In Part 2 of our penultimate Voice Actor Week interview with David Hayter, the voice of Metal Gear Solid’s iconic Solid Snake, we ask David about his favourite sequences from Metal Gear Solid 4, his favourite characters from the greater Metal Gear universe, his thoughts on Metal Gear Solid: Rising and why he thinks if you can clone Snake once, there’s no reason to suggest that he can’t be cloned again……
Check out Part 1 here if you’ve already missed it.
*Warning: Part 2 Contains MAJOR Metal Gear Solid Series Spoilers!!!!*
Have at you Snake…….
DH: Yeah but its fun. If I were an on camera actor and if I had a career level commencer with what I’ve been able to do with Snake in this business, I’d never be able to do anything, like I’d never be able to go out and eat dinner because I’d be getting it all the time. As it is, I only have to talk about this stuff when I’m doing interviews like this or when I go to Comic-Con or something and I love it. It’s fun to talk about it.
TGL: You’ve been voicing Snake now for about 13 years. It’s actually quite uncommon to see a character stick with the same voice over artist for that length of time…
DH: Yeah, you’re right. But it’s been amazing. It’s like, to a very small extent, being William Shatner or something. You can either resent Kirk or embrace it and think “Yeah, my character was an icon”. Obviously Snake isn’t on the same level as Kirk, but that’s the way I try and look at it. It’s really been special. Our mutual agreement on either side between Mr. Kojima and I has been good for the games and good for the fans I think.
TGL: I don’t like how you’re speaking in the past tense when you say, “my character WAS an icon”. It’s sad to think David Hayter won’t be returning to voice somebody, Snake, Big Boss or otherwise in another Metal Gear game….
DH: Well, I did get microwaved and theoretically die in the last game……..
TGL: Can I ask you about that Microwave scene? It’s such an intense almost beautiful scene with the split-screen and Snake trawling through the Microwave corridor on the bottom. It’s emotional for the player and definitively one of MGS 4’s most epic sequences. But if you’re in the studio in front of the microphone, how are you getting that emotional impact across because obviously you’re not acting out the scene? How are you feeling Snake’s pain and anguish? Is this when the director Kris Zimmerman plays a really vital role?
DH: Kris is amazing. She’s directed all of my Metal Gear games. The producers from Konami over the years like Jeremy Blaustein or Ryan Payton have a very clear understanding of what Mr. Kojima wants and I insist, if it’s at all possible, to see either the mo-cap actors going through it or the finished cut scene. In MGS 3 we did it just to the length of each line. We had to match the length but it doesn’t always match up the right way. I can’t remember exactly but I think I watched the Snake mo-cap actor crawling through so I’m able to react to his movements. If he stubbles I can say “Uhhhggg”. I’d see him pulling himself up, so I’ll put in a creek like “Ahhhggg”. So together were able to build this inexorable painful moment. Obviously I’ve a lot of experience making pained noises on Snake’s behalf so that comes in handy as well, but that’s what it is, I basically watch the physical action and I try to match that in the voice. There’s a trick to it. I have to create an effect with my voice that is as such that even if you weren’t watching it, you would be able to feel the movement and feel the pain and the torture of it. And then you’ve got the beautiful rendering, artwork and the music and the fact that they make your controller slow down so you just cannot move Snake any faster and so you start to feel that pain and frustration.
TGL: There are a lot of epic scenes and sequences in MGS 4, the microwave corridor being one. But what was the stand out scene for you, both as an actor in the booth and a gamer sitting at home playing the game?
DH: I think the experience of recording the game is something I would take as a whole. It all kind of blurs together. I love working with Christopher Randolph who plays Otacon and we’ve been doing to so long that they could probably put out a whole videogame of out-takes between Otacon and I, which would be really fun. In the game, I loved the Raiden scenes where he would stand up and protect Snake. But in the end when I would play the game, when I listen to myself I think some of it is really great and other times I think that I sound really horrible. But the things that really impacted me when I played the game were the final fight with Liquid Ocelot to the old music of the first games. It was awesome. The fight between Metal Gear Ray and Metal Gear Rex I thought was just awesome too. To finally have Snake controlling a Metal Gear and be able to fight with it was just such a great moment. Metal Gear 4 from Snake’s perspective was very difficult and a little depressing. Snake is very often sent on missions where he finds out in the middle that he’s not doing what he thought he was doing. And then on top of that, he’s dying, he’s aging and nothing is fair and he has nothing else but to finish the mission. It’s a little bleak. But he’s Snake, he can’t quit. He doesn’t have that in his character. It’s just not an option.
