Lev Chapelsky, general manager of the production firm Blindlight, says that for years Hollywood actors wanted nothing to do with videogames but once game industry revenues began to surpass that of movies, things changed in a hurry.
The presence of celebrity voice talent in big-budget games has become relatively commonplace these days; Fallout 3, to cite one recent example, featured Liam Neeson, Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman. But according to Chapelsky, whose company has acquired voice acting, scripting and music talent for games including Halo 3, Oblivion and the aforementioned Fallout 3, movie actors weren't always so willing to cross genres, and some still aren't.
"I remember the day when most [actors] just thought, 'Videogame? No. I'm a professional actor, this is not something I would do any more than I would do an endorsement for snake oil'. That took a while to get away from, and then it kind of eclipsed into, 'Wow, these guys are making a lot of money on videogames'," he said in an interview with Edge. "And when the hype came out five years ago about gross revenues of videogames exceeding film, that one statistic had impact here like a nuclear bomb. Nothing has affected the film industries more than that."
"It just melted down their gray matter," he continued. "When that happened, instead of saying, 'This is an important medium artistically, creatively, we should get involved in it as artists,' they said, 'Holy s--t, there's money out there, we've gotta get a piece of that'. So then they started demanding ridiculous money. It made things a bit uncomfortable for a while."
He said that some actors do videogame work to remain relevant with the important "18-year-old male" demographic, while others do it to avoid or break out of typecasting. It also affords them the opportunity to try something new without a major commitment: Voice work in a videogame will eat up a day or two rather than the much greater time investment required by a film.
But he noted that some Hollywood stars, including "experienced, brilliant, on-camera actors," have difficulty transitioning from the screen to the voice booth and as a result, paying a ton of money for an actor isn't necessarily going to bring very good results. In fact, he said, "We generally advocate to our clients, stay away from celebrities if you can, unless it's going to bring you a lot of marketing value or you have some reason why a particular character should be voiced by a particular celebrity."
"It's amazing how often you do find exceptions. Using celebrities is not something that should be completely wiped out of the industry," he said. "But if you don't have a good reason to do it, you're really better off paying a voice-acting professional minimum or double rates to do it. You're going to have a better product and that's really what's important."
Among those who fit into the "good reason to do it" category is none other than former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who Chapelsky said was asked to provide the voice of President Eden in Fallout 3. "Wouldn't that have been brilliant?" he said. "You get to that point in game and you hear that voice in the ether coming from off-camera and you're like, 'I know that guy!'"