ZeniMax Online has revealed the cast of voice actors who will be giving life to a number of the key characters in the Elder Scrolls Online, releasing a cool announcement video featuring interviews with some of the main cast. As one might expect from this company, they went all-out and got some pretty big names. I love me some pop culture and Hollywood trivia, so these kinds of announcements always peak my interest, especially when they come out of the big-budget studios who can afford to hire movie stars to sit in little booths and yell things into a microphone.
In the past, ZeniMax has used some huge names. Here's a few examples:
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion featured Patrick Stewart as the Emperor, and Sean Bean as (ironically enough) his bastard son
- Liam Neeson played "Dad" in Fallout 3, and Ron Perlman reprised his "War... war never changes" narration from the previous Interplay titles
- Skyrim featured the voices of legendary actors Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow, among others
- The voice cast of Fallout: New Vegas looks like it could have come right off a movie poster from the early 2000's or so.
So going big with the Elder Scrolls Online is pretty much par for the course. Some of the ESO voice talent is what we might call "the usual suspects," but others are a pleasant surprise, and there are some interesting dots to connect.
For instance, it's no shocker that 70s TV goddess Lynda Carter will be returning to voice the Daedric goddess Azura. She's done Elder Scrolls voices since Morrowind, and she's married to the CEO of ZeniMax Media, Robert Altman. It warms my little nerd-boy heart to think that a guy who makes video games for a living got to marry Wonder Woman. To be fair, he used to be a lawyer and is super-rich, and she hasn't worn the costume since the early 80's, but still. It's Wonder Woman!
We also get another go-around with our old pal Malcolm McDowell. The last time he did work for ZeniMax, he voiced President John Henry Eden in Fallout 3, and this time around he voices the Elder Scrolls Online's chief antagonist, Molag Bal. Back in the 1970's, he did such a bang-up job as teenage psychopath Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange that he has been cast primarily in villain roles ever since. And he likes it that way. Malcolm McDowell prefers to play "the heavy," as he puts it, because "a piece is only as good as its villain." Scan his IMDB profile and you'll see the names of a great many "heavies." He was even a bad guy on Entourage - Terrance McQuewick was so nasty he managed to make Ari Gold look sympathetic.
And it's not just the gods getting the star treatment. The three faction leaders are being voiced by some big-money talent also. It's important to have quality voice-acting for these roles, because they will set the tone for the entire faction, and thus play a significant part in the player's game overall experience. Imagine, for example, that your faction leader sounded like a high school drama student trying to read lines of Shakespeare right out of a book - the whole faction would seem like a joke. But put a proper Shakespearian actor at the helm reading those same lines and it's a whole different story. You get a fancy-talkin' leader you can take seriously.
High King Emeric, faction leader of the Daggerfall Covenant, will be voiced by one of my personal favorite character actors, Bill Nighy. I really hope they did some face-modelling and motion capture for the character, because Nighy is a man of great expression - you can always tell it's him even when his face is hidden by a swarm of octopus tentacles, as it was when he played Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, because of the eyes and the very measured and particular way his mouth forms words. You can see his expressive face more clearly in Shaun of the Dead, where he plays the part of Shaun's step-father Phillip, or as the bowtie-wearing museum curator in the Doctor Who episode, "Vincent and the Doctor," or with his Elder Scrolls Online co-stars in the Underworld series or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Jorunn the Skald-King, leader of the Ebonheart Pact, will be voiced by Swedish actor, Peter Stormare. Chances are, you've seen Peter Stormare in something before (though not in the cast announcement video), and I'm a fan of his work. He rarely plays leading roles, but he is a fantastic and fairly prolific character actor who often plays colorful but disturbing secondary characters. He was the primary nihilist, Uli Kunkel (aka "Karl Hungus"), in the Big Lebowski, one of the "funny-lookin'" criminals in Fargo, and he played Satan in Constantine, the movie version of comic book series Hellblazer. He has done voice work in Icewind Dale II and, more recently, The Secret World. He also does a lot of work in small indie films, like Small Town Murder Songs, which was filmed in my neck of the woods in rural Ontario, Canada - Mennonite country, which features prominently in the plot of that movie. We don't get a lot of movies filmed around here, so Peter Stormare is probably a bigger name around these parts than he is most places outside of Sweden.
