“Al, you have about as much impulse control as a pitbull on crack.”- Barry
Fred- Well, I was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, and have lived in New York City for the past 16 years. I went to school for theatre at Hofstra University and just started pounding the pavement as soon as I graduated. Aside from acting, I’ve also spent many years playing drums in various bands, including, my personal favourite, a Meatloaf tribute band called Anything For Loaf. Awesome.
Retroplayer- When did you decide that acting was your call in life?
Fred- I always enjoyed it. I had done all the school plays in elementary school and high school. But I guess it was around my junior year of high school when I saw “Taxi Driver”, and DeNiro’s performance in that kind of solidified it for me. Up until then, it was all fun and games and just acting silly on stage and trying to get laughs. But watching that film, for whatever reason, really made me realize that there was a lot more to this “acting” thing, and I desperately wanted to find out what it was. And then later, once I was in college for theatre, Kenneth Branagh’s book “Beginnings” had a huge impact on me and really made me aware of the passion that you have to have for the actual craft and the work. It also gave me a sense that I have to do this myself. No one’s going to necessarily help me, so if I wanna make things happen as an actor, it’s up to me and me alone.
Retroplayer- Fred, tell us about your work ethic. While every acting role is vastly different, how do you approach your work in general?
Fred- I try to come to the table as prepared as possible. I do my homework ahead of time, but I also know that you have to be able and willing to throw it all out and just work on instinct as well. I also think it’s important to realize that you can’t approach every role and/or project in the same manner, and it’s okay to deviate from your normal routine and take chances and try new approaches. Scary sometimes, but necessary and usually very rewarding.
Retroplayer- Fred, you acted in film, TV, on Broadway as well as behind the microphone. Which do you enjoy most and why?
Fred- They’re all great, and each has it’s own unique challenges and rewards. Theatre is what I’m most comfortable with, only because it’s what I was trained in, and have had the most experience in. Voice-over work is a blast, if for no other reason than I can go to work in shorts and a tee-shirt everyday and not have to worry about shaving! And I grew up watching and loving movies – it was my dream from a young age to work on movies in some capacity – so any opportunity to live that out is amazing. But, really, in the end, (and I doubt anyone who has worked in all the mediums will tell you any differently), there is nothing in the world like the feeling you get from a live audience.
Fred- They absolutely each have their own particular skill sets. But, I think they all fall back on being as truthful and honest as you can. In the theatre, that honesty has to play to a much larger room, and you need to be able to meet the vocal and physical demands of the stage to do that. In film, the camera is right there on you, so you need to work much more internally….which can sometimes be hard if you’ve done a lot of stage-work, and takes some practice. And with voice-over work, there’s definitely an art of working the microphone to your advantage.
Retroplayer- Your first venture into the gaming world was in the 2003 video game Max Payne 2 as Vinnie Gognitti. What was your first impression of the videogame voice acting world?
Fred- Well, I definitely felt a bit of pressure, as it was not only my first video game, but a major role in a highly anticipated sequel. On top of all of that is the fact that when you do voice-work for games you really get little to no opportunity to prep. At the auditions you’re given a brief background of the character and what the game is about, a picture of what the character will look like, and a few random scenes, most of the time with only your characters’ lines….so, a lot of it is trying to fill in the blanks quickly and then just going with your gut. Then, if you’re lucky enough to book the job, you basically show up to record and do the same exact thing. You’ll have the benefit of having more of the script in front of you (sometimes), but you really have no opportunity to take it home and read through to find the arc of the character. So, it helps to have a great director with you to help fill in the blanks and keep you informed of what is going on, what’s going to happen, etc. Thankfully, Navid Khonsari, (who directed me in ‘Max Payne 2′ and then, later ‘The Warriors’ and ‘Alan Wake,’ among others) was super helpful in this regard. But, really, I found it’s like any of the other acting mediums: just going with your gut and making bold choices and then having the director reign you in and push and pull you to where he thinks you need to be….and then praying that it all works out!
Retroplayer- Was videogame voice-over always something you wanted to get into, or did you just happen upon it?
Fred- It was something I always thought would be fun, but wasn’t necessarily on my radar at the time. If memory serves, Max Payne 2 was actually my first video game audition ever, and, thankfully, the character was a good fit. So it was a nice way to start right out of the gate!
Retroplayer- After Max Payne 2 you were in a few high profile games such as GTA: San Andreas, The Warriors, True Crime: New York City and Neverwinter Nights 2. Did you use any skills from your on-screen acting background to help you tackle the world of voice-over? If so, how?
Fred- Well, there’s definitely much more intimacy and subtlety required in film acting, which I think definitely carries over to working in the booth. Just as the camera picks up everything, so does the microphone. ‘Sand’ in Neverwinter Nights 2, is an example of a character which I really tried to think of in terms of film acting. Here’s a character who lives completely by his wits. He’s not a warrior, like many of the other characters in the game. Rather, he loves extempore and believes everyone is slightly below him in terms of intelligence, and that’s how he gets by. So, I was consciously thinking of actors like Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons, who always play such highly intelligent character and also tend to play everything really close to the vest on film. And thus, I found myself getting much closer to the mic so I didn’t have to project as much and really just let my voice get to as intimate a place as possible….sort of like one big close-up. Don’t know if it worked, but that’s what I was going for!
