Sam was thinking about this character at the same level we were, and he had put all of his Star Wars knowledge, considerate thought and passion into the audition. We knew he was the guy, because he was already inhabiting the mind of this character, and understanding how he worked.

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Keywords: Behind-the-Scenes, ILM, The Force Unleashed

Filed under: Games, Video Games
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