You might not have heard of Michael Gough, but you’ve definitely heard him.
Not to be confused with the English gentleman who played Alfred in the older “Batman” films, the veteran voice actor has been lending his vocals to cartoons and video games for over 20 years.
Though he doesn’t play video games, he’s done the voices for countless characters, including Osmund Saddler in “Resident Evil 4,” Deckard Cain in the “Diablo” series, Private Carmine in “Gears of War,” Johnny Sasaki in “Metal Gear Solid 3” and “MGS 4,” Heimdall in “Too Human,” Captain Price in “Call of Duty” and “CoD2” as well as Shrek in the licensed movie games to name just a few.
I recently called up Mr. Gough (pronounced “goff”) to talk about his expansive voice-acting career, what he thought about how much Michael Hollick made for playing Niko Bellic in “Grand Theft Auto IV,” and what we can expect from the return of fan favorites Deckard Cain and Carmine…
On how the Sean Connery-esque voice of “Diablo'”s Deckard Cain came about:
Gough: Deckard Cain has a little bit of that Sean Connery thing that he does. I don’t remember exactly how it came about but I believe that the creators, the guys from Blizzard, threw the Sean Connery name out there. He was supposed to sound older and wiser but have a little bit of a kick to him, a little bit ornery but in that kind of sarcastic Sean Connery way. He doesn’t take a lot of BS, if you will. He’s a very fun character. And sometimes he’s kind of dark and doom and gloom, with all the “evil that spreads over this land will never be abated” but then other times when he gets cranky, it’s funny. “No one ever listens!” And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the Deckard Cain rap, but I just started letting it go, and I have to boast I did make up a good portion of the lyrics. [laughs]
On how much Deckard Cain is in “Diablo III”:
Gough: Well, I did more than [what was shown at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Paris]. I hope there’s more, but I did a pretty fair amount. It was just one or two four-hour sessions but there was a lot. It was definitely more than what you’ve seen in the preview. I’m not sure when it’s release date is targeted for, but yeah it seems like there’s going to be a fair amount of Deckard Cain, which is always a good thing. [laughs]
On playing Private Carmine in “Gears of War” and that character getting resurrected in “Gears of War 2”:
Gough: He’s kind of got a following. [The game-makers] were pretty specific about him being the kind of young guy who maybe bites off more than he can chew. Like he’ll volunteer to go out and do the dirty work when he doesn’t really know what’s in store for him. So yeah, I think they had a pretty clear idea of what he was about: the young, green soldier guy. In the end, he gets his blown off or something but then he’s coming back in ’Gears of War 2.’ But I’m not really supposed to say how he comes back. I’m sworn to secrecy but I sort of know what the angle is.
On playing main villain Osmund Saddler in “Resident Evil 4”:
Gough: That was another character I discovered had a little bit of a following. Saddler was great. If I’m remembering right… that was one of the characters where there was nothing there to begin with, so I just was kind of making it up, He’s got some of an accent, but I’m not really sure from where. The idea was some sort of non-specific, menacing, maybe Eastern European accent. Villains are always fun, that was cool. And I’ve gotten a few fan letters for that.
On screaming too much in some video games:
Gough: Something like Deckard Cain is great; it doesn’t ruin your voice. But games that involve violence or battle or mutating and stuff like that really does take a toll on your voice. And I’ve even had to start to go to a voice guru kind of guy to do exercises to try to save and get back some of what I lost. When you’re doing games like that there’s so much screaming and yelling, and you have to do it over and over and over again. They’ll say, “Okay now you’re being burned alive and you have to do it short, medium and long and then really long. Now you’re being choked to death. Now you’re drowning in lava.” So you do many different takes, dying all these different deaths. It’s fun but after a while, I was damaging my voice doing a lot of that. For “Call of Duty,” a lot of the dialogue is shouting over battle that’s going on: “Incoming! Flank left!” It’s just a lot of yelling.
On how much Michael Hollick, the actor who played Niko Bellic, made for “GTA IV” [note — Gough hadn’t seen the New York Times article about his paycheck]:
Gough: Well, big-selling video games make millions. And voice actors, unless you’re a celebrity where you get your own separate deal, maybe they give you a cut or a percentage or maybe they just pay you a lot more up front. But the contract, the SAG contract or whatever it is, is such that, you don’t really get that much. I mean, compared to digging a ditch or driving a bus or something, you can make more. If you’re working for the union scale, you’re really not making much. There are times where you can get paid over scale, double or triple, and the problem has always been that unlike a movie, if it goes to DVD or a TV show or a commercial, you get residuals. But you’ve never gotten any residuals for video games. They were able to change that only slightly a couple of years ago. I think you get some kind of a little back-end deal where you get a little something more if a game sells a huge amount, but it isn’t much.
“I don’t know if a certain character’s voice or lack of a certain character’s voice can cause somebody to buy or not buy a game.”
So in the grand scheme of things it’s not bad, but compared to what a video game can make if it sells a lot, you really don’t get much of anything, which is too bad. I think the Screen Actors’ Guilld and the unions were sort of behind the curve and exploded before they knew what him them. I mean, I’m not complaining… Well, I sort of am. But also, if [a voice actor] can make 100 grand off of one game, that’s almost unheard of unless you’re a celebrity, so that’s pretty good.
People buy a game because they like the game and they want to play the game. And there are certain characters in games that people like, obviously. I don’t know if a certain character’s voice or lack of a certain character’s voice can cause somebody to buy or not buy a game. It’s a weird thing. But when you know that somebody is making millions and millions and millions off of [a game], you think, ’Well gee, I wish I had a little bit of a better cut of it.’
MTV Multiplayer: So you’ve never heard of an actor making $100,000 from a game?
Gough: Quite frankly, I’ve never heard of that. Although, that’s probably not true. The guy who does Snake [David Hayter] — I know him — he’s probably made that much. Well, I don’t know if he made that much on one game but maybe games combined. He’s not really a celebrity but he is also a screenwriter — he wrote a couple of the “X-Men” movie screenplays. But yeah, if you can work enough to make a living and save something that’s pretty good. But more is always nice. [laughs]
You can check out more of Michael Gough’s work at his website and listen to his voice next in “Gears of War 2” out in November.