I recently got the chance to talk to Kiff VandenHeuvel about his role as Father Comstock in the newest ‘Bioshock’ game, ‘Bioshock: Infinite’. Here, Kiff talks about his love of the series and what it was like working on the project…
Hey Kiff. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about the newest Bioshock game, ‘Bioshock: Inifinite’.
Sure Matt, my pleasure!
A 1912’s dude named Booker DeWitt is sent to a flying city called Columbia to bring a girl back and “wipe away” his debts. But the city is more than he expects and the girl is much more than meets the eye. Oh, and there’s this “prophet” named Father Comstock – (voiced by me) who is preventing Booker from getting the girl out.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the game…
His name is Zachary Hale Comstock, and he is a charismatic zealot and “prophet” who builds an American “utopia” based on the deification of the founding fathers of America and racial purity. He’s like a mix of Moses, Joseph Smith, and the prophet Jeremiah, with a touch of Charles Darwin… mostly just his beard… (and his ideas of survival of the fittest). Extreme nationalist… visionary prophet… not the world’s greatest dad. But, you know what? He’s doing the best he can.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I honestly just auditioned for it. I had auditioned for a few characters earlier last year, but auditioned for Comstock in August, got called back a few weeks later and landed the job in early September, I think.
Did you know anything about the franchise before you signed on? Played the games, etc?
YES! I had pre-ordered the original ‘Bioshock’ and played it a couple of times. I was already a huge fan of Ken Levine, Irrational Games, and the world of Rapture. I remember reading in Game Informer about the big upcoming ‘Bioshock Infinite’ plans back in 2010 when I was in Chicago and wouldn’t even dare dream about being a part of the game.
What do you think it is about ‘Bioshock’ that makes it so popular?
I love the social and political satire in a medium that I feel is ripe for it. I love the aesthetic of the worlds…god, the innovative game play… I could go on and on. But, I think my favourite element is the sonic environment that Irrational creates. Their sound design of the characters and the weapons and just the world as you walk around is so chilling and exciting. So immersive and scary and funny. The games always have a great blend of funny and serious. It’s disarming and shocking and I think that always makes for a great time.
The game features the voices of Troy Baker, Courtnee Draper, Jennifer Hale, Oliver Vaquer, your good self and Kimberly Brooks – what was production of the game like for you? Any good anecdotes?
First off, I am humbled to be in the company of such talented actors, and you can’t ignore Heather Gordon’s brilliant performance capture work. She told me that she had done all of her acting to Courtney’s original dialog. So they would play Courtney’s words, and Heather would act it as if she was saying it. It’s like sight-reading with your body. So cool! I did MoCap on ‘Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition’, and it’s a tough and cool thing to do.
Back to ‘Bioshock Infinite’, I must say it’s one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I’ve ever done. And Ken Levine is one of the most giving and exciting collaborators I’ve ever been blessed to work with. I felt so free to discuss and explore the character with him. And remember, this is HIS and his team’s vision. He gave me so much freedom to explore and create and make wrong choices. I had done some passes of Comstock as sort of this cancerous Tom Waits like character and while it sounded supercool and evil, you didn’t get the sense that Comstock LOVES Elizabeth. That was really important to both of us. Ultimately, Comstock is inspired by Harrison Ford in ‘Mosquito Coast’, one of my uncles (who is a pastor), and my fatherly love of my daughter.
And anecdotally, Irrational Games studio is impossible to find. The driver dropped me off ON THE FRONT STEP and I still had to ask for directions. I feel like I got allowed into Willy Wonka’s factory for an afternoon.
Let’s talk a bit about you Kiff. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
‘Star Wars’. ‘Saturday Night Live’ – (I’m a Second City sketch comedian and impressionist), ‘Ghostbusters’, and then ‘Homicide: Life’ on the Street. I really want to play a cop on TV. You know, like a real thinking homicide detective, with a comedic edge to him. Like if Barney Miller was a procedural.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Don’t wait. Start where you are. I launched my voice career in Toledo, Ohio in the US doing on-hold messaging and the occasional industrial film. You gotta put yourself out there if you’re gonna do it. Work harder than everybody else you know and don’t ever give up. And learn set etiquette. Work as an extra or PA and figure out how being on set works.
Obviously, ‘Bioshock: Infinite’ is the next stage of interactive and immersive storytelling – where do you think the gaming industry is heading towards?
I’m excited by the PS4’s ability to give developers more power. In the near future, I think we’re going to see more sophisticated gaming with even greater artistic vision. It’s like the budget for memory has been given a blank check and we get to see what these artists can REALLY do. I want that feeling I had when I first saw ‘2K Football’ on the Dreamcast again. My jaw dropped at the photo realism. I’m excited for gameplay that makes cutscenes look like today’s game play. I want to see how these new systems can invite the artists and designers to, as Rod Serling said, “journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination”. Telling stories that tackle the ills and complex problems of society and allow us to experiment and discover them in a new and innovative way, problem-solve offline, the way great television does. I think ‘Bioshock: Inifinite’ is at the cutting edge of where games will be going in the future and it’s set a new high water mark.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Martin Scorsese, Heidi Klum, and Alec Baldwin – (I’m also including my wife, but I’m assume we’re all allowed a guest).
Here’s why: my favourite discussions are about movies and I wanted to bring in people who I think not only are funny, but informed, and passionate and very smart people. I can’t say for certain if Heidi knows film, but I’m very charmed by her personality and beauty and have really become a fan of hers on ‘Project Runway’ and think she and my wife would get on like a house on fire. Marty and Alec are huge cinephiles and it’d just be great fun to recommend great movies to each other. Can you set this up?
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
‘Dredd‘: with Karl Urban, Lena Headly, Wood Harris and Olivia Thirlby. Exciting, innovative violent action thriller that never stops trying to solve the problems it creates for itself. Great little sci-fi film and best seen in 3D. It was shot native in 3D.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
On HBO’s ‘Behind The Candelabra’, I worked with Matt Damon and (my hero) Dan Aykroyd, where I play Matt’s older half-brother, Wayne. Directed by Steven Soderberg – (who incidentally I’d also invite to my “dinner party of awesome”. Matt Damon, too). I’ve also had a recurring role on NBC’s ‘Parks And Recreation’, where I play a chauvinistic garbageman named Dewey. Maybe will be showing up soon… wink wink.
I’ve done some ADR and voice-matching for several upcoming features, I’ve got several TV and radio commercials running right now and a few more video games. And I’ve got auditions as well, so anything is possible!
Thanks for the interview!