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14th May 2020
A Conversation With Matthew Porretta
The Voice of Alan Wake and Mr Scratch!

Today marks Alan Wake's 10th anniversary and I'm really excited and incredibly nervous to talk about our own contributions to the community celebrations.

Ever since starting the site, one of my personal hopes was to be able to interview the voice of Alan Wake and Mr Scratch, Matthew Porretta. I loved his work in the game and often wondered what it was like recording in a booth, far from the unusualness of Bright Falls and with a demanding script which saw him personify different areas of Wake's mid. Every few months since launching this site, I would occasionally look for a way to reach out, but it wasn't until early 2017 when I brought up that interest in passing when talking to a friend who said "oh, I can send him an email and ask if he's free." (...wait, what?) 

A few days later, I heard from Matt and we began talking about an interview. We got close a couple of times, but the stars would never quite align and other projects or commitments would come up, and we both agreed to do it later. This past January, I sent him an email asking him how he felt about doing the interview for the tenth anniversary and if he had any free time. He agreed! Our interview was set for Sunday 23rd.

I had previously done a telephone interview with the brilliant Kathy Tong about her new book, Not-Quite-Supermodel, just a few weeks earlier, but to describe that I was nervous would be an understatement. I had filled up two A4 sheets completely with notes, edits and little details that might come up. I don't really get starstruck, but I've always had anxiety, and doing real-time interviews was still a fairly new experience; until very recently it had always been through email. That Sunday, I loaded up Skype, hit the recorder button, and called the number... then remembered that breathing was slightly important and tried to remember when I started holding my breath. Matt was incredibly lovely and easy to talk to, and I'm so grateful that he spent time talking to the site about his work. 


[For context, the interview was recorded in Helsinki, Finland as I was visiting family at the time. We talk about Helsinki later in the interview.]

Rachel: Why did you want to become an actor? And what was your first acting job?

Matthew: Both my parents were opera singers, and I performed just as a kid in school plays and doing things like that. I knew that I wanted to somehow do that. I went to Manhattan School of Music to be an opera singer, and I loved the music and I love singing, but I... it just wasn't what I wanted to do. I really love the story. So I kind of got into musical theatre, and then from there, I just got into film and TV acting. And then video games came a long while after. But it just was kind of a natural progression, I guess. Both your parents are performers, it's like the family business, I suppose. So you just kind of... it's not like, "Wow, what a crazy idea," but yeah, both my parents were performers. Like "my dad was a doctor, so I became a doctor."

Yeah, when I was growing up, I wanted to be a Photographer because my dad was a photographer. So I can definitely see how when you've got parents who, like, are performing you do, it feels like natural to you.

Yeah, it was just- *laughs* school is really not my thing. I wasn't very scholastic. So I really just lean towards the arts. I mean, that's where I was. I suppose if I had a propensity for numbers, I would have been an investment banker, but that would have been so boring. 

So, how did you become involved with the Alan Wake game?

You know, something as mundane as I auditioned. I mean, that was it. It's like I went in and I auditioned for the part and I got it. The interesting thing about it was Ilkka Villi does the motion capture and he's acting in it, so I kind of dubbed what he'd done, which has been really hard but also yes, like, totally different. He is, by the way, a great guy, and an incredible actor. So every time, it's like I'll see his stuff, I don't want to ruin what he's doing, you know? I didn't want to flat out his performance, it's so good. So I try to match where he's doing the best I can.

So kind of related to what you were saying, in American Nightmare, because you said the Ilkka was kind of performing on camera, but you were doing the voice and in these broadcasts is he's so energetic and he's just dancing around the sets. So how challenging was it to give the character a voice while maintaining the energy and keeping like a consistent distance from the microphone? So they get a good recording.
 
It was hard. I really liked Ilkka, he's such a great guy, and he's so talented. So it's like, you don't want to ruin the performance, right? And you want to match it. So yeah, whatever movement he was doing, I was doing in the booth for sure. I'm telling you [it was] a very different experience. It's like, I've been performing for a really long time and it's always interesting when you do something that you've never done before. Everything's kind of like it becomes kind of retread like "I've done it," but it was a little different, this was something I've never done this before. So, it was fun. It was very fun. And it takes a while to match exactly. What he's- how he's saying it and, yeah sometimes you'll nail it on the first take and you're like, "ah, we got it? That's great!" And then other times, it just takes, kind of grinding it out. But, yeah, to answer your question, whatever he was doing, whether he was strangling people, and, you know, cutting people's throats, I was doing that in the booth all by myself.

