David Hayter doesn’t need any sort of introduction. Usually when we post these interviews we write a neat little intro with some fancy wordplay that appropriately introduces the interviewee and the respective videogame character that they portray. But David Hayter doesn’t require a written prologue, doesn’t need any kind of foreword or gushing preamble. As the voice of Metal Gear Solid’s iconic protagonist Solid Snake, David Hayter is arguably the most recognisable and most popular voice actor who ever worked on a game. You see, David doesn’t just voice Solid Snake; he kind of is Solid Snake. They reciprocate each other at almost every level. Take David’s voice away from Snake and Snake just wouldn’t be the same character we’ve grown to love over the last 10 years plus.
TGL had the distinguished honour of speaking with David Hayter, the voice of Solid Snake in the penultimate interview of our hugely successful Voice Actor Week. In this, the first part of a two part interview with David, we speak to him about his career, how he identifies with the character of Solid Snake and how he never expected Metal Gear Solid to become as huge as it has.
Have at you Snake….
*Warning: Contains Metal Gear Solid Series Spoilers!!!!*
TGL: David, it is a great pleasure to speak with you.
David Hayter: And it is a great to be able to speak with you. I’m just checking out your site and it looks wonderful.
TGL: That’s a very nice thing to say. I hope you’re not just saying that?
TGL: So if you don’t mind, maybe I could throw some questions at you, most of which you’ve probably been asked a million times before….
DH: Great! Let’s go….
TGL: So how are you doing today?
DH: Excellent! I’m having a very good day.
TGL: You’re a busy guy at the moment….
DH: Extremely busy…
TGL: That’s the thing, the more I read up on you, the more I see that your other work, be it writing or producing or whatever, actually equate to so much more than then voice over work that really put you in the spotlight. You’re not JUST the voice of Solid Snake. So if you’re at a party and somebody asks you what you do for a living, what do you lead with?
DH: Well, it depends on the party! At the moment my primary job is that of screenwriter. That’s been my day job for the past 11 or 12 years. The videogame voice work is something I love. Acting is how I started. I started out when I was 9. It’s my favourite job in the world but living the life of an actor can be a pretty miserable experience with the auditions and the getting headshots and all that. I’m happy now to leave all that behind and I’m happy that I don’t have to do all that stuff. So I primarily would identify myself as a screenwriter or film maker. But then if someone is trying to figure out who I am and if they’re familiar with my name, I usually suspect that it’s because of Snake. So most of the time they’ll say “No, that’s not it! I know your name from something else” and I’ll ask them if they are a Metal Gear fan or I’ll say (imitates Snake’s voice) “Are you a Metal Gear fan?” Then they’ll either flip out and by like “O MY GOD, you’re Solid Snake” or they’ll think I’m having some kind of seizure or something and have no clue what I’m talking about.
The Hollywood people and the producers I meet in the business cannot believe it when they find out that I do Solid Snake. They’re stunned that anybody knows me as that. I usually say that as far as the public goes everybody knows me as that and very few people pay attention to the screen writing side.
TGL: It’s kind of funny because most voice actors who are well known, like Nolan North or Jennifer Hale, have huge bodies of work and hundreds of games to their name. You actually don’t and yet your probably one of the best known gaming voice actors out there……
DH: It is funny. To just do the one character and to have him have such an impact in the past decade is really very cool. People say I’m a voice acting legend and its funny because people like Nolan or Jennifer have thousands of credits on their résumés, and I don’t. I did just spend a year and a half recording the Jedi Knight character on Star Wars: The Old Republic because I just couldn’t turn down being a master Jedi. That was too much of a dream for me. But it’s a very funny position that I find myself in. But I’m lucky in that everybody likes Snake so people are super nice and very supportive all the way round.
TGL: Do you think the way voice actors go about their trade has changed in the last few years? Now that there’s a huge impetus on enhanced skills like motion capture or facial capture like in games like L.A Noire, do you think that voice actors now need to think about having a revised and enhanced skill set that goes beyond merely standing in a booth and delivering lines of script into a microphone?
DH: Yes. I know that is a part of it now and actors like Jennifer Hale have done mo-cap. I’ve never done it. My dream would be to do Snake’s mo-cap although the Japanese actor they use for that is very iconic as well. I’ve watched hours and hours of him doing his thing and the way he moves with this weird sort of shoulder run is very unique. His fighting style is very unique as well so I wouldn’t want to replace him. I’ve always wanted to do mo-cap because it’s like being an action star but in your pyjamas! You don’t have to lose that much weight. You don’t have to worry about your make up and you can be anything. So I would imagine that most, if not all great voice actors are excellent on camera performers. It’s a bit of a different skill set when you have to convey a story completely with your voice, it’s a little different then when you can use your eyes or you face or your body movement to add to that. But I would think that most of those folks would jump at the chance to be able to play the characters that they are voicing in body, in movement and in face. I think everyone you’ve mentioned would love that chance. I think it’s an expanding opportunity and it makes games more real, more like movies and gives them a greater story telling impact.
