Quinton Flynn needs no introduction……
Not content with voicing many of the world’s most famous cartoon characters, Quinton has become synonymous with some of gaming’s character elite, not least a certain mysterious white haired katana wielding cyborg ninja who goes by the name of Raiden. Quinton is one of the hardest working professionals on the voice acting circuit and his incredible credentials speak for themselves.
In the first part of our exclusive interview with the man behind the voice, TGL delves into Quinton’s Irish roots, asks him about how he first got involved in voice acting, we talk to him about the negative reaction that defined Raiden’s arrival on the Metal Gear scene and why he believes voice actors don’t get the credit they deserve for the work they do.
Here we go……
TGL: Hey Quinton. A huge welcome to you from everyone here at TGL. First things first, just how the hell are you doing today?
Quinton Flynn: I‘m doing great right now. I’m just so happy to be able to speak with you guys and it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to everyone back home.
QF: Well, my Dad is from Ballina in County Mayo and I’ve got cousins in Castleconnor in County Sligo too. I had a lovely time over there in 1999 and again in 2005 when we had a big family reunion. So yes, I’m actually Irish. I’ve got dual-citizenship between Ireland and America and I’m very proud of that. All the Irish over here in the States are very proud of their heritage.
TGL: Tell us about how you got started in the voice over business. Did you always aspire to get into voice acting or was it something that evolved from a general love of acting and performance?
QF: It evolved. When I was a kid I loved cartoons like everybody else did. Spiderman was my hero. I loved the Fantastic Four too. Of course, I got to play both Spiderman and Johnny Storm ‘The Human Torch’ in animated form and in videogame form which has been so cool for me. When I was young I used to love voices and I used to do impressions. When I was in 2nd grade my buddy Bill Russ and I used to do impressions of impressionist’s impressions! So we would watch these guys like Rich Little, John Byner and Fred Travalena. These guys were impressionists that go all the way back to the late night chat shows. They would do their impressions of the presidents and celebrities of the time and then we would do our impressions of their impressions! We would write up lists and head into the classrooms and we’d be cutting up all the time.
Then as I went through high school, I got into theatre by accident through a buddy of mine. When I was a kid I did a little theatre in grade school and I appeared in a local TV show called Romper Room. If you were a kid in Cleveland Ohio, which is where I grew up, everybody wanted to be on Romper Room because there was a lady named Miss Barbara who had a magic mirror and she would look through the mirror and she’d say “I see Shane, I see Johnny, I see Michael, I see Linda” and you always kept hoping that your name would pop up. Well, my folks got hold of the studio and you had to be five years old (I was five) and they got me down there. So my first gig in showbiz per say was being on “Romper Room” for five days. We got to play with punch balls and we’d draw things and ask questions and played about. Who knows? Maybe that’s where I first got bitten by the bug.
But my family was always into music and we always played and sang along. We always had lots of stories especially from Ireland. We would always celebrate that Irish-ness. Every Christmas was like St. Patricks day for us. Still is.
But what eventually happened was I was in high school doing theatre, working in a video store and playing in my rock n’ roll band. I knew I wanted to be in showbiz. I was really interested in Saturday Night Live because you would be able to take these characters, impressions and sketch characters and do them on camera. At the time, I didn’t know anything about a voice over world. The voice over world that we have today did not exist back in 1987. It did on some level but not at a level that I was aware of. So one day in my senior year of college I looked in the paper and I saw that there was something called a voice over workshop with a local news correspondent named Jan Jones. I knew her from the TV so I thought that I should go in there because if it has something to do with voices then maybe I could get into that business. That’s where it started. I took my first classes in Cleveland and the Summer after my senior year of college I was playing the clubs with my band, doing sound for other bands and I was doing a little sketch improvisation and I was hosting a video show. It was the first alternative video show in America and actually the world. It predated MTV’s “120 Minutes” by about 9 months. We tried to sell it but we couldn’t get it sold. So they came with their own thing. Next thing you know, alternative music became mainstream.
After doing that, my Dad was on my ass telling me to get a job. I knew I had to go to Los Angeles or New York because that was where the main entertainment industries were. So my cousin, who was in my band at the time, really wanted to be a rock star. At the time it was the big hair metal bands that were the most popular. So my cousin decided to go to California and he asked me to come with him for a break, to get away from things at home for a while. So I thought to myself that I should help him out there for a little while. So I went out there and what happened was my brief stay turned into a permanent vacation. I’ve been out here in Los Angeles for 23 years and I’ve been doing voice over now for nearly 20 years.
