REFANB Interview: Joe Whyte, A.K.A. Chris Redfield
Joe Whyte Related:

Joe's Voice Actor Page
Resident Evil Remake

Before we begin with the interview, there are a few credits which need to be mentioned in releation to this interview.

Firstly is Ted Boyke who conducted this interview with Joe back in 2002 for the magazine Press Start. He also sent the complete interview for us to use at Joe's request.

Graham Parker, Editor of Sega World Weekly and Press Start, for also helping get the final magazine edition of the interview and granting permission to use the whole interview. Please check out VideoGamesNZ too, the great site releated to Press Start.

And finally, a big thanks to Joe himself for being such a great and easy guy to talk to and going through so much to help get this great interview here for us to share with you online.

How did you get started in the voice acting business?

I really came in through the back door. I've been acting since Junior High School, so twenty-six years I've been acting. I never even considered getting into voiceover until about six years ago because it's a very difficult community to break into. Not a whole lot of people doing and actively pursuing voice-over. Well, that's not true--there's a lot of people pursuing it; there's a very small number of people who are actually doing it. [laughs] So it just never occurred to me to even try my hand in that arena... Until I started working at Disney in 1994.

I was working in the editorial department of Hercules, which is the department which handles all of the voice recording for the movie, and during that time I noticed that they were using volunteers from around the building, from around feature animation to do various character voices. Being an actor and a self-confessed ham myself, I asked if I could try to do a couple, and they let me do a lot, actually. Once I started doing it, they liked what I was doing and gave me a lot of work, and it just kind of snowballed from there... The VO that I started doing for them was not actual production stuff, but what they call "scratch vocal," which is temporary voice-over that's replaced later by the actual actors who are hired to do the characters.

I've done scratch vocal on almost every movie that we've done since Mulan. So during that process, after doing literally hundreds of hours of scratch vocal and many different characters--I've probably done thirty or forty different character voices--I started to get a knack for it. Doing scratch is really, really good training. It's the kind of training you can't buy anywhere; I mean, what class could you go to where you get to do all these different characters and work with actual feature film directors giving you direction just like you were hired to do the part? I mean, it's been an incredible training ground. And after doing that for a few years, I decided to try my hand in the real vo-world arena, and started putting together a demo reel and pursuing agents.

Something that really helped me get an agent was that several of my scratch voices actually made it into two of the films, Tarzan and The Emperor's New Groove. Mark Dindal and Randy Fulmer (the director and producer of Groove) really liked the stuff I did for them and ended up keeping 8 of my scratch voices in the movie. It don't hurt to have major feature films on your resume. And Kevin Lima and Chris Buck, the directors of Tarzan, kept 3 of my voices in Tarzan. I was actually the scratch voice of Clayton, which was a lot of fun. If you have the DVD of Tarzan, and you go to the "extra features disk" and look under "Story", I think it is, you can hear my scratch Clayton voice in one sequence where Tarzan and Clayton are fighting on a boat. And let me tell you, when I received the video residuals check from Groove, I was like, "Oh yes, this is something I want to pursue!" [laughs] It was a very sweet check.

It was during that time as well that my girlfriend, Kate Savage, she's also an actress, she started working as the assistant to a sound editor at a company called Soundelux in Hollywood, which does a lot of sound for video games--in fact, they did the sound for Resident Evil. She started working there, and by meeting people who worked there and whatnot, she told them that I was an actor and a voice actor. The casting director at Soundelux at the time was Carol Ruggier. If you've played Rogue Spear, she's the British female voice at the beginning that sets the whole thing up. So you may have heard Carol, she's done a lot of stuff. And she and I became friends, and Carol started calling me in to audition for some games that she had going.

One of the things that she called me in for was Resident Evil. And the way the whole Resident Evil thing started for me was that they were looking for someone to voice match the original guy in Resident Evil, the original Resident Evil [1996]. They wanted someone to match that voice because they wanted it to sound the same because it's a remake; they wanted it to sound similar to the first one. So I came in; for the audition they had me listen to the original voice-over and try to match it as closely as possible. And, as it turned out, I matched it better than the other actors who auditioned, so I got the job as being Chris Redfield in the remake. But what happened was, after we started doing the recording sessions for Resident Evil, they liked what I was doing naturally, so they told me to stop voice matching and just take the character on and kind of make it my own.

 
What are some of your past projects?

