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5th December 2012
Exclusive Interview with Fred Berman
Voice Actor for Barry Wheeler (AW) and Vinnie Gognitti (MP)


The multi-talented Fred Berman is an actor and musician living in New York City. While you may recognise him as the voice of Barry Wheeler in the Alan Wake series, fans of Remedy’s older titles would have also heard him as the voice of mob-boss; Vinnie Gognitti, in Max Payne 2.
 
How did you get the job to voice Barry Wheeler and at what stage of the game’s development process did you become involved in the project?

The director of Alan Wake, Navid Khonsari, and I, had worked together on Max Payne 2, along with some other games with Rockstar and his company, iNK Stories. When Alan Wake was casting, apparently the folks at Remedy said they wanted a "Vinnie Gognitti type" for 'Barry'. And Navid was gracious enough to say, "Hey, I can do you one better: I can get you Vinnie Gognitti!" So, if I remember correctly, I didn't even have to audition and we just jumped in and got to work. I can't recall exactly when that was, but I want to say it was around 2008, and I think by that point they had a lot of rough animation done and the majority of the script.


As an actor, you have worked in projects both on stage and screen, how does voice acting differ compared to other forms of acting?


Well, the first thing is, with voice-overs you can wear whatever you want and don't have to worry about shaving, which is fantastic! But really, with all the mediums, the main thing is always to try and be as truthful and honest as you can. In the theatre, that honesty has to play to a much larger room, and you need to be able to meet the vocal and physical demands of the stage to do that. In film, the camera is right there on you, so you need to work much more internally. And with voice-over work, there's definitely an art of working the microphone to your advantage.


It has been suggested by some actors that voice acting is easy as it is just reading a script, but there are those who really get into the role, wave their hands around while talking and imagine they’re a part of the scene. As someone who has done professional voice acting, it would be great to hear your view on the topic.


Well, it's easier in the sense that, yes, you have the script in front of you, so there's no need for memorization, and, of course you don't have to wear any costumes or make-up, or go through a lot of the more physical rigors you may have to deal with in film or theatre. BUT that by no means suggests that you're giving any less of yourself in the performance. It is my job as an actor to bring the character I'm playing to life to the best of my ability, be it on stage, on film, or in a video-game. So, to that end, when I'm recording, I HAVE TO play each scene as fully as I can, just as I would in a play or on film. If anything, it can sometimes be more difficult to act in video games as you don't have another actor there to play off of. It's just you in the booth, reading your character's lines without the benefit of having your scene partner there with you. And, more often than not, you don't have the benefit of having a full script to read, so you're just going off of what the director is giving you, in terms of story and motivation. So, it takes that much more commitment to really make each moment work and to really flesh out the character and make him or her as fully developed as possible.


Barry is well loved by both Remedy and by the Alan Wake fan community, but his character changes throughout the game depending on the situation, demonstrating many sides to his character: How difficult was it to achieve this emotional depth?

Well, the writers of the game did a great job of really making Barry a fully formed character, so I really just relied on what they gave me in the script. As I mentioned earlier, you never get the script ahead of time with video games, so you don't really have any clear idea of character arc. But luckily, the writers did a fantastic job in really fleshing him out as the story goes along. And then you just have to take the leap and commit to really going where the character and the writers take you.


Do you have any favourite scenes or specific quotes from the game? Ones that you liked upon reading or which you particularly enjoyed recording?


I seem to recall the scene where Barry discovers the head-lamps to be particularly enjoyable. It was fun to see Barry get his geek on with his "Flaming Eye of Mordor".

 

There are several instances of bickering between Alan and Barry, in the main game and especially in “The Writer” DLC pack. Were there any challenges in keeping up with a fast past conversational dialogue? And if so, how did you overcome them?

As I mentioned, the challenge of any video game with a lot of dialogue is that you're recording alone and don't have the other actor there to play off of. But, again, you just have to really commit to the scene, play it out as you think it would flow naturally with another person there, and then hope they edit it together well once the other actors record their lines!

You’ve voiced some quirky, interesting characters for Remedy’s titles; from Vinnie with his “Captain Baseball Bat Boy” collector-mania, to Barry’s ability to turn a bad situation into a joke. Which character has been your favourite to portray, and why?


Barry was a blast, if only because he was such a surprise. Like I mentioned earlier, the expectation was a stock character. But Barry ended up being so much more than I expected him to be. So, it was really nice to find all the levels. Also, "Sand" in Neverwinter Nights 2 was a lot of fun because he was so different than some of the more bombastic characters I tend to play.
How much of an idea of the character did you have before the recording, either as preparation material sent by Remedy or your own personal ideas on the sort of character?

None at all, really. All I knew was that he was the main character's agent and a bit of a loud-mouth. I never saw any of the script until I got in the booth. And when Barry is first introduced, he definitely comes off as a bit of a one-dimensional character. In fact, I remember early in the process, Navid interviewed me for some download-able 'behind-the-scenes' stuff, and we kept referring to Barry as the stock 'douchebag agent role'....but we quickly found out that he's a lot more than that. Yeah, he's a loud-mouth and he's got a lot of strange little quirks. But the guy's got a big heart, and he takes his relationship with Alan very seriously. He's extremely loyal. But again, it took us a bit to find all of this. So, we were fleshing out his character and arc as we were going along.


Remedy’s scripts are quite heavy in terms of dialogue, how long did it take you to complete the entire script?


I believe, all in all I worked on it, on and off, for a year or two. Not every day, of course, but it would be a few days in the studio every few months or so.


The final question is incredibly serious, in fact the seriousness and importance of this question cannot be properly communicated in words...It’s that serious. As someone who has worked on both of Remedy’s franchises; who would win in a fight between Vinnie Gognitti and Barry Wheeler, and why?

Are you kidding? There wouldn't even be a fight. Barry can talk himself out of any situation. He'd offer Vinnie a book deal, and the two would make a mint together.


Thank you so much for the interview, Fred, and for taking the time to give us an insight into the voice acting in the game!

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