Crispin Freeman Interview
We always love chatting to voice actors, so when we got the chance to chat to Crispin Freeman - a veteran voice actor from games including White Knight Chronicles, the Tales series, God of War and Rude in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children - we grabbed it with both hands.
Crispin was kind enough to go into great detail on his work ethic, the games he's appeared in as well as his hobbies and interests outside of standing in a voice recording booth voicing famous characters. Here's the full interview!
RPGSite: Hello Crispin, thank you for giving us some of your time. How are you today?
Crispin Freeman: I’m doing fantastically. How are you?
RPGSite: I'm doing good, thank you. You know, we are nearly into the second half of the year, so how has the new decade been treating you so far - and are your resolutions intact?
Crispin: Just fine thank you. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I sorta make resolutions as I go along. January 1st isn’t always the best day to plan things, especially if I’ve been having fun on December 31st!
RPGSite: I was browsing your résumé earlier today and if its size is anything to go by, you are clearly very passionate about acting, so when did you first catch the acting bug?
Crispin: I first caught the acting bug when I started doing extra work in the opera as a young boy. My family was heavily involved in supporting the Lyric Opera of Chicago and eventually convinced me to try out for being what’s called a supernumerary in a couple of the productions. I fell in love with being backstage at the Opera and have been working in storytelling ever since.
RPGSite: Many actors at least claim to have never wanted to do anything but act – was that the case for you or were you ever tempted to try your hand at any other professions?
Crispin: I’m not sure that I always wanted to act, I certainly didn’t know that from a young age. When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot or a race car driver. Acting came about much later.
I was a very shy boy and didn’t like to get up in front of people. But acting was a way for me to learn about myself and about life and it was my avenue into participating in storytelling. Now I participate as a voice actor, director, script adaptor and most recently as a scholar and teacher.
RPGSite: You certainly never saw acting as the easy option, as you have achieved both a BA and MA in the subject. Do you think that study was vital to your later success?
Crispin: Acting degrees are not vital to an actor’s success. In fact, there’s probably a good argument to be made that too much time spent in schools can hamper your career. But for me, it was a wonderful experience that I certainly would not trade for anything. It enriched me as an artist and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
RPGSite: While it is far from all you do, it would seem that voice acting has taken over your career – is it something that you ever thought you would find yourself doing?
Crispin: When I was in high school and college, I had no intentions of becoming a voice actor. However, I was a sound designer and designed most of the shows I was acting in. I was told by my sound design guru that eventually I would have to make a choice: either acting or sound designing. Voice acting was a way for me to do both. I got to work with sound equipment and sound design and at the same time I got to act. So it was a perfect synthesis. On top of that, I realized that as much as I loved theatre and appreciated my time there, my first love was animation and I needed to pursue that love.
RPGSite: Has your experience as a stage actor helped you behind the microphone and do you think people underestimate how difficult it is to be a good voice actor?
Crispin: Absolutely my experience as a stage actor has helped me behind the microphone! I think you’ll find that the majority of voice actors have a theatrical background, especially in improvisational theatre. It’s a great proving ground for developing the instincts and skills that will help you bring believable performances to the microphone.
And yes, people underestimate how difficult it is to be a good voice actor. They think it’s easier than other types of acting. I think it’s actually more difficult. Often I am approached by fans who are shy and think that voice acting is a way for them to act without having to become courageous. It’s quite the opposite actually. They must find their courage first and build their acting chops in front of other people before their work on the microphone will be captivating.
RPGSite: One of the many games you have worked on is White Knight Chronicles, which has received so little publicity that I didn’t even know it had been released here until I saw it in the shop. Do you have any insight as to why it would ship with so little fanfare?
Crispin: I have no idea. As an actor, I am not privy to the marketing, ship dates, stock quantity or anything else that goes into the selling of a video game. With all the non-disclosure agreements that we have to sign, everything in the video game world is on a need-to-know basis.
RPGSite: I cannot be the only one that knows so little about it, so how would you summarise the plot and what can you tell us about your character, Grazel?
Crispin: Again, I only know the aspects of the game that directly impacted on my character, so I’m not familiar with the entire story. And speaking of those non-disclosure agreements, they probably would rather not have me reveal the story or plot points. I’m sure there are plenty of summaries and reviews online that can do a much more comprehensive job than I can.
RPGSite: There was a massive delay between the Japanese and Western release dates of nearly fourteen months, but when was the English voice track actually recorded?
Crispin: I recorded my parts in November of 2008 and then finished up the work in May of 2009. I’m not sure when the other voice actors were recorded.
RPGSite: I was reading some reviews of the game recently, which made me wonder – when you work on something, do you keep informed about how well it has been received or do you move on and focus on the next project?