Well, Resident Evil was my first video game. But I've had voices in two tv shows, Sports Night, where I was the voice of a mountain climber with a mask on, climbing Mt. Everest, and I also did a vo for NewsRadio, which ultimately never made it on the air. Still got paid, though. Nice. I still get residual checks for like, .67 cents from that!

 
Is voice acting typically done early on in the game's development? When did the voice recording for the role of Chris Redfield take place?

Is voice acting typically done early on in the game's development? When did the voice recording for the role of Chris Redfield take place? Yes, it normally takes place very early in the production. Because all of the animation is done to the vocal, the voice-over is usually done very early in the process, which also is sort of a safety measure... They'll do the original script, and have the voice-over done for it, and then if something changes, they still have time to get people in to do the changes, or as production goes along, maybe something changes and they need to re-record. Or a character design might change and they'll want the voice to be a little bit different, so they'll be able to come back and redo the voice in a different way or something like that.

The voice-over for my work as Chris was done early 2001. There were actually two different sessions. We did one session early in 2001; I think it was February or March of 2001. That was a two day session, two four-hour sessions, so that was a total of about eight hours. And then later, I think it was around September, I came back in and did a couple more sessions to do some pick-ups and to redo a couple of lines that they weren't happy with the first time around; to just kind of do a little bit of some fixes.

 
Do they use the same voices for both the American and Japanese releases of Resident Evil (or "Biohazard" in Japan)?

Yes. As far as I know.

 
Are you the guy who says, "RESIDENT EVIL!" at the title screen in that demonic voice?

[laughter] Yeah. Yeah, that's me. At the end of all the sessions, they asked me to do some little extra lines. There were just some little extras - some little pick-ups that weren't actually Chris Redfield; they were just sort of in the game. I also did some of the vo for Richard in the game. The scene where Richard gives the radio to Jill and Chris is my voice. Pretty funny to hear my voice coming from two characters.

 
The narration in the opening FMV intro movie for the game was also yours.

Yes. It's supposed to be Chris narrating.

 
What about the other voice actors in Resident Evil. Did you interact with them when you recorded your role, or did they have separate sessions for each actor?

It's an odd thing, doing voice-over. Because in all the games that I've done, and in all the movies that I've done, I have never once met any of the other actors. Except for the Disney stuff, but then only because I work there and know who just about everyone is. [laughs] It's a very strange thing. When all is said and done, you see the final product and here are these people acting together and it's seamless--hopefully it's seamless. And it's a very strange feeling. No, I have not met any of the other video game actors.

 
What's the actual voice acting process like?

Well, that is similar to any acting gig, on-screen or off. There's certain work that you do as an actor to get to know who your character is and how he would respond in a certain situation. Again, a lot of that is given to you by the director. They tell you what they want, I think more so in voice acting, because I think onscreen acting you bring more to the character in terms of who you are as a person and what you look like and how you respond to things physically.

In voice acting, it's a little bit more of a virtual world. So, if you were tailoring your voice to what the director wants and perceives. For me, it's kind of an out-of-body experience, because I kind of close my eyes and think about the situation and just kind of let that bring out of me what I think is appropriate for whatever the moment is. Voice actors can look very very different from their characters. I met Dan Castelleneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) once, doing a benefit show with an improv group called ComedySportz at the Alex Theater in Glendale, and he doesn't look at all like that voice could come out of him! I met Debbi Derryberry, the voice of Jimmy Neutron - yes, Jimmy is voiced by a girl - and she looks like anything but a little boy! Very nice person. I saw her band, Honeypig, play at the Mint in L.A. She's got an incredible singing voice as well.

 

How does voice acting in a video game differ from your previous voice work in animation?

Well, there are similarities in that in animation you almost never work to a picture, because all the voice is done well before the picture exists. Because the animation of course is done to the voice track. Also, most video game recordings that I've done have been the same thing: no picture. And you just do several takes of each line, and the directors take their pick and the animation is done to that sound.

However, in Resident Evil, there were certain sections that were pre-animated. For instance, the killer plant. That animation was already done, so I had to look at the video screen and watch Chris being thrown around by this plant and match my screams and my "flying through the air," and "hitting the ground." I mean, when he hits the ground I had to make sure that I made the you know, the "hitting the ground" sound. So, it's very challenging. It's very challenging to match that timing.

Likewise, I did a commercial - there's a series of Blockbuster Video commercials that are out right now. CG animated characters, there's a guinea pig and a rabbit...

The "Flashdance" number?

