I have a special treat for you all this week. I had a chance to talk with Merle Dandridge, who voices Alyx Vance from Half Life 2, episode 1 & 2. Also, next week I’ll be posting an interview with John Lowrie who played the Sniper in Team Fortress 2 as well as Ellen McLain who played GlaDOS in Portal 1 & 2. Anyway, enjoy this interview with one of gamings most iconic voices.
**Half Life 2 Episode 2 spoilers in this article**
Retroplayer- Hi Merle, first off tell our readers a little about yourself
Merle- Not much to tell. Born in Okinawa, raised in Nebraska, schooled in Chicago, living between New York and LA. A lot of great work and great friends along the way…
Retroplayer- Merle, you primarily perform in theatre and have an extensive back catalogue of stage shows to your name including Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent and Monty Python’s Spamalot. Tell us about your work in theatre and if voice acting was a natural progression from it.
Merle- My feeling is that acting is acting. If you know what you’re doing, your work will be authentic and truthful anywhere. Changing the medium is just a matter of learning how to nuance differently. You drive SLIGHTLY differently in varying weather conditions, but you still have a gas pedal and a steering wheel.
Merle- I auditioned…along with HUNDREDS of other girls.
Retroplayer- As opposed to voice acting and TV where you can have multiple takes in theatre you need to be able to perform on the night without a hitch. Did this help you during the recording of Half Life 2 and if so how?
Merle- I just had a great conversation about this very thing with some very accomplished actors. On the stage, you can get lost in the momentum of the story telling. For TV/Voice, you have to pace yourself and be a bit more calculated. It takes a little bit more to be authentic and believable on the 10th take. There is also shooting out of order! On stage, you have a through line that will help you get from one moment/emotion to the next.
Retroplayer- Tell us about your view of the character of Alyx Vance.
Merle- She’s a bad ass. I’d love to BE her.
Retroplayer- Did you work closely with Valve to nail the character of Alyx or did they already have a set in stone idea of who she was?
Merle- Amazingly, we were in perfect agreement about her. They had her pretty developed when I met them. But then it became a really great collaboration.
Retroplayer- There are some quite emotional and heavy scenes in Half Life 2. The death of Eli, Alyx’s father, in episode 2 comes to mind. How do you approach these scenes and do you have to put yourself in an emotional state of mind to effectively pull them off?
Merle- Don’t you have to say *spoiler* or something like that? I’m just messing…
Well, you tell me: If someone described to YOU a scene like that, would you not immediately respond? I certainly did. But by the time we got to that scene, we already had YEARS of experience working together. They write what they know I can deliver and often beyond. I always get stretched and I’m grateful to them for knowing that I can and desire to be stretched.
Retroplayer- Were you instructed to slightly play up a potential love interest between Alyx and the main character? Many fans have noticed a subtle love interest brewing throughout the course of the game.
Merle- I don’t think so. But I’m kind of a tomboy. I’ve always thought of Gordon as one of the great guys I grew up with who would treat me like the little sister. Now that we’re grown, there’s always a fun banter.
Retroplayer- How long did the recording process take for Half Life 2 and what kind of atmosphere was it?
Merle- Gosh, I don’t remember. Alyx has been in my life for SO long now! The atmosphere always changes. I’m an actor, so there is no telling where I will be geographically. Sometimes, I’m in New York, others L.A. Sometimes I go to Valve in Seattle. Sometimes the guys fly to see me where I am. Sometimes I just hear them in my headphones. Always variable. Always exciting.
Retroplayer- Half Life 2 was notable for many reasons but one being the fact that all in-game characters faces were scanned in from real actors. Is it a surreal experience seeing yourself in a video game?
Merle- Alyx was modeled after Jamil Mullen. But, there is no denying that Alyx and I favour each other. I love that. It freaks my friends out when I introduce them to her.
Retroplayer- Fans of the Half Life series reacted very favourably to Alyx and your work for Half Life 2 is regarded as some of the best voice acting in a video game to date. From what you’ve seen are you pleased with what Valve did with the character of Alyx?
Merle- I can’t tell you how proud I am of this character and this work. So often you do work you love and no one cares. I feel so blessed and happy that people actually like her. And let’s face it, it really ups my street cred’! I’m so much cooler because of HER.
Retroplayer- Merle, have you heard any news on the long awaited Half Life 2: Episode 3? If so, what can you tease us with?
Merle- I wish I had something I could tell you. How’s that for ambiguous? Sorry ’bout that.
Retroplayer- Merle, you’ve stated before that while you’ve done your best to play Half Life it just isn’t your thing. Do you ever try any other video games?
Merle- YES! I’m a monster at Guitar Hero. Ms. Pac Man? Oh! I love those shooter games at the arcade. But sadly, I can’t seem to get anywhere with Half Life 2. So very sad.
Retroplayer- What’s next for Merle Dandridge?
Merle- I just shot a pilot for ABC called Matadors. And am currently doing a show at Williamstown Theatre Festival. It’s an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with Jeff Buckley music and choreography from Sonia Tayeh of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame. Could be something really special!
I’d like to thank Merle for taking part in this interview. Since her Half Life 2 performace as Alyx Vance I think it’s safe to say that most of the gaming community see it as of the best examples of voice acting done right as well as a focal point in expressing true emotion through a videogame character. It’ll be interesting to see where Episode 3 takes both Merle and Alyx but regardless if Merle ever pursues more work within the gaming industry Alyx Vance will go down in history as a character that raised the bar on what could be done in games. Alyx Vance covers all the bases- a smart personality that plays off the player, a gaming beauty, a sidekick to rely on and a true strong female role model that sadly many games lack nowadays. But hey, we’ll always have Alyx.
The views and opinions expressed by “Retroplayer” do not necessarily express or reflect the views and / or opinions of The Gaming Liberty.