TGL: Kojima creates great characters. As a screenwriter who is obviously interested in characterisation, who do you think are the stand out characters for you in the MGS universe, apart from Snake of course?
DH: I think Ocelot has an amazing story, from the Josh Keaton days (Major Ocelot-MGS3) to the Patric Zimmerman days (Revolver/Liquid Ocelot). I think he’s an astounding character. I think Raiden is an amazing character and for me as a screenwriter it’s about who goes from one aspect to another, who changes the most. Snake doesn’t change that much. He is what he is and he learns things along the way. I always loved Sniper Wolf’s story. But all the Metal Gear voice actors are super nice people and the nice thing about my job is that I just go in for months at a time and then these amazing actors come in one by one and we do days and days of scenes together and it’s just amazing. Lee Meriwether who plays EVA in MGS 4 was Catwoman in Batman and working with her was awesome. Just so many great people have come in over the years and I get to work with them all, so it is one of the luckiest jobs ever. But it’s so funny because these big voice actors come in and they know everybody but they don’t really know me. Unless you’ve worked on Metal Gear or you’ve run into me here or there, you don’t know me. I’m not that famous in the voice community. These actors would come in who have done hundreds of games and I’m the lead and they have no idea who I am. But they know that I’ve been there before and I know all the producers. It’s a very unique thing and I do love it.
TGL: It’s great to hear you speak so affectionately about the other members of the voice cast. I take it that Metal Gear Solid as forged some really good friendships for you….
DH: Yeah. I knew Jennifer Hale (Dr. Naomi Hunter) from way back in the day. We did the old Spider-Man show together in the 90’s. In fact, we almost made out. I was Captain America and she was The Black Cat but I had to go off and defend democracy.
TGL: Aint that always the way….
DH: Aint it! You finally get a hold of a nice curvy villain and you can’t do anything about it. That’s how I met Jennifer. I knew Kim-Mai Guest (Mei Ling) because she was a set decorator on my movie Guyver back in 1993. So I’ve known her from then. I’m good friends with all of them. Many of them I see in the booth and many of them I hang out with in life so it’s a lot of fun.
TGL: You mentioned Raiden earlier as a character you really like from the MGS Universe, but can I ask you about the character change in MGS 2 that suddenly put players in control of this new rookie agent that nobody expected. What did you make of the controversy that surrounded the character swap and the negative reaction at the time to Raiden?
DH: It caught a lot of people, me included, by surprise. So you’re playing as Snake in this amazing Tanker episode that you open with and then suddenly you’re not Snake anymore. Suddenly, you’re Raiden. It’s not a reflection on Raiden being a bad character, you’re just expecting to play the experienced Special Forces master that is Snake and then suddenly you’re bumped back to rookie. I think that’s what made people react the way they did. They weren’t expecting it. When you give a gamer a surprise, you want them to feel cooler than they did the second before they got the surprise. Whereas this sort of made them feel like “So now Snake is yelling at me!” as opposed to being Snake himself. So I think it just caught people by surprise. Quinton Flynn (voice of Raiden) did a great job and I love how determined Hideo Kojima has been about redeeming Raiden and making him as bad-ass as possible.
TGL: O Yeah! How could you not love Raiden in MGS 4? He’s a bad-ass Katana wielding Ninja…
DH: Yeah. But Snake was getting the raw end of the deal there. I’m aging and everyone’s being upset around me and then there’s Raiden who’s a super Cyborg Ninja. All I get is bowel problems! Ha ha.
DH: Well, they are genetic matches. They’re the same. So, to my mind, they have the same vocal cords. They have the same DNA. The difference is that the Big Boss’ story is one of a hero who sort of rises to take control of his world and sets out to change that world for better or worse in the long run. Solid Snake is a guy who has to deal with the cleanup of all this. His destiny is run by the sins of his genetic father and he’s a lot more of a work horse soldier. Big Boss created situations, Solid Snake cleans them up. I would say that it’s probably more fun to play Big Boss. I haven’t played the end of Big Boss’ story yet and I don’t know if I will….
TGL: Are you referring to Peace Walker there or a game that still has to be made?
DH: For me Peace Walker is the pinnacle of Big Boss and his story. It’s the high point. I’m saying that if there was another game in the timeline after that, it could show us the end of Big Boss and his story and where it all goes wrong. So far, while Big Boss’ stories have been emotional, they have been far more heroic. Solid Snake’s stories have been tougher to battle through. I think he’s gone through a lot more. I kind of feel for Snake. It’s more fun to play Big Boss but I’m more empathic towards Solid Snake.
