INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Merle Dandridge (Actress, Half Life 2)

By Marty Mulrooney

Merle_Dandridge_Alyx_Vance

Half Life 2 completely blew me away when it was released in 2004. Not only did the game totally deliver on its promises, it managed to succeed where many other shooters up until that point had arguably failed, featuring quality characterisation and genuine relationships with non-player characters. Case in point: Alyx Vance, a female sidekick that, although attractive, didn’t need to wear a low-cut top for millions of fans to fall in love with her. Voiced to perfection by Merle Dandridge, Alyx was a breath of fresh air in a genre that was fast becoming stale. With Episode 3’s release date still unknown, AMO was delighted when Miss Dandridge agreed to join us to discuss this iconic character and all things Half Life in an exclusive interview…

Hello Miss Dandridge, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO!

Thank you!  Glad to know people are still interested in Alyx!

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?

Not a lot to tell.  I was born in Japan, raised in Nebraska, schooled in Chicago and called New York home for quite some time while I performed on Broadway there.

How did you originally land the role of Alyx Vance in Half Life 2?

I auditioned in Los Angeles along with around 500 other actresses.

Did you have any idea at the time how big the game was going to be?

No clue!!! I’m ashamed to say my knowledge was so limited that I hadn’t even heard of the first Half Life game.

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What is it like to work with Valve?

Valve is, hands down, one of my favourite companies to work for.  They are smart, innovative, fun… how many superlatives can I pull out?  Even for the layman (meaning me), it’s clear how special Valve headquarters is.  I always get challenged and surprised by what they do.

You of course provide the vocals for the character, yet her appearance is based on another actress. Is it strange hearing your voice coming from somebody else’s mouth?

During my callback audition (my first time meeting the Valve team), they actually had software available in the room to do just that.  Yes, it was bizarre… but incredibly amazing.

How does the recording process work? Do you go to Valve or do they come to you?

Our process is always different.  I’m a working actress, so my location is always variable.  I love going to Valve headquarters!  And I’m very humbled that they are willing to come to me.  We’ve recorded in Washington, New York and Los Angeles.  Then, there are times when we are in different places and I can just hear them patched into my headphones.

Do you ever record your lines with the other actors or is it always a solo process?

I can’t speak for the other actors,  but my work has always been solo.  Every once in awhile there is playback available from another actor’s session, but I’ve never counted on that.

Do Valve give you any visual aids or references to work with whilst recording?

Sometimes.  We record during different stages of game development.

Gordon is of course a silent protagonist. Does this make it easier or harder to deliver your lines?

Neither.  Though I will say it leaves a lot to the imagination.

How do you imagine the relationship between Gordon and Alyx to be when recording your lines?

I always imagined it to be in the fashion of my relationship with guys I grew up with.  Always messing with each other.  I mean, really… in the middle of battle and she’s jumping out of the dark to scare him?  Hilarious.

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In the game Alyx has a huge robotic dog! Do you have any pets of your own?

Not right now.  Once I get settled I hope to get a dog I can take running with me.

The gaming press have responded very positively to Alyx Vance. Game Informer named her as one of their “30 Characters who defined a decade,” and GamesRader even named her “Miss 2004″! How does that make you feel?

I didn’t know that!  Thanks for puffing my chest a little!  Very very honoured.

What do you think it is that makes the character so appealing to gamers?

I think it’s that she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  A “know it all” is never fun.  She’s smart, but with a wink and an attitude.

Episode Three has been in the pipeline for some time. Are you looking forward to returning to the character?

I love playing Alyx anytime, anywhere.

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Have you played any of the Half Life games yourself?

I have tried.  I usually look over the shoulder of a friend and/or check out someone else’s play on YouTube.  I have no skills.

You have also worked extensively as an actress within the television industry. Can you tell us about some of the shows you have worked on?

Lots of guest stars and pilots that haven’t gone.  Hopefully, that will change this year!

What was it like acting opposite Kiefer Sutherland in 24?

Are you kidding?  Fantastic.  I loved that job.

What other mediums have you worked in? I know you have starred on Broadway!

TV, film, voice over, Broadway, improv/sketch comedy.

Would you like to do more video game voice work outside the Half Life franchise?

Yes, yes, and yes.

What plans do you have for the future?

Always stretching the envelope.  I’ll keep ya posted.  I’m… preeetty good about putting new things up on Facebook, but not really consistent.

Thank you for your time!

Truly my pleasure.  Thank you very much for continuing to support Valve, Half Life and Alyx!

Related Link:

Merle Dandridge Official Website

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