This interview contains spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1.
Lately, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with the brilliant Dave Fennoy – the voice of The Walking Dead game’s Lee Everett and Minecraft: Story Mode’s Gabriel, to name a couple. If you want to watch the full video interview, click play on the video above this paragraph, or if you want a shortened highlights article, click here. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a full transcript of the interview, you’ll find it below.
James Clements: Hi! My name’s James. I’m a games journalist for FIlmGamesEtc, and today I’m lucky enough to sit down with Dave Fennoy! And, I’ll pass it over to you to introduce yourself.
Dave Fennoy: Well, hi there! I’m Dave Fennoy. I’m a voice actor, and I’ve been in more than 200 video games. And people, I think, know me best as Lee Everett in The Walking Dead game. And – happy to be here. Thanks for asking to speak!
JC: Sure! No problem! So, you’ve obviously acted in a lot of games, as you’ve just said. Would you say that there was any breakthrough role, in particular, that kind of put you on the map? [For other developers to approach you?]
DF: Well, Lee Everett was a big one. I kind of felt like – I’d already been in about 70 or 80 games, when that role came along. But I kind of viewed myself at that time, in retrospect, as the character actor that you see a lot, or hear a lot. But you don’t know his name. This ‘Oh yeah, it’s that guy again! Oh yeah, I always like his performances.’ But then, after The Walking Dead came out, and it won 100 game of the year awards from various publications – I was nominated for Best Performance in a video game several times. Including a Bafta – got to go to London for that. And won a couple. The Machinama and the Dice Awards for Best Performance. Now, people in the industry knew my name. And I got what you call the ‘look-back’. And that is a ‘Wow! Where’s- who’s this overnight sensation Dave Fennoy?’ And ‘Oh, no, he’s been on that game, and that game, and that game, and that game. Oh! And this game, and this game, and this game!’ So, it – in many ways, it got people interested in some of the other things I’d already done.
JC: Okay. So, moving on a bit more specifically to your work on The Walking Dead – when you were recording lines, how much context were you actually given by the developers? Did you actually, like, get to record with other voice actors at all? [Or were you in your own booth?]
DF: Well, unfortunately, most of the time – 99% of the time, you are recording by yourself. And this was the case with The Walking Dead game. Now, what Tellttale Games had developed already, by that time were really good scripts. And the writers of those particular scripts would be in the booth. Or in the control room. To give you context. And I was doing another Telltale game yesterday, and we were joking that around. He says ‘Yeah, well you know, we got this just written yesterday.’ I said ‘Oh! That long ago? You know, [with The] Walking Dead sometimes it was 20 minutes before we were recording!’ But the writers would be there to give you context of who you were talking to. And, you know, perhaps it’s a new character. And you have to understand what the relationship is between you and that character. Maybe you’re arguing. But maybe you’re arguing quietly, because you don’t want the zombies, the walkers to hear you. So you did get that. And then sometimes it’s as simple as you’ve got a one word – ‘Yes. No.’ Well, what does it mean? You have to know that. So they were very good about giving you context and just the writing was so good to begin with. That was the first thing I noticed.
JC: Yeah. I’m not sure if you’re allowed to say or not, but can you say what Telltale game that was that you were working on yesterday?
DF: [Dave smiles] I can’t say. Well I really could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
JC: [James laughs] I don’t want that. So, do you have any scenes or lines in particular, from The Walking Dead, that really stand out in your memory?
DF: Well, you know, it’s funny now. Because it’s retrospect. And when the game first came out, I used to get this question a lot. ‘Oh, what was your favourite line from The Walking Dead game?’ And, when you’re doing it, your experience of it is very different than the person who’s playing the game. You’re in a session for, you know, four or five hours. Whatever it is. And it’s line, after line, after line, after line. And there’s no interaction with other actors. It’s- and once it’s put together, those lines take on so much more meaning, than when you said them. And sometimes, you know, I don’t know the line that was really important. Until I’m seeing how the public is reacting. As far as favourite scenes, I would have to say Episode 1, and the goodbye in Episode 5.
