Thanks to the advances in performance capture, Troy Baker might just be the first actor you’ll recognize from a video game. The star of Activision and Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Baker plays Jack Mitchell, the protagonist of the new shooter who goes mano-a-mano with Kevin Spacey’s Jonathan Irons.
Call of Duty is just one of many new games Baker is featured in, including Middle-earth: Shadow or Mordor, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (playing Batman), Far Cry 4, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. And the list just for 2014 game characters goes on and on. Baker is literally a man of a thousand voices, since he also acts in animated TV shows like Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and Regular Show, along with just about every video game made since 2005. And he plays ‘em all, too.
The musician-turned-actor — who just released his first album, Sitting in the Fire — explains how he ended up making a career out of luck, and answers Playboy’s Lucky 7 Questions.
How did you end up in video game voice acting?
Everybody starts off with their plan for how their life is going to be this and then life shuffles the cards on you. It’s not about necessarily following your dreams or your passions, but it’s listening to opportunities and finding something that you’re good at and doing that. I started off as a musician 10 years ago and where we were recording our album they also did a lot of commercials. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when they were looking for somebody to do the over-the-top salesman. That parlayed itself into one job after another. Then a friend of mine worked at game developer Gearbox Software and they were doing this WWII game, Brothers in Arms, and he thought I had a cool voice. I’ve been stumbling after myself, job after job, and just waiting for people to realize that I’m not really that talented. I’ve been lucky. That kid 10 years ago would have thought that I would be standing on a stage in a ridiculous costume with a camera in my face across from Kevin Spacey.
There aren’t many games that came out this year that you’re not in. How do you keep all these characters straight?
Every script for a game would completely overshadow a film just by sheer volume. Not necessarily content, but in volume. They’re huge. The Shadow of Mordor script was thick. I actually have a copy of The Last of Us script and just the cinematics were 300 to 400 pages. Fortunately, a lot of times you get to spread the shooting of it out. With The Last of Us we did on average three days, once a month, for two-and-a-half years. When you’re doing that it takes the burden off of having to shoot all this content at once, even though we were shooting 22, 23 pages a day. It forces you to find some shoe that you can always slip into, a little secret that you know about that character that only belongs to you.
What’s the best part of your video game success?
It’s afforded me the opportunity to return to my first love. Even when I was a kid, I was writing songs, I was learning to play instruments, terribly. But still I was drawn to that because I was a nerd. I had zero athletic ability. I had zero game, and I just had to find a way to get chicks. If I wasn’t going to be quarterback of the football team, maybe I could play guitar and that would woo the woman’s heart. I found solace in these different things. I found it in music. I found it in books. I found it in games. I’m grateful because whatever success I’ve had has afforded me the opportunity to revisit that first love and take the time and put a lot of effort into this album. Some of these songs have been gestating for 10 years. Others we wrote while we were at the cabin, recording. The whole goal was to go up to a place that was unconventional and just make an album. Not a CD with a bunch of songs on it, but to really have an album. I think we’ve lost the spirit of the LP, where there was a Side A and a Side B and there was nothing that you did for 44 minutes but listen to that album and let it take you on whatever journey it needed to take you on.
Playboy’s Lucky 7 Questions
What was your first exposure to Playboy magazine?
That would have been ’84, so I was seven or eight years old. My best friend across the street, Randy, had snagged some from his dad’s closet and we snuck behind these two houses, behind the air conditioning unit. It was like this bro moment. We’re going to reveal the mysteries of the universe in the form of the female body. I thought it was going to be wall-to-wall like nudie pics, but there were all these dudes that I wanted to be. They were like the James Bond, cool, tuxedo-wearing, whisky glass-holding guys. The impression that it gave me of style was almost as impressionable as seeing my first pair of boobs. It was a pretty remarkable experience.
What movie scared you the most as a kid?
Dude, this is weird. The NeverEnding Story did a number on me the first time I saw Gmork. I found out years later that my best friend still hasn’t seen that. In the theater it just scared the shit out of me. But what did the most damage was seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street with that scene where Nancy’s having the nightmare and sees her friend in the body bag and the legs just lift up and drag her. I still think about that scene and I’m instantly a nine-year-old again. I pee myself every time I think about that scene.
If you were on death row what would your last meal be?
I would answer that differently on a daily basis. Because I live in Los Angeles and you just simply as a prerequisite give up gluten, so right now it would be bread and more bread. It’d be all the bread that I could have because I wouldn’t care what it would do afterwards, or have any of the ramifications. I’d want bread and pasta and pizza and all of that…anything with gluten.
What’s the first song you knew the words to?
“Yesterday,” by the Beatles. And that’s still probably one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s one of the best love songs every written.
What was your first car?
A Champagne colored ’85 Camaro Berlinetta, with doo-doo brown interior. I looked like a total douche because anytime you hit the gas, it had so much power under the hood that it would peel out at every stoplight. So I always got looks from girls like, “What an asshole.” The first night that I had the car I was driving back from my girlfriend’s house and “Stairway to Heaven” came on. When the guitar solo came on I looked down and I’m doing 105 and I’m hauling ass. I look in the rearview mirror and I see that patriotic red, white and blue lights. The cop comes over and asks if I know why he pulled me over. I told him, “I was doing about 100.” He said, “106 is actually what I clocked you at.” When he asked me to explain why, I pointed to the radio and said “Stairway.” He laughed and said, “Get out of here kid, and drive safe.”
What was your favorite mistake?
Walking into ASC Summit Studios in Dallas in my 20s and saying, “Hey, I want to be on the radio.” It was incredibly arrogant for me because it was where Janis Joplin and Don Henley recorded. But looking back, it was being brave and foolish enough to make that stupid decision. It’s led to all this, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.
What’s the biggest lie you ever told?
Shit, everything that I just told you. [Laughs.] The first movie that I did was a Western called Comanche Moon. It came down to either me or this other guy, and they called me and asked if I could ride a horse. I’m like, “What, are you kidding? Ride a horse? I’m from Texas. I was born on a horse.” I’d never been on a horse in my life. I get on set and get on the horse and one of the horse wranglers comes over to me — he’s this really cool Mexican Picaro Indian guy named Dutch — he looks at me and goes, “How good of a rider are you? And don’t fucking lie to me because we’re going to find out in about five seconds.” So I told him it was my first time on a horse and he walked me through everything and made me look like a bad ass by the end of the shoot.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for 25 years for outlets like Playboy, Wired, Fortune, The Hollywood Reporter and Reuters. He’s also a co-owner of gaming site www.shacknews.com. He tweets at @JohnGaudiosi.