Abigail Roberts - Cali Elizabeth Moore
Sadie Adler - Alex McKenna
Karen Jones - Jo Armeniox
Tilly Jackson - Meeya Davis
Mary-Beth Gaskill - Samantha Strelitz
Molly O'Shea - Penny O'Brien
Susan Grimshaw - Kaili Vernoff
Talking to the female cast of Red Dead Redemption 2 (opens in new tab) is like sitting around the campfire with the Van Der Linde gang. The world may have been built out of pixels, but the camaraderie was, and still is, very very real. I spoke to the talented actresses behind Abigail Roberts, Sadie Adler, Karen Jones, Susan Grimshaw, Tilly Jackson, Molly O'Shea and Mary-Beth Gaskill about their time working on the game, the moments that stood out in the six-year process, and about the slaps in the face, the tears and the relationships that made it so memorable. Be ready for spoilers.
What's striking is that despite the fact that not everyone got to be together at all times on the Rockstar soundstage, recording their motion capture and lines, the Van Der Linde gang still built its own deep and meaningful relationships. As everyone shares their anecdotes, it's like they're talking about family.
"Overall, all of these times with these women has just been really such a beautiful emotional journey," says Jo Armeniox, who plays Karen Jones in the game.
"One of the best moments for me was getting into the green room and seeing Jo, who I knew a little bit through the acting world and catching up and goofing off," says Penny O'Brien, who plays the fiery Molly O'Shea.
"Then we've got to jump on stage and she's got to slap me in the face, twice. It was a bizarre scene but we had so much fun with it. Just small things like that will stay with me forever, just having such a laugh on stage."
Meeya Davis plays Tilly, and she admits she got emotional following the young girl's journey with the gang. "I remember doing that scene where I talk about how I killed Anthony Foreman's cousin. It was me and some of the other guys around the campfire and I remember it got me emotional on set because I was like wow, at a young age she went through so much."
"The second scene that got me was at the end when you Tilly on the train pregnant," she says fondly. "I was seven or eight months pregnant and I was like 'did you guys write this because I'm pregnant for real?' and they were like 'no, we love you but not that much'. It was art imitating life, and to have that joyful ending for Tilly, was really sweet."
Kaili Vernoff, who plays the intimidating Susan Grimshaw, was also swept up in Tilly's story. "The mission where we go and rescue Tilly - and seeing Susan show that she will go to any lengths to protect these girls and keep them from harm - was a nice balance to when we see how vicious she can be with them in camp when she disapproves of what they're doing."
"I don't know too many middle-aged badass video game characters who will take a guard down with a knife in the throat. I don't know that I thought I was going to get to have that kind of experience, so when I got that script and when we got to do it, it really was thrilling. And then to watch the journey with Tilly and to see how Susan becomes so loving with her, knowing that she's going to go on to have a great life."
Samantha Strelitzne, who plays the bookish Mary-Beth Gaskill, shares a similar moment with Vernoff that felt special to shoot. "I remember acting it out with Kaili, and it's about vanity and it's about ageing and it's about these two women struggling with how they connect with each other, and how they connect with women."
Some of the most touching scenes for me were between Abigail and Sadie, played by Cali Elizabeth Moore and Alex McKenna. It's a scene with Abigail and Sadie where they're just kind of... Abigail is letting her know that she's safe and she has friends here and that time will heal her wounds," says Moore.
Sadie and Abigail
"When we first meet Sadie and she's come to the camp for the first time, and she's kind of just had the worst things happen to her imaginable and she is brought in to this gang and she doesn't know if she can trust us, she's so scared. By that time Alex and I were pretty tight so it was just such a sweet scene to get to do together."
McKenna jumps in to agree. "It's such a treat, particularly with my character, she's a badass and a bounty hunter that's the majority of my scenes, Sadie being out there and ruthless and gunslinging so to have this soft moment... Our director [Rockstar's motion-capture director Rod Edge] told us to bring it, and it was a vulnerable and completely emotional scene and it was just great. It felt amazing."
For McKenna the scene was an important balance to some of the harder scenes she had to play as Mrs Adler. "When Sadie gets her revenge - spoiler alert - I knew all of the backstory at that point, had gotten to experience a lot of the trauma and what gets her to that point, and that release was really wild," she says.
"As part of the scene Arthur and I are sitting there, and I tell him they turned me into a monster. That's actually haunted me a little bit. I don't think I've ever been so tired as that day on set."
Playing with the boys
Of course, the women of Red Dead Redemption 2 also had to deal with the men of the gang, whether they were charmers like Dutch, scoundrels like Micah or a bit of both, like hero Arthur Morgan.
"There were scenes with me and Arthur where we got wasted together, proclaimed our best friend love for each other, were on a boat and blew up a building together," says Armeniox. "As much as I've bonded with these women and it's been the best and most satisfying thing, it was really rare also to have my own time with Roger [Clark, who plays Arthur] and that was really special."
Outlaws never looked so sweet! ❤️🤠 #SusanGrimshaw #marybethgaskill #karenjones #TillyJackson pic.twitter.com/nC5Hg7taFINovember 14, 2018
"I'm always very overwhelmed when I see the scene where Arthur sort of becomes my confidant, and he tells me that he's dying," says Samantha Strelitz. "I watch that scene - because people post it online a lot - and I... there's half of me that wishes that I knew the gravitas of what that was that was going to feel like playing through the game, and experiencing that, and the other half of me that feels like there's such an innocence to that scene which is why I love it so much, because if someone tells you that how do you even take that all in?"
As Molly, O'Brien says she also spent a lot of time with Benjamin Byron Davis, who plays Dutch, and that relationship has continued to this day. "We had some really incredible, intimate moments and some jokes that were made while we were in our tent that we'll still make together when we're sitting at dinner. I'm always perpetually darning his socks."
Tears on set
If you were looking for trouble in the game, you could always rely on Micah, and from what Vernoff tells me, the same is true on set. "One of my first scenes was with him and they said he's going to haul you up over onto his lap and he tortures Susan about her age and he would come at it with this really strange creepy vibe, and I would burst out laughing, most takes," she laughs. "It was really hard to keep a straight face around that guy."
For a lot of people, one of the happiest moments is seeing the long relationship between Abigail and John finally made official, sat in a boat in the town of Blackwater. "We had been mo-cap husband and wife for years by then so when we got the proposal we rehearsed it, he and I, in the green room, just to make sure we had the lines," says Moore.
"We did it in the green room one time and we both started crying and we both said 'we have to stop, we have to save this for shooting!'. We got on set and I think we only shot it twice, because there was just was just so much emotion. He's a married man - and loves his wife - and I'm a married woman and I love my husband, and it was really easy to go back to that special moment for the proposal for both of us and it was so special."
The gang has met since at various events to promote the game, and it's clear that it's a memory that will stay with them - just as their performances will with us - for a very long time. "We all bonded, right away, which was really exciting," says Vernoff. "Every time I would see a call sheet I would just be delighted when I would see who was joining me that day. It's not like that on every job, so it was special."