Interview with Actor Craig Fairbrass (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare)

I was lucky enough to arrange an interview with Craig Fairbrass, famous in the world of video games for his role in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

I spoke to Craig via the phone while he was filming a movie in Kuala Lampur of all places.  While the phone call did leave a big dent on my cellphone bill, it was nonetheless cool to chat with Craig about his long career and work in the Call of Duty games.

Original article follows below.

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By now most of you have already finished the story mode for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or at least are still underway in the mode in between bouts of multiplayer based action.  Say what you will about how the Modern Warfare series has evolved over the last few years, but one thing that has remained constant, in a good way, is that the acting and performances in the game have remained high quality.  

Combining the services of A-list actors like Timothy Olyphant and character actors that most gamers have seen in a few well-known projects, the Modern Warfare series has always brought a level of substance to its somewhat over-the-top proceedings thanks to the skill of its cast, which in typical video game tradition is rather extensive.

One man that has been with the Modern Warfare series since the start is actor Craig Fairbrass.  An actor in both the U.K. and the U.S., Craig has lent his gruff British voice to all three Modern Warfare games as three different characters, the most prominent of which has been Ghost in Modern Warfare 2.  In the world of Modern Warfare the characters Craig has portrayed (Gaz in MW1, Ghost in MW2, and Wallcroft in MW3) have gained a nice following by gamers who enjoyed the intense military action that Infinity Ward had to offer in it’s single-player campaign.  Despite the Modern Warfare series not being the most story prominent franchises out there, the performances Mr. Fairbrass has provided have definitely been memorable and in some cases have become iconic or at least synonymous with the Modern Warfare series.

Mr. Fairbrass was incredibly kind to put aside some time in his day from filming a movie in Kuala Lumpur to chat with me about his career and the sudden explosion of notoriety he has received thanks to his roles in the Modern Warfare series. I hope you all enjoy this interview and getting to know the man behind the voice of Ghost.

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Ian Fisher: Can you tell us a bit about how you became an actor and was it always something you wanted to do?

Craig Fairbrass:  Always wanted to be an actor. From about 19 I got my first job, I did a year of training to be an actor,  I went up for an audition for a film with Denzel Washington called “For Queen and Country”. It was my first ever audition and they had been casting for the villain for quite a while but couldn’t find him so they picked me since I was fresh and new.

Ian: You managed to get quite a bit of work in both the U.K. and the U.S. on the film and TV side of things with projects like the iconic TV series “EastEnders” and films like “The Bank Job.” Now in all the work that you’ve done you portray vastly different characters whether they’re corrupt cops or mercenaries.  With that being said, has it been somewhat difficult to find varied roles where you simply aren’t playing a cliché London thug type or has it been generally easy to get the roles you deserve and that challenge you as an actor?

Craig: It’s been great. I got to mention I’ve been very lucky.  I’ve waited all my life to get to the stage where I am now but I’ve always worked as an actor. Although I am limited in a sense, people may say I’m typecast but my answer always is “better to be type cast than not cast.”  You know I have a career and that’s the great thing about it, the business, I actually have a career. Because of my physicality and my look I always tend to play either the good guy or a bad guy, a mercenary, a cop, or a gangster.  I love playing those roles, absolutely love playing those roles.  

There’s a film I did called “Rise of the Foot Soldier” which was very commercially successful in the UK and Europe, millions of DVDs sold, and it changed my career. It’s a very dark and violent film and it gave me a chance to show how ferocious I could be playing a gangster and the film really worked. On the flipside of that is “The Devils Playground” where I’m playing a mercenary, but he’s a good guy – vicious again but with empathy which is important to always get that edge in characters. Most of the characters I’ve played I’ve really, really wanted to play so in a sense I’ve been quite lucky.

Ian: Since so many of your roles have been varied, what sort of character do you enjoy or simply get the most pleasure out of playing?  Are straightforward villain roles more your thing since you know what sort of attributes to tackle or do you enjoy playing characters with a somewhat complex nature like the character you portrayed in “The Unit”, a soldier that went bad but for good reasons?

Craig: Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always jump at the chance to play a really good villain because playing a good villain can sometimes be as good as being the star – it can have as much impact in the film or the TV show. I just look for characters that are exciting or characters that I wanted to play as a child when I wanted to be an actor.  As I said because of my physicality and my height I sort of get to play those man roles so I’m more than happy.

Ian: One of your most recent projects was in the film “Far Cry” which was directed by Uwe Boll, a man who has an established reputation with the video game and film community.  Now I’ve managed to talk to Uwe and some of the actors he has worked with in the past but what was your experience like working with Uwe during “Far Cry”?