Yeah, voiced by Jim Belushi and James Woods. And in one of those commercials, there's a lizard that the guinea pig rides in on, and the lizard is sort of a bucking bronco, and he's making this crazy sound: [Joe makes a screech reminiscent of a dolphin cry or a "bucking bronco lizard"] [laughter]

And I was called in... That sound was actually done at Soundelux as well. I was called in to see if I could do some lizard sounds. And we tried a few things and it really wasn't working. And then I said, you know, let me try something out, let me try this one crazy sound. And we went in, and we tried it, and they liked the sound. And then they said, "OK, here's the video sequence. You have to match the sort of bucking action of the lizard." So I had to watch... Oh, here's the other thing, too. Is that we didn't have a video set up in the booth, in the VO booth. So I had to go into a separate room, watch the video of the lizard bucking bronc with the guinea pig on his back and try and time it out like you would music. I was kind of, you know, putting my little click track to it. [pats a beat on the table] Getting the timing of it.

And then I would go into the voice over booth and try to do what I remembered the action being, and making the sounds. And then they would slide that around and match it up to the motion of the lizard. And we were able to pull it off; it actually worked really well. So if you see the Blockbuster commercial, I'm the lizard! Also one of the strangest things I've ever done. [laughter]

 

What was it like working with Capcom? How was Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami?

It was a great experience. Shinji and his partner, they were very very nice people, very pleasant to work with. Shinji's an excellent director. There was a little bit of a language barrier, but fortunately Carole Ruggier, who was the casting person on this, was in the booth with Shinji and his partner during the sessions. Shinji was able to tell her what he wanted to hear. And Carole was then able to translate that to me. Carole doesn't speak Japanese, but she knows how to talk "director" language with them, and she's also a very good director herself. So she was able to then sort of be the go-between between he and I and able to get the performance that Shinji wanted out of me through her.

He had great ideas; he knew what he wanted, and he knew what he wanted to hear, and he knew when I was giving it to him. And it was also very funny, a couple of times during some of the screaming sequences, I would finish, you know, my "death throes scream" or whatever I was doing at the time, and I would stop and I would just hear laughter in my headphones. [laughter] The guys would be in the booth just falling all over the place laughing. It was pretty funny. [laughter] It was very fun; it was two short sessions, it was two four-hour sessions originally and then another two sessions a few months later, so I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with them. And it was also very rapid-fire, we worked very quickly in the booth. We had a couple hundred lines to get through in that amount of time so...

 

Had you played any RE games before working on Resident Evil: Rebirth for GameCube?

I have never really been a big gamer. I am now. [laughter] I'm totally hooked on the new Resident Evil. In fact, in the past three nights I've put in about twelve hours! [laughter from both] And I'm totally hooked. Not because it's my voice, but because the game is so cool. Uh, and I'm not getting paid to say that!

What do you think about it and the way your performance was implemented?

Yes. I love the game. And I think the voice was very well implemented, in fact I was actually very pleased when I first turned the game on and heard the opening movie, that soundtrack to the opening movie. I was nervous before I heard it because Resident Evil was actually the first video game voice that I had done. And the only other one that--I've done five games now--and the only one that I've heard, other than this one, was uh, I actually was able to do a voice match for Clancy Brown as Mr. Crabs in the Sponge Bob Square Pants video game that came out, "Operation Crabby Patty." Please run out and buy it. [laughter] And this Thursday I'm voice matching Ernest Borgnine as Mermaid Man for the next SpongeBob game. But I was very nervous about this. Because this is a big release and actually I was really hoping that it would be good and so far I've been very happy with it. I think it came out all right. Of course, I haven't gotten far enough into the game to see anything but the opening movie! [both laugh]

Do you have an extra desire to get through the game without getting killed, knowing it's your screams you'll hear if you fail?

[both laugh] Well, I'm actually looking forward to some of the big death scenes, because they were so much fun to do. I mean, how often do you get to just scream like you're being, you know, murdered by a shark? It's not that often... It's very cathartic, by the way. I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance. [laughter]

How do you prepare to sound as if you're being chewed on by a zombie or thrashed about by a giant carnivorous plant?

