'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare' Star on Playing a Character She "Thought Would Never Be Written"

Call of Duty- Modern Warfare - Farah Karim- Publicity - H 2019
Activision Blizzard
Portraying Urzikstan Liberation Force leader Farah Karim, Claudia Doumit is the first playable female protagonist character in the 'Call of Duty' franchise.

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Claudia Doumit stars as Urzikstan Liberation Force leader Farah Karim, the series' first playable female protagonist. The role is also the first starring turn in a game for the actress, who has built up a roster of credits in film and television projects such as Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Amazon's The Boys. Shortly after its debut in October, Modern Warfare topped the list of the year's best-sellers.

"To be able to play a Middle Eastern woman like my role models is very special to me," Doumit tells The Hollywood Reporter. "You don't realize how much it means to you until you are playing a character that you thought would never be written."

Alongside Doumit, THR heard from fellow stars Rya Kihlstedt, who plays CIA officer Kate Laswell, and Zehra Fazal, who appears in the game as the wife of antagonist Jamal "The Butcher" Rahar, to share their experiences joining the blockbuster Call of Duty franchise.

Prior to working in the industry as actors, both Doumit and Kihlstedt had little exposure to games. "I think the last game I played was Crash Bandicoot when I was 12 years old," Doumit says, adding that this world was entirely new for her.

"I play cards, backgammon, dominoes," Kihlstedt adds.

Fazal, however, presents a different story. "I definitely am a lover of video games," she says. "I had older siblings who introduced me to a lot of text-based role-playing games from the 80s and 90s with simple graphics, like Sierra [Entertainment]'s King's Quest and Quest for Glory. I still love playing games with strong narrative elements and puzzle solving." She also plays "thought-provoking morality games" like Lucas Pope's Papers, Please and Doublespeak Games' A Dark Room. 

Upon being approached to audition for the "top secret project," Kihlstedt was drawn to the character of Laswell because she was "interesting and smart." Knowing few details, she was aware that the role was for a military-based title and intrigued by the idea of playing a woman in that setting. 

As Doumit recalls, she was told "absolutely zero" information about the game during the audition process and didn't find out what the game was until her first day of shooting. Among the technical challenges, Doumit had to learn how to wield a weapon.

"I had never held a gun before or worked on a video game," she says. "You had to learn how to move seamlessly through a scene holding a prop weapon in your hands with a camera mounted to your head that was five inches away from your face, all while interacting with other actors." 

Summoning some of her own learning curves with motion-capture performance, Kihlstedt, who is a fan of voice work, says, "Once a scene starts, you go with it to the end." She compares the performance capture process to theater work, with cameras catching her movement at every angle. "It's like having an audience. There is so much play in it. As I'd listen back, I'd hear how much subtle nuances make a huge difference."

Part of the appeal of acting in games, for Fazal, is the flexibility it affords her as a performer. "I love being able to give voice to all sorts of characters who might not necessarily look like me," she says. She also enjoys the "branching-narrative style" of cinematic, story-driven games. "Playing multiple options or scenarios is a really satisfying way to examine the various emotions that come up in a story."

Since the game's release on Oct. 25, Doumit has received an "overwhelming reaction" from fans. Citing one particularly positive reaction, she recalls being shown a clip where a female gamer was testing the levels and giving feedback. "As she was going through the levels that included Farah's backstory, she started to cry. It is truly a testament to how well-written these characters and stories are," Doumit says.

For Fazal, the culture of the Call of Duty franchise has been an important element to her experience. "I've had friends and my Pakistani family text me when they come to one of my characters in the game," she says. "It's an experience that brings people together, whether it's playing on the tour bus with your bandmates, or playing with your partner, or geeking out with your nephew or niece."

Stepping back to consider the game's impact, Doumit feels that the creative team achieved something unique. "[They] succeeded in creating a game where you weren't just a player, but immersed in the real-life situations of these people in the story," she says.

Asked whether she will seek out more video game roles, Kihlstedt is quick to respond. "Absolutely. Anytime they want me back, I'm theirs."

Fazal notes that her first experience with motion capture was addictive. "It's like ultimate freedom for an actor," she says. "I can't wait to do it again."