Crispin: I pretty much focus on the next project. Sometimes a review of a video game I’ve been in will come across my radar screen and then I’ll check it out, but usually I can tell how popular something was by how many people bring merchandise from that game for me to sign at conventions. When it comes to animation, it’s easier for me to keep track of that because I can just watch it. Video games require so much time commitment that it’s difficult for me to see my work afterwards.
RPGSite: A sequel entitled White Knight Chronicles: Awakening of Light and Darkness is due to be released in Japan on the 8th July 2010. Have you been contacted about returning to the series sometime in the future?
Crispin: I have heard nothing about continuing the series. Hopefully they’ll ask me back to work on it again.
RPGSite: Talking of sequels, you voiced Regal Bryant in Tales of Symphonia but for its sequel, Dawn of the New World, almost the entire cast – including yourself - was replaced. Do you have any idea as to why they would choose to recast so many roles?
Crispin: They may have changed production houses and they may have decided to go in a different direction. Also they may have decided to go from a union production to a non-union production. There are many reasons for them deciding to change the cast of a show or a video game.
RPGSite: Troy Baker is often credited with taking over the role but he told us it wasn’t him, so out of curiosity do you have any idea who it might have been?
Crispin: None at all. Sorry.
RPGSite: If they had asked, would you have reprised the role for Dawn of the New World?
Crispin: Do actors refuse work? Am I an actor? Yes, I would’ve been happy to reprise my role if they had asked me and been able to negotiate the terms with my agent.
RPGSite: A role that you were able to voice more than once was Rude from the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. From the fan perspective, working on a Final Fantasy title seems like a really big deal but is it the same for you as an actor?
Crispin: Final Fantasy is a big deal and you can feel it with the amount of focus that is placed on the production of anything Final Fantasy related. I was quite happy to be working on the franchise and glad that I got to be a part of it.
RPGSite: Considering how well known and loved the characters from the original game were by the time you first voiced Rude in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, were you given any specific instructions regarding his voice?
Crispin: Nope. I was surprised that I got cast as Rude. I thought they were going to cast me as one of the other characters. But later I realized that it really suited me and Rude was a great place for me in the franchise. They didn’t give me any specific directions other than “act well”.
RPGSite: Together Reno and Rude almost come across as a double act – was that something that the creators were aiming for or did it come purely from the performance?
Crispin: I didn’t even realize it until I was done recording and got to see the final version on the big screen. Only then did I realize that Reno and Rude were such a comedy duo. I thought it was great. I loved being the comic relief in that film.
RPGSite: That double act vibe is even more obvious in the Director’s Cut of the movie, because they have perhaps more lines than anyone except for Cloud and Tifa. Were these lines that had been cut originally or did you return to the studio for additional recording?
Crispin: They had us come back in to record those lines later.
RPGSite: In between the two cuts of the movie you worked on Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, in which Reno and Rude appear but their role is a small one. How long did that take to record in comparison to a larger role in something like White Knight Chronicles?
Crispin: Crisis Core was only one recording session if I remember correctly. White Knight Chronicles took 3 sessions I believe.
RPGSite: Are the same standards maintained by the directors and actors regardless of how big or important a role is or are less significant roles recorded as quickly as possible?
Crispin: Are the same standards maintained in filmmaking by directors and actors regardless of how big or important the role is? Each video game is its own animal. For myself, I always do my best with every role that is given to me, because otherwise I won’t be satisfied. Sometimes circumstances are such that I can’t give the best performance that I’d like to, but I still always strive to craft each character well. I hate going back and hearing my work and thinking, “I could’ve done that better” no matter the size of the role.
RPGSite: When you are voicing an RPG, do you do the scenes in chronological order or is the recording order determined by things like where the scenes are set, a bit like film?
Crispin: Usually we record in chronological order, although we only get to see the scenes that our character is in.
RPGSite: How is the recording process affected by which developer you are working for – is it the same wherever you go or does everyone have their own way of doing things?
Crispin: Each developer has their own way of doing things. Recently there is a trend to having the voice actors do the motion capture work as well. Or hiring on-camera actors to do the mocap and using their voice for the character. It’ll be interesting to see where that’s all going in the future. Doing motion capture work is like being back in the theatre for me. I quite enjoy it.
RPGSite: In recent years many have been forecasting the death of the Japanese RPG as Western RPGs of all kinds began to dominate the market. Is this decline in fortunes something that is ever discussed when you are recording games like White Knight Chronicles and do you think anything can be done to turn it around?