Craig: Well it was difficult for me because I was UK actor who decided to pack a bag and go to L.A. I’ve done that in the past and it worked. Before “Rise of the Foot Soldier” I went out to Los Angeles and ended up being in “White Noise 2” and decided to stay. When you’re in L.A. you just want to work and fill up your resume and show people that you can come over, walk into a room and audition and do what you’re paid to do – you’re a professional and do your job.  Far Cry was just one of those films that came along at the right time. I had a great time. It wasn’t a huge role, but I got the chance to meet Uwe and go to Vancouver to work on a video game film, which ended up quite different from the actual video game, but it was an experience like most of the jobs I’ve done.

Ian: To the gaming community you’re known the most for the roles of the soldiers Gaz & Ghost in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series.  How did you make the jump into doing voice acting in video games and was voice acting ever something you had lingering in the back of your head to do as an actor?

Craig: Never. I did a few commercials and adverts when I was in the U.K. but when I went to L.A. I got picked up by a voice agency.  I just went into an audition, I needed money and I was living in L.A. working as an actor and you know what it’s like living in L.A. – it’s expensive.  So that was another string in my bow and I went in to audition and they picked me. The rest as you know is history and they just went on and on and on.  

I didn’t think after playing Ghost they would bring me back to be honest. But I went to Infinity Ward in Los Angeles as a guest and they said to me just how iconic my voice and the character was and the reactions the fans had had to liking my voice.  They were really happy with the response and obviously it was a successful game and just to be part of it was a real honor. I didn’t really know about computer games to be honest with you – I was a little bit ignorant.  It was until I went to the premier two years ago in London for Modern Warfare 2 that I actually realized what I was a part of.  Now the new game, Modern Warfare 3, the catchphrase “Let’s Do This” has kind of become synonymous with me and it’s just as exciting. So it’s a real pleasure to be part of it.

Ian: Was making the jump to voice acting somewhat difficult to get a hold of since it was completely new to you or was it relatively easy to get a grasp of?  Obviously you delivered the goods as an actor through your performance but was stepping into the sound booth and having to act by yourself something that you had to get a feel for since you didn’t have any of your colleagues to play off of?

Craig: I found it quite easy and very enjoyable. I actually like the process and I’m pretty quick. Keith Arem, who directs the games in L.A., said to me most of the best voice actors who work the most are usually actors because they have a good ear for direction, for changing the impetuous and the tone and inflection on a line. So I really enjoyed that process and I’m quite a conscientious actor anyway. So to make that leap I always looked forward to doing the sessions and hearing it back. I’m a very fussy person but I’m always seriously pleased with how the games turn out.

Ian: With characters like those you’ve played in the Modern Warfare series, has it been challenging to find the proper vocal performance or direction since that’s all you have to portray and represent the character, more so since you’re playing different characters?

Craig: Well trust me, the voice is just one voice and they just happen to be called different names. But as I said to you I really care about it and they’re not easy to do because of the different levels of ferocity that you got to give when you’re running down corridors.  I’m literally ringing wet with sweat and the energy you have in your voice when you’re doing sessions you really have to somehow control it since you can lose your voice. So yeah, it’s very intense work.

Ian: Since you’ve been with the Modern Warfare series since it first began did you ever expect that the characters you portrayed would be as recognizable as they’ve become let alone become one of the key things you’re known for as an actor?

Craig: No, I never. And this may make you laugh, but some website somewhere called me the “legendary Craig Fairbrass” which had me laughing for about ten minutes. I think the fans just love the games so much and they believe in it so much. People wrote me and emailed me since they were upset when Ghost died and I was taken aback by it and it was really endearing to hear fans care that much. Really at the end of the day I’m just a voice, it’s a character on screen and you try to put as much life into that character as you can to make it as believable as possible but at the end of the day you’re still a voice. So the whole impact from the fans is absolutely mind blowing to be honest with you.

Ian: I don’t know if you’ve played the Modern Warfare games, but is there a moment or a particular element that you’re particularly fond of, either because of the character moment it offers or simply because it’s a cool action sequence?

Craig: I’m not a game player. Both my sons are big fans but I’m a different generation. I know that guys do play but I find it quite difficult.  It seems to be the younger generation that really loves it but I’ve met guys much older who really love it so it seems to be across the board. I just find the whole coordination thing to be rather difficult. 

Ian: What are your thoughts on video games like Modern Warfare tackling the subject of war in a video game?  Obviously the tone of Modern Warfare isn’t completely realistic in every facet as it’s not drawing inspiration from the events happening in the Middle East right now, but to some people out there using a modern warfare backdrop in a video game is pushing the limit of taste a bit. So do you think video game developers should be able to do whatever they desire as long as it’s tastefully done and at least pays respect to the men and women serving abroad in the military?

