David- Born of British parents in South Africa and moving backwards and forwards between the two countries – I think we moved 13 times and 9 schools – made me a little confused as to my identity for a while there! Found myself always secretly fearing being “revealed as some kind of phoney” with a sense of not quite belonging. A really good acting exercise, I can tell you, and one which made entering that profession real obvious… I used to honestly say to whoever – that there were only two places where I truly knew what I was doing: on the stage and on the toilet! The rest of the time I was either lost in a day dream or faking it. I am not that person now.
However, the thing I love to do most… is surf! Crazy, after all these years, but catching a good wave still makes my day. Trouble is, I am a long way from good surf and I just have to deal with that. Hossegor SW France still gets me pumped – I gotta grow up!
Retroplayer- How did you land the role of Agent 47 in the Hitman series?
David- Some guys I knew in a sound studio in Copenhagen told me there was this amazing computer game in the making, that the creators needed to find a voice for their main man. I saw some clips and was sold. However, I don’t think anyone quite believed how big things would get. I heard that they hoped that Hitman would make enough money so that they could go on to finance other projects. They were right, but Hitman and Agent 47 took over big time.
Retroplayer- How did you prepare for the role?
David- I went out and killed a lot of people… The thing is, when you record something like this, you never get to see the whole picture or script or storyline, for that matter. There’s rarely time. However, I asked an insane number of questions, especially in the beginning on the first recording, as I needed to know what was going on and how Agent 47 was supposed to react to all that was happening to him, in order to be able to say my lines that were true or believable to the situations he faced. I think we were all on a learning curve back then, finding a voice and attitude and sound to Agent 47. It always interests me about the way a character can “colour” the way he says a line, to reflect or reveal something about his personality. What gives Agent 47 that extra edge, particularly in the early years, was that he doesn’t quite know who he is and what makes him tick, so there was even more of an open playing field with regards to the way he would say stuff. I have always tried to give him an edge of dark humour – not to make fun of what he does for a living, but to somehow hint that he senses that he doesn’t quite belong – a touch of me. He knows what he does and that he is very good at it. But not who he is or why he is so good at it. We’re talking about his early years. Most of all of this “actor pscho babble” is never expressed or clear to the player audience, but it made sense to me and therefore that made Agent 47 more real to me as the years went by. Ask IO Interactive, they created every thought and motivation – now those are the guys who need help! Only kidding.
Retroplayer- Did the developers show you any concept work prior to voicing Agent 47 in the first Hitman game?
David- Some of this question has already been touched on in my previous answer. Yeah, I was allowed to see a few clips, I seem to remember. Also, some unfinished stuff showing how he moved and turned and reacted, to help with the physical sounds he might make and so on. But not much else. It was quite a few years ago now. I was mainly struck by the atmosphere of the game. One of my all time favourite movies is Blade Runner. Everything about it! But the whole world and atmosphere Ridley Scott created – well, it just lit my fantasy world up. The world of Hitman did the same. From the music, to the dark moody graphics, to the sounds of realism and interestingly, the “silences” too, covered by the background music, it allowed the player to lose themselves in their imagination. Not end to end single person shooter games and car chases and explosions. Nothing essentially wrong with those kind of formats, but this was different from the get go.
To illustrate how far from the early days of game development they have come, I was in IO Interactive last year and was shown a “coffee table” book of the conceptual artwork for the latest game in the making, and I think I can safely (and legally) say, that it utterly blew my mind! The artwork alone would not look out of place in an upmarket fine art gallery. Say no more.
Retroplayer- Take us through a typical day during the recording process for a Hitman game, David.
David- Well, now its a well oiled machine on recording day. There are a bunch of people all briefing me as to what I need to know as background before and after each sequence of dialogue. A lot different from the days of me having to ask so many questions. I still do, but now, time is money and everything is more streamlined and well, professional. There is such insane confidentiality regarding script content that even now I will have to kill you for revealing that much! Contracts are signed before script sheets are even handed over and I am bound to secrecy. As recently as this year, I even had someone call me up from IO Interactive to ask me to remove the fact that I was set to record the next instalment in the franchise, which I had written up as upcoming news on my website. I respect that of course, a comment like that can create all sorts of headaches to people with development deadlines to meet. However, I will say that the mood in the recording studio on the day is really positive and full of a sincere desire to get it right. And I like that. IO Interactive have put their heart and soul into every game and it shows.
Retroplayer- What kind of relationship do you have with IO interactive?
David- A good one I believe. Though I was rather surprised to having to audition for my own role this time round, that is, for the next long awaited instalment. It seems that with company buy outs and global power shifts in the world of computer gaming and the Hitman franchise, there is now a LA based caster on board, who is responsible for voice casting, and I had to audition along with the rest of the planet for the right to play Agent 47. However, I have been informed by IO Interactive, that I still have the part. I won’t even bother to describe how gutted I would have been if they went for a sound-a-like. But that is the nature of my profession and you just have to accept it, so definitely no ill feelings there. I am just looking forward to it.
Retroplayer- Is it surreal seeing a character with your face and voice in a video game?
