By Marty Mulrooney
Headshot by Sam Mackay
Alternative Magazine Online recently reviewed legendary video game designer Hideo Kojima’s latest project Death Stranding, describing it as “one of the most beautiful experiences of this console generation, in every sense of the word.” AMO is therefore delighted to present an exclusive online interview with actor Darren Jacobs, who provided the voice – and performance capture – for the character of Heartman!
Hi Darren, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online! Tell me a little bit about yourself – am I correct in saying that you’re originally from the UK?
I am originally from the North of England, in Yorkshire. I am from the area near where the novel Wuthering Heights is based. I moved to London when I was 18 to study Performing Arts on scholarship. After graduating, I started to work in London’s West End, and then I joined Matthew Bourne’s company.
I have worked on stage, screen, voice-over, choreography, and I’ve also written some dark, teen fantasy novels called Anumal Empire. I am very lucky because literally NO ONE in my family has anything to do with performing arts, so I am the odd one out… which my niece, Aliesha, just loves. She’s honestly my biggest fan.
When did you first realise that you wanted to become an actor/voice actor?
I have a bit of a Billy Elliot story. I was always interested in performing arts, but I never knew how to truly immerse myself in that world. I would participate in the local shows, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine told me about a stage school that I actually started to pursue the dream. I actually attended a wrong audition… and booked the job, and it was this incident that really accelerated my career and was the catalyst for my path into the arts.
Within a few years I had realised that it wasn’t a fad, or an escape; this was something I truly wanted (needed) to do. I love TV, film, dance, books, music, artwork, video games… and to be able to work in those fields is so inspiring. I really am grateful to be able to be a part of this artistic world.
You’ve previously done ADR for major motion pictures such as Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Dunkirk. What is ADR and what does it involve?
There are many types of ADR that you can get booked for. ADR means Automated Dialogue Replacement. It is worked on in post (which means that it is recorded after the primary filming has concluded). Looping is one part of ADR, which is when actors are brought in to do many supporting roles. It is a more specialised type of ADR.
For example a scene may be set in Paris, France, but when the actors are filming the scenes, they will be speaking while the background actors will be miming conversations. The loopers then go in and improvise conversations in French to be played in the scene. It COMPLETELY changes the feel of the scene and makes it sound more authentic.
Basic ADR is when actors go to the sound stage to re-record their lines because there might be unwanted noise, or they said a line incorrectly, or simply because they changed a line after they had filmed the scene. Another type of ADR is dubbing… this is when a completely different actor is employed to go in and re-record all of the actor’s lines for them; they might have decided that the character needed a different accent or vocal quality.
There is also voice-matching. This is when another actor is employed to go into the studio and mimic a leading actor and replace some of their lines or words. The leading actor might be too busy on another movie or project and the studio cannot release them to go and re-record the material; this is mostly when voice-matching comes into play. I have had the luck to do all of the different types of ADR, and I can honestly say that each aspect deserves respect, and is incredibly difficult to do.
You recently voiced the character Heartman in Hideo Kojima’s latest video game Death Stranding. How did you become involved with this project?
I did not know Hideo personally and so I auditioned for the role. I had to do a self-tape of a scene that was a few pages long. It was honestly a difficult scene because the turnaround was very fast, and the dialogue was all techno-babble. As it was an on-camera self-tape this meant that I had to not only look good, but also dress in character. I was hurriedly putting a wardrobe together and doing my hair while memorising the script… it was all rather mad.
After sending in my first audition I had an inkling that the project was Death Stranding… and that knowledge changed everything. When I got my callbacks I put everything on hold to dissect the script and Hideo’s character notes. I took some chances and went off book, and also showed some qualities not written down, while managing to give Hideo the notes he had asked for. I was told about ten days after my first audition that I had booked Death Stranding (which is INCREDIBLY quick within the video game voice-over world).
How would you describe Heartman – what drives him?