Craig:  Well you know what at the end of the day my take on that is that it’s a game.  Regardless of whether you have children playing it or adults playing it you have the choice to either turn the machine on or turn it off.  It’s not the game it’s the person, that’s how I think. Most level headed people who play know it’s a game and I think you take that responsibility as an adult. You also got to remember something, the context of war and fantasy.  This is fantasy and war but there are other games more in reality and normal situations that are way more violent. I always made sure that my sons when they got to 18 they could play that kind of stuff. I don’t think it’s right for young children to play these games and see those graphic visuals and somebody has got to police it so I think that’s up to the mums and dads.

Ian: You’re an acting veteran and now you’re in one of the biggest video game franchises that usually eclipses the success major films have at the box office.  With that in mind where do you think video games will go in the coming years?  As you know the Modern Warfare games offer some incredible action that at times would only be possible via video games since if done in a traditional film the budget may be north of $200 million.  So do you think video games will eventually become the standard in which people expect their entertainment to be delivered or will they still be looked at from a slightly niche perspective amongst certain social circles?

Craig: Well it’s funny you’re saying that since I went to an award ceremony last year in London and I didn’t realize that Modern Warfare 2 took in the same money as Avatar in 42 days.  So you now know how much money there is to be earned from these games. I was shocked when I went to Infinity Ward to see how Modern Warfare 3 had moved on even from the last game in how clear the faces were – it was like watching a movie. I had watched the “Minding the Gap” stuff before I voiced it on a huge cinematic screen and it just blew me away, it was just like watching a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie. So I think more and more the CGI and the way films are going they’re getting more and more like video games I think. You watch certain films and they just remind you of a video game.

Ian: At what point do you think video games will become widely acceptable for the creative risks and narrative paths they take?  The Modern Warfare series in particular was scolded for one scene in which the gamer had the option of portraying an undercover agent in a terrorist cell that was attacking civilians and police officers in an airport. The tone of the scene was definitely chilling but the interactive nature of it stirred things up since some people were looking at it as a terrorist simulator as opposed to merely being a video game trying to tell a story. So do you think video games will continue to be scolded by over protective parents and the news media or will people learn to respect them at times and look at them the same way as they do to other forms of entertainment like the TV series “24”?

Craig: You know what I can’t answer that since it’s such a tricky question. To me I look at the airport stuff and the guy in Norway on the island and it’s hard to comment on that stuff. That stuff is going on all the time around the world and then you have a game come out that sort of mirrors that.  There was something in the British newspapers about the Mind the Gap mission in the London underground clashing with the 7/7, you know the bombs that went off in London. So it’s a really tricky situation to comment on. Some people just say it’s a game but there are other people who take it very seriously.  You know I’m just an employee doing a job to make the game entertaining for certain individuals.  

Ian: So far you’ve only done voice acting work in the Modern Warfare series but do you have any plans to tackle other projects if they’ve given to you, and if so what sort of video game genres (sci-fi, fantasy) would you like your voice to be heard in?

Craig: You know what I would love to do more and more work but I think I have a voice that lends itself to a certain genre of game. I would love to do more but it’s not about me, it’s about whether people can hear my voice in that situation.  I have become so synonymous with Call of Duty that maybe I will never do another game. But I’m so happy and so grateful to be a part of this fantastic franchise.  It’s a worldwide game and I’m a hero now to my kids growing up and they loved it. So it’s been a real thrill to be a part of it.

Ian: Beyond gamers hearing you in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, what upcoming projects can we expect to see you in next?

Craig: Things are getting better each year. I’m in Kuala Lumpur until January filming Vikingdom, which is a big Viking action movie and then there’s more stuff coming into the new year. I’ve got a big British movie opening in April theatrically called St. Georges Day which is like a big gangster thriller set in London, Amsterdam, and Berlin.  

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Speaking to Mr. Fairbrass was interesting since he’s an actor that while not completely entrenched in the world of video games and voice acting still respects it and takes it very seriously.  To most of us it’s well known that some actors who lend their voices in video games often don’t understand the proper direction that needs to be taken or simply are there to cash a quick paycheck. Obviously that’s not the case with Mr. Fairbrass as he’s given us some memorable performances in the Modern Warfare series no matter how minor the character is or if they sadly meet an untimely and shocking death.  

I want to extend a huge thanks to Mr. Fairbrass for chatting with me and shedding some insight on his approach as an actor and what his thoughts are on the Modern Warfare series.  I know that to some gamers the Modern Warfare series needs a break or at least a major retooling to a degree, but whatever does or doesn’t happen in the next few years I just hope that Mr. Fairbrass is still a part of the franchise since he has provided some of the more memorable moments in the series.

Originally posted on November 9, 2011

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