Crispin: You know, when working on Magna Carta II we did discuss the decline of the Japanese RPG. Mostly it was in light of the ascendency of the first person shooter. We didn’t really discuss the idea of the Western RPG displacing the Japanese RPG.
RPGSite: What is your own theory as to why Japanese RPGs are falling so far behind the competition, whether that competition be Western RPGs or first person shooters?
Crispin:I think there are a lot of cultural influences that come into play when trying to understand why the JRPG seems to be struggling recently. I think part of it is due to the rise in online gameplay, which is primarily a western dominated arena. Westerners tend to have very little problem playing with strangers online. However in Japan, there is a cultural reluctance to play with someone you have never met before.
This goes some way to explaining why Sony has had a hard time expanding their online service and why Xbox Live has been dominant. The Japanese are just more comfortable playing a video game in isolation than Westerners tend to be. A classic example of this is .hack// where the game is about kids getting trapped in an online virtual world, but the actual game itself doesn’t connect to the internet at all. The online world of .hack// is completely offline. This paradox doesn’t seem to bother the .hack// developers since the franchise has had many sequels. I imagine that pitching that kind of project to a Western developer would be a very hard sell.
Also, your standard JRPG doesn’t allow for the kind of interactive gameplay that World of Warcraft does, so it appeals to a different kind of fantasy gamer. Add into that the criticism of the most recent Final Fantasy game that it only allowed one story path and didn’t allow any variation from that path until much later in the game. This is a Western gaming mind criticism. The Western gamer will tend towards sandbox-style gameplay and will find it frustrating to have their story choices limited.
The Japanese gamer will tend to not be bothered by limited story choices as long as the story that is supplied to them is captivating. For me, if the story is a good one, I'm happy to be limited to the best manifestation of that narrative. Movies are also quite limited in their story choices since they follow one linear path. I enjoy them as well. I don’t think all gaming needs to be non-linear in its story structure.
RPGSite: How do you see gaming developing as we move forward?
Crispin: The ecosystem of games in general needs to diversify and I think we’re seeing that happen with the rise of gaming platforms like the iPhone, iPad and Facebook games. These are arenas where the console paradigm no longer holds sway. New platforms bring gaming to an audience that does not subscribe either to the culture of the gaming world of E3, nor to their hyperbolic periodicals. Non-gamer types want to just have fun playing games on the devices around them.
There will always be the hardcore gamers that need the newest hi-performance console, but there will start to be room for the casual gamers who are interested in different kinds of experiences from those headlining at events like E3. My favorite game is still Shadow of the Colossus and I can’t find any other game for the Playstation that captivates me like that one. Except it’s prequel, Ico, of course. I am looking forward to Last Guardian. I haven’t been willing to buy a Playstation 3 since they yanked PS2 backward compatibility from the device, and I don’t want to have to buy a used piece of hardware in order to play the game I like.
It would be ridiculous to have to buy an old DVD player because my new Blu-Ray player isn’t backward compatible. That kind of planned obsolescence is traditional in the gaming world but seems silly to those outside of the culture. What I do love, however, is that I can play Final Fantasy I on my iPhone. That’s invaluable for my research into video game mythology.
RPGSite: Outside of gaming, you also worked on Wolverine and the X-Men, a series which has almost become an RPGSite Easter Egg because so many of the voice actors we have spoken to worked on it. Do you have good memories from your time recording for the show?
Crispin: I did enjoy it, although it was probably one of the hardest recording sessions I’ve ever had to do because each one of my effort sounds as Multiple Man had to be different from every other effort. That’s incredibly difficult.
RPGSite: In addition to Multiple Man you also voiced Maverick, both of whom are rather less well known than characters such as the titular Wolverine, so how would you describe them and their role within the X-Men Universe to those that have never met them before?
Crispin: I don’t remember playing Maverick. Are you sure I played him? Multiple Man was a one episode villain so he didn’t have a lot of character development or impact on the overall storyline.
RPGSite: Ah, unreliable online sources strike again. Hopefully they were not wrong to credit you with the role of Helios, the God of the Sun in the highly acclaimed God of War III. What was his role in the game and what approach was taken with his character?
Crispin: The approach was probably the same as most voice acting: “Act well”. They wanted a godly, noble voice and I happen to be good at playing classical and high-status characters of that ilk.
Chalk it up to all my Shakespearean training. As far as his role in the game, he’s a character you have to defeat in order to incorporate his abilities as your own. You basically rip my head off and use it as a flashlight through the rest of the game. I always try to be helpful to the player, even when decapitated.
RPGSite: It must have been a unique experience for you to voice a character taken directly from mythology, as you give lectures about how myths and legends have shaped modern storytelling. What is about that subject that attracts your attention?