TGL: What was the first voice job out in L.A that made you think that a career in voice acting was a real possibility going forward?
QF: When I went out to L.A I found out that not only was there voice over workshops like the ones I did in Cleveland, but there were animated voice over workshops. There was this one guy called Bob Bergen (the voice of Porky Pig) and I took his voice over class to learn the tools to do characters for animation which would lead to anime, videogames and anything else where you could use your voice, like in promos, narration and trailers. After the class, I was still doing all the things I was doing back in Cleveland like playing in the band and doing sketch improvisation. But it was my girlfriend at the time who suggested that I start to focus on one thing. Once I had that nailed; I could branch out from there. She said that because I did so well in that animation workshop and because she thought I could do incredible impressions, she thought I should concentrate on voiceover. So I did. I went and put together a proper demo with a producer. She also happened to be a casting director by the name of Mary Lynn Wiesner. Mary Lynn also provided me with a letter of referral so I went around to the top 15 voice agents in town and literally pounded the pavements knocking on doors trying to sell my wares. Out of all of them, I was lucky enough that one of them was interested in me and that was a delightful woman named Sandie Schnarr. Her agency at the time was called Sandie Schnarr Talent. She interviewed me along with the other agents and I was shitting bricks…..I thought to myself ‘I know I have talent but I don’t know if I can do this’. So they recorded me in the booth on tape and they interviewed me hard and said they’d get back to me and let me know. About two weeks later I got a call from Sandie and she said that she would like to represent me. I said that I thought that sounded great but I told her that I had a couple of other people I was talking to. So I told her I’d get back to her and hung up the phone. Now, that wasn’t the truth but I was trying to play the Hollywood game. Anyway, I called her very shortly thereafter and went in and we started working together. It was brilliant. She is responsible for my career; she helped me develop the career I have now. I was with her for four amazing years before I moved on to CESD; that’s another talent agency. Nolan North’s at the agency, you guys interviewed him before.
QF: Exactly! I’d say that out of the 15 voice agents I originally went too, id say more than half of them shut their doors to me. The next few said ‘get back to us in the 6 weeks’ and the rest just took my demo package. You see the thing about Sandie is, I met her on the elevator on the way up to my audition, I just didn’t know it was her. We had a charming conversation and it was because of that that she decided to listen to my stuff. She needed a guy who was in my voice range. In voice over there’s a myriad of voice ranges. At the time, I had the young hip sound that they wanted so they signed me. It wasn’t until my first job, I think it was Aladdin, yeah, I guested on Aladdin, that I realised that when you go to auditions and meet all the respectable actors (some of which I knew from TV and cartoons) that this is a business. I needed to focus on this business and that’s what I did. So over the years I’ve done that as well as original music, on camera acting for TV and film, I’ve done stage and I’ve done sketch comedy. I tested for Saturday Night Live, which was a dream come true and also for The Daily Show. I even tested for Talk Soup. I think I’ve done everything you can do as an entertainer, except Cirque du Soleil, but I’m not banking on that!
TGL: I don’t think you’ll ever get a call from Cirque De Soleil Quinton…
QF: I don’t think I will either. And even if they did approach me I’d say ‘Fuck you’!
TGL: Yeah, you can say ‘Fuck you’ and tell them that you’re happy that they called but you’re currently in negotiations with a number of other circus acts as we speak….
QF: Yeah, I could tell them there’s a whole bunch of circus acts after me. And by the way I didn’t mean to say ‘Fuck you’. I meant to say ‘Feck you’ or ‘Feck off’. That’s what you guys would say….
TGL: Ha ha. Yeah but do you think that if you were to start your career today it would be easier to get into the business? Are there more opportunities for budding voice actors today by comparison to the 1980’s?
QF: That’s a good question. It depends on who you talk to I guess. I was just talking to my agent and he was saying that he didn’t think there was more opportunities but I’ve been talking to a number of other artists and voice over’s and they seem to think there is more opportunity of there. Now, I don’t know if there are more or the same but I do know that things have changed radically because they used to go to casting directors in cities that were set up and they used to go to agencies for talent. Now a lot of the casting houses have closed because there’s online casting both nationally and internationally. Now with the advent of technology, people are setting up their own home studios; they’ve done their home recordings and everybody seems to want to get into the game. Now there are hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people auditioning for jobs that maybe one third of that would have used to audition for. So it’s becoming very difficult.
