Even if you don’t recognize Troy Baker’s name, active gamers will likely recognize the sound of his voice. Breathing life into disparate characters like Agent Jonesy in Fortnite to Joel Miller in The Last of Us, few people in the industry remain as booked and busy as Baker.
One of his breakthrough acting roles came in 2013 when Baker played Booker DeWitt in the beloved BioShock Infinite. A couple of other games that he appears in include: Batman: Arkham Origins, Far Cry 4, God of War, Mortal Kombat 11, Death Stranding, and The Last of Us Part II.
We spoke with Baker about his career, working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, what goes on behind the scenes, and his approach to the craft of acting.
As a child, Baker aspired to be a musician. Occasionally, his career path intersects with his music interests, but Baker appreciates not having the stress of relying on music as a primary source of income. “I love the fact that I get to do it recreationally; I don’t have to do it vocationally. It takes a lot of the pressure off. I can sit at my piano or pick up one of my guitars and play and there’s not a dollar figure attached to that,” Baker said.
Early in his career, Baker worked for FUNimation and dubbed an array of anime series including Dragon Ball Z. “I cut my teeth, and I learned what my voice was capable of,” he said. “It was like my theater.” Returning to his roots of English dubbing in 2018, Baker voiced the titular role of Baki in a Netflix reboot of the popular Japanese manga-turned-anime.
Already involved with the next generation of consoles, Baker voices the character of Simon Krieger in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, one of the first games available for the PlayStation 5, and he plays an entity called The Maw in The Medium, one of the first games available for the Xbox Series X|S.
Speaking about the logistical difficulties encountered by Bloober Team when developing The Medium, Baker said, “The thing that I love specifically about this industry, is that a bunch of video game nerds look at something like Covid and go, ‘Well, that’s just bad design. We’re used to squashing bugs, so how can we work around this?’ The purpose of iteration, the purpose of development is to find the obstacles and find ways to overcome them.”
He emphasized the necessity for close collaboration with game studios during the creation process, “You get in there, and you do it together. It’s collaborative. It’s not just about coming up with a cool voice on your own. It’s about working and partnering with some very talented people.”
Sharing his past experience working with game developer Ken Levin on BioShock Infinite and playing guitar for the in-game performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Baker said, “BioShock was an expensive game … to be able to say, ‘I want to do this really, really big thing, if the player turns left, if the player goes down the stairs, if the player walks through this door, if the player picks up the guitar, and if he plays, then this little moment will happen.’ That’s an expensive thing to do. There’s a lot of people who played that game who say that’s their favorite moment. Ken came up with that.”
No stranger to the digital stage, Troy Baker has done performance capture for games like The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Death Stranding. For an unspecified project, Baker spoke about doing performance capture in 2020 from the comfort of his own home. “When we went into lockdown, pretty much that day, my agent was getting calls from everybody going, ‘Can he work from home?’ There was one project that I was working on that we had been doing full performance capture, including facial, and they were like, ‘Are you down to experiment, and can we set up a facial rig at your house?’ So, six Pelican cases showed up at my house, and I had a very intense Zoom call with a tech person,” Baker said.
When I asked about motion capture on the set of Death Stranding, he corrected me by saying “performance capture” and explained why this performance felt so personal. “It was coming home,” Baker said. “That Sony stage that we shot on, it’s where we did Uncharted. We did The Last of Us. I shot Shadow of War there for Monolith.” Being a regular on the Sony stage has a few perks. “I have my own pair of shoes there that I just keep there. Whenever I suit up, they’re like, ‘Troy’s shoes are on the bottom right,’” he said. “I’ve got my own suit. It’s going to the office.”
Also, he shared a hilarious story about consensually licking Normas Reedus’ face during their first day working together on Death Stranding. “My favorite thing to do is to be on stage with other actors and finding that moment together.” Taking the craft of acting seriously, Baker pushes back against the idea of being viewed specifically as a voice actor, “The moniker of voice actor doesn’t scan, because you would never say, ‘That guy is doing some theater acting or that guy is doing some camera acting.’”
Baker agrees that video games are continuing to solidify their position in mass culture. “I think that video games have picked up the banner to carry the conversation forward that in many ways, for the longest time, TV and film failed to do so. There’s a whole other level of immersion that happens inherently and intrinsically with a video game that doesn’t happen with TV or film, because I have more authorship and agency in what’s happening inside of a video game,” he said.
Although he has a long list of industry accomplishments, Baker repeatedly doled out praise to his peers and the teams who develop these games. “The thing I think that a lot of people forget is that…you’ve never heard me do something that I can’t do, ‘cause otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten the gig,” he said.
Baker offered straightforward advice like rest and hydration for taking care of your vocal cords and brought up how maintaining vocal health can be difficult during certain performances. “The gig is the gig. If you’re a ‘Big Bad’ that’s rallying your hoards of evildoers, you can’t fake that. There’s all kinds of different techniques that you can pull, but at the end of the day you’re yelling,” he said. “I will quite often come out of the booth drenched in sweat, but those are the things that I live for.”
With Keanu Reeves playing Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077 as a prominent example, more actors from movies and television continue to diversify into video games, but performers like Baker have been building careers in this industry for years and honing their craft within the medium. In the not too distant future, we might see certain, prominent actors from video games becoming household names for their performances.
When it comes to his personal gaming habits, one of the titles that Baker currently enjoys is Spider-Man: Miles Morales. “It’s always fun playing a game, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s right! I’m in this,’” he said. “If I’ve done my job right, then I forget that it’s me.”
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