Josh Gilman Interview
Josh Gilman is a relative newcomer in the world of voice acting but in that short time he has worked on both Modern Warfare games, voiced Angeal Hewley in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and taken the lead role in this year's Alpha Protocol. We recently sat down with him to discuss his career so far.
RPGSite: Hi Josh, thank you taking the time out to chat with us today. How are you?
Josh Gilman: Fine. And thank you for the interview.
RPGSite: From what I can find online, you have been working as a professional actor for the last ten years but when and why did you first decide to pursue an acting career?
Josh: Around age five or six; much to the chagrin of my parents. I've always loved film and storytelling, and I wanted to come out here and be a part of that.
RPGSite: The earliest credit on your online résumé is as a stand-in on one of my favourite movies, Almost Famous. What was it like working on the film?
Josh: It was horrible. I spent six months on the film being treated like everyone's whipping boy.
RPGSite: The first few credits on your IMDb profile are as a screen actor but since then you have worked exclusively as a voice actor. Was that a conscious decision?
Josh: Yes. I had an on-camera agent who was money-hungry and didn't care at all about what I read on, no matter how crappy the project. If it was paying crap, she wanted me to appear in it. I don't think an actor should have to take just anything that comes along, and I told her as much. I turned down the "opportunity" to play second banana in a lowbrow, straight-to-video teen comedy. After I did this, we dissolved our working relationship. Since then, I've decided to do my own thing and supplement my income with voice-over work. It's much nicer that way.
RPGSite: In 2007 came what could be called your big break, as you voiced Angeal Hewley in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, prequel to one of the most successful RPGs of all time. Had you ever played the original game?
Josh: I bought it back in high school, but discovered it wasn't the kind of game I like playing. I'm not much of a gamer, anyhow, and I don't think I understood really how to play the game, so I quickly lost interest.
RPGSite: Because the original game is so beloved and Angeal is the third lead, was the audition process more intense or drawn out than for the other roles you have played?
Josh: Not at all. I simply read the sides out of my voice-over agent's office and several weeks later was contacted by my agent and told I had booked the part. Nothing else was required.
RPGSite: How was the character described to you and how did you approach his voice?
Josh: They didn't say much at the sessions. I was told he was the original owner of that gigantic sword, and the mentor/instructor of the main character. That was about it. The voice was pretty much just my own, with an added measure of bravura that seemed to lend itself to the script.
RPGSite: We know that the actors in a video game record their lines separately but are you ever given a chance to meet and read through some scenes together in order to get a feel for everyone’s voices and generate some chemistry?
Josh: The only time I've ever read with fellow actors was on Alpha Protocol, and in those sessions, I would only have just met my co-star the fifteen minutes or so before we began recording. Productions don't care about working on chemistry. Everything is on a time budget, and the people running the session would prefer it if you got the lines down during the first take. Most of the time they don't send you a script in advance, so you're going in there blind, reading it for the first time when you're actually saying it into the microphone, and trying to get a sense of what's going on between the characters and the scene's place within the bulk of the story. Now, because of this, two or three takes are usually required, but a lot of the time you're told "That's great. Let's move on.", whether you're happy with your performance or not. If I think what I've done sucks, I'll ask to do another take. Sometimes they let you. Sometimes they don't.
RPGSite: The game was a part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, which includes several games and a movie. Were the wider events of the Final Fantasy VII story ever discussed with the cast before or during recording?
Josh: No. Nothing was ever discussed with me in the Final Fantasy VII sessions. They had a video monitor in the booth that would play back the game's footage, showing me the original Japanese performance so I could get a sense of emotion, but more importantly, they wanted me to see the amount of time I had in which to say a specific line. They would know that such-and-such a line lasts 2.7 seconds on-screen, and I'd have to match that. I really don't like doing jobs like that because the focus is mostly on drawing out or shortening up the performance by tenths of a second. Going line by line, marking the time. It's much more freeing from an acting standpoint when you can let your own performance dictate the amount of time, and not have to worry about the stopwatch.
RPGSite: Since then you have worked as a supporting artist on several titles, most notably the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games. How long have you been working on the Call of Duty franchise?
Josh: Years. I'm called in sporadically to work on Call of Duty (I currently finished doing some sessions for Black Ops).
RPGSite: Do any of the characters or missions that you have recorded stand out for you?
Josh: Since I'm not really a character in the games, I'd have to say no. I usually play a grunt, like Marine 3, or Helicopter Pilot, which consists of me screaming my head off, yelling lines that will appear in the background of the game. "Frag out!" "Incoming!" "Hostile! Behind the yellow truck!" Those are the general things they have me saying. But the sessions are notoriously brutal on one's voice, so they only schedule actors in short blocks. Two hours, at the most. It usually takes a day or two for my voice to recover, but I have fun when I'm in there.
RPGSite: Despite the cast playing second fiddle to game play in first person shooters, is it still a buzz to know you have worked on two of the biggest games of recent years?
Josh: It's exciting to be part of a really good game, even in my own small contribution. I'm just blown away by the artistry of the graphics and camera work. When I first played COD 4, I couldn't believe how photo-realistic everything looked. I can't wait to see what advancements they've made with Black Ops.