Crispin: I believe that we become the stories that we tell ourselves. The stories that get told the most often tend to be those with archetypal characters: the mythologies of the religions of the world. By understanding the patterns and meanings behind the stories and by identifying with the characters within those narratives, it allows one to understand one’s own psychological programming on a very deep level.
Comprehending and then composing my own spiritually resonant narratives are important to me not only on an artistic level as a storyteller, but also in my personal life. By deciding which stories one chooses to create and/or internalize, one can literally become the authority of one’s own life. That is the most powerful and vitalizing use of these stories and it’s why they captivate me so. I want to author my own life in a way that is pleasing to me and I like to share my insights with others.
RPGSite: If we were to attend on of your lectures, what kind of thing could we expect to hear and what would you hope for us to take away from the experience?
Crispin: The quickest way to answer that is to have you watch the trailer I put together to promote my mythology presentations. It’s posted on YouTube and you can also watch it in the Mythology section of my website: http://www.crispinfreeman.com/mythology.html
What you can expect is to come away from the experience understanding the mythological patterns that underpin some of the best-beloved archetypes in pop culture. I open the hood (or bonnet) to show you how the engine works. I outline the meaning behind the stories that have captivated fans for the better part of a century. This allows my audience to see clearly the implications of stories they may have just taken for granted.
It also allows them to make their own decisions about the stories they want to tell themselves in the future, both as artistic creators, but even more fundamentally as people living their own lives. I enjoy helping to bring my audience’s subconscious attraction to certain types of storytelling to the awareness of their conscious mind. That allows them to perceive their psyche from a higher vantage point and rearrange themselves internally if they so desire.
RPGSite: In addition to your lectures, you also teach acting and writing workshops at the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy. When and why did you start doing that?
Crispin: The JVTA contacted me pretty much out of the blue to see if I would be interested in teaching a class on adapting scripts for dubbing, both for animation and video games. It sounded like a fascinating opportunity so I agreed. I asked them if I could expand into offering voice acting classes and performing my anime mythology seminars and they agreed. It’s been a wonderful partnership ever since.
RPGSite: The number of spaces in each class are very limited, so who usually attends the acting classes – aspiring actors, experienced actors looking to develop their voice, or people who are there for some other reason, such as to gain confidence?
Crispin: All of the above. I realize that I’m going to get students of all different skill levels and of different levels of commitment. Some just want to try things out. That’s great and I make sure to give them just what they need not to feel overwhelmed. Others are very committed voice actors who are looking to get to the next level in their acting. I’m happy to help give them insights into their own artistry and how to take them to the next level.
RPGSite: The same question for the writing class – is it just a bit of fun or is the ultimate goal for your students to eventually find work in the industry as new script adaptors?
Crispin: I treat everyone in my class as if they are on the road to working in the industry. Whether they continue on that road is completely up to them. But I don’t see any point in gesturing at professional training. We either do it like the pros, or we don’t do it. That doesn’t mean that I expect everyone to commit to a life in the entertainment industry because they signed up for a class with me. But why not do it like it’s really done? That’s the best way to learn in my opinion
RPGSite: There are student testimonials on your website but what was the biggest success story or the most rewarding feedback you have ever received from one of your students?
Crispin: When my students started auditioning at the same studio that I was working in, that certainly gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s the eventual goal to transition from a student/teacher relationship to a colleague/colleague relationship.
RPGSite: Time is almost up, but what are your future plans for your lectures and classes?
Crispin: Well, I’m expanding my mythology seminars and am teaching in a new venue in Santa Monica called the Vidiots Annex, a fantastic and eclectic video rental store that is now offering film studies classes. All that info is on my website. I’m also going to be offering online classes in the future as well which is really wonderful since I can reach so many more people that way!
RPGSite: And briefly, where can we expect to hear you in the coming months?
Crispin: I’m currently hard at work on my latest Anime Mythology presentation that I’ll be premiering at an academic conference at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in late September. The event is called Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits and it’s my favorite event all year. You can find out more about it on their website/blog: http://schoolgirlsandmobilesuits.com
My latest presentation is entitled, Anime Mythology: Evangelion: The Artist’s Psyche as Myth. In fact, I should probably get back to working on it! As far as voice acting projects go, they don’t let us talk about them anymore before they’re released so I’m afraid I have to be mum on the subject.
RPGSite: Thanks again for your time, Crispin; we really appreciate it.
Crispin: Not a problem. It was a pleasure talking with you.
Thanks again to Crispin for taking the time out to talk to us - be sure to keep an eye on his website for up-to-date information on his lectures and classes, plus stick with us at RPGSite for all latest news on the upcoming White Knight Chronicles: Awakening of Light and Darkness!