By Marty Mulrooney
In June 2013, Alternative Magazine Online reviewed The Last of Us (PlayStation 3), describing it as “one of the most emotionally engaging and harrowing experiences ever committed to the video game medium.” A huge part of the game’s success can be directly attributed to the performances of the talented actors involved, who provided motion capture as well as voice acting. Merle Dandridge kindly joined us in 2011 for an interview about her role as Alyx Vance in the Half Life video games. Today, AMO is delighted to welcome her back for an exclusive online interview where she talks about her role as Marlene in The Last of Us, the possibility of Half Life 3, and what it was like working on the Sons of Anarchy set!
Hello Miss Dandridge, thank you for your time and welcome back to AMO!
Thank you for having me!
What have you been up to since we last spoke in early 2011?
It has, actually, been an incredible time for me personally and professionally. Leaving New York seems to have opened many doors and challenged me to up my game in new genres.
You recently played Marlene in The Last of Us – how did you become involved with this project?
I auditioned alongside many actresses whom I respect tremendously.
What was it like working with Naughty Dog?
Humbling and thrilling. They are so smart, creative and just lovely.
In Half Life 2 and Episodes 1 & 2 you provided just the voice work for Alyx Vance – what was it like donning a motion capture suit to play Marlene in The Last of Us?
I’m not gonna lie… there was an adjustment! First, I’d never worked with other actors in the room before. And to be thrown in with the best? I just had to say to myself: “Go for it… jump in!”
Do you think motion capture makes performing easier, or harder?
I’d never done motion capture before The Last of Us. With Alyx, I had alone time in the booth to imagine and create my own world. In a mocap situation, you must walk and live it. I think my theatre background saved me from looking crazy. It was really hard for me to adjust right on the spot and still deliver a compelling performance. But saying “Oh, I was learning how to mocop that day…” isn’t gonna cut it on a game of this magnitude. A-game all the time.
Some Half Life fans got very excited when they saw Ashley Johnson’s tweet of you in the motion capture suit! Are you as eager for Half Life 3 to enter production as the fans?
Half life 3 is… (powers down)
Have you stayed in touch with Valve?
Always… they’re family.
Back to The Last of Us – how would you describe Marlene as a character?
Complex. Marlene genuinely wants to do the best thing for the greater good. I think life and circumstances have worn her down so much that lines have blurred for her as well. But, her heart is to do the right thing. I just love that about her.
How much direction were you given beyond the script – do you think Marlene is fundamentally a good person?
I do, though that is probably up for debate. I was given a lot of terrific direction on Marlene. Having ambiguous morality, I think, is part of what is so human about this piece.
What was it like working with the other actors on set?
Hilarious, wonderful, terrifying. We laughed so much, I learned so much. My view of video game acting has been through a very specific lens for a long time. Being able to work with people who do this regularly opened my eyes to many new possibilities!
Marlene believed that one life was worth sacrificing (even without the person’s consent) for the chance to potentially save many more lives – do you think she was right to think this way, or that she became completely misguided after years of watching the world falling apart?
I thank god I’m not in a position to ever have to make a decision like that.
What do you think of the finished game?
A quick shout-out to the TV show Sons of Anarchy, which I really enjoy watching! Was that a fun set to work on?
The Sons set is everything I think television should be. Incredibly dedicated and kind people from top to bottom. Wonderful storytelling and great energy on set. It was an absolute pleasure and I learned a great deal.
What’s next for you Miss Dandridge?
Always something different. A fun and exciting time in my career.
Thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure catching up with you!
The pleasure is mine. Anytime.