Interview: René Zagger

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Aetherflow – Winter 2019
Hi René! Thank you so incredibly much for taking the time to interview with us. You have quite a long list of experience within various TV shows over the years, what drew you to the opportunity of voice acting within the video game industry?

René Zagger: I’ve got many friends who are actors that, just like myself, go from job to job and over the course of the rehearsal period you get talking. Quite often, another actor will finish a rehearsal and then run off to do a voice over, or they’ll wrap up filming and then the following day they’re doing a radio play.

Many years ago I had a voiceover agent, but it never really went anywhere. I always wanted to get back into it though, so eventually I put a reel together after getting a lot of advice from fellow actors and friends and submitted that to an agent I really wanted to be represented by. They took me on, and the rest is history!

You’ve also voiced the character Captain Abridal in the game Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. Were there any major differences between these two performances?

RZ: I think there are. Emet-Selch is a lot more flamboyant, a bit more outrageous in his manner, and he plays with how he unveils his intentions. He doesn’t smoothly lay it out; Emet-Selch is very playful in his tone and how he delivers his speech. Captain Abridal is more measured, regimental and by the law. He’s a Captain and took his job and what he was doing a little more seriously. Emet-Selch has far more fun with life than Abridal!

What type of research did you have to do of your character Solus zos Galvus (AKA Emet Selch)? Do you play FFXIV to get a feel for the game/characters?

RZ: I hadn’t played the game beforehand. I’m 46 now so I remember when the series first began! My nephew plays Final Fantasy XIV though, so I watched it over his shoulder to get an idea of some elements of the game, but I really didn’t want to develop too many preconceived ideas before I went in to record.

Once I got the job, I was sent a full biography of the character and a really detailed synopsis on the story and to be honest that was all I really needed before I went in for the proper thing. For the casting though, at that stage there were just random lines, so I went in and did it how I thought it should be done and the director, who gave me fantastic direction throughout the audition and the actual sessions, pushed me in the right direction. It was ‘a little bit more like this’ and a ‘bit less here’ which really helped to shape the character into who he eventually became!

In preparing to emulate the character, what type of inspiration did you use in creating Emet-Selch’s voice?

RZ: Honestly I didn’t really have much inspiration beforehand! Once I got the job and went in for my first session, I already had the background of who Emet-Selch was. They played my audition tape back to me and then we went for it! As the sessions went on, the director pushed me in the right direction and got me to be more flamboyant and a little more outrageous. Quite frankly, I don’t need to be told that, if you lead me to the water I’ll drink it basically! So once I knew there was no holds barred I could just go for it!

I had a lot of fun, but it was pretty exhausting as I don’t think you can just stand and deliver dialogue. In the past, I’ve done ADR [Automated Dialog Replacement] for various film and TV jobs, where you go back in to the studio to re-lay voices. One of those times was for a war film, which involved lots of crawling around and heavy breathing – you can’t just stand there! You physically have to commit to it as well and it was a similar thing here, so by the end of the sessions recording Emet-Selch, you knew you’d done a day’s work basically!

I put my heart and soul into it and I really loved it. It was also tough because it was a language, a lexicon, and a fantastical world that I wasn’t overly familiar with so I had to get used to that. There were a lot of words that I had never used before!

How do you prepare for each recording session, are there any preparation traditions that you carry over from preparing from your parts in TV shows for example?

RZ: No, I think for recording voice for any sort of game or even an advert, I’d say there’s pretty specific stuff you should be doing. Firstly, I would say hydrate yourself, always hydrate! I also try to speak quite a lot before I go in so my voice is warmed up – not to the extent that I’m sat on the train doing silly voice exercises or anything, but don’t go in cold. As an actor your voice is your tool, so make sure to look after it.

Also, apples! I eat a lot of Apples! Especially in the session, if your voice is starting to get a bit dry and tired then they encourage you to eat an apple. It releases something that helps to rejuvenate your speech and keeps you sounding clear and precise. Little insider tip there!

You touched on it already, but what is a recording session like in relation to voicing a character so like, what’s the process?

