“Well at least your sword is to the point.”- Balthier
Since its release I was always shocked that Final Fantasy XII was never quite embraced by Final Fantasy fans as much as most games in the series. Maybe it was the different battling system that took them by suprise? Regardless, to me FFXII stands as one of the best additions to the series and a large part of that is down to the voice acting. While the cast is great across the board one stand out character of FFXII is Balthier, a suave sky pirate with a heart of gold. Gideon Emery voiced Balthier and thus helped create of the finest characters in recent gaming history, in this writers humble opinion. However, there’s much more to Gideon than Balthier, folks. Gideons work goes beyond video games and into animation, TV and film. He’s an incredibly talented guy and someone who I always lisening out for in my games. Whether it’s playing a small role like Chellick from Mass Effect or a leading role such as Sam Gideon from Vanquish, Gideon always brings his exellence a project. Are you a Gidfan yet?
Gideon- I’m British, I’m South African and now I’m American. Often I’m asked to play Eastern Europeans and Russians. I like to think I’m a nice guy, but I’m usually asked to play creeps. Sometimes it’s hard not to have an identity crisis.
Retroplayer- When did you decide that acting was your call in life?
Gideon- I was an only child growing up and was always imitating characters from TV and movies to keep myself amused, so I don’t think I had much choice but to pursue acting. If I had had siblings, I’d probably be doing something else. But I think in high school I really got into plays and, although it was a toss up between acting and graphic design, I chose to study acting. I realise now, of course, that I have absolutely no other skills, so thank goodness it’s worked out!
Retroplayer- Before getting into voice acting you were in a number of TV series and films, Gideon, including Rhodes, Witness to a Kill and Saints, Sinners and Settlers. Did you learn any lessons during this time period that served you when you got into voice acting?
Gideon- Absolutely. I also did theatre and that, together with 4 years at drama school, helped me explore a range of characters, voices and how to approach a role. In theatre and film (and to a lesser extent TV), there’s time to really explore the character and the script. In games, there’s a much shorter prep period for the actor. Often you only have a picture to work from and are almost always only given the script for your role alone. And that’s on the day of the recording – not before. So there’s a lot you just don’t know, you need to make choices on the fly and you rely a great deal on the voice director to fill in the blanks. That said, the VO directors today really nuance performances. In fact I’ve received more attention and direction in game roles than I have in many on-camera roles. Surprising but true.
Retroplayer- With voice acting, take us through your early experiences of breaking into industry, Gideon. Was it tough to secure roles to help build up your résumé or did you find it relatively easy?
Gideon- My very first voice-over was through an acting teacher at drama school, who taught a radio class. She booked a couple of us for a commercial. While in my 3rd year, I was signed by an agent who fortunately also handled voice-over. She took me to get a pro demo done. (I’d made my own one with multiple characters which showed my range but wasn’t up to snuff – plus this is in the days of cassette tapes, so no clever cut and paste editing, normalizing or…um…CD quality) Within a couple of months, I was doing spots mainly for radio. Later I became the voice for an entertainment show and did a lot of industrial and corporate video voices. I was exceptionally fortunate in that it just built itself. I think I was also lucky that my British accent helped me stand out in South Africa.
Once I moved to LA, however, I really had to start over. Different country, nobody knew me and also I had never done animation or gaming before. It was tough to find an agent here and, even after signing with one, It was really slow. But after I booked my first game role, I gradually got in to audition for more projects and it went from there.
Retroplayer- Your first venture into the gaming world was on Everquest 2, Gideon. What was your first impression of the videogame voice over business and did you plan on getting into it in the first place or did you just happen upon it?
Gideon- That was an interesting job for a couple of reasons. First off, I was recorded in a booth away from everyone. Usually there’s a window where you you can see the director and engineer, but this was a windowless room. I was led into the room and interacted with this disembodied voice. I never even met them. Quite a change from what I was used to. And secondly, they asked me to do a bunch of different roles. They would just describe the character in a few lines and I’d come up with a voice. To this day, I have no idea who that disembodied voice belonged to. But as odd as it seemed, I knew I had fun creating those characters and wanted more.
As far as “planning to get into it” – it was more of a stumble-in. I think my agent figured from my demo that I did lots of characters and accents, so games would be a good fit. I’m really glad I got into it, as it’s been my lifeblood in LA. Plus, I get to act in every session, as opposed to my commercial days, which were less about acting and more about selling.
Retroplayer Were you aware of the Final Fantasy franchise before landing your role as Balthier?