How much of an idea of the character, both Alan and Scratch, did you get before recording either this preparation material sent by Remedy or as your own personal ideas?

Everything about these characters is on the page. The writing is so crisp and so good, it doesn't take that much work; it's on the page. I mean certainly with Darling it was all there, and same with Alan Wake, it was there. The character was there. So, I'm reading stuff that they gave me I'm like, "okay, I get who this guy is," but where is he and what we're doing I didn't know. And so that always kind of unfolded.

And so what was your initial view of Alan Wake when you first got the script, and did that change during the recording sessions?

It was really, gosh... it was really about how I sounded. You know what I mean? I was trying to get a sound of this guy and, because I didn't know what was going on, and then as it unfolded, it's kind of like putting on a suit. I didn't really have the suit yet and so, once you've got the suit on, then I'm like, "okay, I know, I know who he is." It was gradual. It was gradual. It wasn't completely immediate, like, "okay, I know who this guy is". I can understand that he was... I understood the premise and that he was a writer. But the more time you spend with a character, the more it becomes a part of you. And that's what happened with Alan Wake that, the more I spent time with him, the more I spent time understanding his relationship with Alice and Barry, and all the characters. And what I'm doing [in] the beginning, just trying to get away, having writer's block, understanding what all that is, the frustration on going away.... and then all hell breaks loose. *Laughs* But yeah, it's the more you spend time with a character the clearer he becomes.

At the start of the game, when the character goes to Bright Falls, it feels pretty realistic and down to earth. Then as the game progresses, it just gets... weirder. I was wondering how challenging it was to react to those otherworldly elements, especially ones that were just created for the game and within that game's logic. How challenging was it to respond to those otherworldly elements while you're in a booth in New York?

Yeah! Right! It's, you know, it's just.. it's acting. You respond how you respond as you can only respond. It was fun, I mean, that's Remedy right? Remedy is strange and weird and that's what makes them unique and different, and fun.

And all that stuff was... it was kind of like, making your own sundae. Like we'd be in the booth and I'd be working with Navid Khonsari and he was very creative too. He was the Director and Producer in America, and we just had fun. I mean, that was- that was it, that we all went in to have a good time and be creative. And I think that's what's really the joy of working with Remedy is that they really give you this incredible script, but they also give you the freedom to interpret it. 

[It's] incredibly difficult to write something and you kind of have an idea of how it should be done. To give it to an actor and really kind of let go of control of it and let them go... and they really do that! They let me explore and do whatever I want. Those are the best jobs ever. They untie your hand they go, "go crazy! Do what you think." And that's fun, so it's really it's like this group effort. It's a team sport. Everybody is bringing something to the table.

I believe Alan Wake was your first of role in the video games industry? But in recent years you've also recorded for games like The Bureau: X-COM Declassified, you're also in Grand Theft Auto V, and of course, Control. Was playing Alan Wake as you expected it to be? And how different is acting for the game compared to other forms of acting?

Well, Rachel, I had nothing to compare to, right?  I had no idea. I had no idea what to expect. So, I went in there, kind of, wide-eyed like a kid and just waiting, you know," just give me the ball, let's play."

But, yeah, the difference is... well, in the beginning, we didn't record with other people and that was hard. So you'd be doing a scene with somebody, but literally, I'm just doing my lines, and then they would match those together. And then they suddenly realized that it's so much better to have all the actors together, and it's just... it's more cohesive and it sounds, you know, suddenly it can be a scene. And so I think that happened with the downloadable content [Alan Wake's American Nightmare]; everybody was in the booth together, which was fun. It just made it- certainly, it was easier, and I think it was... everything back then it was kind of just the beginning of all this, you know? So that everybody is trying to figure out what is going to make a good game. And so performances- everybody was very focused, I think, on on the writing and the art of it, the technology of it. And so the performances were... it's like it just kind of started growing together, and now it's like the games are becoming a total experience. You would play some games and it's like the acting wasn't good, but the graphics were amazing, were really good for the time. And now it's like everything you're getting performances, you're getting the graphics, you're getting music, which is just getting bigger and bigger.

Yeah! 

Yeah, Rachel, we're doing this! *Laughs*

*Laughs* Did you have any favourite scenes, or specific quotes from either of the Alan Wake, or just ones that you liked upon reading, or which you particularly enjoyed recording... or even just favourite moments from the games?

Let's see, I think.
 
I know it's going back several years. 
 