Heartman is a genuinely nice character. He is, however, a very quirky, bizarre oddball. He entire life is now based around a cycle of life and death. He goes into cardiac arrest every 21 minutes, while on the 24th minute he is resuscitated and brought back from the beach. Time works a little differently on the beach… so while he is there he is actually away for a much longer period of time. When he is on the beach he is looking for his dead wife and child so that he can travel on to the afterlife with them and die that one final time.
His escapades away from life have made him isolated and socially awkward. Most of his time is spent alone, and so his social interactions are charmingly unusual at best. When he is alive he spends most of his time watching short films and music… obviously because there is nothing worse than having to watch half a film only to finish it (because of the time distortion) days later!!
Heartman is actually a 3D model of director Nicolas Winding Refn; is it strange seeing and hearing such a famous person speaking with your voice?
Not at all. It is only recently that 3D modelling actually came into play. I’m used to seeing my words come out of faces that are completely different to my own. Most cartoon characters look nothing like their actors… so it doesn’t faze me in the slightest. And I loved the fact that I could just roll up to set with bed head and didn’t have to worry about hours of makeup. Bliss!!!! The only thing they did have to do with me was point my face with dots for the p-cap.
What is the difference between p-cap and mo-cap?
I performed all the p-cap for Heartman (the performance capture – the facial expressions, facial movement, and the voice), so that was the only thing I had to worry about when going in to work on Death Stranding. They would paint dots on my face that were linked to specific muscles, and then put on a massive helmet with cameras and microphones protruding from the front. The first time you use it is soooo difficult, but over time you learn to live with the equipment.
Once they have all this data they can then make the character’s ‘skin’ (provided by Nicolas Winding Refn) move in any way they want it to. The mo-cap was provided by a completely different actor called Zega (who is based in Japan). Mo-cap is motion capture. This is when you wear the full body suit (that looks like it has ping pong balls stuck to it) which captures all the character’s bodily movements.
Was there any particular reason why the motion capture for many of the characters in Death Stranding was performed separately?
Yes. The actors in the USA were on strike. SAG-AFTRA had banned all union actors from working on most video games because the wages were so poor and because we do not get any residuals for the work we provide. It was also because the main actors were A-List movie stars, and fitting their schedules into one slot was next to impossible. I assume that it just made more sense to push on and get the ball rolling. Usually, though, most directors prefer to use the same actor for all the aspects of the character including performing their own mo-cap and p-cap.
Where did your recording sessions take place and what did the process involve?
The voice work was recorded at Sony Santa Monica and Sony San Diego. And I just want to do a HUGE shout-out to all the people who work there too!!! What a great bunch of true artists, and talented to boot! I’m honestly in awe. I would be booked in four-hour sessions starting at 9am (👍💔-20) or 2pm (👍❤️+20) and I was always so happy to know I was doing a session. It was like Christmas Eve the night before because I knew I was going to have so much fun the next day.
After getting set up in the sound studio I would be given the script to look over. The script was broken down into segments that I then had to piece together. My dialogue was incredibly difficult as it consisted of tongue twisters and words that I had NO IDEA what they meant. LOL. But we honestly had fun. It was incredibly tricky work, though, as you not only had to read big chunks of the dialogue, but you had to say it in time with the movement of the character… while also making it look and sound real.
Were you given any visual aids to help you with your performance?
I would have two monitors in front of me: one with the dialogue, and one to show me what the character was doing on the screen to help me match the words to the mo-cap actions. They had spoken to me at length about Heartman, and about who he was and his motivations and desires, but it was when I went in to record for the first time that I was visually introduced to him.
That first time seeing him, and hearing Sam’s other advisors (Deadman and Die-Hardman), greatly influenced my decisions about how to play the character, and I made a snap decision to take Heartman’s voice a notch higher in tone because of it. Kojima Productions understood that it would be much better for me to have as much visual stimuli as possible, so even though scenes were not finished, they would try to show me as much of the scene as they could… and the more I worked on the game, the more the people at Kojima Productions had fun and would play around with silly temporary images and make us all laugh. Honestly, there was such an element of fun with this project.
