Recently I got to spak with actor Christopher Emerson who plays Piers Nivans in RESIDENT EVIL 6. Aside from voicing the character, Christopher also provided the motion capture work and speaks to us about his experiences bringing the character to life.
What can you tell us about your character and what attracted you to the part?
Piers Nivans, the young sniper ace of the B.S.A.A., is a naturally gifted soldier, much like his fellow captain Chris Redfield. Due to his extreme sharpness and concentration, he is known as “the man who never misses a target”.
He is also characterized as a person with a strong sense of responsibility and an astute discernment, being able to influence his teammates into the correct course in the battlefield. It’s because of these qualities that makes Piers a trusted and valuable comrade of Chris, who regards him as the figure that will lead the B.S.A.A. one day.
In RE6, he’s determined to find Chris, who was MIA due to his loss of memory, and have him returned as the leader of the BSAA team once again.
The character qualities that attracted me most to the role of Piers Nivans were his sense of honor, integrity and his passion to… well… kick ass and save the f#@%ing world. That’s why he fights so hard to bring Chris back into the fray. He knows that Chris might be the last military hope standing between civilization’s survival and its total destruction. No matter what, Piers is going to make Chris remember and restore him to his rightful place as the ultimate hero he was and needs to be again. Piers is sort of the Sam Gamgee to Chris Redfield’s Frodo Baggins…if…you know… Sam packed a BFG.
What sort of research did you do for the role and how did it compare and contrast with past roles?
Being hired to be Piers Nivans, I as Christopher Emerson was essentially being recruited to be a member of the BSAA, Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, THE anti-bioterrorism defense organization arm of the UN. And as all fans of these games know, this team is often the last line of defense against… well… a REEEEEALLY bad day. If, of course, by “bad day” you mean the complete devastation of the human race at the hands of such ego-maniacal hair gel addicts such as Albert Wesker in previous games. So…to be true to that? To honor that and respect the realism for unforgivingly discerning fans?
YEAH! You bet your sweet C-virus I prepared for this role!
I actually watched a lot of video file footage of embedded journalists in the gulf wars and Iraq invasion to be able to bring a respectful authenticity to the way a team like this communicates, advances, bounds together, and really takes care of some brutal business in real life. I think gamers and real world soldiers alike deserve such due diligence being paid to these details when portraying the dark hell of war, even if it is zombies and monsters.
Any concerns about being part of such a huge series knowing how fanatical the fans are and how serious they take the game and it’s characters?
For me there were never really any hesitations or concerns. I have the advantage of playing a brand-new lead character being introduced to the franchise for the first time in Resident Evil 6. So with Piers Nivans, not being a legacy character, there’s a little bit of room to breathe without the pressure of living up to previously constructed expectations. That being said you still have to respect the fact that you are walking into the house that Capcom built. There’s a certain reverence and respect you pay walking into such a project for the first time like this. It’s sort of the exact opposite of that dinner scene in Borat.
Contribute without ego. Create selflessly to tell the most affective and authentic story.
Even more so than any producer or director actually in the studio, the fans out there spot bad acting and hotdogging BS faster than Ada Wong can get a drink at a bar. Even if Leon is bartending.
What was a typical day of filming like and how much input did you have during the process?
As typical as fighting invisible zombies in a small padded room lined with infrared cameras while your body and face are covered in motion capture gear can be…
We’d usually go for these 5-hour long recording sessions. The day would start with about 30-45 minutes in a makeup chair getting little silver motion capture tracking dots spirit gummed to your face. Throw on special clothing with larger motion tracking balls on it that’s fitted and makes you look like the ninja version of a scuba diver. And then… it’s time to jump into the recording booth.
Liam O’Brien, rockgod voice director of the game, is such an accomplished voice artist pro himself, that he’d expertly craft this ramp up of vocal strain through the session. Meaning, in hour one, it’s all the whispers needed for that day.
“Pssst, over here.” “Careful.” “Hey, Chris, I think I heard something.” “Was that you?”
Then by hour 5 it’s…
“GET OVER HERE!!!!!” “THERE’S TOO MANYYYYYYY!!!!” “CCCCHHHHHRRRRRIIIIISSSSSS!!!!!!!” “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” “I NEED A THROAT LOZENGE!!!!!!” “BLAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!”
Liam was so awesome to work with; every session was a real give-and-take collaboration. Though you find his fantastically maniacal brain spitting out ideas that are almost always a thousand times better than yours, you are more than happy to “take” more than worry about the “give.”
How would you compare/contrast working with motion capture to other acting work you have done and which do you prefer and why?
