When MercurySteam started work on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, it envisioned that Gabriel Belmont would be a muscle-bound Conan the Barbarian type. Once actor Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, 28 Weeks Later) came on board, however, the team decided to shape the protagonist into a more grounded, thoughtful character.
During recording sessions for the first game, Carlyle wasn’t given a lot of [sic] work with — the team didn’t even have concept art to show him. In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Belmont has taken on the role of Dracula, so we sat down with Carlyle to talk how the actor has changed his approach to the character and how he prepared for voicing one of the most iconic villains in history.
Did you read Dracula, or anything else, to prepare for this role?
No. I always think that it’s a wee bit dangerous to do that kind of stuff — to go back and look at Bela Lugosi or whoever and how they played Dracula — because that would say that there is only one way to play Dracula. There is no point in putting yourself in a box. You can get yourself stuck in a particular version or particular story. I just wanted to be kind of loose with it.
I know with film or TV work there’s a little bit more play in just how you arrange a scene, but with video games, the developers lay out the environments and animation. Did you find that to be a more rigid experience?
There’s more freedom than you would imagine. The team was very open to interpretation. I’ve worked with actors who I call bedroom actors — people who sit in front of a mirror and they play something to that glass, and no matter what they do that glass will never answer back. I see that and think, “You have planned this down to the absolute nth degree and no matter what I say, no matter if I start jumping up and down naked, it’s not going to change.” I’m always open to suggestion; I think that’s a more genuine process.
In the sequel, it’s pretty evident that you’re Dracula. Do you play the role a bit differently now?
I don’t think it was necessarily that different. I was touched by the emotion in the character. This Dracula is not walking around biting people willy-nilly. He’s trying to get back to some kind of earlier version of himself — a place where he was when he was happy. At the end of the first game, he made a deal with Zobek to try to get rid of this eternal life curse. He doesn’t want it. He’s been alive for a thousand years. It was really helpful to tap into that emotionally, because you’re going to follow along with this character all the way through your gaming experience. You’ve got to, in some way, like this character. You’ve got to have some kind of feelings toward him.
That’s interesting, because Dracula is traditionally an entity of evil. How do you go about associating with a character like that?
I’m always looking for shades of grey whenever I approach any piece of drama. I identify with most of the characters I’ve played, even Dracula. I can’t see that any single person living on this planet is 100-percent bad. I don’t think anybody is born 100-percent bad. Throughout my career, I’ve played a lot of crazies, but I always try to look at the other side of the coin. What’s it going to look like if I play this nice? What’s this going to look like if I play this with a laugh on my face?
We heard that there were moments during the recording process where you broke down crying because the scene was so emotional. Did you find that video game acting was more challenging than you expected?
Yeah, because what’s not being said in a scene is always more interesting to me than what’s being said — it’s the stuff between the lines. [Video games] are a different kind of discipline, because you can’t really play the stuff between the lines; there isn’t anything in the eyes to show what the actor is thinking. What I’m trying to say is that you can say two different things with your eyes and your voice. But this is different, because the actor doesn’t control the character’s eyes, so it was a challenge for me to find that piece of the character vocally. I guess I’ve been more challenged vocally in this than anything I’ve ever done before.
Was there anything in the script that got you excited to go through it or see it visualized?
The prospect of playing Dracula was enough to light my candle because that’s something I’ve always fancied doing, but I’m maybe not quite Dracula material in terms of film or TV. To be able to do it vocally was fantastic. That was a really easy yes. Within minutes I was like “Yeah, of course I’m going to do that again.” And I think I’d do it again.
[Ben also met with actor Robert Carlyle and Konami’s Dave Cox to check out Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Sadly, they refused Ben’s request to recreate the final scene of The Full Monty.]