Let's talk about your cast. You always cast top talent, like James McCaffrey as Max Payne, and Matthew Porretta and Shawn Ashmore in roles as deep and compelling protagonists. What was it like casting Control?
The idea that came to us, very early on, was, let's have some fun with our casting. For Control, let's gather up a Remedy all-stars cast for this thing. So, the previous Director, Zachariah Trench, he's played by James McCaffrey (The voice of Max Payne in all three games in that series). Trench was essentially, the first character I came up with for Control. From the perspective that, we have this secretive government agency, and, ya know, the old Director there, I wanted to have someone hard boiled, somebody cynical, somebody who has had tragedy in their life, and who was once a man of action in their younger days. I was like, "huh, who does this remind me of? Oh yeah, we kind of had a character like that in a different thing." And who would be perfect to play that character? James. And so, actually, here, 2017, we came to the Tribeca Film Festival, to talk about storytelling in games, and I met with James, and I said that we're working on something and I might have this really fun, interesting role for you, and he was like, "yeah, sounds great," and here we are.
So Trench, he is dead. It's not a spoiler! It happens very early on. But the thing is, because of these mystical forces, he's still around. It's almost like this echo or ghost that haunts our new director, Jesse, giving her instructions and revealing bits and pieces of things, and so that's Trench. Then we had this idea, that Trench represents what the bureau is and has been, but now, obviously, things have gone really badly wrong. And this old regime, this old boys' club that has been running the show, they've messed it up. We need a new hero. Somebody with a fresh perspective, coming from the outside to this situation, and has to deal with it.
We wanted a younger woman, somebody who has dealt with the supernatural. Jesse had this very traumatic experience related to that, early on in her life, that changed her, and she's been looking for answers, and now she comes here and ends up in this situation and becomes the Director. Once again, I was thinking, who would be great for this role? And thought of Courtney Hope, who had played Beth, the main female hero in Quantum Break. The sad thing in that game was, as it often happens, as we wind towards the final game, you need to cut some things. Early on, we were considering giving Beth some time powers and things like that, but we just had to focus, and felt that Courtney was awesome to work with, and did a brilliant role as Beth. And so much positive response from players, so I reached out to Courtney and said, "Would you be interested in playing Jesse, the main role in this? You'd be great in it and we'd love to work with you!" And she was like, "Yeah, totally awesome." So that's how that came to be. As a last step for Remedy All-Stars, we have Matthew Porretta in a role as well. Matt, obviously, is Alan Wake's voice, but we have never been able to use his likeness in a game, because, ya know, we used to do things differently. It was a VO actor and a model separately. In Quantum Break, we finally got to use digital doubles, so Courtney played the full role of Beth, her likeness.
I actually didn't know that with Alan Wake!
For Alan Wake, we had, as model for the character, Ilkka Villi, who is a Finnish actor, and then Matt did the voice. But now we have Matt, ya know, in this full role, which is Doctor Casper Darling, who is the head of research for The Bureau. He is the main, brilliant scientist doing all the research about the unexplainable things and kind of pushing the boundaries of our known reality and the universe. This is a guy who has to deal with the most dangerous, most classified things, and keep a lot of secrets, and that's been a burden to him. And he's this reclusive character, ya know, who disappears into his lab for days and days, and who has also this other side to him, because he wants to distance other people from him. He doesn't want to be answering questions, so he a bit of a showman. He might appear, and people are expecting him to give a presentation, but he might just end up cracking some jokes or singing karaoke songs, this kind of strange persona. That's Matt, playing that role and really having fun with that, as well. So, ya know, that's "Remedy All-Stars." We have other roles there, other characters as well, but these are the ones that we are talking about now.
Is there a greater meaning to setting the game in New York?
I don't know. For me, always, somehow, New York, looking at it through the lens of pop culture and movies, it is such an iconic thing. Ya know, larger than life in many ways. It brings in certain elements so well, like Max Payne, yes, is very much a New York story. Even Alan Wake. Alan comes from New York and goes to a small town. It just felt, to me, like a natural place to go back to for Control.
How much do you cooperate with your actors now that you're filming on sets? I imagine it's very similar to film, these days.
It depends on the material. We are mixing different mediums in some cases. But certainly, we are using motion capture sets, performance capture studios, VO recordings, you know, all of that combined. We have already done some of that in London for Control. We just moved, Remedy moved into a bigger office in the greater Helsinki area in Finland, and we have a big mo-cap studio. We have been flying in the actors there, and had done that for Quantum Break, as well. We did a lot of shooting in LA with Quantum Break. But now it's been London and Helsinki area.
Do the actors get to shape their performances a bit? Do they have a degree or influence over, like, "Oh, I don't think my character would say that?"
I think, to a certain degree, that is the case, and should be the case. You want the best possible, most believable performance. It's important that you spend time talking about it with the actor, and trying to find their version of the character as strongly as possible. It's a combination of what is written on the page, what is the direction, and what is the actor's take.
You talked about "the old way," and how Jesse represents this younger female who tries doing things differently, at least, if she survives this trial by fire. One heck of a job interview.
It is! It is.
Was there ever any kind of... There's so much tension right now, there was the 2016 election, and even right now, on the news, there's so much going on in the real world, in politics.
You can't really avoid it.
Do you take current events and... Do you keep the global and American cultural climate in mind?
Yeah. I think, it's nearly impossible not to, on some level. And obviously, you draw inspiration from popular culture. TV, if it can even be called TV anymore, ya know, many great shows, many experimental, like we have this kind of fragmented, dreamlike storytelling in this one, and there are great shows trying things, experimenting. Legion, Mr. Robot, things like that. Definitely kind of looking at those very carefully, and we've done dreamlike experiences in our games before, and this is like, maybe taking that a bit further. But at the same time, yes. Times change, and it's... I think part of the mix is what the surrounding world around us is. Not necessarily saying that we have a bigger message with this, but just, like, wanting to stay modern and contemporary. This is set in the present day, in the real world. Even though we kind of step over the threshold and we're on this very strange Hero's Journey in a way, and we leave the real world behind, but that, as a starting point, I think that it needs to be believable. And we are dealing with a lot of these things. So in some ways it resonated and felt fitting, ya know, to take a step in the direction where we modernize our hero, as well.