TGL: So there’s more competition out there for Quinton Flynn…..
QF: I could say yes to that and I could say no. In terms of sheer volume of numbers, then yes absolutely. But I try to keep the attitude that the only person that i’m really in competition with is myself. I just try to do the best work I can and put it out there. My agent has asked me this question before and we talked about what I can do to stay out there. Do I have to market myself more? Do I have to sell more? There are so many more people involved nowadays.
QF: Yes that’s right, in the animated TV show I was Timon (imitates Timon’s voice) Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase!
QF: Cool right?
TGL: So is the dynamic different when you’re working on a videogame by comparison to a cartoon or animated feature?
QF: A little bit. Usually when it comes to animation, they will have a script for us and we can interpret that and also improvise a little if we want to. More often, when we’re doing video games, we’re working to picture, for example, sometimes we get a video up in front of us and we have to sync or dub and mesh the lines. That’s a little bit more specific. Or if there isn’t a picture for us to see then they will give us time lengths to fit in lines and words. They might give us ‘X’ amount of time to get a sentence out. In the video game world, they look for performance and timing. In the animation world its more free flow. Games are more of a challenge I believe, that’s why I love doing them. You have to nail the characters, you have to nail the intention, you have to sound natural and be professional and you have to do it all in time. There’s a lot asked of you.
TGL: It’s sounds like a pretty layered experience…
QF: It really is. It’s nothing you can learn overnight. It takes experience. Anyone whose asking to get into the business and what they should do, just do what I did, which is what everyone else before me did. Do acting classes, take improvisation classes and do voice over workshops if you can. Model yourself after someone whose successful.
TGL: Was making the transition from voicing cartoon characters to voicing video game characters in the 1990’s a natural one for you? I think the first game you contributed to was ‘The Curse of Monkey Island’…
QF: Yes. I did Mr. Fossey. I think the change to games was a natural one. For me, an auditions an audition. I get direction and I just do what I’m directed to do. Then if I get the gig, I’m ready to rock and roll and adapt.
TGL: Over the years you’ve voiced countless characters in a ton of different games in different genres. If I were to ask you to trawl through the characters you’ve played and ask you to choose a few favourites, who springs to mind?
QF: Well, Raiden has to be there of course. He’s one of the most popular. In both Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 I had the greatest length of time to develop the character. I had to develop Raiden within the confines of what they (Kojima Productions) wanted. I had to bring life to Raiden, deliver the lines and tell the story. Those were two of the biggest games that I did in which my original character was involved. The first Raiden had a very young, winy and ‘in here’ voice. In the second game in MGS4 you had more of a weary, war torn, cyborg Raiden.
TGL: How did you first get involved with Kojima Productions on MGS2?
QF: It was a pretty simple story really. It was an audition like any other. I went to a recording studio called Salami studios and I auditioned for this character called Raiden. So I got a picture of him, I got the dialogue, I got the script and once I got the direction, I read for it. Kris Zimmerman was the casting director. She’s great. We first worked together on Jonny Quest. We’ve worked together ever since then. So I went in to read for her and she gave me the direction on where it was in my register and she said that she wanted me to think of Raiden as Jonny Quest but a little bit older. I can’t remember the rest of the direction but I took it and went with it. I think someone was there from Konami at the time but I can’t really remember. But I do remember that I did my audition like everyone else and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself in to. I knew nothing about the first Metal Gear Solid.
TGL: So you knew nothing about Snake or MGS before this?
QF: I knew nothing.
TGL: But MGS2 and the presence of Raiden brought with it something of a backlash. The game was sort of defined by the switch from the established hero Snake to an unknown kid with white hair who kind of looked like a girl. What was your reaction to the negative reaction to Raiden from the fans? How did it make you feel?
