The Actor Behind Commander David Mason Talks ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’ (Q&A)
Overnight, actor Rich McDonald (Hart of Dixie) has become a voice that millions of gamers recognize. The actor plays Commander David Mason in Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, one of the central character’s in the game’s time-spanning adventure. McDonald spent months working with developer Treyarch at the House of Moves to bring the character’s full performance capture to life. He talks about stepping into the biggest video game franchise out there in this exclusive interview.
The Hollywood Reporter: What are your thoughts on what Activision has done with the Call of Duty franchise over the last few years?
Rich McDonald: It’s just amazing. It’s unbelievable where they can take a concept in this world. From the script being high-quality, character-driven stories, to the definition that they’re able to put in these games right now is just unbelievable. It blows my mind.
THR: What do you think the storyline jumping from 2025 to the ‘80s adds to the experience?
McDonald: It’s an extremely intelligent choice because you can get very bored being stuck in one part of a game that’s futuristic the whole time, or in one mode the whole time. When you have elements from the past and pieces of the previous game that you really enjoyed being brought into this game as well, it connects the player so much more to what they’re doing.
THR: What did David Goyer bring to the story and your character?
McDonald: That’s what amazes me the most about the stuff; the stories are so character-driven, and the relationships are so grounded in reality, that there’s not one aspect of a character that’s missing. It’s a well-rounded character; every character is well-rounded. My character, I really identify with as far as it’s got extreme depth of dark places to extreme heightened excitement. It’s a full spectrum to play, and that’s what we, as actors, love to do.
THR: What was it like working with performance capture?
McDonald: That is an interesting animal. This is my first time to do performance capture. At first I didn’t know what to think, especially when they said, “Try not to touch your face,” or “Try not to rub this against somebody else and mess up one of the dots,” or something like that. I was, “Oh, great. That’s going to really mess up my performance,” but it turned out to be one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had. It’s like basically being hired to come in and do an acting class. You get these really great scenes, you go into this space, and you’re free to do whatever. It’s all what comes out of our head, which is great; there are no constraints at all. You can’t rub your face and knock the dots off, but it’s been amazing.
THR: How does this compare to the typical voice recording booth work that previous generations of games used?
McDonald: The constraints of the regular voice recording were just tremendously hindering compared to this. With this they’re able to take your voice and the motion that you do and combine them in an instant. In the past, you’d have to take the separate elements and place them up on the character. Whether it’d be capturing just the face, or capturing just the voice, then going and capturing your body movement and trying to meld them together; it just was an inefficient process in my opinion. It was dated. Now it’s gotten so much more streamlined, and they don’t lose the information that they’re trying to get from the performance.
THR: How has the motion capture helped you as an actor?
McDonald: It really allows me to exercise all the tools that the actor has in his head, but he doesn’t necessarily get the chance to use them in a bunch of different TV and movie shoots, because they provide you with the actual set, location, prop, and so forth. With this, you’ve got to jump into your imagination and just blow it up, so to speak. It’s been great. It’s been a great experience, and a great exercise.
THR: What opportunities do you see video games today opening up for actors?
McDonald: That’s an interesting question, because what I’ve noticed is that you have the option of either being scanned in, or they can take attributes from your face and build another character around them, or they can take no attributes and just take your voice. Now the actor has the option of not just being given a job because of what he sounds like or looks like together, but depending on some quality about him, they can make him into an infinite amount of other characters, which of course is an infinite amount of jobs.
THR: Why do you think Call of Duty, in particular, is able to attract so much Hollywood talent?
McDonald: Just the sheer quality of the writing, the attention to detail, the perfectionism in the shooting, and the definition of the final product. People want to be a part of something like that. They don’t want to be a part of something that they know somebody is going to short change the final product.