JC: Okay. So that kind of moves on to my next question as well. You were saying that you don’t really- your perspective of the game is completely different when you’re working on it, from when after it’s released.
JC: So, obviously The Walking Dead Season 1, in specific, as it was kind of more new at the time, it could be described as, like, an important milestone in interactive storytelling. So did you- while recording, did you realise how much of an impact it would have? Or did you- were you really not aware of the-
DF: Well, you know, in the first 20 minutes of the first recording, I knew this was something special. I knew this was very, very good. But I didn’t know how good it was going to be. I had no idea that it was going to win so many awards, or give me such notoriety. But I knew I was part of something very special. This was the stars aligning. One, it’s The Walking Dead, which has become one of the most iconic entertainment properties in the world. And playing the lead character. And it’s a very complicated character. It’s not just a ‘Hey, I’m the hero, and I’m doing all this cool stuff, and I’m never scared! I’m just-‘ No, he’s a regular guy. Thrown into this horrible situation. And- who takes it upon himself to take care of this little girl. It’s the kind of story that touches people. I did recognise it enough that, on the third episode, I got the director to get as many of the other actors together as possible. And we had a dinner. I brought dinner for everybody, in the little town in Northern California where we recorded: Fairfax. Just because I knew we were part of something really special.
JC: Yeah, nice. So, as you said, Lee was this really kind of deeply human character that had a lot of dimensions to him. But, at the same time, you also play characters like Gabriel from Minecraft: Story Mode. Who’s kind of this fantasy, fun character. So how do you deal with kind of switching between such different roles?
DF: [Dave smiles] Well, I’m an actor! That’s what I do! You know, Lee Everett was not that far away from who I really am. I mean, but when I look over my career, I play good guys, bad guys. Less educated guys, more educated guys. Creatures! Space aliens! Just all kinds of characters. That’s what an actor does. You put on that skin and go!
JC: Nice. So, obviously you play- obviously you voice a lot of characters. I’m not even sure you have the time to, but do you like to play the games that you’ve worked on after they’ve released?
DF: [Dave smiles and puts his head in his hand.] No.
JC: Oh no!
DF: Actually, I’m not a gamer. I’m almost ashamed to say. You know, I used to play games a little bit when I was younger. Then I got married, had a kid, got too busy. And it just wasn’t- the games I played weren’t anything like the games as they are now. Now, I keep threatening to get a console and get started. But, I keep working and being busy. And travelling, and teaching, and that kind of thing. So I doubt that I’m going to become a gamer. Especially since every time I try, I suck! But I really, really enjoy being an actor in video games.
JC: Yeah. So, obviously, you’ve worked on some really impactful games like The Walking Dead. Do you receive any sort of fan-mail or messages from people? [Kind of recognising the work?]
DF: Oh yeah! I do, and I get fan-mail. I have to sign autographs for people and send them off. And they come from around the world. You know, I get a lot of fan-mail from Russia, and South America, and other parts of Europe. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of travelling. I’m going to go to Oman later on this year. Last year, I was also in Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain, and Quatar, and the Persian Gulf. For fans of video games there. I got to go to the Maldives to be the celebrity host of the World Series Of Video Games! Where, you know, they got 20 young men to come and play video games for about $20,000 for the winners. And it was a gas! It was a gas! So, yeah. Thank you, video games, for all the travel! [Dave smiles]
JC: [James laughs] So, you were saying as well that games have changed a lot since you used to play them. And, as a medium, I think its matured a lot in terms of storytelling. So, do you actually prefer to work on games that you know are kind of meaningful? Rather than ones that focus more on the fun-factor?
DF: Well, you know, I like working on games period. I’m an actor. I’m a voice-actor specifically, and I do it because it’s a joy. So, in many respects, I don’t care what kind of game- I- just like all your favourite movie actors, you’ve seen them in some great movies. And you’ve seen them in a few dogs. Well, same thing with me. I like to work, and you don’t know what project is going to be when you sign on. I didn’t know that The Walking Dead game was going to be so wonderful. There’s some other games that I’ve been on that I didn’t know were going to be so good, and some games I’ve been on that I didn’t know were going to be that bad.