TGL: What do you think of the way the story is being told and the way we’re jumping from sequels to prequels between console games and handheld titles? And now we have Metal Gear Solid: Rising which is an MGS spin off. Do you like the way and the order that Hideo is telling this great story?
DH: Absolutely. I love epic movies and epic franchises like Lord of The Rings or Star Wars so to find out more about those characters can be very satisfying as long that the franchise stays true to itself. I think Metal Gear has done an astonishing job at doing that. Not only have they made each game technologically better than the last but they’ve recognised that this is a full world with many different intersecting storylines and it really affects everything. I love that, and I love that it’s stayed good. If they had gone with different directors on a couple of games and some sucked and some didn’t or anyone went against the story line threads, then that’s very frustrating. I think the way it’s been done is masterful. It’s an amazing achievement on Kojima and Konami’s part. I love playing a game that explains something from a game I was playing 12 years ago.
DH: I know what you guys know, or less. I’ve seen the teaser trailers which illustrate the use of the Katana, which look amazing, but after that I don’t know anything about it. I have talked to some people internally about it a little bit but I genuinely do not have any inside information on it. I’m sure it’ll be good. So far all the MGS games have been pretty good. I’m looking forward to playing it.
TGL: Do you think you’ll ever return to voice Big Boss or do some sort of voice work on a Metal Gear game again? You could hardly return as Snake again, could you?
DH: Well, from a screenwriter’s perspective, if you could clone him once, you could clone him a hundred times. I don’t think Solid Snake has to disappear because the first body got old and died. The thing about Snake is that you could just bring him back and back and back. You can do that to pretty much any comic book character anyways. But with Snake, it’s part of the story. He is a copy, so you could do it again. I don’t know will I ever do it again though. I never know. I didn’t know after Metal Gear 3. I just never know. Would I want to do it again? Absolutely! It’s like Joe Mantegna who is Fat Tony on the Simpsons said; if Fat Tony so much as blows his nose in an episode, I want to do it. I feel the same way. If they want to do Snake again, I am always up for doing it, and I hope I get to do it again. But if not, I’ve had an extremely good run and I’m grateful for what it’s been.
DH: It was fun. But I was nervous. I didn’t use Solid Snake’s voice, just my own. They put this jacket on me that was like an acid washed jacket with silver studs on it and the eye path and I did ask the director at the time “Are you guys just fucking with me? What are we doing?” I just hoped they weren’t doing it to humiliate me. I didn’t know how it was going to play or how humiliated I was going to be. In the end it was fine. It was a funny little short and people seemed to appreciate it. But at the time I was a little concerned. It’s one thing to humiliate me as Snake. It’s another thing to humiliate me as myself. But it didn’t turn out that way. I’m very happy with it. It was very funny.
TGL: So Solid Snake aside, what are you working on at the moment?
DH: Well some things are a little more secret then others. I’m working on a pilot for Show Time which we’ll announce down the road hopefully if it all comes together. My movie Wolves was supposed to shoot at the end of the year but the company that was funding it just had a massive $50,000,000 court punishment levee put against it so that has made production a little difficult. But it’s made me realise that production difficulties may not be a result of my lack of talent. It seems like at this point, it’s probably more like a mummies curse or like I hit a gypsy with my car or something like that. But in the end these things are just the joys of film making and if you look at Watchmen; that took us 10 years from start to finish to get it made. Wolves is in its third and a half year. I’m still hoping we shoot it at the end of the year. But I have another movie that I’m attached to direct which I haven’t announced yet which may come first. With the Dead World, we have a director whose attached to that which is very exciting and so we are just looking to set it up now at a studio.
TGL: It must be very rewarding to tell your own stories for once…
DH: Exactly. And now I’ve had such a wide range of experience around many different aspects of the industry that I feel like it’s a good time to step into that world. That’s really what I love. I love on camera features. I love being on set with the actors and the costumes and the creatures. That’s really where I would like to be but at the same time, I’m going in to do pickups on Star Wars: The Old Republic soon and that’s also a blast. Pretty much everything I do is pretty fun.
TGL: Thank you David. We really appreciate that you took the time to speak with us. On behalf of everyone here on Team TGL, we just want to say a huge thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
DH: Thank you. It’s been an honour. Greetings to everyone on Team TGL and in Ireland. I hope to make it over to you sometime real soon. All the best.