Interview with David Fennoy, voice of Lee Everett in The Walking Dead
The name David Fennoy could be commonplace to the videogame enthusiast or franchise fan. If it is unfamiliar, you may be surprised to know that Fennoy has been a part of almost every major franchise in recent gaming history. Including many of the most popular titles that you have played this year.
Fennoy’s work-history reads off like a timeline of videogame giants, animated series and television programs. Fennoy has been a part of such classic franchises as Metal Gear, Saints Row, Mass Effect and Fallout and that is just naming a few. His animated-series are just as impressive, voicing roles in Archer, Sonic the Hedgehog, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and so many more. Fennoy is also the omnipotent and soothing voice you hear on Hulu before your show starts, a fact that blew my mind. Most recently Fennoy (shown on the right) has voiced the lead role as the Macon-born protagonist in TellTale Game’s ‘The Walking Dead’ episodic series.
Alongside these videogame roles, Fennoy has been participating in animated shows, and television series since the early 1990’s, Fennoy has achieved more than most voice-actors will in a lifetime. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Fennoy about his most recent role and discuss the challenges of voice-acting.
[quote_center]I want to know the character’s history, his motivation, what he wants. What is his world view, what is he afraid of? Does he have something to hide, does he love? I have to answer those questions for myself to create a believable character.[/quote_center]
Having interviewed voice-actors in the past I know that each actor has his, or her, own method of creating the character they are asked to portray. How do you typically develop your characters? Lee in particular.
Fennoy: My usual method it to read all the available information about the character… usually provided by the producers of the project, but sometimes, especially with iconic characters, I’ll do a more thorough search online. I want to know the character’s history, his motivation, what he wants. What is his world view, what is he afraid of? Does he have something to hide, does he love? I have to answer those questions for myself to create a believable character.
Were you a fan of the Walking Dead series going into the project?
Fennoy: I was a ‘sometimes watcher’ of the show, but I really did not have a great knowledge about the show or the graphic novel.
[quote_center]The Lee Everette character is a very real one. I didn’t have to create a voice to play him… he’s very close to the real me, which is sometimes harder to do, but I just put myself in his situations and said my lines they way I felt… and voila’![/quote_center]
How much creative control is given to voice actors when voicing game characters? Do you find the game industry more open, or more controlling compared to the other media you have worked with?
Fennoy: The most creativity comes when you are doing the audition. After that it’s recreating that character in numerous situations. Unlike most animation, most often you are working alone and have to make choices based on given information, or the context of what you are saying. Are you close or shouting, are you happy, angry, sad, hurt, hurting, etc. The director or writers want you to bring every ounce of your creativity to the project, but within the context of each scene. That said, an actor usually has more room to “play” doing episodic or film animation. The Lee Everette character is a very real one. I didn’t have to create a voice to play him… he’s very close to the real me, which is sometimes harder to do, but I just put myself in his situations and said my lines they way I felt… and voila’!
The Walking Dead Episodic series opened to outstanding reviews, earning an average of 9.5/10 on our site alone. Were you surprised by the immediate connection players felt with Lee?
Fennoy: Not really surprised by the great reviews but very happy with them. Gamers are growing up and becoming more sophisticated. They want more in a game than blasting aliens and blowing away zombies. This game is about relationships, moral choices, and survival… and you get to blow away a bunch of zombies! You are thrown into a world with a group of people you probably would not have hung out with ever… except you need each other to survive and then there are all those zombies! The player becomes Lee Everette and has to make the hard choices about who lives and dies. I also think people relate to, and respect someone, who takes on the task of protecting a child in a world gone mad. In situation after situation the player actually has to look inside themselves and wonder what they would do.
A look at David Fennoy as Lee Everett in ‘The Walking Dead: Episode 03’
The Walking Dead is a choice-based game, with multiple outcomes and scenarios based on decisions that players make. How do you keep such an ’emotional-thread’ in the story-line and your work, when voicing such variant copy? Is it a technical process, do you have a preferred way or reading the story-lines etc…?
Fennoy: As an actor it’s all about context… I’m also playing the same character, but the same character making different decisions in the same situations. I don’t think of Lee as a hero. I think of him as regular guy, more of a good guy than a bad guy, but a guy who’s fallible. A guy who can sometimes do heroic things, but who can also give into fear or selfishness.
When we last left Lee and Clementine, they were on a train headed for Savannah and Clementine’s story seemed to be the focus of the next chapter. Will we be visiting Lee’s past again soon?
Fennoy: I could tell you… but then I’d have to kill you!
When you started Episode 01, did you know all of Lee’s story-line to help you develop the character, or was the series not finished yet?
Fennoy: I had no idea where the story would go when I did episode 1. I knew Lee’s back story; college professor, convicted of killing his wife’s lover and on his way to prison when the zombie apocalypse gives him his freedom, but throws him into a world gone mad. And introduces him to a 9 year old little girl named Clementine who needs a protector… and surprisingly, he needs her as much as she needs him. After that… open slate.
One issue I have had in the past with voice-over actors in videogames is when they are too identifiable. Playing a game I want to think of the character not the actor. You are extremely talented at creating unique voices for your characters. Even though I watch Hulu almost every night, I did not make the connection with Lee while playing the game. Is this a conscious decision on your part, was it ever a worry that one-voice would become too requested from developers or media?
Interesting question… I have created many unique characters in many games, but I don’t think being too identifiable is a big problem for me… yet. Maybe for an individual game, I play 5 characters on DOTA. Don’t think they’ll be hiring me to do any new characters. But, I also believe that, just like on TV and film, the public likes to see the same actors over and over as long as those actors give interesting and believable performances. We all love Samuel L Jackson, no matter how many movies he’s in… and it seems like he’s in every other movie!
[quote_center]Become a good actor. It’s not about voices, it’s about acting.[/quote_center]
These characters touch so many people’s lives, when they play the titles that you are in; what would you say to someone that would want to follow a similar path?
Fennoy: While I have the soapbox… I’m asked all the time how to get into voiceover and specifically how to become a game voice. The answer. Become a good actor. It’s not about voices, it’s about acting.
You can learn more about the titles that David Fennoy has been apart of by visiting his website DavidFennoy.com, you can connect with him on future projects by checking him out on Facebook or following him on Twitter.