In a recent interview conducted by Fragged Nation, YongYea and Korrupt Ronin, Skull Face actor James Horan talked about playing his role in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Horan doesn’t seem to remember all that much of his role as Skull Face, but what may be especially surprising to Metal Gear fans are his statements that he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the game, even saying that as he recalls it recording for TPP wasn’t really much more work than it was for GZ. Many fans expected Skull Face to be the main villain in the game and to play an important role in the story, but taking Horan’s words into consideration, this may not actually be the case.
James started playing in college, at the age of 19. His first role was the Marquis de Sade. “I would like to call that my baptism by fire.” He did several other plays in college, and when the time came to graduate he decided he wanted to keep pursuing acting. He was accepted in the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program. After that, he went to LA to further pursue his acting career, doing soap operas first. “I didn’t get into voice over until about 20 years ago.” People told him for years he had a good voice. “I like the fact that there’s so much less ego involved, and nobody really cares what you look like. And we’re all supportive of each other.” Horan said. “I ended up doing over 80 video games and a couple of animated series.”
He got the role of Skull Face via his agent. “When I went in, for instance, for this [role of Skull Face in MGSV], I have to say guys, that I’m not a gamer, I don’t play video games, but I have a nine year old who loves video games. But I’m not letting him play with shooter games.” Horan isn’t all too familiar with this franchise either. “So I didn’t know anything about Metal Gear. I’d heard of it, of course, and this character, when they showed me the […] photo, and from the look of it I thought he might sound something like this [in a creaky voice]. And I remember the creator, I’ve forgotten his name […] [Hideo Kojima], he was there at the beginning. I met him, and you know, I remember asking him when I was in the booth (asking them through him) if they wanted some kind of voice like that, and he said no, he wanted just a normal voice. So that’s pretty much why he just sounded like me.”
He first did Ground Zeroes and was later called back for The Phantom Pain. “They had to refresh me because I’d forgotten what I did on the first one. Because he didn’t say much in the first one as I recall, right?” The hosts say there are probably about 8 or 9 minutes of dialogue. Horan: “He throws the tape to the kid in the cage or something, and says ‘you deserve this’ or something. That’s all I remember.” How long after GZ was he brought back, and was TPP much more work? “It wasn’t, as I recall. I don’t really remember what I said, but you guys gave me some lines here, that I said. But yeah, it was at least… I thought it was maybe 9 months or 10, maybe less than that. [Here he seems to be talking about the time between GZ and TPP recording] But some time certainly went by. […] they didn’t show me any video. So I didn’t… The first time they had video that they showed me. The second time it was just creating a character again.”
So how much recording did James do for The Phantom Pain? “There may be a maximum of a couple of hours. Maybe an hour and a half. […] I think it was pretty quick, because I didn’t have that much to say even in The Phantom Pain, as I recall it.”
Did he also do the facial capture? “No, it was just voice. I didn’t do any mocap.” The hosts are surprised, with Daley pointing out he is credited with the facial capture in the game. “Really?” James asks. “Maybe I had some things around my face. I seriously don’t recall.” Daley asks if he doesn’t recall sitting in a booth surrounded by cameras. James Horan: “It’s possible. […] It sounds reasonable that that happened.”
How did he approach the voice of Skull Face originally? Horan explains how he played aliens on Star Trek and gave them a voice based on their appearance [does a raspy voice as an example]. “Which is why when I saw Skull Face I thought, well whatever disfigured his face perhaps affected his vocal chords too. So my tendency was to go towards that [raspy sort of] voice. And than I was directed to make him so he doesn’t have any kind of impairment to his vocal chords. Which is fine, but yeah, it’s just as an actor you have a tendency to want to find a voice, a new voice for each character.”
What are some things he kept in mind when playing Skull Face? “I have to be honest and say: I don’t know much about him, expect what they’ve told me, which is, you know, how he was disfigured and what I read online about him.” Horan answered. “I read that paragraph just recently to refresh my memory in the Wikipedia of his sort of monologue about how he became that.” Again, he says Skull Face does not have a lot to say in the game. “Well, I think if I had more of an arc to the character, like you know, he was more of a main character, I’d certainly want to know more of those things. But when he doesn’t have all that much to say, I just kind of let them fill me in on what they need.”
