Leading on from last week’s interview with Merle Dandridge who played Alyx Vance in Half Life 2 I proudly present two Valve related interviews this week . I had a chance to chat with both John Patrick Lowrie, who plays the Sniper in Team Fortress 2, and Ellen McLain, who plays GlaDOS in Portal. Enjoy.

Retroplayer- Tell us a little about yourself

John- Well, I was born in Hawaii, grew up in Colorado, and I’ve been a professional performer for the last forty years. I started out as a composer and guitarist and somehow ended up as an actor. I met my wife, Ellen McLain, in Europe. We were in a production of the Broadway show ‘Showboat’ together. She was the female lead, Magnolia, and I played guitar and banjo in the orchestra.

Retroplayer- John, you have an extensive list of work in voice acting including No One Lives Forever, The Suffering, The Matrix Online and Halo: ODST. Did you always have a love for character voices even from an early age?

John- Yes, I was doing voices and imitating people from very early on. My voice never changed, it’s always been deep. When I was 6 years old I sounded like Walter Cronkite.

Retroplayer- You’ve worked with Valve on a number of projects including Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2. How would you describe your working relationship with them?

John- The folks at Valve are very creative and great to work with. Their interest in humor and real human emotion, even in someone like the Sniper, makes it very satisfying to work on their games. We have a lot of fun.

Retroplayer- Gamers probably most recognise you from being the voice of the Sniper in Team Fortress 2. How did you approach the role? Also, did Valve have a certain idea of how the Sniper should act and sound or were you given creative freedom to do what you wanted?

John- They knew they wanted him to be Australian. They weren’t sure I could do an authentic Australian accent, so I had to convince them. As to his character, Eric and Bill and I agreed that this guy was basically a working stiff, he just happened to kill people for a living. I’ve been a working stiff myself so I had a lot to bring to the role.

Retroplayer- Since its release Team Fortress 2 has become a major hit and has spawned numerous communities online. How does it feel to be a core component of this and how much feedback from fans do you get?

John- It’s great to know that people are having fun and enjoying themselves with the work we’ve done. I get quite a bit of fan feedback, but nothing like Ellen gets for GlaDOS. She has to write lots more responses than I do.

Retroplayer- Have you heard from Valve about doing any voices in Half Life Episode 3?

John- They’re very tight-lipped about upcoming projects. I know they’ll call me if they need me.

Retroplayer- What’s next for you?

John- I just got back from New York where I did a reading of a play I premiered out here in Seattle. Next I’m doing a production of Tuesdays With Morrie, a great two-man play. With voice work I rarely know more than a few days in advance when I’m going to be working. Hi-diddly-dee, an actor’s life for me!

Retroplayer- Tell us a little about yourself

Ellen- I’m from Nashville, Tennessee and I’ve always loved to sing. I was a singer before I was an actor, but as my interest in opera and music theater grew I realized that I needed to study acting, too. If it had not been for my husband pressing me for several years to make a voice-over demo I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to do Portal.

Retroplayer-  You do voice acting but you also are a classically trained operatic soprano. The two professions, at a first thought, are seemingly quite different. However, with both you need to be in control of your voice as well as subject to direction. Does your previous work of being an operatic singer help you in any way while recording voice work?

Ellen- I think it’s trained my ear, made it more sensitive to vocal differentiation. Certainly, acting is acting, whether you’re doing it on stage in an opera, or in a sound booth for a computer game.

Retroplayer- Ellen, during the Portal commentary you make a point to say that rather than merely reading lines off a page the voice actor and the creators of the game both work to shape and mold the game. Were Valve open to ideas and how would you describe working with them?

Ellen- Bill van Buren, Erik Wolpaw and the rest of the Valve creative team are very collegial to work with and open to ideas. Working with them is great fun and very creative and satisfying.

Retroplayer-  In Half Life 2 you play the role of the Overwatch which is a very Orwellian creation. How did you approach this chilling voice?

Ellen- Playing evil characters is actually often very easy. It’s mostly about what you don’t do. You don’t show emotion, you don’t get excited. You’re dispassionate, detached, uncaring. It’s kind of fun.

Retroplayer- In Portal you the very popular creation GlaDOS. What are your views on GlaDOS as a character?

Ellen- I think if she had more dates she’d be a lot happier.

Retroplayer- At the end of Portal you sing the track “Still Alive” by Jonathan Coulton which became a huge fan favourite. Was it difficult to sing while trying to keep the robotic voice of GlaDOS?

Ellen- The difficulty was breathing, because, of course, a computer doesn’t need to breathe. So I tried to do the phrases in one breath. Most of the time I was successful. I also tried to keep a clean, even tone.

Retroplayer- With Portal 2 officially unveiled at E3 what can you tell us about what we’ll be in for in Portal 2? Also, after being seemingly destroyed in Portal 1 what are the intentions of GlaDOS in Portal 2?

Ellen- To answer your first question — I have no idea. I only know what I said in the studio. As to what GlaDOS’ intentions are in Portal 2, I think she still has issues.

Retroplayer- What’s next for you?

Ellen- I’ll be playing Jeanette in a production of the musical ‘The Full Monte” at The Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington.

I want to thank both John and Ellen for taking some time to conduct these interviews with me. They were a joy to talk with and I hoped you enjoyed what they had to say. Next week I’ll be changing things up though with an article all about Fanboys. Yes, Fanboys. Be sure to check that one out too, dear readers.

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The views and opinions expressed by “Retroplayer” do not necessarily express or reflect the views and / or opinions of The Gaming Liberty.