I recently got the chance to talk to Matt Holland about his involvement in ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’. Here, Matt talks about how he got involved in the project, and how he got into acting in the first place..
Hey Matt – thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’ is finally out in gaming stores right now. It looks so good.
For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to play it yet, what’s the general plotline?
Set 16 years from now, Adam Jensen, a security officer at a corporation that specializes in human augmentations, is attacked during a routine detail by mercenaries, who wound him so severely, he can only be saved by having mechanical augmentations fused onto his mangled body. Six months later, Jensen sets out on an elaborate mission that takes him to different countries, to find those responsible for the attack.
Tell us a bit about your involvement in the project – I understand you play multiple characters?…
Yes, the main character I voice is Isaias Sandoval, a suicidal, idealistic doctor who’s betrayed and abandoned by his powerful boss, Taggart. I also play a scientist named Sevchenko, a low-life named Tim Carella and a Belltower flunky. I recorded over several days in the spring and summer of 2009, sometimes alone, and sometimes with Elias Toufexis, who plays Adam Jensen.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I auditioned for Sandoval, and I guess they liked my voice enough to use me elsewhere. I’ve been voicing video games for about fifteen years now, in things like: ‘Splinter Cell’, ‘Far Cry Instincts’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed’, so I’m familiar with the tone and tenor of the action-thriller genre of game.
Do you think the ‘Deus Ex’ franchise has the potential to be turned into a good feature film?
Definitely. It combines cyberpunk elements from such classics as ‘Robocop’, ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Terminator 2’ in an exciting, cerebral way. The themes that ‘Deus Ex’ exploits are prescient too, so I think audiences will relate on an intellectual level as well as on a visceral one.
In ’Deus Ex’ language here – you could be ‘augmented’ with some sort of special ability – what would it be and why?
Invisibility. As an actor, part of my job is to observe people, and having a cloaking augmentation would allow me to see people at their most candid and vulnerable. I could also freak them out by moving things around. It would be a good party trick.
Let’s talk a bit about you Matt – how did you get into acting and voice-over in the first place?
I started acting in high school plays and kept it up through college. I later became interested in other areas of media: writing, directing, but I always maintained the performance aspect. After graduating university with a degree in Communications, I started acting professionally. My earliest gigs were voice jobs: radio plays, advertisements, and language exam tapes. From there I started dubbing films and voicing cartoons. The first video game I ever did was ‘Jagged Alliance,’ a CD-ROM from the mid-90s. It was a blast because I got to play multiple characters, using different voices and accents. And that’s sort of been my stock in trade ever since: I have a good ear for accents.
Which actors and voice-over artists have inspired you as a person?
As a kid, I admired the chameleons, actors who could disappear into their roles: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Gene Hackman. I especially identified with and wanted to emulate the first two on that list because they were versatile and hilarious performers. And, in the case of Sellers, he had a large body of work that was just voice: radio, comedy albums, etc.
I can also remember being blown away when I found out that Mel Blanc was the man behind so many great, indelible voice characterizations for Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera. He was my aspirational hero when I started doing voice-overs.
There are several local voice actors here in Montreal who have also inspired me with their talent. Rick Jones and Sonia Ball have particularly malleable and versatile voices, so much so that it’s often hard to identify them. But their work is consistently solid and noteworthy. Elias too, is an impressive voice performer, in full command of his character and able to project a quiet intensity that is crucial to a player’s appreciation of ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’.
You’ve been in a bunch of games and TV series’ – who has been your favourite actor/director to work with so far and what has been your favourite project to be a part of?
2003 was a very memorable year for me. There were a number of Hollywood productions that came to Montreal (where I’m based) to shoot and I was fortunate enough to have been cast in small parts in a number of high-profile feature films that spring and summer. The first was the special effects extravaganza ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, where I played an RAF helicopter pilot whose chopper freezes in mid-flight. We filmed in front of the largest green screen I’ve ever come across, and experienced violent turbulence in a makeshift copter on a giant gimbal. I also worked on Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes’ biopic, ‘The Aviator’, where I was awoken in my dressing room at 3 a.m. (after waiting around to work most of the day and night) and whisked to the set to meet “Marty” and a virtually naked and totally in character Leonardo Di Caprio. Scorsese’s set was run like a well-oiled machine, his long-time collaborators are fiercely loyal to him and it was amazing to watch him work. David Koepp then cast me as a detective in his psychological thriller, ‘Secret Window’, where I worked alongside Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton and Johnny Depp. Finally, I played a Ramada-Inn clerk in a scene with Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Terminal’.
I would list ‘The Aviator’, ‘Secret Window’ and ‘The Terminal’ as my favourite experiences as an actor because I got to work with and observe consummate professionals who were at the top of their game and had nothing to prove. There is an absence of pressure that allows creativity to flourish, particularly on Spielberg’s set, where Tom Hanks would crack jokes in between takes and the crew members’ families were welcome to come and just “hang out”. Even Johnny Depp, with scores of young girls stalking him just off set, was very laid-back, approachable and, well, human. When actors and directors are comfortable with themselves and work with confidence, it’s contagious, and puts others at ease.
If you could invite three historical guests to dinner (living or dead) – who would they be and why?
I would invite George Bernard Shaw because of his sharp wit and broad intelligence. I’m sure he’d be a dynamite conversationalist on a wide range of subjects.
I’d invite Pierre Trudeau for the same reasons. Just as Shaw’s career spanned a fascinating period of social change over five decades, Trudeau presided over 15 tumultuous and formative years as Prime Minister of Canada. He was a strong, controversial leader with a dazzling intellect, charm, and a healthy ego. I met him once, briefly, about twenty years ago at a Christmas party, but never got the chance to have a conversation.
Finally, I’d see if Yoko Ono would like to join us. She’s a survivor, who has straddled the worlds of pop stardom and underground obscurity with unique aplomb. Her adventurous spirit and feminist perspective would inject lively debate into the evening.
What is currently on your I-Pod right now?
A quick survey of Playlists: Bebel Gilberto; Biosphere; Brian Eno & John Cale; Paolo Conte; The Dead Texan; Delroy Wilson; Echo & The Bunnymen; Faust; The Fall; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Jan Garbarek; Gastr Del Sol; Slim Gaillard; Françoise Hardy; Merle Haggard; Neil Hefti; Ekstasis; Jonathan Fire Eater; Kanye West; Manu Dibango; Martin Léon; Nightmares On Wax; Sybille Baier; Linton Kwesi Johnson; Takehisa Kosugi; The Rolling Stones; The Durutti Column; Narciso Yepes; The Modern Jazz Quartet; Robert Charlebois; Robyn; Superchunk; T.Rex; Thurston Moore; Terry Riley; Tom Waits; Wire; U Roy; TV on the Radio; Virgin Prunes; Von Südenfed; Wolf Parade; Youn Sun Nah and 1 Mile North.
A quick survey of Podcasts: ‘Ideas’ (CBC Radio); ‘Q’ (CBC Radio); ‘This American Life’ (PRI); ‘Reasonable Discussions’ (The Onion A.V. Club) and ‘Judge John Hodgman’ (maximumfun.org).
What’s coming up for you in 2011/12?
I also work as a screenwriter and I’m co-writing a half-hour comedy series (that I created with my wife, who is French, and also a screenwriter) for the French version of CBC, Radio-Canada. We’re in development and I’m currently working on the third episode.
Thanks for the interview!