TGL: But voice acting aside for a minute, the gaming industry has been quite kind to you with your own company (Dark Hero Studios) or your work as screenwriter. It underscores a lot of what you do, be it as the voice of Snake or with talk of you writing the draft for big screen adaptations of games like Lost Planet…
DH: Absolutely. I love it. And seeing as I have some experience with games, that comes through, and part of the reason people attach to Snake is because I not only love the character and the world and the people I work with but I’m a gamer too and I love these games. It’s such a great time for games. Where we’ve come in the past decade is astounding. I think that just my sheer and complete fanboy-ness makes for a pretty compelling experience all the way round.
TGL: Was the transition from on screen actor/performer to voice over on videogames an obvious and natural transition for you seeing as you’re a gamer?
DH: O yeah, when I got the call to come in and audition for Metal Gear, I was thrilled. As an on camera actor, it was my dream to play someone like Batman some day. That’s the kind of direction I figured I’d go because everything I do for some reason tends to be about heroes or comic book type things or sci-fi things. I think that’s what I fit physically. I think that’s what I fit mentally. So the transition for me was very natural. Plus I had a lot of classic theatre training with like Shakespeare, Chekhov and in musical theatre with skills like accents and singing, so I had a lot of control over my voice from a young age. So I got to employ those techniques in voice work in particular. The other thing is that there’s a lot less pressure on a voice over job versus a film job. You know, you go in, there’s not as much waiting around, very little ego and it’s just a nicer area of the business and really there’s some fun people to work with. On camera is fun too but there’s a lot of stress and a lot of production.
TGL: So when you first signed up to voice Snake, did you have any idea at that time, just how big the whole thing would become?
DH: No. I knew that Konami was very behind the game and they showed me cut scenes when I first started working on it and also some artwork which indicated that it was going to be very groundbreaking. Metal Gear Solid was one of the first games where the main protagonist went from gameplay straight into cut scene. It hadn’t really been done before. So I knew that it was groundbreaking, I knew it was a big budget game and after reading the script, I knew it had an epic storyline. I really liked it and I liked how I found something that had a really cool edge to it and was going to have an impact. So I had a suspicion that the game would do well but did I imagine that it would be going on for 12 more years and 9 more games with all these fans and everything it became? No! You can’t anticipate success on that level. You hope for that but I never expected the level of success it received.
TGL: Over the span of the four main games, did you ever read the script, step back and think to yourself “What the hell is Hideo Kojima talking about? This is just so vague and ambiguous! Oh and what the hell are the Patriots?”
DH: Ha Ha. Yes! Sure. At the same time, I was looking at the massive amount of research that Hideo had done and how accurate things were in terms of the military and in terms of genetic research. I was already a screenwriter when I started MGS and I was already working on X-Men so I was studying the human genome and genetics. I was studying these complex things and that was all in the game too and it was all real. At the time, I didn’t understand the ins and outs of the story at the beginning and I hadn’t played the earlier Metal Gear games and I wasn’t very familiar with them. So I wasn’t sure where Gray Fox came from and I wasn’t entirely sure what Liquid was going on about. But I did suspect that what I was seeing was a fully realised world and if you didn’t understand it completely, you could just play the game again. So yeah, there’s a lot of strange stuff but there’s also a lot of really inspired analysis of where the military is at, what the world is becoming, who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. If you look at MGS 4, you’ll see all the privatised military companies which Kojima Productions started working on two years before Blackwater came to prominence in Iraq. I mean, Hideo knew all this stuff was coming. You also could say that some of the weirder elements are probably what make it Metal Gear. I don’t expect to understand it all. And if I did then it wouldn’t really be Snake’s world.
TGL: So when you were reading the script for Metal Gear Solid 4, a game that tied up nearly every MGS loose end, did you ever think “Ahhhh…..that makes sense to me now. Now I get it!”?
DH: O yeah. He explained a lot in the fourth game that made everything a lot clearer for me. But at the same time, it raised a lot of questions that confused me anew. But that’s the fun of it, you know.
DH: Oh absolutely. Not only is he my signature role and the role that I identify as the pinnacle of my acting career to date but also, this might sound sappy to say, but I feel like through Snake and through Kojima’s writing, I’m able illustrate some harsh truths about the world, about the military, military action and what soldiers go through and I think it’s worthwhile and important to illustrate that. I’ve got so much support from actual soldiers and real special forces guys on the field who, as an American citizen, I worry about and fell somewhat responsible for given my country’s treatment of them. So Snake means a huge amount to me. I love Snake as much as anybody else. Somebody only asked me the other day if I get emotionally worked up doing something like Metal Gear Solid 4 and I was like, yeah, that’s my job but also, Snake went through so much horror in that final game. He’s dying, he’s watching Meryl getting married to someone else and he really gets screwed over on so many levels and yes, it was crushing for me to do all that stuff. I mean, its Kojima’s character but I really feel for Snake immensely.
TGL: Has your experiences working on Metal Gear influenced you and the way you conduct your career and your business?
DH: I think the reason that Snake and I have connected so well is that I like my business to be run in a very Zen fashion. I want everybody to enjoy themselves. I want the projects to be done out of a sense of fun and love and enjoyment. But if I’m running up against serious obstacles or interference, my reaction can be vicious and unsettlingly straight forward. So I think that Snake has certainly helped refine that, but I think it’s more of a case of that is more the aspect of my personality that I was able to let run with Snake.
———-END OF PART 1———-
PART 2 is now available. READ IT HERE.