“I really didn’t do a lot of homework, because, you know, when I went in the first time they just kind of told me what to say and showed me the picture.” […] He does a lot of auditions for voice work, so he can’t remember everything. “You know, I do things and I forget them, it’s like, I can’t keep auditions in my head.”
Did he read the scripts for things he worked on (like Diablo and MGSV)? James explained: “They rarely let you read much of anything, because they want things under wraps so much. You sign these NDAs (those Non Disclosure Agreements). So you don’t get to read much. I always want to know as much as possible about any character I’m playing, but in voice over world you sort of take what you get, especially in games, because, you know, as I say, they’re so much under wraps. So you just kind of go with what you got, and you come up with a voice and then they either say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’.”
Was he uncomfortable with the controversial elements of the character? “I wasn’t aware of the uncomfortable elements.” […] “As an actor, you can’t make those moral judgments sometimes. It’s like, I certainly try to find out or figure out why the character does the things he does. If you’re playing any kind of a psycho on stage or on television or film or anything you want to know those things, but, like I said before, when they’re so closed about letting any information out, it’s really hard […] Again, if you’re the lead, you’re Kiefer Sutherland or Robin Atkin Downes, they got more to do, right? So, they probably have more input and exchange on what the character is going on.”
Were there any difficulties voicing Skull Face? “Straightforward, I mean, simple.” Horan said. “Again, it was nice in the beginning to have the creator there who, you know, seemed pleased with what I did, and who put in his input and I seemed to give him what he wanted, so yeah, it wasn’t difficult.”
Horan was also asked about Skull Face torture methods. Was he able to get any background stories on what they were, what Skull Face did in GZ? Korrupt Ronin asks if he knows about that. Horan: “No.” Hearing this the hosts react surprised. Again, Horan says that all recording of the characters is done separately, so that could explain why he doesn’t know about the context of his character.
Ever since we’ve seen Skull Face and Snake working together in the E3 2014 trailer (or at least, it appears they do), people have been wondering just how the two are going to be interacting. Does Skull Face play an antagonistic role or will he act as an ally? Horan responded: “Man, I gotta say: I really don’t know. I mean, it’s like, of course I would love to say he’s going to be an ally, rather than… you know, because it also gives the character a little more dimension than just, you know, one note. […] Even when I read just recently […] why he became the way he became. He went through this accident, disfiguring accident as a child I imagine. And then […] the woman in the hospital said: you should let the poor thing die. And so, you know, with that history in him, […] if he had not had this accident he would be a different person.” Horan than asks the hosts: “Do they indicate at all what country he is from?” Yong answers he is from Hungary, after which Horan seems to remember. Yong also notes that Horan actually speaks a bit of Hungarian in the game, asking him if he remembers it. “Oh. No, I don’t.” Yong asks if he speaks Hungarian. Horan, somewhat surprised: “No I don’t.” But he does seem to remember them mentioning it at the beginning, which made him ask if they wanted any kind of accent. But they didn’t. “They probably just made the speaker say it [the lines] and you just parrot it.”
Horan was also asked his opinion about Skull Face as a character. “Oh, I think he’s interesting. It would be interesting to like, play him if they ever did a feature [film]. I don’t know if that’s in the works, that could be interesting. They’ve taken some video games to film, haven’t they?” […] “I mean, you know, even Adolf Hitler was a really intriguing character in terms of what shaped him to be what he became. For some reason Skull Face and Hitler kind of blend in my mind a little bit. […] Whatever shaped him into being that ubervillain, I would like to approach Skull Face in a live action thing that way. So what do I know about him, just to answer your question as best I can, he seems like he was certainly shaped by that accident. There’s some glimmers of humanity left in him. But again, I don’t know enough about that, too. […] I mean, we as actors always like to have dimension around a character.”
Does Skull Face play a key role in the story? Horan responded: “I cannot say, because I do not know. […] I don’t recall the lines, and I’m sure that the creators are happy about that.” He could confirm that he’s done recording, they haven’t called him back. He would like to reprise the role in the future, or in a movie.
It’s kind of surprising to see how little Horan remembers of the whole recording process. Though the fact that he doesn’t know much of the story is in line with what other actors said earlier (they’re only told a very small portion), how much he has forgotten about the voice recordings themselves, and the facial capture is strange to see. But maybe he’s just a busy guy who has done a million other things since then. Either way though, Skull Face doesn’t seem to be as important to the story as many fans have assumed – though frankly, even that is hard to judge so early.