Interview with 'The Walking Dead' voice actors Dave Fennoy, Melissa Hutchison, and Gavin Hammon
Those of you who have been playing The Walking Dead by Telltale Games are already well acquainted with the cast. Most of all, we have spent our time surviving in harsh environments with main protagonist Lee Everett as well as two of his closest allies Clementine and Kenny. We're here to speak with their respective voice actors Dave Fennoy, Melissa Hutchison, and Gavin Hammon who breathe life into these amazing characters to get a closer look at what makes them tick.
WARNING: There may be some slight spoilers for those who aren't up to date on the episodes so far.
(from left to right) Kenny played by Gavin Hammon, Lee played by Dave Fennoy, and Clementine played by Melissa Hutchison
[UMDR] Dave, you are the often level-headed and plain-spoken Lee Everett. Is it more or less difficult for you to play a character with subtleties as opposed to past roles that would be considered more "over the top" (Rodin in Bayonetta or Hulk Davidson in Viewtiful Joe)?
[Dave] Playing as such a real character has definitely been more of a challenge than many of the more stereotypical roles I've played in the past. It's also been much more rewarding. The Walking Dead scripts are simply the best game scripts I've ever had the pleasure of working on.
Actors live to have such subtleties and range in a role. Part of the challenge is the number of choices that Lee has to make and the sheer length of the recording sessions which can sometimes be 6 to 8 hours long.
[UMDR] Melissa, you provide the voice of Clementine. We have mentioned in a past article how that girl can "move mountains" meaning she has such an impact on the decisions made throughout the game. What is it about her, do you think, has that kind of affect on players?
[Melissa] Clementine is such a good kid and I don't just mean well-behaved. She is smart, helpful, and kind. I picture her to have come from a loving household with parents that taught her the value of being a polite and thoughtful person. She is tough too! She spent the first days of this "new hell" all alone up in her tree house. The girl wants to survive and I think this gets through to the players. She is not there to be a nuisance.
The writers really nailed her down. It's hard to come up with child characters that don't turn out to be annoying. People really care for her and actually want her to live!
[UMDR] Gavin, your character Kenny is clearly focused on his family during the first three episodes and overall very headstrong. Does a bit of your own personality go into this role or was there something/someone else that helped you develop this character?
[Gavin] I'm a parent so I know that plays into how I personally relate to Kenny and his motivations throughout the story especially at the beginning. It was easy to tap into that and imagine what I would feel in his position. I just tried to put myself in his shoes as far as trying to look out for his wife and kid and keep them safe. That would create a certain amount of mistrust in some characters and support for others as people come and go from the group.
My approach had to change, of course, from Episode 3 and on. At that point, it just became a question on how low and wrecked Kenny was feeling from scene to scene as well as whether or not he can turn it around in order to be productive to the group again. Thankfully, the writing is so good that most of my job is done for me. All I have to worry about is making it sound believable.
[UMDR] All three of you played as major characters throughout The Walking Dead. How did each of you mentally prepare to tackle the harsh content (ie: cannibalism) that is ever present?
[Dave] When I signed up to play a role in The Walking Dead, I pretty much gave up worrying about how harsh the content would be. I mean... it's The Walking Dead! We are also working from a script and not pictures so the images aren't burned into our brains. It's a completely different experience with just words.
I gotta admit though, there were a few times that I thought to myself, "Wow, now that is really gross." I once asked Gary Whitta (writer for Episode 4) if his mother knew the kind of stuff he was writing.
[Gavin] Well, truthfully, I had no idea about the legs (Mark in Episode 2) until that session.
I had a familiarity with the comic and the show when we got the audition packet for the episodes which covered a fairly broad emotional range and gave us the tone of the series. Asides from that, we're pretty much in the dark as to what the scope of the script will be until we see it at the studio and get the rundown from Telltale. In general, we don't know much going in.
[Melissa] I feel like I have been mentally preparing for the zombie apocalypse since the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead! I have a special place in my heart for zombie movies and, of course, The Walking Dead TV show. It's not hard to want to take out some zombies. I must say though, they scare the crap out of me! I just imagined that fear and how a little child would process that situation. Poor Clem!
[UMDR] I understand that you all follow a script that the writers have laid out. Certain lines, however, lead me to believe that ad-libbing was also used to make your performances sound more natural. Lee endearingly calling Clem "sweet pea" is one example that comes to mind. Which specific scenes or lines did you each place your own stamp on?
[Dave] I wish I could take credit for "sweat pea" but that was in the script. Like I said, it's very good writing. There were times, however, that I changed lines when it didn't feel like it was something Lee would say or to simplify a complicated line.
[Melissa] I love that Lee calls me sweet pea!
As for me, there was not much ad-libbing going on. The writers have these scripts nailed! I guess in order for my performance to come off sounding as "child-like" as possible, my ad-libbing would be more in little sounds that kids make. These would be sighs, little quips of "oh" and "umm", and giggles (not that there is much giggling in this game). I really had to put myself into the mind of an 8 year old girl. Clementine says "okay" A LOT. I got that down! As for specific scenes, all I have to say is wait for Episode 5.
