GCE Exclusive: Interview with Mark MeerJuly 31, 2013
We talk improv, Mass Effect, Ravensdale and cosplaying with voice actor Mark Meer!
At Con Bravo!, we had the chance to sit down with Mark Meer, who many gamers may know well as the popular character Commander Shepard of the Mass Effect series. What fans might not know though is that Mark is also an improv actor and writer along with being a talented voice actor. To top it all off, he is Canadian and he even loves cosplaying his favorite characters! Check out our interview with him when we caught up with him at Con Bravo!.
How did you first get into voice acting and what is the most difficult part about it?
My very first voice acting gig was on Baldur’s Gate 2 for BioWare. In that game I had one line that was actually in the final cut scene, so you had to beat the entire game to see me. Subsequently, BioWare just kept hiring me back. I’ve talked about this before; how I think it was because of the fact that I was a Dungeons and Dragons player because they were working on Dungeons and Dragons based games at the time so they would be able to put me in the booth and say, “This guy is a Paladin” without having to explain what a Paladin is. That helped.
I wouldn’t say there’s anything difficult really but I would say it definitely presents a challenge just using your voice and you don’t have your physicality or anything else to support it, so your performance really does have to be completely vocal.
Improv and voice acting are like night and day; how does one compliment the other?
Not necessarily… I’d say that improv comes in very handy with voice acting because a lot of the time you are doing cold reads, essentially. You don’t see a script until you are actually working on it and recording it in the booth so being able to draw instantly into character and picture the situation is something that improv really helps with.
What is your favorite part about doing improv?
I love performing in front of a live audience. You certainly don’t get that with voice acting—you are usually in a booth by yourself. I really enjoy the ephemeral quality of the art. A lot of people talk about improv as disposable in a way because you have to be there but that’s part of the attraction to it too because if you are in the room, you get an experience that isn’t necessarily able to be captured on film.
Earlier in your Q & A session, you mentioned the 50 hour improv marathon; you did the whole thing and you didn’t sleep at all?
Yes I’ve done the entire thing twenty two times now and my twenty third time is coming up in September at the Die Nasty Soapathon in Edmonton. (info below)
What’s the first thing you do when you’re finished those 50 hours?
We go to the bar and drink and talk about how funny we are.
We do have to ask a little bit about Mass Effect; in the games who were the two squad mates you tended to pick most often when you were playing the game?
I tended to go with the least human—I would always go with aliens. My Renegade in particular was quite good friends with Wrex and later with Grunt and backed the Krogan in all things even when it wasn’t the Renegade choice. Characters like Legion and Garrus and Tali—I tended to go with the more exotic squad mates.
If a Mass Effect movie was made, which I believe they are in talks about, who would you choose to play some of the roles of the characters?
Yes, they’ve been talking about it for a while now. People have always asked me, “Wouldn’t you want to play Commander Shepard?” and you know, physically, I’m a bit more suited to play a Salarian. Who would I cast as Commander Shepard? I would recommend my friend Nathan Fillion for the role, or possibly his costar, Adam Baldwin I think would make a very good choice. If it was Fem Shep I think Katie Sackhoff would be a good choice, or Jennifer Hale herself because unlike me, Jennifer Hale is a real action hero, she rides horses and climbs mountains.
What more can you tell us about the Ravensdale game? I know there’s a Kickstarter going—do you have any details on what type of gameplay it’s going to be?
It’s going to be a side scroller. It’s a fantasy setting with steampunk elements so that sort of early industrial revolution style of technology. I’m going to be playing a character called “The Captain” that’s his current designation—he’s the guy who gives everyone their missions and whatnot. But I’ve also requested and they seem quite open to it—to playing some of the orcs and goblins and things like that. I have a fair bit of experience playing monsters and things like that—that’s what I was doing when I was first started working for BioWare on the Baldur’s Gate games and of course subsequently in the enchanced editions from Overhaul Games.
With your voice acting, what do you like doing more—being the hero like Commander Shepard or doing the voices of characters like the Vorcha for example?
