Mark Meer Interview
With the trilogy that his voice has carried as joint lead coming to an end, it seemed only right we caught up with Mark Meer, the male Commander Shepard, once more. We nabbed him a couple of weeks back and spoke about working on Mass Effect and Dragon Age, improvising on stage, fans at conventions and who his personal love interest is.
RPGSite: Hi Mark, welcome back. It has certainly been a while – how have you been keeping?
Mark Meer: Quite well, thanks. I'm just wrapping up recording of the latest season of The Irrelevant Show for CBC Radio, and I'm in the middle of writing a new show for Mosaic Entertainment, producers of my TV sketch comedy show, CAUTION: May Contain Nuts. Also doing live shows with Rapid Fire Theatre, including a superhero-themed improv show called The Harold of Galactus, which I created with my friend Chris Craddock. We've been invited to take that one to IO Theater in Chicago this summer by renowned improv guru Charna Halpern.
RPGSite: As we speak, you have just returned from MegaCon 2012. All I know is that at some point you were dressed as a rather unusual Superman (thanks to David Ngo, click here to see it, folks). Tell us about the weekend.
Mark: I believe you're referring to the Bizarro Superman costume I wore to the Arkham Nights Afterparty thrown by Moshi Productions - that was a real highlight of the weekend. It was one of the best 'Con parties I've ever been to - the Gotham City/Arkham Asylum-themed costumes and decor were amazing. Other highlights for me included getting to hang out with Zeb Wells and Matt Senreich from Robot Chicken, meeting and chatting with Nicholas Brendon, and having late-night drinks with comic creators Darwyn Cooke and Frank Tieri.
RPGSite: Are you a regular at conventions and, if so, what is most fun about them?
Mark: MegaCon 2012 was only the second convention I've attended as an official guest (following EXPCon last October, where I finally got to meet my Mass Effect counterpart Jennifer Hale face-to-face). However, I've attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta as a private (nerdy) citizen since 1998. I love it. Just a massive celebration of all the sorts of geeky things I enjoy, all under one roof - or several interconnected roofs. It's like a Halloween party that lasts three days!
RPGSite: When you attend a convention as a guest are you still able to enjoy the atmosphere and exhibitions as a fan?
Mark: Yes, but not as much as I'd like to. I barely managed a cursory look around the merchandise room at MegaCon (though I did manage to snag a few choice items), and there's a lot you miss when you're sitting at your table, signing. That said, it's really great to get to meet the fans - at MegaCon, I was asked to sign a few Mass Effect costumes, and one nice lady gave me a Commander Shepard doll she made in the style of Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet. I shall treasure it always.
RPGSite: When we last spoke you had just taken part in the Improvathon, an improvised show here in London where you were on stage for 50 hours. I know you have done it since here, but how about in Canada where the format was originally devised?
Mark: Yep - the original Soap-A-Thon takes place every September in Edmonton as a fundraiser for Die-Nasty, the live improvised soap opera. It's generally held the weekend after Dragon*Con, so that means two sleepless weekends in a row for me.
RPGSite: Like was mentioned, the show returned to the UK in 2011. How did it compare to 2010?
Mark: Each one is better than the last! I greatly enjoyed the 2010 London Improvathon, set in Victorian England, but the 2011 show somehow managed to surpass it. The setting was New York's fictional "Studio 50" in the year 1977. I played both gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and a young Star Wars fan who was having a passionate affair with Carrie Fisher (played by the utterly hilarious Ruth Bratt in a Princess Leia costume). It was a glorious show. Karen Gillan attended as an audience member - she watched about four hours and even mentioned us in an interview she gave later. I managed to work in a Doctor Who reference while she was there - I'm told she laughed.
RPGSite: I missed out on attending last year but fortunately it is back in May 2012. Will you be involved once again? If you are, any hints on what the theme might be?
Mark: Yes, I will definitely be attending again this year. The show is scheduled for May 11-13 at Hoxton Hall in London. I checked with our esteemed director Adam Meggido, and he said it's okay to reveal the theme to you... In celebration of the upcoming London Olympic Games, this year's London Improvathon will be set at the very FIRST Olympics in Ancient Greece. Some of the actors have been considering playing Greek gods. I've got dibs on Hades.
RPGSite: How do actors get involved with the show in the first place? And while some of you are there for the full 50 hours, how long do people take part for on average?
Mark: The improv troupe Die-Nasty founded the annual Soap-A-Thon in Edmonton back in 1993. It was a chance meeting with Mr. Ken Campbell, the late great guru of British experimental theatre, that resulted in our improv marathon being exported to London.
Ken happened to be in Canada in early 2001, performing his show "The History of Comedy Part One: Ventriloquism" at the Edmonton Comedy Festival. He saw one of our regular season Die-Nasty shows and came out for drinks with us afterwards. I happened to be sitting next to him, and we got to chatting about the Soap-A-Thon. Ken had famously directed the 22-hour play "The Warp" in 1979, so the idea of a 50+ hour improvised show with a continuous narrative really intrigued him. He ended up sending his student and colleague Sean McCann over to Canada to participate in the show and report back, which led to our director Dana Andersen traveling to England and the eventual founding of the London Improvathon.