[Gavin] Yep, there's a little "Kenny flavor" where the writers were comfortable letting me subtly mix up words. Little things, mostly colloquialisms, lend an extra shot of character. Specifically, I'd usually try and turn "going to" into "gonna" or "goin' to" and "wasn't" into "wudn't". That sort of thing makes his speech sound more natural. Other times, the writers choose to scrap a line or change it during the session if it's not playing right. Telltale has a pretty flexible process.
[UMDR] Lee and Clem have grown together into a father-daughter type of relationship throughout the game. How do you two (Dave and Melissa) connect on that level as actors in order to effectively portray this type of bond?
[Gavin] If I may chime in, these two hadn't actually met in person until after the third episode was recorded. That, quite simply, is a testament to both Dave and Melissa's consummate professionalism and hyper-mega-awesomeness.
[Dave] The nature of game production is such that rarely do the actors get to work together. Melissa and I didn't meet until we were doing back to back sessions and happened to run into each other on the street.
Having met, however, there was an instant connection. I think it's because we recognize that we are part of something very special and there is mutual admiration for the work we are doing. The voice samples of Melissa as Clem during my sessions really went a long way to helping me connect with the real little girl on the pages of my script. That, in turn, has given me a special connection to Melissa.
[Melissa] That's right, we just met when we were recording for Episode 4. We don't actually record together. It would be great if we did but that is rare in this line of business.
At my recording sessions, they would play me some of his lines which got me familiar with his character. Before I say my lines, I read Lee's preceding line in my head with Dave's voice. That sounds confusing but it makes sense, I swear! Clementine loves Lee. It has not been difficult to create that performance. When we finally met in person, it felt like I've known him my whole life! Being Lee and Clementine is what bonded us as friends!
[UMDR] The brotherly type of connection between Lee and Kenny has its fair share of ups and downs depending on the choices made. One important scene during Episode 3 has the two fighting with one another over stopping the train because of Duck's condition. What do both of you (Dave and Gavin) believe puts these characters at odds with each other so easily yet still remain on the same side?
[Dave] The drama of The Walking Dead is not about zombies. It's about dissimilar people thrown together in a world gone mad and forced to cooperate by making heart-wrenching choices in order to survive. Kenny and Lee would have probably never been friends in the world before. They now need each other and have been forced to discover each other's qualities and weaknesses.
When Kenny's family is destroyed and somebody has to put his son Duck out of his misery before becoming a zombie, it's the kind of loss that tears his heart out. As much as we think of humans as rational beings... we can become completely irrational when we face the kind of loss that Kenny faces. Sometimes I think Lee and Kenny fight to release the tension and fear for the situation they are in. And sometimes it's because every decision is so crucial.
[Gavin] I think, to some degree, it's Kenny's background that lends itself well to tension (asking Lee if he can hot-wire a car in Episode 1) or camaraderie (if Lee treats Kenny with "Southern hospitality").
Initially, Kenny's wondering what crime Lee is running from and what threat he might pose to Duck and Katjaa while letting some racial undertones pollute his better judgement. If the player makes anti-Kenny choices, that's totally reinforced. Simple human differences coupled with post-apocalyptic flesh-eating undead can certainly stress or strengthen a relationship based on sketchy circumstances. I mean, I assume it would.
[UMDR] Are the three of you fans of The Walking Dead comics or TV show? If so, who are your favorite characters?
[Dave] I am an occasional watcher of the TV show and I've read some issues of the comics but I don't know the show or characters that well.
[Gavin] Yeah, I've read the first few trades and have seen the first season of the show. The show was a little heavy for my wife and we haven't watched much further... yet!
In the comics, I really enjoyed the dynamics between Rick and Lori. I'm glad that the personal tension that's done so well in the books makes its way into the show and the game. It's a great story about people, first and foremost.
[Melissa] YES And YES! I'm a big fan of both. Robert Kirkman rules! I actually just finished Season 2 of the show. I know, I'm slow. I waited for it to come out on Netflix so I could watch them continuously without any interruptions!
I think my favorite characters in the show are Daryl and Glenn. Those are the two guys I would follow first if the group split up.
[UMDR] Obviously you won't be getting into any spoilers here but what can you tell us about Episode 5 while the fans wait in anticipation?
[Dave] Have a box of tissues handy.
[Gavin] Some of us don't make it... I recorded for most of Episode 5 already and have no idea what happens to Clem. Melissa won't tell me either!
[Melissa] Let's just put it this way. That was one of the most INTENSE recording sessions I have EVER had. I'm pretty sure Dave and Gavin would agree with me on this one. Hold on to your hats, kids. This ride isn't over yet!
Thank you very much Dave, Melissa, and Gavin for taking the time to speak with us! You can currently download the first four episodes of The Walking Dead on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, PC/Mac, and iOS devices. The fifth and final episode is scheduled for release some time in November. A retail version with all five episodes will also be released at the same time.