Yeah, it is. It's been a while. I mean, that's the whole thing. It takes too long to get these things done. And I would love to revisit this character, big time. It's such a great character. I enjoyed all of it. I really *laughs* what was fun for me was to watch Ilkka's work, like those scenes, the Mr. Scratch stuff was so much fun. It's always fun to be the bad guy, you know? But, yeah, all of it, the game is fun. It's dark. The character is... such a real character, he's so... I'm trying to think of the word, like he doesn't want to be there, but is there, you know? He's kind of reluctant, and he's like this reluctant hero and will be forced into greatness. His love for Alice, I think is something that's going to save him, and her love for him. I think it's good! It's a really complex character and a very fun game. 

*As Alan* "Gah, I'll guess I'll save everyone from the Dark Presence"

Oh my God, we used that- we talked about the Dark Presence in my house all the time. *Laughs* My kids- I remember when it first came out and my kids were young and they were playing it and they'd all jump into bed with me they're like "okay." *Laugh* So yeah, it's a fun game, and I hope I hope it comes back. I really do.

Yes! Me too. So, you voiced Mr. Scratch and Alan Wake. Did you have a favourite from the two,  which one was your favourite to voice?

No, I did... they're both the same person for me. It's like Scratch stuff is... I think we all - and certainly, we're not all serial killers - but we all have a Mr. Scratch in us, you know what I mean? We all have that destructive side and I think it was it was fun to... I hope that Alan sees himself in Scratch rather than it's like something completely outside himself. I mean, yes it's like the stuff that Mr. Scratch  [does is]  horrific but if Alan Wake can see - if there is a real connection - where there's a grey line there. I think it will be interesting! But yeah, as far as, which one I like voicing better I like both of them. There's so much fun both of them. Being the bad guy is, you know, probably more exhilarating *laughs* because I don't really get to kill people in real life. So, you know, that is something!

Haha! I can definitely tell you're a Dad. You're just like, "oh, I like them both equally."

Yeah, right, my kids. Oh, God. That's so funny. Yeah, it's such a Dad [thing to say] it is. Right. They're both like kids, right? Actually what it is they both- this is what I say about my kids, "you both annoy me equally" which I think is funny.

*Laughs* Yeah! 

What else you got, Rachel?

So do you remember how long it actually took to record the games? I know that Fred Berman, who voiced Barry mentioned that he was working like a couple of days, each month.

Yeah, we were working a lot. Honestly, I can't remember, it was a while ago, but it was a ton of work. It was a ton of work and, yeah, being there four times a week was not unheard of, but I don't really remember.

[For context, this was a little side question to double-check something for a retrospective coming later this month! Originally I was going to edit it out, but it led onto an interesting discusssion] Do you happen to remember when you came on board the project, because they began working back in 2003, and then the game was released in 2010, and it went through a lot of iterations and a lot of changes along the way? 

Let's see, so I would say... Enzo was...he's 11. He's about to turn 12. So, 10 years ago, yes. 

Ah, that's when they started to get things nailed down. Yeah, the game was in development for about seven years, which is unheard of. Usually, it's about four or so. Going from the first trailers to last trailers, it changed quite a bit. I think the core aspect of it stayed the same, but I was curious as I know it just went to a lot of different versions of the script, and it was just trying to get everything nailed down.

Right. Remedy was trying to do something different and which they always do. They come out with stuff and I was like, "okay, that's not like anybody else. That's pretty cool." Yeah, and it takes courage. These guys are brave. I mean, they're brave. It takes so much money to make a game and to take a risk that takes courage. They're brave, big time. But they don't compromise. They really don't! Yeah, I can't say enough about Remedy, they're great guys and very impressive at what they do. I was just in- I mean not just in Finland, but I was in Finland last year at this time doing Control and there was very little sunlight except for the people, they were very nice. Very fun. What did I like about Helsinki? The food? The food was fantastic. What else?

Oh yeah. I actually was talking to Mikki [Rautalahti] about a restaurant [Ravintola Saaga]. He mentioned about it being the one that you both went to as well?

Okay, so is it the Finnish restaurant?

Yeah, it's the one with the reindeer [antlers] hanging from the ceiling?!

Okay, that was crazy. So, I went there and they serve chilled vodka shots on like those crazy paddles, wooden paddles, and everybody's dressed in traditional outfits. 

Yes!