The London cast is made up of Ken's troupe The School of Night, members of troupes like Showstopper: The Improvised Musical, Grand Theft Impro, Horse Aquarium, and others, plus members of Die-Nasty like myself who make the trip every year. There's usually over a dozen of us who do the entire thing without sleep - other actors might play shifts as short as 4 hours or as long as 24.
RPGSite: Do you suffer from nerves before these marathon performances?
Mark: A bit, I suppose. I think one of the attractions of performing in front of a live audience is that nervous thrill.
RPGSite: Of course, the main reason we are here is the upcoming Mass Effect 3. There was a smaller gap between entries this time, so when did you hit the studio?
Mark: I've been recording on-and-off since early 2011. There was a bit of demo stuff before that, too... The bulk of the recording for the game was done from summer onwards.
RPGSite: Mass Effect 2 had twice the dialogue of the original, so how about the third and final entry in the series – has it been scaled down or has it grown in size once again?
Mark: It certainly seemed like there was more to record - but that's only natural, given the branching options and variables from Mass Effect 1 and 2 that have to be taken into consideration for Mass Effect 3. You might not encounter a vastly increased amount of dialogue on one playthrough, but I have to record all the possible outcomes.
RPGSite: You've talked about playing the games before; I'm curious - how do you feel about the addition of the new Action oriented gameplay mode which has less story?
Mark: There are actually different modes of play - I played on Story Mode, myself. Oh, yes... I should mention, I got to play the game one afternoon last week. Not the demo, mind you, the GAME. There's plenty of action, but I don't think RPG fans will be disappointed.
RPGSite: Many reacted negatively to the multiplayer announcement too. As a player, where do you stand?
Mark: I haven't tried it myself, but I don't think it will detract from the game. If multi-player doesn't appeal to you, you aren't necessarily required to play it.
RPGSite: Between the Mass Effect titles, you appeared in both Dragon Age games. I mention them for a reason but firstly, after voicing various dwarves and werewolves in Origins, where might we have heard you in Dragon Age 2?
Mark: I did a fair bit on Dragon Age: Awakenings. I played all of the talking Darkspawn (The Withered, The First, The Lost, The Herald, etc.). My biggest roles in Dragon Age 2 were Jethann and Hybris. Jethann is the male elf prostitute who works in the Blooming Rose. Hybris a gigantic Pride Demon. He's found in a hidden dungeon, so you have to do a bit of work to find him.
RPGSite: Dragon Age 2 received a very mixed reception, so what were your own feelings as a gamer and did that have any impact on the development Mass Effect 3?
Mark: I didn't have any complaints with DA2. I suppose I would have liked to import my DA1 Wardens and continue their stories, but that's not the direction they went with the franchise. I still enjoyed the game. The Mass Effect Trilogy was always planned as Commander Shepard's continuing story, so I don't think there was much impact on ME3's development from DA2, either way.
RPGSite: Recording wrapped in December, so when did you enter the studio for the final time?
Mark: I recorded my last few pick ups late in the month - I think it was just before Christmas. I did have to go back in January to record a few lines for the trailer, but not as Shepard. I played the pilot of Foxhound 4 in the extended cinematic "Take Earth Back" trailer.
RPGSite: You have been voicing Commander Shepard now for around five years, so was it a little strange and perhaps even sad when you left the studio for the last time?
Mark: Well, there's still some DLC to go... That said, I expect I will be a little wistful when I voice my last lines as Shepard. Fortunately, if MegaCon was any indication, I can look forward to fans asking me to record outgoing voicemail messages as Shepard for years to come.
RPGSite: There may be doubts out there but for the most part, people are excited to find out how Shepard’s story will end. Do you think it will live up to expectations?
Mark: I certainly hope so! And from what I've seen, it will. The guys at BioWare have really outdone themselves.
RPGSite: As it is the final chapter, we can expect some big emotional payoffs - an expectation supported by Caroline Livingstone, voice director for the series, saying there had even been tears whilst recording. While you cannot go into much detail due to spoilers, were there any moments that particularly shook or grabbed you?
Mark: It's true, I really can't go into too much detail, but there's a scene with Anderson that packs a fair emotional punch... I think you'll find the events of the game take an emotional toll on Shepard - and hopefully, the player.
Mark: I'm afraid neither my Renegade nor Paragon have showed much fidelity to the ladies in their lives. My Renegade romanced Ashley in the first game, had a fling with Jack, and ended up with Miranda. My Paragon romanced Liara in ME1, but Tali in ME2 since I knew Liara wouldn't be a companion NPC (this was before the Lair of the Showbroker DLC - which I still haven't played). I'm thinking that if I go back and do new playthroughs of all three games, I'll try at least one where Shepard maintains some romantic loyalty.