[laughter] I draw on past personal experiences. I spent a summer working with disadvantaged zombies. Just kidding.[laughs] It's something that you just have to be a little kid about and just totally pretend. It's that unbridled ability of a child to just absolutely play make-believe. And also, some people, like me, just lack any kind of governer on how they act in public [laughter] So, that's kind of like, [laughs] you just let go and just close your eyes, just let your eyes roll back like a shark and you just go, you just let it loose. Ah, let loose the beast within. It's a lot of fun. Um, like I said before, how often do you get a chance to pretend stuff like that as an adult? It's just play time.

 

Also, had you seen the recent Resident Evil movie, which actually came out long after you did the voice acting?

No, I haven't seen it yet. Kate and I don't get out to movies very often. I love going to movies and I love sitting in the theater and eating the popcorn and watching the films on the big screen, but in Los Angeles, it's very frustrating to go to a movie. The movie-going audiences here just don't know how to behave.

It's also expensive.

Well, it is expensive, you know, you're paying an average of eight-fifty, nine dollars a movie and then the prices that they charge for concessions, I don't know how they get away with it. But the thing that drives me crazy is that so many people just don't know how to act in the theater. You know, there's a lot of talking, kicking the back of the chair, you know, it just drives me nuts. You know, the cell phones and pagers going off... We don't want to go to theaters. The only movies I really get out to are the big, big releases. You know, I'll probably go see Star Wars when it comes out, I'll go see Lord of the Rings [II] when it comes out, and maybe one or two others, but other than that I usually wait until they come out on video. I'll definitely rent Resident Evil [the movie] when it comes out, but I haven't seen it.

 

Any interesting/funny experiences in voice acting?

Over the years, I've done some pretty odd characters. I've done a lot of animal sounds which are usually like, you know, like talking animals, you have to sound like an animal. You have to ta-a-alk like a go-o-oat [mews like a goat] or something like that. [laughter] Um, dinosaurs, I was the voice of Aladar for Dinosaur, I mean the scratch voice of Aladar. For two years, I did that. I would say that the strangest things that I've done have been the death scenes. I just did two characters for Red Faction 2, which'll come out later this year. And one of the death scenarios for those characters was that they had been lit on fire, so I had to pretend that I was running around a room in flames... Which you really have to kinda get outside of yourself to do! It's not something anyone can have any real-world experience with and live.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring voice actor today?

Practice every day, work on your voice. Increase your range, especially if you want to do characters. If you don't want to be pigeon-holed as a certain type, you have to, how do you technically say this... broaden your access to your voice. You have to do exercises to lower your pitch, to be able to raise your pitch, to have a wide range of sounds you can do. Also, study accents and dialects. Pick your favorites, maybe your family is Italian and you grew up hearing that accent - that's something you can have in your bag of tricks.

To be really flexible in different roles?

Yeah, try to be as flexible as possible. If you can gain a reputation for being a utility person, someone who's able to do a little bit of everything, you'll get a lot of work. If you're limited to one or two specific voices, chances are you won't work that often. Take a class; there are a lot of good voice-over classes, especially here in Los Angeles there are several of them.

And, record yourself. Get a tape recorder and record yourself doing characters, and commercial stuff. Like, you know, listen to commercials on the radio if you don't have access to actual copy. You can listen to commercials, write down what the person is saying and then do it yourself. And try to match what's going on out there in the world today. Voice-overs, like everything else in entertainment, follow trends. The trend right now is very natural, conversational, "non-announcery" sounding voices. Which sounds like it would be easy to do--"Oh, I just have to talk like myself."

Well, [laughter] there's a little bit more to it than that. You really have to practice it. And get with people who know what they're talking about. And practice, practice, practice... Record yourself, listen to it, and you'll understand what you sound like.

 

You modeled a lot of stuff at Disney including Long John Silver's arm and the ship, the Legacy, in Treasure Planet, using Maya. Very extensive work with Maya and 3D modeling; did that background give you any insight to the way Resident Evil was being created and the animatic footage that you saw?

Yes, it did. In-as-much that I knew what I was looking at. There's no mystery in 3D to me; I've been modeling for six years, so I understand that process. In fact, I mentioned to Shinji that I was a modeler and that I had done a lot of 3D modeling and we talked about that a little bit.

 

Since you've been in Resident Evil, you've worked on a number of games. What future projects can we look for you in?

I was very fortunate to work on the Jimmy Neutron CD-ROM, which is coming out soon. In that, again, I was brought in to do some voice matches, and I was able to voice match Patrick Stewart as King Goobot, I think his name is, or something like that. Which was a lot of fun. And a couple of other characters in that. I've got Red Faction 2 coming out. Sponge Bob is already out...