JC: [James laughs] I’m not going to ask you to name them, don’t worry.
DF: Oh, no! You’re not getting me in trouble! [Dave smiles]
JC: And, I get the feeling that I already know the answer to this question, but do you have a favourite role from across your career?
DF: That’s like asking to name your favourite child. But, that said, I’m going to say Lee Everett. Because Lee gave me so many gifts.
JC: So do you have- I know you said you don’t really play many games yourself, but are there any franchises that you would really like to work on, that you haven’t done so far?
DF: Yeah. Halo, Call of Duty. But, you know, sometimes we actors have a habit of looking at the things we want to book that we haven’t, instead of the things we have booked. And I have to say, to have been a part of the Star Trek world, the Star Wars world, the World of Warcraft world, World of Starcraft world, Dota 2, Mass Effect, Walking Dead… I have had a wonderful career. And been a part of some of the most iconic entertainment properties in the world now. So, it doesn’t get much better than that!
JC: Yeah. That’s one hell of a CV! [James laughs]
DF: Yeah. Yeah.
JC: I was wondering as well – do you have any advice for aspiring voice actors that are perhaps in the position that you once were?
DF: Yeah. Act. Get the acting- the acting. That’s the part. The acting part. And, to that end, I’m teaching a lot now. I specifically have a two-day workshop that I’ve been doing around the world, actually. ‘Voice Acting for Video Games’. And, actually, next week, I’ll be in London. Teaching at the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts. So, last week, I was in Las Vegas. A few weeks before that, I did one here. But I’ll be in Chicago and different cities around the United States. And I’m doing that about once a month. And sometimes webinars as well, so it’s really all about the acting. Be- work on your acting skills and the rest will follow.
JC: Okay. Similarly, do you have any advice for game developers, in terms of actually reaching out to voice actors? Is there any sort of best practices that you would recommend?
DF: Hey, you all! Call me! Call me! You know, I’m easy to find. Dave Fennoy at Mac dot com. So just call a brother. I want to be on your game. [Dave smiles] You know, I can’t give them, I don’t think, any advice. Other than, you know, make the best work you can make. I think the game developers are doing a pretty good job of bringing the art forward. Now, we could have some residuals, you all. You know, you all make a billion dollars on a day and the actors get nothing else. I mean, come on, how greedy you want to be? [Dave smiles] But, no, the industry’s doing well. This is the biggest entertainment industry in the world. More money than music and movies combined. And it’s not going away.
JC: Mm-hm. I mean, earlier you said that you can’t say the project you were working on yesterday with Telltale, but are there any other projects that you’re working on that you are allowed to speak about?
DF: Well, yeah. Mafia III is about to come out. I have a great role as an underground rubble radio broadcaster on that. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is about to come out. Which- great storytelling in a very different world. That should be out very soon. Both of those games I highly recommend. [Dave smiles]
JC: Nice. So, that’s about all the questions I had for you. So, is there anything you would like to say to the viewers before we finish up?
DF: Well, follow me @DaveFennoy. If you’d like to ‘like’ my Facebook page Dave Fennoy Voice Actor, that’d be great. If you’d like to ‘friend’ me on Facebook, Dave Fennoy. If you are somebody who is interested in voice-over as a career, go to Dave Fennoy Training dot com. I’m very accessible. I like my fans, I like students, I like interviewers like you! [Dave smiles] I’m, you know, just a regular guy. A lot of times, people are ‘Oh gosh, it’s Dave Fennoy! Can we talk to him?’ Yeah, yeah, I’m accessible! Yeah. You know, it’s all cool!
JC: Yeah, nice. Okay. Thank you for speaking to me! It was really nice speaking with you, and I’m sure the readers and viewers of this interview will enjoy it. So, thank you!
DF: Well, thank you! The honour is mine. It’s always a pleasure when somebody takes you seriously enough, likes you enough, that they want to hear what you have to say. So I appreciate you.
JC: Okay, bye!