Video Games Interview: Liam McIntyre talks voicing J.D. Fenix on Gears of War 4 and keeping his role a secret

The Iris got a chance to chat with Australian television personality Liam McIntyre (Spartacus, The Flash, The Killing Fieldabout his upcoming role as J.D. Fenix in the highly anticipated release of Gears of War 4. The game, which launches next week, begins a new chapter in the Gears saga, set some 25 years after the conclusion of Gears of War 3.

The Iris: You are in the midst of creating your own table-top card game Monster Lab, you worked on Spartacus Legends, and are now voicing JD in Gears of War 4. What sparked your interest in gaming?

Liam McIntyre: Honestly, I can’t tell you, I have been doing it for so long! I have been gaming since before I can remember anything else. I remember playing a mega-box in a hospital one time, I remember playing my commodore 64 and trying to learn how to program the thing and being unsuccessful at it. I have played civilisation for like nine hours a day when I should have been doing school work when I was seven years old.  I guess it’s just like ending up in acting, you get to be things and explore new worlds and do the impossible, all from the comfort of your home or set or wherever it might be, I guess it’s kind of the appeal. And being in one it’s like — look at this I get to be an incredible super soldier on another planet—  it’s great!

TI: Being a big gamer yourself you probably know how big of a deal Marcus Fenix’s character is to fans. Can you describe the moment you found out that you were going to be voicing the son of Marcus Fenix?

LM: [Laughs] I freaked out a bit I’ll tell you that much! It’s that thing where your unbelievably excited your like oh my god, THAT game are you joking! That’s Marcus — and gears — and it defined a whole generation of — wait, hang on, do I have to be the guy who comes after that guy?  Now that’s terrifying! So it was both the most amazing experience in the world and then suddenly reality hit, and like, ‘don’t be bad at it’ suddenly appeared in my mind.

TI: Marcus’ character is an icon for many fans, so there is likely to be comparisons formed in their minds between the two protagonists. How is JD’s character different from Marcus’?

LM: He is very different. He comes from the same family so he has kinda got that toughness and that no-nonsense thing from his dad, but he is not forged in battle yet. He is a young kid, who wants the best from the world, who hasn’t seen battle. He sort of came after the whole experience with the locusts so he sees what’s possible, you know, he sees the world as rebuilding. Whereas Marcus was built in when the world was destroying itself and everything was falling apart, so he is very jaded and grumpy I suppose [laughs], and JD’s very hopeful.

Of course, that means that when the shit hit the fan he has a lot of big lessons to learn about what it takes to be a warrior like his dad. He doesn’t want to be his dad because he has not been a good dad, he has been too battle hard and he resents him. But yet he finds himself in a world where he almost has to. He is an interesting character.

TI: So we see the world through a new light, through JD’s eyes in this game?

LM: Yeah – and I think it’s really smart of the writers. You get the best of Marcus and a fresh approach to the world.

TI: You had to keep your role in the game a secret for a long time, what was it like keeping a secret like that? Did you ever come close to spilling the beans?

LM: [laughs] It’s a nightmare. Because again, I am such a fan of video games. I took a car ride with Nathan Fillion — which is already cool — and he got to show me on his phone, and he was like ‘hey check it out this is me in Halo’ and I was like, gaahh! I would tell you something if I was allowed to!

I was so upset because I couldn’t say anything about my involvement. Keeping a secret that to me, is that exciting, is extremely hard. But it’s also extremely important because there are hundreds of people that work for thousands of hours on making this game good, and just because an actor goes ‘hey guess what guys’ and ruins everything I guess they would be pretty upset.

But actually, the hardest part of the entire experience was during E3 a couple of years back. They did the first demo of the game on stage, but we had been told we still can’t confirm that we were in it. People were hearing my voice and going ‘Oh my god Liam is that YOU?’ and I was like ‘Wouldn’t that be something — if that was me, that would be cool’.

You couldn’t tell anyone you were in it, but obviously, you didn’t want to be the guy who was saying, ‘I can’t tell you’ which is obviously a way of saying yes, but I’m not allowed to say. So I had to try and find some way to not confirm it. 