And Tom Clancy's Sum of All Fears video game?

Sum of All Fears, Yes, I've got a couple of characters in the Sum of All Fears game.

Any other future projects?

Yeah, well, one of the things I'm trying to put together is, I have a small group of actors and actresses that get together every Sunday at my place. I have a little studio at my house. And we get together every Sunday and work on voice-over stuff. We record each other, we do commercials and character voice-overs and then we all sit around and sort of critique each other and help each other get better. And something that we're putting together is that we're going to do some old-time, old-fashioned radio show type stuff. We're going to write our own material, sort of like the old Firesign Theater recordings. They will be in the style of nineteen-forties radio shows, but with modern comedic sensibilities and references. Once we have this pilot put together, we're hoping to sell it to XM radio or Sirius, the new satellite radio industry.

Do they currently have any things like that?

They do; XM radio has one or two stations that are devoted to comedy and they've also got some old-time radio shows, but they're actually playing the real shows from the forties. [Ted goes through his memories of listening to Dragnet, The Lone Ranger, etc. radio serials in Junior High]

That is like a format that's just kind of been passed-over nowadays.

It's been ignored, yeah. Because civilization has moved toward--well, we're all very visually stimulated. You know, it's like MTV. Before MTV, you know, of course your band had to have an image and it mattered what you looked like to a certain extent. But after MTV hit, now all of a sudden, if you don't have video package, you're dead in the water. And I think it destroyed, MTV has contributed to the destruction of a lot of good bands. Because people who are playing really good music, if they don't have a video, they can't get a break.

 

You're also running a website, whytenoise.com?

My website is partially a self-promotion website - it's got my pictures and resume and vo demo reel, but it's also a website for WhyteNoise Productions, which is the name of the group of actors that I have that will be involved with the radio show stuff, and their personal websites too, so it's kind of like a link, a little portal for them as well.

Actors who are trying to get into the industry can come to me to produce their own demo reels. Which they can then use as tools to go out and get their own agents, if they don't already have an agent. I can also work with people who already have agents and help them cut their demo reels together, either based on material they've already done, or by making up new material. And helping them to create, you know like a character demo reel. We'd come up with a scenario. A short, like thirty-second or minute-long scenario using several of their characters, sort of custom-write a little sketch, and then they can record that and use that as their character reel.

That's good.

Yeah, there's a lot of stuff on the horizon. I would like to get more into voice-over production. I still have a lot to learn, but it's coming along.

Yeah, I'd say so! In the year since you've gotten the Resident Evil job, you've like done what, four or five other games?

Yeah, it's really gone well. My agency, Imperium-7 Talent, is really doing a good job for me. They're calling me in all the time. Last week I had ten auditions for commercials and video game stuff. They're really great people - Love my agents. Great people. Oh yeah, if any casting people out there are interested, my agency is Imperium-7 Talent in Century City. 310-203-9009. You don't have to put that in there [laughter].

How about movies?

Well, I'm currently modeling on Chicken Little and doing a lot of scratch vocal for that. And that's for Mark Dindal and Randy Fullmer, who used a lot of my voices on Emperor's New Groove, and I'm kind of hoping that some of the scratch vocal I'm doing for Chicken Little will stay in the movie. But we'll see, that's yet to be decided.

 

One more thing, Joe... How do you get past the part where all those zombies crash through the windows? :) And can you tell me where the helmet key is in the mansion?

[laughs] Now see, I could tell you... But then I'd have to chew your brain out.

 

Footnotes by Rob:

Seeing as it has been a while since Joe conducted this interview I asked him if there was any thing he'd like to add or update about what he'd said in this interview. The first thing is that he has since seen the Resident Evil movie...

I did see the movie by the way. I liked it, but it has nothing to do with "my" Resident Evil. Totally different story. But I did like it. I'm easy to please when it comes to movies.

And when it comes to future projects...

I've been doing some work on some films, most notably a small part in the upcoming Disney movie "Home on the Range", and a couple of small commercial things, but nothing major. I've just auditioned for some cool stuff (cross your fingers), but I haven't heard back yet.

...and finally, some further replay of the Remake on Gamecube.

I bought an "Action Replay" card for my Gamecube and have been re-playing RE - the remake - with Chris loaded for bear - unlimited ammo and a 44 magnum - it's tons of fun. He kills anything very easily. Fun. Bang bang. fun.

Thanks for your time Joe. :)