By John Szczepaniak, April 2012
Interview with David Hayter
Despite a busy schedule, actor and screenwriter David Hayter kindly took the time to answer all my questions via email, in detail. Not only a great actor, he’s a genuinely funny guy, eloquent writer and someone who enjoys talking with fans. Also, in case you’ve not seen it, David was star of the live-action manga adaptation sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero. A rather excellent creature-feature flick with some awesome action scenes – well worth tracking down to see him in a pre-MGS, pre-screenwriter role.
We went through his official agent, as opposed to Sony or Konami, so these answers have not been vetted by third parties. Many thanks also to Sarah Freudeman for arranging everything – I really appreciate it.
Screengrab of Major Dad courtesy of http://www.davidhayterfans.com
JS: When you first auditioned for the role, what was your reaction to being told your name is “Solid Snake”? Were the roles all pre-decided or was there leeway?
DH: I guess my first reaction to the name was: “Well, I'm not taking my pants off, if that’s what they’re saying.” I’d been in Hollywood a few years by that time, and had been burned on the pants thing before. My second reaction was something like, “I really hope they pay me for this.”
JS: Metal Gear Solid 2 in many ways represented a shift from the first MGS. Working with the script did you notice a difference in the style, and was it a more challenging project?
DH: We recorded the game in order, which we don’t always do, so we did the Tanker Episode first. That felt like a fairly straightforward sequel to MGS – Otacon and I were working together in New York, hot Russian assassin, and so on. The ‘leaping off the bridge’ sequence was super-cool. Then... Everything changed. I slowly became aware that I was no longer the player character, and in fact, I wasn’t even acknowledging myself as Snake! The game went down the paths that it did, and got a little stranger with each sequence. However, I can’t say that I totally understood everything when we were recording the first game either, so I just put my trust in Mr Kojima, and did my job the best I could. In the end, I loved playing MGS2.
JS: Monkeys. There’s a hilarious section of dialogue in Metal Gear Solid 3 where you’re woken from bed to tranquilize monkeys. It sounded like working on the project was a lot of fun. Do you have any humorous anecdotes you can share – and do any involve monkeys?
DH: You know, working on all of the games has been really, really fun. But as the actors and production crew came back together for each game, it got progressively more fun. MGS3 was just a blast to record. When we recorded the ‘Snake vs. Monkey’ sequence, I actually got to say ‘Snake vs. Monkey...’ in my trademark growl. That may have been the first time that I was allowed to be satirically funny in-game with Snake, and that was a relief, after a few years of just being funny in between actual takes. I don’t recall if there were any monkey-related high jinks on MGS3, but I can tell you that watching hours and hours of motion-capture performance of Drebin’s Monkey in MGS4 – played to simian perfection by a actor in a Mo-Cap suit – produced endless hilarity.
JS: Twin Snakes was the fourth MGS game you were involved in, and it’s said that bringing back the previous actors was a result of your recommendations. It’s not often you see that kind of passion – can you share some of your thoughts on reprising a previous role?
DH: Well, I have always felt, since the time I was very little, that the voice of any specific character is an extremely important thing. When they changed the voice of Kermit, I knew. When they changed the voice of Bugs Bunny, I felt it. So, when we were talking about re-recording the entire first game for Twin Snakes, I felt it was very important to give the fans of that incredible game a similar experience. I had become a huge fan of the game myself by then, so I just felt it would be good for the gaming experience. Plus, the voice cast we got on MGS I was amazing, and they deserved to come back.
JS: Metal Gear Solid 4 emphasizes how tragic the character and lineage of Solid Snake is. Were you surprised when discovering you played the role of a rapidly aging old man? Did the ending surprise you, was it different to what you’d anticipated?
DH: It was tragic. MGS4 was a pretty emotionally draining experience. I really felt for Snake. I first discovered his advanced decrepitude when they called me in to do some voice tests as a man of seventy, ad then at ninety. I was like, “Uh... What’s going on? Why aren’t I still in my thirties?” But once we got into it, It was so heartbreaking and such a compelling end for this guy who had sacrificed everything for his country, that I came to love it as a dramatic device. I was a little surprised by the ending, as I thought that Snake would probably just cap himself, instead of heading back to the ranch to die. But the game is a masterpiece, so what the hell.
JS: It’s been 25 years since the first Metal Gear came out on the MSX and NES - hence this anniversary article. You’ve mentioned in interviews completing all the Metal Gear Solid games. Have you played any of the older 2D games in the series, before Metal Gear Solid, and what do you think of them?
DH: I’m embarrassed to say, but I have not played those games. I guess I am less motivated when I don’t get to hear myself talk for twenty some-odd hours. That said, I loved them.
JS: Do people recognize you, or your voice, when you're out in public? And what is the weirdest, craziest thing anyone – or perhaps specifically an MGS fan – has ever asked you?
DH: People recognize me on occasion. Now and again, someone will come up to me in a store, or on the street. They don’t tend to recognize my voice, as my natural speaking voice is very different from Snake’s. Although, if I see someone wearing a Fox-Hound t-shirt or something similar, I will clear my throat in a Snake-y, growly way, just to make their heads snap around. Mostly video-game store clerks recognize my name from my credit card.
People usually ask me to record their voice-mail messages, which I am quite happy to do. A manager for the band ‘Bright Eyes’ asked me to record a poem, written by their lyricist, in Snake’s voice, to play at a concert, but I don’t know if they ever did.
And one couple actually asked me to perform their marriage ceremony for them. I don’t know if they wanted the whole thing done in Snake’s voice, because they had to cancel in the end. That’s Fox-Die for you.
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