QF: It’s kind of weird. It’s funny you should ask me that. I can say right now that it was a little disappointing. Back then I was interviewed by Konami (I think) and I was quoted as saying something to the effect of ‘I wasn’t aware that there was any kind of conflict’. But I soon became aware that there was a ‘for’ and ‘against’ when it came to Raiden. I didn’t know why. It was odd to me. It was weird. I thought WOW; people are really getting so upset about this character. I wondered whether I did a good job. Did I do a good job? I was reassured I did a fine job, that I did a great job, exactly what I was supposed to do. But it’s exactly like what you said. Everyone was used to Solid Snake from the first game. That’s what everyone was expecting for the second game and then this new character popped in and started to dominate. There were a lot of people upset but there were a lot of people who were really thrilled about it who were able to adapt. I would also say that it also brought in a whole new wave of gamers who would not have otherwise played the game before.
TGL: I remember the backlash at the time. It just goes to show you how much of an attachment MGS fans have with Snake and other MGS characters….
QF: Maybe they were afraid that once Raiden was in, Snake would be out. That of course was not the case.
QF: Absolutely not. I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait. I was like “c’mon lets go. Bring it!” Now, when they wanted to change the voice I thought it was a little odd, but I thought I could do that.
TGL: The tone, texture and impetus of Raiden’s voice was so different in MGS4. So can I ask you which Raiden you preferred to play? The innocent and enthusiastic MGS 2 Raiden or the cold dark mysterious MGS4 Raiden?
QF: That’s an excellent question! I mean, they’re two very different characters. They’re so different. They could have two different names and be in two different games. The only thing these characters had in common was the name Raiden. So to answer your question, I don’t know. I love them both. I like the intensity, the lower register and the gravelly voice of MGS4 Raiden. I really dug doing that because it’s not the kind of voice I often get booked for. However, what I loved about Raiden in MGS2 was there was tons of dialogue. I had scripts the size of phonebooks. I was in there all the time working with everyone. I had a lot of time with David Hayter, Phil LaMarr, Christopher Randolph, Paul Eiding and Jennifer Hale. I guess because I had more time on Metal Gear Solid 2, that was a more enjoyable experience. Plus, I was naive to the whole thing. Everything happening around me was unknown. By the time we got to MGS4, I knew the whole history. I knew what the fans were all about. It’s kind of like trying to pick your favourite kid. I love them both for different reasons.
TGL: How long does it the record these voices? How much preparation time do you get?
QF: If memory serves correct, I’d go in the booth and Kris and I would work with the voice to get it to where it would become. We also would take a reference from my auditions to make sure we were right in the pocket. Sometimes people from Konami were there, a representative or an interpreter. I could be recording a session for no more than 4 hours. I think the most they could have us in for is like 6 hours. Usually 4 hours per day max. It doesn’t take that long to record these voices.
TGL: I know from talking to Nolan North that he’s having a much different experience at the moment. His work on Uncharted 3 is a full time job, what with all the voice work and the motion capture….
QF: That’s a different kind of game entirely, what with the motion capture. Nolan is blessed. That’s a quality problem and not one that many voice actors have. He’s probably the only voice actor doing that right now on a regular basis.
TGL: But that’s the thing about games like Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid. These games are not just games anymore. You see the influence of Hollywood in every scene and every setting. There’s more of a confluence taking place between movies and games….
QF: Absolutely! I’d much rather be doing these movie games. I just hope that one day the unions realise this. I hope the see that these games are like movies and that we start to get proper compensation for our work. That’s more of a political thing. Truth of the matter is, were doing the same work that actors do in CGI motion pictures and animated films do and my god, these video game companies are getting away with murder! I mean, they’re just making money hand over fist. Voice actors are not getting the same kind of residuals that actors get for the main animated films and CGI films that come out. You’re probably not going to get many voice actors who are going to say that but fuck it, i’m going to say it anyway.
TGL: But do say it, nearly every voice actor we speak to shares the same sentiment. Why are you guys not getting the residual compensation you deserve? Are voice actors getting shafted?
QF: We’re getting shafted. Everything you just said makes sense. What can I say? I approve of this message. We do the exact same work that any other actor would do, let’s say, for a major motion picture. What we do is no different. The only difference is, the pay check and residuals. We don’t get that. It’s a shame. We need it to survive. We’re getting shafted. We’re getting screwed and i’m finally saying it.
TGL: You’re not the only one saying it though. As I say, so many of the actors we speak to feel the same way. You’re not getting the residual respect you deserve….
QF: Absolutely! These games are making more money than these major motion pictures now.
TGL: And now they’re making motion pictures out of these games to make even more money….
———-END OF PART 1———
PART 2 OF THE INTERVIEW IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE
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