RPGSite: As a fan, how cool was it to be the joint-lead of such an all-star cast?
Mark: Incredibly cool. Since we last spoke, I've had the opportunity to meet more of my co-stars, including the lovely Jennifer Hale, Seth Green, and Martin Sheen. I actually met Seth socially, not as part of the recording process, at an event we'd both been invited to by our mutual friend Nathan Fillion. It was pretty great to introduce myself and be able to say "Y'know, Seth, we've actually worked together before...". He's a very cool guy. Meeting Martin Sheen was likewise thrilling, but I was a bit star-struck. I mean, the man is the greatest fictional American president! He entertained those of us watching his recording session with quotes from Apocalypse Now - though oddly enough, they were Marlon Brando's lines, not his. And Jennifer Hale is the nicest person you could care to meet. She and my wife Belinda have a shared love of horses, and she very kindly invited us over so they could go riding together.
RPGSite: In addition to the official video games, you have also been working on an unofficial Mass Effect fan film called Red Sand. How did you get involved with that?
Mark: Red Sand is a project by students at the University of Advancing Technology in Arizona. Their instructor Paul DeNigris contacted me through my agent and sent me a script. I liked it a lot, and we managed to find a hole in my schedule. They were very accommodating, and put off shooting by two months so that I could participate. They were a great bunch to work with.
RPGSite: It is unofficial but obviously BioWare know about it, so what are their thoughts?
Mark: I think they're always pleased to see such efforts from dedicated fans. As long as no one's trying to make money off of licensed properties, fan films and fan art are a way for fans to celebrate and spread their love of the Mass Effect universe. And in this case, it's for a very good cause - contributing to these students' education and showcasing their abilities.
RPGSite: Red Sand acts as a prequel to the video game series, so will gamers that watch it recognise any of the locales, characters and events seen or mentioned?
Mark: Red Sand is set about four decades before the first Mass Effect game, at the point when humans first discover the cache of Prothean technology on Mars. That means the universe will be quite a different place. Humans still haven't made First Contact with the Turians, and haven't yet made the technological breakthroughs that the Prothean tech made possible. I play Jon Grissom - a name which should be familiar (Grissom Academy, anyone?)
RPGSite: What was it like being on set and telling a story in a world that had previously been confined to the studio? And how far along is production now?
Mark: Lots of fun - though I should mention, we mostly shot on green screen. The world you see will be created by the talented students of UAT. As it's a school project, I'd expect it to be finished around the end of the semester (April/May).
RPGSite: We’ve just a few last questions. Now while it wasn’t in the interview, the last time we spoke you introduced me to The Walking Dead. Later that year, the TV show started. Are you still following the comics and what are your thoughts on the show?
Mark: The comic is still my favorite book on the racks (followed closely by Invincible and Fables). I've been greatly enjoying the show thus far. The last episode I watched ("Triggerfinger") was fantastic.
RPGSite: On the big screen, we eagerly await The Dark Knight Rises. Are you excited?
Mark: Most definitely. I look forward to the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's trilogy. Hes done everything right so far... Also very much looking forward to The Avengers. I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan, and I've enjoyed all the individual films to this point. Add in The Amazing Spider-Man, and this could be a very good summer in comic geek cinema.
RPGSite: Are there any games that have stood out for you in the last two years?
Mark: Aside from BioWare games, my current favorites are Skyrim and Batman: Arkham City. I also quite liked Fallout: New Vegas - I think I'll pick up the Ultimate Edition for all the DLC...
RPGSite: Not too long ago you signed up to Twitter. What finally prompted you to do it and is it just a tad bizarre to be following Commander Shepard @Shepard_Effect?
Mark: While I still don't own a cellphone (except for traveling), I finally bit the Twitter bullet. Not sure why I ultimately caved. I think my friends just finally wore me down. Following Commander Shepard isn't really any more bizarre than BEING Commander Shepard, I suppose. If you want to follow me, I'm easy enough to find: @Mark_Meer
RPGSite: And finally, a colleague suggested I open this interview with, “Let’s talk about how handsome you are and how you should work with David Hayter” - thoughts?
Mark: I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hayter, but I certainly hope I'm handsome enough to work with him one day.
RPGSite: Mark, as ever, thanks so much for joining us - it's always a blast.
Mark: Thanks - enjoy the game!
We send our thanks once more to Mark for taking the time to chat with us not once but three times. In return, he asked us to share with you some sketches mentioned above and which are, frankly, tremendous -
CAUTION: May Contain Nuts
Mark's Stop Piracy Public Service Announcement
Dungeons and Dragons
The Irrelevant Show
Love Is A Metaphor
And finally, a live recording of a complete Harold of Galactus performance!
If you'd also like to keep up-to-date with the Red Sand production, check out the official website and, as ever, stick with us at RPGSite for all the latest Mass Effect news and features!