Retroplayer- Last year you played the role of Barry Wheeler in Alan Wake, Fred. Of course, this isn’t your first time working with Remedy Entertainment as you first worked with them on Max Payne 2. What can you tell us about the people behind Remedy, and what kind of relationship do you have with them?
Fred- Remedy has been great to me over the years. But really, it’s Navid Khonsari who’s kept me in the Remedy loop. For the most part, it’s always only me and Navid (and in the case of ‘Alan Wake’, engineer David Wilson) working together in the studio, so he’s my real connection to Remedy. As I mentioned earlier, I had worked with Navid on ‘Max Payne 2′ as well as some other games early on for Rockstar and his company, iNK Stories. When Alan Wake was casting, apparently the folks at Remedy said they wanted a “Vinnie Gognitti type” for ‘Barry’. And Navid was gracious enough to say, “Hey, I can do you one better: I can get you Vinnie Gognitti!” So, again, I really owe my relationship with Remedy to Navid – and, thankfully, we have a great time working together, so hopefully they’ll be more to come.
Retroplayer- How do you view Barry as a character? How did you approach his portrayal?
Fred- Barry is a guy who takes his job very seriously. He loves his job and he wants to be the best agent there is. And more importantly, he takes his relationship with Alan Wake very seriously; not only as a client, but as a friend. Yes, he’s comic relief….but he’s there to get his friend’s back when the shit starts to fly.
Retroplayer- While Barry could have been just the funny sidekick, I felt that both Remedy and yourself went further than that and gave him some true emotion and heart. One scene that comes to mind is right before Alan confronts the Dark Presence by himself. We see Barry crying for his friend that he may never see again. As an actor were you grateful that Barry, despite what many initially may have thought, seemed to be quite ranged in terms of emotion and depth?
Fred- Absolutely! In the beginning it was a very tricky balance with Barry. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t get the script ahead of time and so you can’t really work out all the details of your character before you start recording, so you have no sense of a character arc. In fact, I remember early in the process, Navid interviewed me for some download-able ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff, and we kept referring to Barry as the stock ‘douchebag agent role’….but we quickly found out that he’s a lot more than that. Yeah, he’s a loud-mouth and he’s got a lot of strange little quirks. But the guy’s got a big heart, and as I said, he takes his relationship with Alan very seriously. He’s extremely loyal. As an actor, it’s always a pleasure to play a fully fleshed out human being. So, kudos to the writers for taking Barry to the next level!
Retroplayer- Fred, you got to play Barry again recently when he appeared in Death Rally. What was it like stepping back into the role?
Fred- It was a blast. Going back to the studio, we all know Barry so much better now – so, we can just jump right in and fly with what Barry throws our way.
Retroplayer- While many gamers associate you as Barry Wheeler, are there any roles that you’ve done that don’t get much attention that you think our readers should check out?
Fred- I remember enjoying “Vincent Tuzzi” in True Crime 2: NY. And “Sand” in Neverwinter Nights 2 was a lot of fun, as well – particularly in the court-room scenes.
Retroplayer- Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what games do you enjoy?
Fred- I’m actually not much of a gamer at all. In fact, I’ve never really played any games, other than Guitar Hero. If it isn’t a single Atari joystick with one red button, I’m lost. Or if it’s just text, even better. ”Zork” for the Apple IIc…now THERE was a game!
Retroplayer- At this point in your life, what is your main source of inspiration?
Fred- My family. Everything I do now is with them in mind. I have a wonderfully supportive wife and two amazing kids, and they really keep me going. And also Journey’s 1981 live CD, “Captured.” You always need some classic live Journey in your life, don’t let anyone tell you different.
Retroplayer- What advice would you give to any young people who wish to become a voice actor who are reading this right now?
Fred- Really listen to commercials on TV and the radio. Listen to the performances on video-games, audio-books, etc. Find actors you like and try to pin-point what it is about their voice and their performance that sticks out to you. Transcribe commercial copy you hear and practice reading it out loud. Take classes. Work on your craft. You may have a great voice, but you need to be able to read commercial copy in a natural way (not as easy as it sounds), and that takes skill and practice. Once you think you’re ready, put together a demo and make sure it’s great. Don’t scrimp and record it on Garageband in your bedroom. Find people who know how to make proper demos and put in the time to really make it sound as professional as possible. You sometimes only get one chance to get an agent or casting director to take a listen to your stuff and you want to put your best foot forward the first time. And most importantly: if it’s your passion, don’t give up, ever.
Retroplayer- How do you want your portrayal of Barry Wheeler to be remembered?
Fred- Like a big, bright Flaming Eye of Mordor…..lighting up people’s lives wherever they may go.
Retroplayer- And finally, do you have a message for all your fans here on TGL?
Fred- Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and support – seriously. It’s always an amazing feeling to know that you’ve connected with the players in a positive way. And It’s been really exciting for me to see these characters embraced by the gaming community, so thanks everyone!