RPGSite: What is your feeling on the various controversies surrounding the two games and do you feel there is a double standard in regards to what is deemed suitable in TV, film and even music not being considered suitable in video games?
Josh: Actually, I wasn't aware there were any controversies, but I'll assume it's because of the violence depicted in the games.
Look. I think it's much healthier to satiate our natural bloodlust through video games and movies, which are platforms for fantasy. It's a way of cathartically and vicariously emptying out all of our pent-up aggressions, and we've come a long way since feeding Christians to lions. I know I feel better after a COD session, because it's basically scream therapy.
So, you go to war through your television; your controller your gun. Fake, computer-generated war is so much better than the real thing. And with the realistic depiction of some of these games, it should give anyone pause when thinking about what war really is, and what kinds of consequences it can really have.
The main difference between video games and other media that depict violence, is that the video game affords the player an interactive experience; one where he or she decides where to point the gun and when to pull the trigger. Somehow people think this is worse than being a third-party stander-by who sits in a theater and watches a character in a film blow the brains out of somebody else. Its purposes are all one and the same, and as long as you keep your violent tendencies limited to the screen, there is no problem.
RPGSite: Have there been any changes to the recording process since you started working on the Call of Duty games or were they a well oiled machine from the beginning?
Josh: The only change I can think of was in the way we recorded the battle-chatter (screaming). When we first started COD 4, we'd look back at the takes we'd done at the beginning of a session, and I would sound drastically different from where it ended up at the end of the two hours (due to blowing out my voice). You could see in the waveform readout on the computer monitor the drop in tonality from before and after my voice was shredded. Because of this, we thought it best to do the first twenty or so lines over again at the end of the session, when my voice wasn't going to sound any differently. Other than that, everything went smoothly, and we repeated the process on Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops.
RPGSite: Having voiced characters in several RPG and Action games, you could recently be heard voicing Michael Thornton, the lead in the previously mentioned Alpha Protocol, which combined the two genres. Can you remember when you first auditioned for the role?
Josh: I think it was back in August of '08. Or that might be when we started the sessions. I can't recall.
RPGSite: Are you a fan of the kind of characters Thornton was based on – James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer – and was it fun getting to become a secret agent?
Josh: I'm a fan of Bond, and I've seen the first two Bourne films, but I've never seen "24". And, really, it doesn't feel at all like you're a secret agent when you drive the ten minutes to the recording studio and stand in front of a microphone in whatever t-shirt and jeans you're wearing that day. Not at all glamorous.
RPGSite: The game was delayed several times, eventually arriving the better part of a year late. Do you have any insight as to why it was delayed for such a long time?
Josh: I have an idea of what happened. We worked for months, maybe even half-a-year, before a major script rewrite occurred. When we first started out, Michael Thornton was a completely different character. Suddenly, the entire project did a 180, and about 90% of what we had already recorded was thrown out the window.
It's a real shame, too, because the first plot-line had more to do with character interactions and emotions, which were more fun to play out as an actor. Also, my performance was altered in the second go-around, which I felt gave me less to do as the character. I was at odds with the session director for most of this because she kept telling me to flatten out the performance while I was trying to inject some sort of personality into the character in a failed attempt to reclaim what we had been doing the first months of recording.
RPGSite: How long did it eventually take you to record the game?
Josh: I think we recorded Alpha over a year-and-a-half period, but it's been so long, with so many changes, it's hard to remember. Once we started that second version, though, we really didn't have any long breaks between recordings. Usually a session every couple of weeks to a month.
RPGSite: Despite the extra time they had to develop the new version of the game, it still was not considered successful enough for a sequel. When did you find out and were you disappointed?
Josh: Well, I just found that out now. Thanks. And, no, I'm not really disappointed. Given the delay, and hearing from a lot of people about the quality of the visuals, it doesn't surprise me. I had fun working with most everybody on Alpha, but I've moved on. I guess I'm actually glad I don't have to reprise the Michael Thornton role. It would've been nice to recreate the character we originally started with, but it's too late now.
RPGSite: The game received an average console score of 65% and average PC score of 73% which is far from terrible, so why do you think it failed to catch on?
Josh: For the most part, the visuals. Call of Duty really raised the bar, and if you can't approximate those graphics, people won't care what kind of game you have. It's too bad people can't look beyond the visuals. Also, I personally think my character fell flat, and having to do the same numeric games to unlock/disable keypads can become monotonous. Alpha had a lot of potential, but failed to deliver. And after all the waiting, and all the hype, you better be able to deliver.
RPGSite: Had the possibility of an Alpha Protocol 2 ever been discussed with you and if so were there any concrete plans for where they were going to take the franchise?
Josh: Nothing like that was ever discussed with me. I wasn't privy to any plans they may have had that extended beyond the first game.
RPGSite: We are nearly out of time but first, are you working on anything at the moment?
Josh: Odd jobs, here and there. Nothing to write home about. Or here, for that matter.
RPGSite: Thanks again for your time, Josh; we really appreciate it.
Josh: And thank you, David. This was my first time being interviewed, and I just tried to keep it as honest as possible. After all, it is the best policy, isn't it?
Thanks again to Josh for giving us some of his time and if you have played Alpha Protocol yourself, we would love to hear what you thought about the game and what you think could have been done to make it a success in the comments section below!