Gideon- I hadn’t heard of Final Fantasy, but that’s not saying much. The last game I’d played at that time was Asteroids. Oh, and (embarrassing moment here)..Leisure Suit Larry, as a teenager I should add. Once I realised how big a franchise it was, I was too far into recording to be intimidated – I mean, I’d recorded so much by then that they couldn’t possibly replace me. Probably just as well, as I might have psyched myself out of the running otherwise. I also credit Balthier with really giving my career the boost from sporadic to regular work.
Gideon- Grab a coffee, grab a few bottled waters and head into the booth for 4 hours. We started off by listening to the original Japanese voice of Balthier, Hiroaki Hirata. With that as a guide, we tried to keep his smoothness and cocky charm and tailor it to my voice. I was lucky that I could be pretty close to my own voice and accent – just a little more self-assured and arrogant. And all credit to voice director Jack Fletcher, for hiring me and helping me bring him to life. What was nice is we had a lot of animated cut scenes we could voice to picture. Usually these are done pre-animation, so you have nothing to work off. Here, we had mini movies to dub, which was great but also a challenge. Lip synch can be tough when you’re re-voicing your own dialogue – never mind the challenge of making English words fit into Japanese mouth flaps! It was entertaining. And we were lucky to have a writer with us who could help tweak a line with Jack or myself (to ensure it matched the sense of the Japanese).
Retroplayer- How do you view Balthier as a character?
Gideon- Everything I like to think I am but know I’m not. Suave, confident, attractive and skilled.
Retroplayer- Gideon, Balthiers relationship with Fran is an interesting one. There is some debate with Final Fantasy fans whether their relationship is anything more than just being partners in crime. How do you view their relationship?
Gideon- Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about that. I always thought there was something more than friendship. Something probably happened once, after one of their escapades, which they’ve never really discussed since. They’re both too cool to talk about it, but each would readily explore it again if they weren’t too proud to actually speak up. But that’s just my theory. Plus I found her dead sexy, even if she did have enormous furry ears.
Retroplayer- Since Final Fantasy XII you’ve got the voice Balthier once again in Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. Was it easy stepping back into his suave shoes, Gideon?
Gideon- It was like revisiting an old friend. I wish we could’ve spent more time together.
Retroplayer- After the company GRIN closed in 2009 a leaked video of a game they were making surfaced on the internet. It was a Final Fantasy XII spin-off. It has since been announced that it is back in development by Square Enix. In some of the leaked artwork it was revealed that at the very least the character of Ashe would return. If given the opportunity to reprise your role as Balthier in this game would you be interested?
Gideon- I’ve been asked this before and I would absolutely love to voice Balthier again. He’s too much fun. We can only wait and see.
Retroplayer- If you didn’t provide the voice for Balthier, who in Final Fantasy XII would you have liked to portray?
Gideon- Hmmm…. Interesting question. Probably Basch. He’s a bit more grizzled and rugged and closer to me. Except for the tough as nails, sword swinging bit.
Retroplayer- Gideon, you’ve been in some quite cinematic franchises including Final Fantasy, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, Brothers in Arms, Terminator Salvation and God of War. In terms of storytelling and character development do you feel that videogames are beginning to rival TV and film?
Gideon- I think they’re getting closer all the time. I recently completed voice, motion capture and face capture for a game that is really filmic. And the experience was almost like doing a play, with it’s table read, blocking and direction. We really discussed character and motivation and tried to keep it as real as possible. I can’t say what the project is yet, but it’s in a contemporary, real world setting, so I’m hoping it will play like a scene from today’s headlines. Gritty and real and a new level of realism in look, performance and character expressions. It’s exciting to be a part of this evolution as the two mediums merge – with films like Beowulf and Avatar utilizing this technology, too.
Retroplayer- Gideon, recently you’ve voiced Poseidon in God of War 3. How did you approach voicing such a legendary character?
Gideon- What can you do? Just try not to make him sound like Woody Allen. He’s a God in an epic game, so I knew they wanted something authoritative and powerful and gave it my spin. Being a God, he can’t have a small ego, either – look at the body he chooses to inhabit – so that needed to figure in, too. And, of course, they put a little effect on my voice to make me sound even more God-like. Just what you need when trying to get out of a parking ticket or getting the barman’s attention in that noisy bar…
Retroplayer- Gideon, when given a lead role in a project (John Connor in Terminator Salvation, Sam Gideon in Vanquish) as opposed to a supporting role is the more pressure on you as an actor to deliver the goods or is the same pressure on everyone across the board?
Gideon- You always want to do your best, regardless of the role. But sure, there’s more pressure (at least in my head) to deliver on a leading role. It’s also tiring, so you need to pace yourself. You also feel more responsible if the game doesn’t do as well. We worked hard on Terminator, trying to find the balance between tough and introspective, doubt and confidence. That game also re-teamed me with Final Fantasy director Jack Fletcher, so we had a good verbal shorthand by then. It’s unfortunate it didn’t connect with gamers. Vanquish was more your typical badass type role. I mean, the guy lights up in the midst of battle. Midway through, they named him Gideon, which was most flattering. In retrospect, his voice could have been less raspy, but that’s the route we took and c’est la vie.