TI: Much like Film and TV, Games have some incredible characters and storylines, lately, there seems to be more actors catching on who are now willing to give game voice-over work a shot, do you think this is a good thing?

LM: Mixed, sometimes yes and sometimes no. I’m completely on board with people like John DiMaggio and Billy West, who bestow the value of a quality voice-over actor in creating character. There are people like Billy, John, and Maurice LaMarche, who I have idolised as a kid, growing up watching them do voice-overs on my favourite cartoons and whatever. They are so good, they are just unbelievable at their job.

I think the idea – especially with animated movies at the moment where it’s like which favourite actors are in it – is that it’s obviously good for ticket sales and awareness, it’s tough though because I don’t think you get the same diversity of characters. You get this actor doing themselves in the show, and its awesome, and they are very good at it, and they are very good actors, but sometimes the crazy hilarious characters that voice-over actors craft so well can get lost.

On the one hand, it’s awesome because you get a lot of public profile, I mean you can get really, really, good actors doing it, which can make really good characters. But you also sometimes loose some of the variety and the incredible ability that some of these guys have to create such original characters. I’m obviously glad that I have the opportunity to do it myself because I love it, but I wouldn’t want to do it instead of someone like John.

TI: Would you say that being an actor for games is harder than being an actor for tv?

LM: It’s a different experience. On the surface I would assume it would be easier, I don’t have all this make-up, and the early call times, and you know, I can go in my thongs and my sandals and stuff, and it’s going to be relaxed. There is a craft of being a voice-over actor — which is why I think speciality voice over actors have a special skill set —  I was lucky to be surrounded by some of the best in the business with Laura Bailey, and John DiMaggio, and people like that.

It is such a theatre of the mind, so you have got a lot of things happening. You have someone on the other side of the booth explaining; ‘this is what the world is’ and ‘this is what has just happened’ and ‘this guy has just jumped’, and ‘this alien thing is behind you and your shooting this gun’, and ‘you are about to haul down this 50 foot drop’.

Whereas on film sets it’s very visceral, it’s very real. Even though it’s make believe it’s still happening so you can feel it out, you can see other characters eyes move and you can do things with them. But transfer that level of realism to a game, where you might be recording on different days or you might get a description of where you are at as opposed to seeing it, to still bring that reality and that nuance into something, it takes a lot of concentration and a lot of skills, that are different to TV and Film.

TI: Are you planning to do more voice-over work for games in the future?

LM: I mean, that’s the thing, I would love to, I’m such a big video gaming fan, and this has been such an amazing experience and it has turned out so well. I’m very lucky to be with such an amazing team. The experience that I have had on this has been so joyful and so exciting and so interesting, it was everything I hoped it would be in my head when I was younger going ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ It’s been all of those things, so if it works out and people like the job I have done, hopefully, the opportunity will come up again. It would be awesome!

TI: Are there any games that you would jump at a chance to work on given the opportunity?

LM: Jeez where do I start, off the top of my head, Assassins Creed, Fall Out, The Witcher. I thought Firewatch had some of the best voice-acting of any game I have ever played. I think just really interesting stories. Like with Uncharted and Nolan North, again, one of the best video game voices in the world, anything that tells a compelling story that you can get your teeth into is just a joy, but also being in a fighting game could be fun.

TI: One last question, What’s coming up next for you?

LM: More secrets, which is fun. I have my game [Monster Lab] coming out, so I’ll be learning how to use Amazon to distribute that. Monster Lab is being printed now, so I get to have a physical card game that I have made, in my hands, which is kind of ridiculous to child Liam, that it can be realThat’s coming in the next month or two. Then there are a couple of projects which I am not allowed to talk about. Hopefully, I get to go back on The Flash which is a real blast with great people.

I’m just really excited to see what people think of Gears! I’m so happy with it. Now comes the exciting, and scary, part of people playing it and deciding what they think about it. But I can’t wait to see what people think!

TI: Thank you so much for taking the time out to have a chat! We are looking forward to getting our hands on Gears of War 4 and seeing how all of your hard work has come together! 🙂 

Gears of War 4 will be available on Xbox and Windows 10 on October 11th. Fans who pre-order will receive the game four days earlier starting on 7 October.