Meet The Shepard

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I'd make a more witty comment, but quite frankly, this image says more about Mark Meer than I could ever hope to.

It was hard to get hold of Earth’s first elite Spectre agent, Commander Shepard. So hard, in fact, that I had to settle for the man who voices the digital representation of Earth’s greatest hero… from the future. I think.

We settle down with Edmonton based actor, Mark Meer, and discuss the process of voice acting with BioWare, and a little bit about the upcoming super-release, Mass Effect 2.

Critical Gamer – First and foremost, how did you get into the world of voice acting? How did you originally meet with BioWare to provide “additional voices?” After they had met you and you had become a reoccurring VA for them, how did you manage to land the title role of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect?

My first voice work for BioWare was a single line in Baldur’s Gate 2, right at the end of the game. They called me back for work on Baldur’s Gate 2.5, the Neverwinter Nights series, and demo work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, plus my credited work on Jade Empire. I also did some early work on the original Mass Effect helping design how the various alien races would sound. I assumed aliens would be all I’d be doing in the game, but was asked to audition for Commander Shepard… and got the part. I was pleased, to put it mildly.

Critical Gamer – How many lines were recorded for ME2 compared to the original?

A whole lot more. I spent most of last summer recording the ME2 dialogue.

Critical Gamer – So you had an entire year almost where you probably wanted to blow the story, but just couldn’t. Were you able to make the character become your own, adding influence to “dialogue trees,” or were you allowed to use your improv skills at all? The story writers were both, at least then, Edmontonians. Were you able to influence then because of proximity (Last I had read one of them moved to Texas)?

Improv came into play mostly during filthy alternate takes to make the sound technicians laugh. The general public will likely never hear those takes, and that’s probably for the best. Occasionally, I’d ask if the wording of a sentence could be changed, and BioWare was generally accommodating. This time round, Mac Walters, the lead writer for ME2, was often present at recording sessions, and could clear any dialogue changes on the spot.

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Shepard is most famous for going to town on aliens.

Critical Gamer – How did you study to captain the voice of one of the greatest digital heroes of all time? Did you just walk in and talk all gravelly and stuff, or did you sit down, watch a sci-fi marathon and then attribute into your performance. Who did BioWare want Shepard to be most like, if anyone?

Among fictional heroes, I think BioWare was leaning in the direction of 24’s Jack Bauer, more than anyone else. As for myself, I recall watching a lot of war movies in preparation, actually, plus I think I was just getting into the new Battlestar Galactica at the time. Shepard was military, first and foremost, and it was important to convey that in the performance.

Critical Gamer – Were your lines recorded in Edmonton, or were you shipped off down south somewhere? If yes to the latter, were you able to meet with any of the other cast members? If so, was there much camaraderie?

I did get flown down to L.A. for a few sessions, but the bulk of my dialogue was recorded in Edmonton. I generally didn’t meet my non-Edmontonian cast mates, but did run into Lance Henriksen (Admiral Hackett) at DragonCon in Atlanta in 2008. We chatted about him working with Glen Close on Disney’s Tarzan cartoon, yet never meeting her in the flesh. Great guy.

Critical Gamer – Shepard is an important role. Do you have plans to move forward with voice acting in the future, using Mass Effect as a bit of stepping stone? For instance, Nolan North took over the role of Drake in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and now, 2 years later, his voice is heard on almost every second game release.

Well, I’ve appeared somewhere on most of BioWare’s games for the last ten years, and I certainly hope to continue that relationship. Like most actors, if someone wants to hire me, I’m usually willing to play along… so, yes, I’m perfectly willing to be in every second game release, if that’s what you’re asking.

Critical Gamer – The Mass Effect series, like most BioWare games, is known for its ethical dilemmas, socio-political commentary, and a myriad of problems a hero would have to face in a real world. The world is anxious to know how the real Shepard played his own game. Were you a bright, shiny symbol of humanity, or a bit of a jerk?

When I play RPGs, I usually complete them at least twice. The first time through, I’ll play evil/ruthless, then I’ll be good/selfless the second time, just so I can feel like I’m redeeming myself and making amends to all the poor schmucks I screwed over the first time.

Critical Gamer – We were already teased once with the death of Shepard. Have you, uh, signed on for a third game? Casey Hudson has hinted to the media that continuity will be less of an issue for the third game…

Oh, crap. There goes the mortgage.

Critical Gamer – Avi Arad has bought Mass Effect movie rights. According to your IMDB picture, you sorta look like John Stamos with, uh, smaller hair (in a good way). You’re film pretty. If, per chance, you got the choice to play Shepard (or any role), would you jump on it?

Aw, shucks. Thanks, but I think I might be a little on the scrawny side to fill Shepard’s armour on-screen. I’d be better suited to playing a Salarian, perhaps – and would jump at the chance to do so! Or maybe a Vorcha, since I do all their voices… Actually, I think my friend Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame would be a great choice for the movie version of Shepard.

Critical Gamer – How has the added publicity of being Commander Shepard affected your everyday life? Has it at all? You’ve been an actor on Die-Nasty, a Edmonton based improvised soap opera, for years now. Are you now billed as “that Mass Effect guy?”

Besides being asked to occasionally sign a game, it hasn’t really affected too much. But I must admit, “that Mass Effect guy” has a nice ring to it. I am now seriously considering legally changing my name to that.

Mark Meer is a long-time veteran of the local improv and acting scene in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He is also, rumour has it, a bit of a comic nerd.

For more information about Mark Meer’s exploits, feel free to check out the accompanying links:

Wiki page

IMDB page

Varscona Theatre page

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Written by Adam R.

This author procured a media pass for E3 under false pretences, and no longer writes for Critical Gamer.

2 comments

  1. one question… how did you get that picture of liara in all white clothes. thats now how it was in the game… but it looks way better. =/

    • I have to admit that it was a lazy, unprofessional way. Let’s not go any further into it, shall we? Thank you!

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