Featuring Adam Harrington
What does Adam Harrington have in common with Kevin Spacey? Both were nominated last year for best performer at the British Academy Games Awards, which are presented by the renowned British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Harrington has carved quite the niche in the burgeoning $60 billion video-game industry, mostly as a villain in nearly 200 titles that include League of Legends, The Walking Dead and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard. Interviewing the deep-throated, pony-tailed Las Vegan packs a whirlwind of free-flowing expletives as the 46 year old shines a light on his unique career choice—and a spirited retort to anyone who dares insinuate that voice actors are not “real actors.”
Q. How did one of the video-game industry’s higher profile voice actors end up in Vegas?
I’ve lived at the Gold Spike since December. The biggest reason I moved to Las Vegas is because my best buddy since childhood has been living here and working as a DJ for the past seven years. His name is Michael Chambers, aka DJ F.A.T.S. Plus, most of my high-profile work is in Hollywood and it’s only a four-hour drive away.
I had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and then temporarily in Los Angeles, but I happened to be dating an amazing Cirque du Soleil performer at the time of the move; that was a deciding factor as well. I’m a sucker for a lady with talent. I also met some guys from a company that is putting together some very interesting projects revolving around the legalization of eSports here in Vegas. They envisioned me as sort of a celebrity face of competitive video games and I was very excited to work alongside these pioneers in a brand-new industry.
Q. What has been the highlight so far of living downtown?
I didn’t realize my buddy (actor) Todd Bridges lived right across the street at the Ogden until I moved into the Spike and ran into him. He’s a big gamer and we’ve been hanging a lot downtown since I moved here. … Todd and I often talk about the advantages of being residents of downtown Las Vegas. I even booked him for a video game I’m casting, directing and starring in. We recorded it at Fremont East Studios.
Q. You’ve got to have some real-life villain in you to consistently and credibly play those roles. Tell us about your villainous side.
First off, I’m of the school of thought that we all have villains and angels inside us. I grew up around a very radical and rebellious family (in Oakland), in a pretty rough ghetto, so the black-and-white of hero and villain doesn’t really sit with me.
I’m approaching 200 games and I would say a good 80 percent of the time I’m the villain and I’m fine with that. The villain tends to be the most interesting character in a story. We all have villains and heroes inside of us and that might be part of the answer to the Big Question, “Why are we here? What’s the purpose of life?” Maybe it’s to figure out which you are (angel or villain) or which side you want to be on.
Q. What is the degree of difficulty for voice acting versus a standard acting role?
First off, never use the words “real actor” toward a “voice actor” (laughs). I don’t get uptight about it, but I know many old-school voice actors who would feel offended by that term. We are real actors!
Obviously I am biased because I don’t do a lot of on-camera acting … but the fact of the matter is when you are on-camera acting you have other actors to play off of, you have scenery, you have props. You have all these things to help push the story along. When you are voice acting for a video game, not only do you not get all the props and the scenery, you rarely get another actor to play off of. You are reading lines to yourself or with a director who is sort of noncommittally reading with you. So what voice actors do, to paint a picture and create a believable performance with literally nothing but our voice, well, it ain’t easy, man.
Q. How much time do you typically invest prepping for a role?
It varies greatly from gig to gig. It all depends on how much the client trusts their actors with their IP (intellectual property). A lot of times we won’t know exactly what we’re doing or who we’re voicing until the session begins and we’re on the clock being paid. So it’s a trip. For big titles, if there is an audition they won’t give you much material (in advance). You just go in cold and hit the ground running.
Q. So oftentimes you don’t get to see a game’s script until you are in studio?
Yeah. I was working on a big video game a month ago in Burbank. … Literally, the minute I walked in and got behind the mic—that’s when I saw who I was voicing and what I was doing. Usually the gigs are one and done. But if it’s a big role like The Wolf Among Us, where I play the main character Bigby Wolf, it can take eight months of recording.
Q. What do you enjoy most about voice acting and what is the most begrudging part of the job?
I am probably more at home and in my comfort zone when I am in the studio, in a session, than I am anywhere else in life. Unfortunately, the actual work of being on the clock and getting paid is a minuscule percentage of our workday. Most of our work is auditioning, social-media promoting ourselves and networking. That’s the nuts and bolts; that’s the real work. If you ask me and many other pros, if they are in session and working on a big project it feels way more like play than work.
Q. A lot of major video games are making money hand over fist. Does that trickle down to voice actors? What is the pay range for a video-game voice actor?
In this industry there are no residuals for voice actors; you get paid one time and that’s it. There is no set pay; it’s scaled. For video games, it’s about $1,000 for a half day. A voice-acting session rarely goes over four hours. Some bigger names can get double, triple or quadruple that rate.
Q. You’re a smoker. Do you think cigarettes contribute to the raspy and husky character of your voice?
When I was in elementary school the kids called me “Froggy.” You remember the popular TV show the Little Rascals? That’s how I sounded when I was a kid. So I couldn’t tell you how much smoking has affected my voice. I honestly have no idea.
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Q. Is there a time of day when your voice performs best?
Obviously mornings are never good. I’m a night owl and I work at night, which is why I find it convenient to work with guys across the globe. I’m sharper and more creative in the evening, so I definitely prefer it.
Q. IMDb features acting credits for several people named Adam Harrington. Surely you’ve got a few interesting stories about being confused with the others.
It took them (IMDb) awhile to get hip to video-game voice acting as a high-profile thing. You’ve probably seen the other cat, a real good-looking, on-camera actor with the same name. It’s an ongoing soap opera. In fact he just got a call for one of my gigs a couple days ago.
A paycheck of mine went to this guy, Adam J. Harrington, a couple weeks ago. I can’t really blame him for that because I do see him using the “J.” in public. But he’s already taken a couple of appearance gigs from me. … So many people look me up, find him, go to his info and book him. It kind of sucks to have a white-bred, boring name!
Q. Which role are you most proud of and why?
Probably Bigby Wolf, but a lot of people don’t realize not only did I voice the main character but I also voiced his biggest nemesis. If you pull up the first action scene in that video you’ll see me beating the shit out of myself. Nobody picked up on the fact that I was voicing both characters.
Frank Curreri is a Las Vegas-based speaker, writer and three-time IBJJF masters world champion in jiu jitsu. He has worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Salt Lake Tribune, FOX5 News Las Vegas and UFC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org