David- Yes is the short answer. I get some weird fan mail sometimes, I can tell you. For the record: I do not assassinate people for a living (though there are a few I would like to! Only joking)
Retroplayer- As an actor do you find the character of Agent 47 satisfying to play?
David- Oh yeah. I honestly don’t see the humanity in the game. To work out how I am going to do it and then see it through – definitely gives me a kick. It’s been a while though since I last played. Too busy I’m afraid.
Retroplayer- Have ever played any of the Hitman games for yourself?
David- Yes. My personal favourite is Contracts. Like I say, I used to a lot but don’t seem to get the time these days. I need a break!
Retroplayer- David, you’ve been in film, TV, videogames and theatre. Do you have a particular favourite and is voice acting for videogames, due to the lack of physical presence on screen, much different to the rest in terms of preparation and execution?
David- I would be lying if I tried to name a favourite. I love doing them all. The immediacy and live nature of theatre, the attention to detail in film, the pace of TV filming and the pure imagination of voice work. I am really blessed. As for preparation, it is difficult to compare them. People ask me isn’t theatre boring, having to repeat yourself every night? No, because it’s live and the audience are different every night and the actors are all slightly varying stuff in terms of delivery of dialogue and movement – within rehearsed boundaries. Film is fantastic because though its shot out of storyline order, the dedication to getting a particular moment “in the can” is unbelievable. But when it’s done – we all move on to do the next “moment” or scene. Great stuff. Like my childhood – always changing. Feels natural to me.
Retroplayer- What is your opinion of the Hitman movie that was released in 2007? Did you see it? Did you hope to play Agent 47 yourself?
David- I didn’t like it. Timothy Olyphant is not a bad actor by any means. I just think he was miscast in the role of Agent 47. Without hair, he looked wrong and way too young. The set pieces of action looked good but – I don’t know. Like many critics and fans of the franchise, I think a golden opportunity was missed. Yes, there was talk of me in the role. Especially with the hype being that Agent 47 was a legend – that no one knew what he looked like cos if you did, you died shortly afterwards, and not of old age… To use an unknown film actor like me would actually, on this occasion, have made real sense. I offered to fly to LA for a test, at my expense, just to have satisfied 20 Century Fox’s curiosity as to if I could have pulled it off. I don’t doubt it but I am only the talent, as they say. At that time, I also lacked an agent with balls to fight my corner. So I contacted Luc Beeson’s office in Paris, as he was the producer (a good move by 20 Century, I thought. Kept the film feeling European). Anyway, no luck there. I will say this, I was deeply touched by the fan base who started a petition to have me play the role. I heard the internet based petition eventually had to be removed under pressure by 20 Century as it was damaging – however, don’t quote me on that. That is just what I heard. An urban myth, probably. Yup, if ever there was a role for me to have played, I think I can safely say: that was it.
David- I have to plead the 5th Amendment on this one. I am under contract not to say anything. There have been delays. However, like I said earlier, if the artwork is anything to go by… brace yourself!
Retroplayer- The Hitman fans are extremely dedicated to the series. Have you gotten much fan mail over the years?
David- You wouldn’t believe! Because I have a website and my details are on it with regard to obtaining work, I am easy to find. This is both good and not so good, sometimes. I try to keep my private life private to protect my family from exposure to stuff they have not necessarily wished for.
I will say this though. In all the years of Hitman, I have been overwhelmingly gratified and humbled by the sheer dedication to the Hitman franchise that the fans have expressed. For all the kind things that have been said, I am truly thankful. That kind of dedication and appreciation of the game deserves repayment… with an even more gob smacking instalment in Hitman 5. I don’t envy IO Interactive for the pressure they must under to deliver. I am utterly convinced they will!
Retroplayer- What’s next for David Bateson?
David- This annual Christmas show I do every year is about to go into rehearsals. Called Oh My Goth (check out: Oh My Goth + London Toast Theatre on YouTube for a trailer of what to expect) Though it may well be confusing for most of you who don’t know what a cult this annual show has become. It’s a new theme and script every year, written by my theatre boss Vivienne McKee – known to you all as… Diana!
Then I am apparently set to play the same character of a CIA agent in the spin off series to the Emmy Award winning Danish TV series “Livvagterne” or “The Bodyguards” in English. This starts filming in February 2011 and lasts most of the year. However, as I say, I still haven’t seen a contract yet so who knows. Then there is Hitman the movie 2, with Bruce Willis, also set to shoot in 2011. There is a plot afoot to have me in the film in some kind of cameo role – just to satisfy the fans of the game. Mind you, I think Bruce Willis is more than enough excitement for all of us fans of Hitman. I think he is good casting – let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t cock it up this time.
So there you have it, folks. I’d like to thank David for taking part in this interview that is insightful, interesting and funny.I think this interview makes him come across as a personable, charming and genuinely nice guy- which he is. He was an absolute joy to chat with and his appreciation and love for both the Hitman series and its fans, I think we can all agree, is pretty touching indeed. Next week I’ll be doing something completely different. After my review of Street Fighter TGL user PhenoM suggested I give the 1995 film of Mortal Kombat the same tongue in cheek treatment. So, if cheesy 90′s movies based on medicore games is your bag be here next Thursday, dear readers!