RZ: So for Emet-Selch, I think there were something like 46 or 48 hours that I was scheduled to go in and record for in total. That’s then broken down somewhat, so I’d go in on a Monday and do 3 hours, on a Wednesday I’d do 4 hours, then another 2 hours on the Friday and the whole thing takes a few weeks. The longest session is 4 hours and that includes a 15-minute break and a toilet break if you need one, but it’s pretty constant! That’s how I like it though – once I start, I’m quite happy to keep going and not stop. I prefer longer sessions, because it means you can really get into the headspace and get your teeth into it. Wherever possible I quite like to go for the 4 hours recording and get the best out of what I’m doing.

I put my heart and soul into it and I really loved it.

I know the industry standard is to record voice actors separately but was there ever an opportunity to record together with any of the other voice actors on this project?

RZ: No, it was all separate. It was all just to a screen with dialogue and being guided by the director and any clients that are there in the room as well. Every now and then you have to chat to somebody else on Skype to get the pronunciation of a word though! For the recording though, you’re on your own, though sometimes you’ll get the line before yours played for you if the actor has already gone in and read it. That’s as much as you get though!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the community has been completely enthralled with Emet-Selch, how do you feel about the reaction to your character?

RZ: Well, actually…I didn’t know! The entire process is almost a little bit like doing a play where you get cast, you go through the whole rehearsal process and get it up on its feet, then you start performing it. When the reviews come out if, unfortunately, the reviews aren’t very good then reading them can affect your performance or affect how you approach whatever’s next, so I was never ever going to go and chase what people thought about the character, or how I voiced it or even the game. It was a lovely job, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was just hopeful they’d want to use me again and that’s as far as it went.

Now, however, you’ve informed me about the reception to him so I’ve done a bit of investigating and it’s absolutely amazing! It’s incredibly cool because I loved doing it and it wasn’t something where I just went in and spoke into a microphone, I really did go for it and had fun doing it. For it to be received the way it’s been received… it’s great, its wicked, I love it, it’s fantastic!

How do you feel about Emet-Selch and his development throughout the story?

RZ: I think he’s a very strong and devious character. He’s got his convictions and he knows what he wants to achieve, and every time he takes to the stage or holds court he’s immediately in the driving seat. It’s his way or the highway! He’s a scary sort of character and you wouldn’t want to cross him but at the same time I don’t think you’d want him as an ally either, because you can’t trust him. He’s a very cold, villainous and untrustworthy character but with a sense of charm and I think that’s what I tried to focus on. I wanted to bring out a little bit of charm with him, and also a bit of empathy. I don’t know if I managed to do that, I hope I did. Maybe that’s what people like about him or it could be his outrageousness, I just feel that while it’s obvious that he’s cold and calculated I hope people like him at the same time.

Can you relate to Emet on any level?

RZ: Absolutely not! Only in his theatricality, 100% his theatricality. My other half, she will tell you I am extremely theatrical sometimes. So his ‘not caring’, his straightforward ‘I’m gonna say it and I don’t care what the repercussions are’ mentality, that’s very me. His guts and his flamboyant-ness and his theatricality I can relate to, but in terms of the darker element to him, no I cannot relate to that one bit, thankfully!

Is there anything about him that you want the community to know that maybe they didn’t catch or notice?

RZ: Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. That’s all I’m going to say on that one!

What was your favourite scene to record?

RZ: I think the scenes when he addresses more people and has a bigger audience for his shenanigans, where he projects and it becomes really theatrical, all of that stuff. Also, when he’s pitying people – there’s a line where he’s incredibly patronising and calling someone a “fool”, I love all that. I loved the patronising elements but for me I think the grandstanding in front of the groups like the Scions is top.

Is there anything else you’d like to say or touch on before we say goodbye?

RZ: It’s a great character, and I was very very very very lucky to get to play him. I’m one of many actors that’s got a voice over agent who goes through the motions of being submitted for voice overs in games. Every now and again, one sticks, and this was one of them that was just great and I loved it. The fact that this has all come out now, having this conversation with you and discovering he was received as well as he was, that makes it really special. I’m really pleased to have been a part of it and part of a franchise that has been going for so long. I’m really very proud of it.

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