Did you ever get the chance to record with or meet any of the other actors?
Unfortunately, I did not. All of my sessions were performed by myself in a sound studio with padded walls and a zoo-like window where I could see everyone talking about me, but I couldn’t hear them. HA. Nearly every time I’ve ever met another actor on a project while working in post-production has been in the waiting room in a fleeting manner. However, on Death Stranding, when I booked the job, Hideo wanted to meet with me… and so he asked me to come down to the sound stage. I popped down to Sony Santa Monica to see Mads Mikkelsen recording one of his iconic scenes with the soldiers flanking him. It honestly was AWESOME to watch. There was a literal team of creatives and crew all working in a fun, productive, and creative manner. It was so inspiring.
I was then introduced to the team, and the actors, and then we talked about the project, the ideas, and the characters. It was a very special moment. I already know Tommie Earl Jenkins (Die-Hardman). He is a friend of mine from London, and we have known each other for a long time, but I did meet Norman Reedus too… and he is a total dude. Such a nice guy. I really liked him and we had a laugh at the Game Awards 2019. Speaking of the Game Awards… I also met the band CHVRCHES… and we had such a laugh (I kinda did have a few seconds of geeking out, as I am a fan of their music).
You recently finished playing Death Stranding – did it live up to your expectations?
Oh, yes, definitely. I LOVED it. I honestly connected to it, the story, and the characters in such a deep way. It’s addictive… I ended up feeling like one of the MULEs. The feeling you get when you know Sam can’t take much more and you’re going to lose all your hard work, and you are desperate to get that little bit further… and you suddenly see a generator or vehicle that someone has left behind for you. That feeling…. wow.
Or when you’ve done a particularly hard chapter and you know the end is in sight… and you top a ridge and see a beautiful landscape… only for the most wonderful score or song to burst into life. It truly is magical. It’s immersive, and connecting, and not only thought-provoking, but emotive too. Even more than that, the game bounces you around like a ping pong ball, and you are completely under the power of Kojima Productions’ paddles. It’s awesome.
Hideo Kojima has suggested that a Death Stranding sequel could happen. Would you like to play Heartman again in a potential follow-up?
Of course I would love to work on any sequels…or anything he works on in the future. I would only wish that I would have as much fun as I did on Death Stranding. Progressing Heartman’s character and exploring his universe would be a great opportunity for me as an actor. He is a fascinating person, and I would like to see how his life works in more detail. I honestly don’t know how they could bring Heartman into any possible future stories, or even if the fans would like Heartman back, but I hope that they do.
My wife and I are looking forward to hearing your performance as the British commentator in Le Mans ’66!
Ford v Ferrari (titled Le Mans ’66 in the UK) was another great project to be a part of. I had so much fun working on that… and I just KNEW it was going to be a huge hit. Even in the recording studio the scenes I saw were just breathtaking.
What’s next for you Darren?
I am currently in a wonderful short film called When The Train Stops. It is produced by Glamford Road Productions and directed by James Kerwin. It like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I am in a short called Washed Away by Supposable Productions and directed by Heidi Hornbacher. This is a beautiful short about love and life, and coming to terms with loss. I am a part of a Peabody-nominated radio play series called Suspense! This is an anthology series in the style of 1940s radio plays… and it’s wonderful.
Check them out! You’ll love it. The other projects are under NDAs, so unfortunately I can’t talk about them yet, but keep an eye out and I’m sure you’ll see me in more upcoming jobs.
Thank you for your time, I greatly enjoyed your performance in Death Stranding and I can’t wait to see what you do next!
I am so glad that you liked Death Stranding… and fingers crossed on there being a sequel!!!!
Enjoyed this interview? Don’t forget to follow Darren Jacobs on Twitter and check out his official website!