Will Poulter may have played a game developer in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, but The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope will be the first time he's donned one of those attractive motion capture suits and actually starred in one. His latest role is as three of the key characters in the latest Dark Pictures tale, with the latest instalment focused on witch trials, the occult, and college students who should have stayed in study hall.
"It was quite an intense challenge," he says. "You know, the pace that you have to move out when you're recording a game is pretty intense and different from anything I've been used to even in TV – which is sort of a step up from film in terms of pace – but I loved it. And, you know, without certain props, there's a bit of a challenge there. But it engages the imagination and I had a lot of fun with it."
Where there's a Will
"I'm responsible for Andrew, Anthony, and Abraham, and they exist in three different time periods throughout this story. That was exciting to me," he explains. "They have different accents as well and characteristics, so that made for a kind of more sort of diversified challenge."
Poulter recently starred as tree desecrator Mark in Midsommar, but his range extends far beyond horror. The actor has tried his hand at comedy with We're the Millers, science fiction in the Maze Runner series, and brutal, real-life drama in Detroit, which explored the 1967 riots. Poulter is eager to continue exploring new opportunities in his career, such as working with Supermassive Games, although there are certain criteria that must be met before he'll sign onto a project. "For me, the main thing I'm looking for – whether it's in science fiction or, you know, whatever genre – is do I believe the characters? Do I feel like they're being authentically represented in the script, at least, and can I contribute to that with my performance?"
"I also think, more than ever, that I'm thinking about the kind of socio-political message of the film as well. And, you know, is there an adequate level of representation across the cast and the series – if it belongs to a series – or in the case of Little Hope, the anthology. A number of things have kind of developed over time in terms of what I'm looking at, and what I'm looking for, before I sign onto a project," he explains.
Little Hope goes deep into the history of the witch trials, leaning heavily on real events and places and using multiple timelines to explore the horrors from different perspectives. This historical doppelganger idea was what drew Poulter to the project, but it's the studio's commitment to ground the anthology series in authenticity that ultimately convinced him to sign on. "Being part of a project – whether it's film, whether it's TV, whether it's a stage, whether it's a game – when there's an emphasis on authenticity, and creating something realistic that is trying to give the viewer or the participant the most authentic experience possible, I'm down. I couldn't care what genre it belongs to really, it's more about the material."
Season of the witch
Poulter learned a little about the infamous Salem witch trials at school, calling it unfair and "no better example of brutal misogyny," and through his work on Little Hope learned more about the neighboring town of Andover, where more people were charged as witches than in the famous Salem. Little Hope takes its title from Little Hope Meadow, which existed in Andover during the time of the trials. Developer Supermassive went to great lengths to ground the story in historical fact, even going as far as enlisting a costume designer to research fabrics and outfits from the time, which could then be recreated in the game.
As part of Poulter's triple threat casting, he worked with dialect coach Julia Leonard to give his characters authentic voices, swapping from his native British to American, and even ye olde New Englander.
"So one of the characters Anthony, he exists in 1972. The present-day character I'm responsible for is called Andrew. And the other character I'm responsible for is Abraham who existed in 1692," he says.
"Abraham has an entirely different manner of speech and his accent resembles something closer to that kind of Northern English accent. But it was something that I got help with and our dialect coach Julia Leonard, she coached us through all the accents and was onset helping us whenever we tripped up."
Screaming bloody murder
One thing that you need to be able to do if you're going to star in a Supermassive game, and especially the Dark Pictures series, is to be prepared to die horribly, in a variety of ways. "It's a good icebreaker for us as a cast, you know, early on in the day, you know, by lunchtime, you've all heard each other scream at the top of your lungs several times. And Supermassive's games are obviously kind of famous for having some pretty epic and dramatic death scenes," says Poulter.
He adds that, despite what you might expect, you don't need to ham it up for mo-cap. "The technology, as it is currently so good, you don't need to heighten any element of performance whatsoever. And it will pick up on, you know, the minutiae of your emotional expression which is so exciting. And obviously, from an acting perspective, that's great; the notion of having to sort of ham it up or something would be a shame."
For all the times he's seen himself on the big screen, Little Hope will be the first time Poulter has seen himself recreated digitally. "It really is so strange. Anytime you watch yourself even in kind of a live-action context, it's hard not to think back to where you shot it, how you shot, etcetera. But that kind of phenomenon is just compounded by the fact that there was nothing there. I mean, you were in a blank studio, and now you're in this world interacting with all the props and it just speaks to just the fact that what you do was the tip of the iceberg."
"I tried to see if I could get my eyebrows replaced entirely, but they weren't happening," he jokes. "They apparently worked quite well for horror."
Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope will be released on October 30 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. For more on the game, check out our interview with Supermassive CEO Pete Samuels. (opens in new tab)