Roger Aaron Brown is an actor who has done it all, from TV and film to voice acting for animation. He also played the part of badass mentor Achilles Davenport in Assassin's Creed 3. We caught up with Mr. Brown to talk about what it's like to act in a video game, his thoughts on the AC franchise, and the role of African American history in gaming.
Games.com: How did you get involved with AC?
Roger Brown: In order to get the part of Achilles Davenport I had to go through an extensive audition process. The audition started in September 2011, and none of the auditioning actors knew of the nature of the project - they did not tell us that this was Assassin's Creed 3. We didn't know if it was a motion picture, a film for television, or a video game. All we knew is that the project was called "A Path to the American Revolution." We were only given bits and pieces of the script. It was not until the final cast was chosen that we were told that the project was indeed Assassin's Creed 3.
G.com: Did you have any inkling what it could be before then?
RB: Not a clue. The only thing I knew was that you rarely get these sorts of pages of dialogue. And we were dealing with Middle English - the sound [that] was in the 1700s. So that was exciting to begin with.
G.com: Did the casting call for Achilles specifically call for an African American actor?
RB: The casting description for Achilles is "a male in his 60s, African American with a colonial accent. He has great strength of character and gravitas. He was once formidable and physically impressive."
G.com: When you found out it was Assassin's Creed, were you familiar with the franchise? Or was it new to you?
RB: I had heard the term, being around a lot of younger people - the Assassin's Creed series I was familiar with, with the hood, and the Templars, and all of the intrigue. But I had never seen the game before, or played the game.
G.com: Have you played it since?
RB: Yes! The good thing too is that we were able to get all of the outtakes. There's a lot of them on the internet - scenes that weren't even in the actual game. I haven't thrown away a script since 1971. So I have a telephone book of Assassin's Creed 3 - all of the different scripts we were given.
Connor learns right away that Achilles is a hard man to get to know.
G.com: What's it like doing the voice for a video game, as opposed to a film?
RB: I've done a lot of cartoons. Working on an animation project like "The Princess and the Frog" - that's a total lark in the dark. You produce the sound you think that character on-screen might make, and you keep making adjustments, and working on your flavor till it's just right. Doing work in video games involves motion-capture of the facial and body movements, and you essentially built up a computerized inventory of the way the character's body moves and close-up facial movements and expressions. The video game genre is definitely closer to basic on-camera acting.
G.com: So they used your facial expressions for Achilles?
RB: Yes. You continue to make a glossary of motions with the face and the body, before and after every take. And these are all put into a computer much like Avatar. We were working on a gigantic, empty sound stage with movements and bare essential props. One of the cameras is mounted in a helmet right in front of your face. I had a teacher, Joe Walker, and he always called the movement "the freedom within the limitation." It's a very interesting concept, because it's a very interesting environment to deal with.
G.com: Was it challenging?
RB: You know, the good thing about being an older actor is that you're fearless. I think I might have been one of the oldest people in the room, and as far as the acting goes, I'm like a pianist, and I've been playing so long you just sit me down and let me play.
G.com: That's great. Did you like the plot? Did you have any say over what Achilles said or did?
RB: You have an input into how he says it, how he moves. And I'm a history fanatic, so I had done a lot of research on the Templars - I had done a lot of research on my own, so it was very interesting just coming up with those textures for that character as far as movement and sound.
G.com: As far as the plot goes - I remember playing it last winter and being pleasantly surprised when all of a sudden the plot line shifts and you're a Native American. Do you think there could ever be an Assassin's Creed that includes an African American perspective in a similar way?
RB: Of course. You know, American history is fantastic if you go for real American history. Over 5,000 African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War. All the kids these days know about Crispus Attucks, but the reality is that the American Revolution and all the subsequent revolutions were fought with a lot of minority involvement on both sides of the coin. Some fought for the British in the American Revolution. It's amazing how much we don't know. It's very interesting to me that the AC 3 producers, writers, and directors had a better sense of American history than most Americans. So being a student of American history, I'm aware of the total participation of African Americans in the Revolution. We stood on the green at Lexington and Concord. We fought with the Green Mountain boys - again, 5,000 fought with the Continental army. That was 1/6th of the total forces. And many fought with the British, because they were promised their freedom. So I think there's a lot of cannon fodder for any Assassin's Creed game or any other game that involves African Americans and African American history. The same thing [goes] for many other minorities in this country. We didn't just magically appear at a certain point in history. People have been here.
G.com: Do you have any interest in working with Assassin's Creed or any other games in the future?
RB: Of course. I'm a life-long actor, and not until they pry my dead hands from the door will I leave.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.