If there's one character everyone remembers from Call of Duty it's Captain Price. The gravelly voiced, cigar chewing moustache that leads you through the original Modern Warfare campaign and its subsequent sequels. For a certain generation, he's the Army Dad they never had, an iconic gaming character and no easy boots to fill for a new actor taking over the role.
But that's exactly what Barry Sloane has been tasked with doing, and based off his initial performances in trailers, he's nailed the tone and presence of Price's character. I recently spoke to him about the whole process of playing the part; from creating his take on the character, through to the process of performance capture, and the specific peculiarities of video game acting – like finishing each scene with multiple lines telling an imaginary lost player where to go.
The voice of authority
Probably the most important question first of all, though, is how do you approach such an instantly recognisable character as a new actor taking on the role? "Billy Murray [the original Captain Price] had done such a beautiful job that I had to take inspiration from there," explains Sloane. "He built it from the ground up, so he's definitely 'the shoes'. That's kind of how I found my way through the voice, into the body [but] because the voice was so iconic, I needed to have [that]. I wanted it to have a feel of it, but to feel new." And, when you hear Slone's take, the tone is spot on, albeit with a twist. "I was playing around with my own accent, and then a kind of into northern. I tried many options. But the placement of where the accent is from wasn't really what I was looking for. It has to be a long growl of a voice that had smoked a million cigars, drank scotch and would scream his lungs out on a battlefield."
In real life, Barry Sloane's a more softly spoken person than his eventual take on Price so that voice came with a cost. "It's growling, so it requires a bit [of effort]. Especially when you're doing the battle chant and grenades are fucking flying out there. It can take it out of you on a big day. On the soundstage it takes a lot of honey-and-lemon drinks to get through a full voiceover."
While Sloane did the literal grunt work, he's keen to point out that "no one man can play Price, it takes an army", paraphrasing Modern Warfare advisor and retired Navy SEALs Mitch Hall. "It's very collaborative," Sloane explains. "Taylor [Kurosaki, studio narrative director] would have some ideas, Brian Bloom, the writer, would be on set, and Mitch would be there. From the game designers who worked on the costume, to Steve [Sanders, another retired Navy SEALs advisor] doing the training for me, to the animators, to Billy Murray's work. It's all been a job we've done as one to become the guy that you get to see."
Filling the boots
One thing Barry Sloane had to bring to the part alone however is a physical presence. While Billy Murray was essentially voicing an animated character, Sloane had to gear up and work out how Price moves. "One of the first things I did was at the end of the story trailer where he shoots a sniper across the way, and then stands up and turns. There was a stillness there so I tried to keep him checking in…. He's a storm coming. There's visceral fucking rage and energy when required."
One of the key things about the original character however was that he still felt like an approachable human being, despite the 'literally shot loads of people for work' side of things. "There's a very different energy to the cut scenes,” Sloane explains. "There's a softness at times, when he's checking in on certain people, sometimes with Farah. There's a humour to him as well, and I wanted to make sure we felt the human element that perhaps wasn't there before. But when he's required for business, there's a complete fucking shift."
While Sloane might not have actually served in the military, part of what brings Price to life comes from his time on the History Channel show Six, a fictional drama focused on SEAL Team Six. "The deep-dive training that I did for Six really helped – that I had those pictures in my head that I could rely on. I could remember myself in a Black Hawk flying somewhere. I'd boarded ships and done what would be considered missions in this [game]. We raided houses in a fake Afghanistan. I've got things. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it. So I can add all those elements."
Sloane could also draw on the memories of actual Navy SEAL training undertaken for the show. Something he describes as "one of the best experiences of my entire life" in retrospect, but "at the time, the absolute worst thing I'd ever done. I almost quit the show at times during that training because it was fucking real".
It's an experience that fed beautifully into this part: Sloane is playing a wiser, more experienced soldier leading a team, while also being an actor with genuinely more relevant experience than the rest of the cast. "I was more technically proficient, and so would Price be. So it was okay that I would be like, 'don't hold your gun that way'. It certainly helped for [the rest of the cast], I think, because Mitch was able to say, 'Look, if we're not here, Barry knows the answer to that question.'"
Video game play(er)
So far it's all par for the course as an actor, but the video game side of the job brings its own demands. "We'd be in scenes, and I'd come up with what I thought was a fantastic idea. 'What if we…?' But they're like, 'No, you can't stand there, because we need an open path for the player,'" Sloane tells me. "So you need to go over here, and deliver your line knowing where the player is."
In addition to acting around an invisible, omnipresent entity, Sloane and the cast also had to act out the prompts you often hear repeated when you get lost in-game. "We call it 'nags,'" he says. "You have to master a way of beckoning someone continuously, but not in a way that's like, 'Fuck off, mate'. You'll run through a scene, and reach a certain mark on the floor, which will be the animation's stop point. I'll be by the door, ready to go, and then there'll be a series of nags – six or seven different lines – you would just rail off, looking over your shoulder, because [the player] could be anywhere. We did that for each different scene.”
Then there's obviously all the 'enemy in the second floor window' calls to help direct the player's attention and action. There's "a lot of that, day on day on day," confirms Sloane. "In different formats. North, south, east, west. You go through an entire list and across different game modes as well. We've got a nice bit of humour in there as well, which is always big with Price. He'll have little lines." When I mention some of the classics from the original game, Sloane mentions that "we have got a couple of classics in there, hidden along the way, which could come out".
At the close of the interview I ask Sloane what it feels like to take on a character that's so well known and loved to a certain audience. "Captain Price is on the box, but he's not the star of the game, it's you," he points out, as a reminder that despite the character's prominence, he's just supporting role to the player's place in the action. "I don't think it would have been helpful for me to have put any pressure on myself. So I just didn't," he adds. "I thought, 'it's yours. You've earned it.' I can't get into everyone's mind and pick what they'd like. So I just picked what I felt was right, and I'm sure it's going to resonate with people."