Okay. So, yeah, they said, "where do you want to eat?" And I said, "well, yeah, I want to eat, you know, traditional Finnish food and let me see what that's like." And so I ate every- I ate reindeer every way you can. *Laughs* I don't think there's any other way that you can prepare reindeer that I didn't eat other than being like, you know, raw. But I had bear and I've never eaten bear before and it was surprisingly good. I was like... bear, wow!

I have not tried bear. I'm not that brave! 

It was really good. So I was just being brave. I literally... I went out not to eat, it was like a science experiment. I was just going to go and just try everything and I was ready to like stop at McDonald's on my way home. I wasn't going to [properly] eat at all, just going to try something; "That is horrible. That's disgusting. I will never eat that again. Thank you for letting me try your food" and then I was gonna leave. But I ate, everything was good. It was really good. The bear I mean, I could eat it. I could eat it every week. I think it was so good. I was really shocked. It wasn't like gamey. It was delicious. Then we had like frozen cranberries or something. With like caramel, that was really good, and vodka shots and... what else? Yeah, it was reindeer and bear and frozen cranberries, that's what I remember.

Ah, man. Now I'm gonna have to try the bear.

Oh yeah, you've got to! It was probably- okay, now it wasn't like bear steak. It was bear but it was in a stew. 

Huh, okay!

So I'm sure there was like red wine, and there was something, and it was really good. So as far as like, I ate the bear steak- I did not eat the bear steak, what I had it was bear stew. And it was really good.

I'll make a note to try it.

Yeah, you got it. So that's funny, it's like "yes, I've had bear you haven't, and it's kind of like, you know, have I ever been to the Statue of Liberty? I have now, just recently with my kids, but I hadn't been to the Statue of Liberty in my life. So, yes, so just like you haven't eaten bear and now you have to. 

Oh! So, kind of on a similar note, because you recorded the sessions for Alan Wake in the States, and... I think you came over to Helsinki about 2012 or 2013?

I did. I was filming a commercial in... where was I? Oslo! And I just emailed and said, "Hey, listen, I'm in Oslo" and they're like, "oh, come over," and that's when we went out to eat. 

I arrived the day of the Night Of The Arts, and when they picked me up at the airport, they go, "okay, you came probably on the best day that you could be in Helsinki." I was like, wow. So there were just stages all over and everybody performing it was, I mean, that city was on fire! What an amazing experience that was. And they're like, "yeah, you have to understand, it's like we've been in the dark for months, now it's totally like everybody wants to go out and have fun, you know?" So, yeah, that was cool! Yeah. So I was there, not to work, but I was there visiting.

How was it? Like meeting the team for the first time? Because I think you met like certain people before that, but, I can imagine...

It's always funny. It's always funny because, yeah, it's like I'm voicing and doing stuff in the United States and I had been doing it for a long time. So finally, when I show up, it's like, all these people not only have seen, you know, pictures of me, but have been listening to my voice and working with my voice for like, years. And suddenly it's like, you walk in and I'm "Hey, how you doing?" It's just funny. *Laughs* It's seeing somebody that you are very familiar with, but I've never seen in person you know? They're working with Alan Wake all the time and then suddenly they're like "...So, you're Alan Wake?" "Yes. How are you?" So, it was nice and, yeah, kind of a surprising homecoming.

So I have one final question. When players left Wake, he was still trapped in the Dark Place underneath Cauldron Lake. There's a loyal following for the series who really want that sequel, and a lot of fans have speculated on how the series could continue. Personally speaking, what would you like to see in a potential Alan Wake 2?

Yeah. Well, I would like Alan Wake 2 to happen. *Laughs* That's what I would like. And whatever they want to do with it, I'm more than happy to show up and voice it. Only because I know what they're going to do is going to be creative. It will be something that people don't expect, and it will be better than what people expect, usually. I mean, they're, they're really good at that. So... what I like to see? Yeah, I think I'll just stick with that answer, because I don't want to give away anything right? You know what I mean? 

I think just "to happen" is a good answer, yeah! 

Yeah, just to happen. That's what I want. Is that like the easy, the safe answer, the dad answer? I can tell you [the] Dad, "I love them both the same." *Laughs* Oh my god, hell milk test. 

A huge thank you to Matt for the interview and for taking the time out especially on a Sunday to talk about his work on the games! We also spoke about his involvement in Control portraying the enthusiastic and endearing scientist, Dr Casper Darling. That section will be released a little later! 

Photo Credit: Taken at the Remedy offices in August 2012, trying out the new motion capture setup for Quantum Break, later posted on the Alan Wake Community Forums by the studio.

1 comments:

This was a great interview. Thanks for your dedicated work, both of you!

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