It’s completely fascinating. It’s a radically new way to tell story. Motion capture is the nascent technology of which we’ve only barely started to scratch the surface. As a voiceover artist it allows you to play roles that you’re fully capable of breathing life into via your voice talents, but may not be physically right for the part had it been an on-camera film role.
The realism and authenticity the technology lends to these game worlds is breathtaking and yields such an immersive and enriching experience unlike anything before it.
With all that said, at the end of the day, the most important part of any good piece, be it a film, TV show, on stage, or in a video game, is telling good story. Effective story. As an actor you are constantly “chasing Amy”, trying to give the perfect performance or tell your character’s tale the best you can. This technology both in films and in video games opens up incredible frontiers for actors to tell stories and portray characters in previously unimagined ways. Just ask Andy Serkis.
Who would be your ultimate cast and director to work with and in what type of project?
In video games, it would awesome to be directed by Liam O’Brien, alongside this really killer cast we had in RE6 again. I mean, Courtenay Taylor, Troy Baker, Matthew Mercer, Roger Craig Smith, Eden Riegel, Laura Bailey, AND Yuri Yowenthal? Too much fun! Throw in some Nolan North, Jennifer Hale, Peter Jessop, and DC Douglas… and we’ll take a flamethrower to the place!
On TV… an Aaron Sorkin show. Anything Sorkin. Doesn’t matter. He writes it, I’ll read it.
For film, which is where my heart and highest ambitions lie, I really want to work with the new-ish director Duncan Jones who did Moon with Sam Rockwell and Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal
What do you like to do in your free time and which movies are on your to watch list?
I am a licensed helicopter pilot, so when I get the chance, which I hope increases in the future, I would like to spend that free time flying more often. I travel as much as I can. Enjoy learning languages. Lately, I have had a bug up my butt about being able to solve any Rubik’s cube in under a minute. Yep. So that will torture me until it’s done.
As for movies, I like to split my watch list between old classics, independents, and the latest and greatest. So for every Casablanca and High Noon there is a Bottle Shock and salivating for the next Star Trek.
What do you look for from a director to help you give your best performance and what type of characters do you tend to be drawn to?
Focus and specific knowledge of what they want. Couple that with an effectively ability to communicate those desires and you have an outstanding director. I tend to gravitate toward the flawed, broken, and hopeful characters. I am attracted to the dark side of nature, of humanity. It’s there that you find the most incredible testaments to character. So, those director traits become very important, when you are portraying such roles to be able to put your full faith and trust into your director’s hands to get you through.
When you consider a script or a potential TV or film project, what elements tend to draw you in and make you want to work on that film?
I put a lot of trust into the very first read of a script. How a respond, what I think, how the story affects me. And then, if the idea of taking on a certain role scares me, then that’s the one I want. I like the danger of failing. I like taking risks. Life’s too short not to be perpetually stepping out into the unknown.
Which games are you playing now, are on your to play list, and what do you think of the Wii U?
Perfect “next question.” We were getting all deep and introspective, enough of that! LOL Well, don’t you know, Capcom has me under contract to play Resident Evil 6 on a constant never ending loop right now. I have started to just blurt callouts at random things, like in line at the store. The cash register opens and I yell, “Good work!!! NICE!!!”, while give the clerk a fist-pumping thumbs up.
Let’s see… I am finally making a big push to finish LA Noire, which I love. Now that we’re wrapping up the year, I will be starting a bunch. Skyrim, Halo 4, Batman Arkham City, Red Dead Redemption, many others. I’ve got some catching up to do.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have been hitting my twitter feed at @PlanetEmerson a bunch with some really cool things on the horizon. I will continue to be a voice of Southwest Airlines TV campaigns, I will be the lead in a very fun, dark and sinister horror film called Antioch, filming early February. Then, late Spring, I will be in Biloxi, MS filming a lead in a psychological thriller with the great Eric Roberts and the fantastic Juliet Landau under the direction of Price Hall. So, exciting 2013 on the way!
Final question, what is the one thing about acting that most people are shocked when you tell them?
It’s so funny that you are asking this question. Because, when I was just in Biloxi, Mississippi on a pre-production trip for the Eric Roberts movie, a woman actually asked me if it’s possible to work in Hollywood WITHOUT selling your soul. She was dead serious too. So I guess, right now I would say, some people are shocked to hear that actually… no… no way…. it’s absolutely not possible.
Kidding, of course.
Wait… will kids read this? Then, yes, of course it’s possible. Live your dreams. Stay in school. And don’t do drugs. And… only you can prevent forest fires. The more you know!