Retroplayer- You’ve been in both Mass Effect games so far. Any chance we’ll see you in Mass Effect 3, Gideon?
Gideon- I certainly hope so.
Retroplayer- Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what do you play?
Gideon- I grew up on Asteroids and Space Invaders, so I’m an old style gamer who prefers a FPS. I don’t play too often, but if I can blow stuff up or sneak up on an enemy and knife them, I’m in. I love voicing fantasy and sci-fi, but as a player, gimme guns over story any day. I can be found making silent kills in Call of Duty, but am really looking forward to Battlefield 3 in October. I’ve heard a lot of good things.
Retroplayer- Gideon, you’ve been attached to a few Star Wars projects including the TV series The Clone Wars in which you voiced Lott Dod, Mee Deechi and Gotal. Do you approach voice work for TV different than you would with videogames? If so, why?
Gideon- The approach is the same, but the experience has been a bit different. With Clone Wars, we’re all in the booth at the same time, so we get to play off each other. It’s a real treat to do that, because it’s exceedingly rare. Plus you get to discover moments you wouldn’t if you were doing it by yourself. And you’re part of a family while you work on it, so that’s nice too. VO can be a solitary profession, so the odd interaction with other people is a pleasure.
Retroplayer- At this point in your life what is your main source of inspiration, Gideon?
Gideon- I’m inspired by good work. If I see a great performance in some little indie film or read an interview with someone overcoming the odds, I’m fired up to do more myself. I had a friend pass away recently and, as passe as it sounds, was reminded of how little time we have. So I’m working on finishing some projects I’ve started and starting new ones, too.
Retroplayer- Tell our readers a little about the short film Clown Wanted in which you wrote, directed and starred in, Gideon.
Gideon- It’s about a clown who responds to a newspaper ad, only to find himself caught up in a robbery. I’d wanted to write a piece about clowns for a while and then I did and then it took me 2 years to actually shoot the thing and another year to finish it. Next time I won’t try to do everything myself. It’s not a bad little short, but it’s not gonna win any prizes, either. I may post it online sometime. I do have another short that needs another draft – darker, more “off”. I’m excited to shoot that one and I’ll leave the directing and editing to someone else. Hehe.
Retroplayer- What advice would you give to any young people who wish to become a voice actor who are reading this right now?
Gideon- If you’re still reading, then you really want to do it. Commitment? Check. Does that mean you have the chops? Or that you’ll find success? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’d recommend acting lessons, so you can broaden your range. And voice training, so you can work on placement, pitch, tone and accent. Some people get by doing one thing, but the more versatile you are, the more in demand you will be – and even if you’re voicing the lead role, they’ll usually want a couple of smaller roles, too. And for those you’ll need to sound distinctly different. Also try to find a class that works on mic – so you can feel confident working in the booth and won’t be intimidated or “pop”, etc. When you feel like you have a solid base, find a demo producer or sound engineer to mix a demo for you. Lay down a couple minutes of your best characters – make them distinctly different and original (Eg: not Bugs Bunny). And then submit to agents. Ideally, a personal referral will get your materials listened to sooner, but with persistence, a nice cover letter, following up and a professional yet engaging attitude, you might strike it lucky. Also, get involved with other actors in your community. The more you know, the closer you are to one with an agent who can walk your materials in or at least take a listen and give advice.
Retroplayer- Gideon, Final Fantasy XII upon its release was critically hailed while some hardcore Final Fantasy fans didn’t appreciate the chance in gameplay and tone. I hope by now Final Fantasy XII is recognised as the gem it truly was and that in part was down to you and your fellow cast members. How do you want Balthier to be remembered, Gideon?
Gideon- As a charming rogue. Yes, he can be a bit of a pain in the arse, but he’s got your back in a fix and he’ll make you chuckle. What more could you ask for in a sky pirate?
Retroplayer- What’s next for Gideon Emery?
Gideon- I love singing and just released a jazz standards album on iTunes and Amazon, called Standard Ease. After that, I’m hoping to complete an a capella album. Plus look out for an action game later this year where my character will actually look like me, too. I’ve seen some early renders of a couple of cut scenes and I’m pretty excited.
Retroplayer- And finally, do you have a message for all your fans here on TGL?
Gideon- Thanks so much for reading and playing, of course! Without you, I don’t have a job. Know that some of us voice actors do try to stay in touch by reading forums and letters. If you wanna drop me a line, you can find me on Facebook – It’s really me and I’m pretty good at responding. Or go to www.gideonemery.com.