The third faction leader, Queen Ayrenn, will be voiced by Kate Beckinsale. This one I find less impressive than the others. Her biggest roles are characters that I find super-attractive but ultimately completely despicable in one way or another, even though everyone else seems to love them. I hated Selene in the Underworld movies (featuring co-star Bill Nighy) because the character confuses "reckless and self-centered" for "strong and independent." In fact, that seems to be kind of a theme among her characters, starting with Pearl Harbor. I guess it works well for Queen Ayrenn, as well, and the character will be consistent with the ones she has done in the past. Kate Beckinsale describes Queen Ayrenn as a "good role-model" in the cast announcement video - I guess she missed the parts where her character's leadership is built on a platform of racism and manifest destiny.
These are sort of the top-billed starring roles in the game, but the cast of secondary characters is no less impressive.
Alfred Molina may not exactly be a household name, but he has an impressive body of work. He will be voicing Imperial puppet-master Abnur Tharn, head of the Elder Council in Cyrodiil (and possibly an ancestor of Jagar Tharn, the Battlemage who takes center stage as the main antagonist in the very first Elder Scrolls game, Arena). Most people will probably know him as Doctor Otto Octavius, Doctor Octopus, from Spider-Man 2. But he has also portrayed revolutionary Mexican painter Diego Rivera, husband of surrealist Frida Kahlo, in the movie Frida. As an art-school nerd, this role matters much more to me than his turn as a comic book villain. Although, as a Marvel/Spider-man fanboy, Doc Ock is pretty badass, too.
But as a normal, every-day kind of nerd, Molina's involvement doesn't inspire the same giddiness that John Cleese's does. His role as "Don Quixote-like" Sir Cadwell the Undaunted, Knight of the Port of Coldharbor, may not be as central to the story as a Daedric prince or a faction leader, but it is sure to be memorable. Younger readers may only recognize John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick from the first couple of Harry Potter movies, but us older types will surely recognize our favorite Minister of Silly Walks from his legendary Monty Python days. What strikes me as funny is, every time you see John Cleese listed as a cast member for something, he is always credited for A Fish Called Wanda, as though no American could have possibly heard of Monty Python's Flying Circus, but surely every one of them knows that one movie from the mid-80s.
Speaking of Harry Potter characters, Albus Dumbledore himself will be guiding the player through his journey to recover his stolen soul. Well, one of them will be, anyway. Michael Gambon, the second and longer-running Dumbledore, will be voicing the Prophet, a mysterious blind man who seems to know a thing or two about Molag Bal and stolen souls. Michael Gambon may come across as a bit cheeky in the cast announcement video, but his characters tend to be much more serious and occasionally a bit dour. He had some big shoes to fill when the original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, passed away, but his sober performance as the headmaster of Hogwarts proved he was equal to the task.
He is assisted in this task by Lyris Titanborn, a Nord half-giant voiced by another video game voice-acting legend, Jennifer Hale. Kevin Michael Richardson and Jim Ward are two more Elder Scrolls Online voice actors who may not have familiar faces, but whose voices you have almost certainly heard before. Richardson plays a sword-master named Sai Sahan, and Ward voices the legendary necromancer Mannimarco - a character who appears in two other games, set hundreds of years later, as a villain. Between the three of these actors, they've been in just about everything since the end of the 1990s. Chances are good that if you do an IMDB search of your favorite cartoon, video game or animated feature in the past 20 years or so, one or more of their names will be on the cast list. Certain Star Wars games, in particular, feature all three. These three actors don't get any screen time in the cast announcement video, but their contributions will prove significant if history is any indication.
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