The thing is on Mass Effect I got to do both so it was really the best of both worlds. Commander Shepard has a lot more dialogue than say, the Vorcha do and the bank that holds my mortgage is happy about that. It was also fun to do them—we’d save them for the end of the day and I’d get to do lines like the Vorcha or comic relief roles like Blasto.
What is your favorite thing about attending conventions?
Meeting the fans, that’s certainly the best part. Mass Effect has such a devoted fan base. I don’t want to start any fandom wars or anything but I would say Mass Effect has fans that are as dedicated as any other fandom that you’d run across. I don’t want to get any Browncoats mad at me. They are very dedicated and very passionate about the game. When I first met Seth Green, he mentioned that he’d never seen this kind of emotional connection to a game, especially for such a young franchise.
Do you think that because there is a lot more emotions present in the game? For example, Fallout—a fantastic game and one of my favorites—it doesn’t pull as much emotion as Mass Effect. Do you think the deeper emotional connection with the characters helped with the fan dedication?
I think that’s definitely one of the reasons. There was great writing, you really got to know the characters well, and the fact that there was the possibility of romantic relationships with the characters in the games as well. Also the fact that Mass Effect was one of the first games where the player character actually had a voice. So often in these games the player character is text rather than fully voiced. I think that helped people immerse themselves.
We’ve seen you cosplay before as Commander Shepard from Dragon*Con…
Yes and at this point I’d like to thank David Carpenter of Evil Effects Props and Armor; he built me that armor for free. I met him a few years before at Dragon*Con and we became friends and so a few months before last years Dragon*Con he got a hold of me and said, “Hey, how would you like me to build an excellent Commander Shepard suit for free?” And I said, “Yes! I will wear it!”
Is there any character in the comic or video game realm that you’d like to try cosplaying?
Oh, certainly. I do quite a bit of cosplay and even long before Commander Shepard, every Hallowe’en I’d have, usually, a comic based costume so by the time I started attending cons I had a big stockpile of old Hallowe’en super villain costumes. Let’s see… to this point I have done Bizarro, Black Adam, Mister Mind, the Hobgoblin was my Hallowe’en costume last year—and Brian Parsley, he’s a friend of mine and a cosplayer and an excellent, excellent costumer—he’s made me most of my costumes. Jerry Dietrich is another Edmonton resident; she works in theatre and she made my Bizarro costume. I can’t sew, myself, but I can paint and sometimes make props and things like that.
Let’s see, who else have I done? Oh, the Super-Adaptoid, which is probably the most obscure character I’ve ever cosplayed—he was a lot of fun and I’ll be taking him back to Dragon*Con this year… he’s an android that sort of has all of the powers of the Avengers and he looks like an amalgamation of all of them but green. Who else… Green Goblin, Red Skull, Doctor Doom—I have a suit of Doctor Doom armor but it’s currently in a state of disrepair right now so it needs some work.
As far as costumes for the future, I’ve always wanted to do a Super Skrull. I’m working on a Dead Man costume right now and Ultron would be one although I was quite intimidated because there was an excellent Ultron costume at Dragon*Con last year—oh my God I don’t know if I could ever top that. Have you ever seen the Dragon*Con cosplay videos? The thing about Dragon*Con is that it seems to me that a far greater percentage of the attendees are in costume, so you go there and it’s like a three day Hallowe’en party.
You mentioned your Hallowe’en party in the Q & A, do you have your costume picked out already for it?
Yes—well, I’m debating what to do. I did Hob Goblin last year. I should mention that there is a costume in the works. I’m working with CFX who actually did the silicone mask for my Hob Goblin costume. They are a composite effects company based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and they make excellent silicone masks. When you wear them, it’s like you’ve spent three hours in the special effects department getting stuff applied to your face. It moves with your face, you can emote through them—they are currently working on a Vorcha. That’s another costume that I’ll be doing up. I haven’t quite decided what I am going to be for Hallowe’en yet. I will be the host of a Hallowe’en party—it’s also my wedding anniversary.
A big thank you to Mark Meer for participating in the interview with us, it was an absolute pleasure! To keep up to date with what Mark is doing you can follow his Twitter @Mark_Meer.