After being officially revealed at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year, the first gameplay trailer for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor–the next Star Wars adventure from EA and Respawn Entertainment–aired during The Game Awards, with lead Jedi Cal Kestis taking center stage.
The trailer showed off some of the older Cal’s new abilities, including a grappling hook for improved traversal and a new fighting stance that incorporates dual lightsabers for an extra edge. Multiple friends and foes also appear in the two-minute trailer, including the returning Cere Junda and a new friend in Bode Acuna.
To learn more about Cal Kestis’s return, we had the opportunity to sit down with the game’s lead actor, Cameron Monaghan, who explained at length his approach to becoming Cal, how things have changed for the Jedi since the previous game, and how the events of the last game have shaped Cal’s personality.
We also spoke about the differences between motion capture and performance capture–particularly the focus of each method–as well as the potential for Cal to hop from the gaming world to a different type of Star Wars project.
This interview was transcribed from a video interview and edited for clarity.
GameSpot: When you were first Cal, five years ago, did you take any influence from characters you’d played in shows like Shameless or Gotham and apply them to Cal, even if the two characters weren’t perfect fits?
Cameron Monaghan: I don’t think I took any parts from previous characters necessarily and put them into Cal, but rather I’d say it’s the reverse. When you try to find a character, you take the whole of your character and the whole of yourself, and you try to find the intersection of the Venn diagram. You try to maximize the parts of yourself that are found in the character and start to minimize the parts of yourself that you think are outside of what you think is the behavior of whatever that character should be.
All characters should be able to be formed from an internal standpoint, right? I think that if you’re working from the inside out, that character will always seem genuine, and it will always come from a grounded place. It’s when you start trying to work from an outside perspective and go in that you start to lose your grounding and things can start to get pretty strange pretty quickly.
What I would say is there are parts of myself I have found in Cal–parts I might have explored in other characters as well–but how those tend to manifest will be different from every performance of every other character that you do.
Similarly, this game is now five years ahead in the timeline, so Cal is older, more experienced, and a little wiser. Is there a difference in your approach to playing him now as compared to the original game, or are you approaching the character from basically the same angle?
First of all, a lot of us get older, but we don’t necessarily get wiser (laughs), so you are assuming that he gets wiser. But I do think Cal has matured in a lot of ways as a character. His decision-making has been changed by his situation primarily. It is a darker time in the universe than has ever been for Cal, and so he is having to make decisions that are harder than anything he’s had to make up to this point. Because of that, we’re seeing someone whose perspective and worldview has been shifted by the world around them.
I think you would have a fair amount of guard up, and be wary of certain situations you walk into, if you were him. I don’t think Cal is a fool, rather I think he’s lost a lot of his naivete over the years. We’re seeing a character who does not always walk in assuming the best of everyone, and it’s not because he’s a cynic, but rather he is trying to protect the things he really cares about. That doesn’t necessarily change how I approach the performance, but it does inform how the performance is going to go from one moment to the next.
You always have to have a mindset of “what has your character been facing immediately,” “what is the current situation they’re in,” and “what is it that they want?” When you are living truthfully within those means, there’s usually only a few choices that feel “right” from one moment to the next. So the most important thing you can do as a performer–I don’t know why this is turning into a master class, sorry (laughs)–is to be present. If you’re aware of what your other performers are giving you, and what the lines are trying to tell you, you can find something new within these circumstances literally every time.
I was very lucky to work with a talented group of performers and writers, and we were able to make something that hopefully people will enjoy. You’re always trying to find that lightning in a bottle feeling, where one take is like “oh, that’s the one,” and I think we got it a number of times here. I can’t wait for people to see it, there’s some pretty incredible moments in this one, and hopefully the people agree.
When it comes to performing for video games, the medium has grown from just voice acting to full motion capture with its actors. Do you find that doing the motion capture part of the performance allows you to be more authentic to the character you want to play, as opposed to just giving your voice?
Absolutely! It’s interesting; I didn’t know a lot about this, and I’m guessing people still don’t, but nowadays a lot of what we refer to in movies like Avatar is considered performance capture. The difference between motion capture and performance capture is the main primary focus is capturing the idiosyncrasies of a face, body language, these little micro-moments in a performance. Motion capture, a lot of times, is stuff you’d capture with a stuntman, a guy who’s going to come in and do a really cool flip of something like that where you’re not necessarily caring about the very small movements or emotions of the act.
With performance capture, the technology has gotten so good that it’s able to capture the smallest little changes in movement. One part that has improved leaps and bounds recently, even since the last game, is tracking eyes. Eyes are, obviously, the window into the soul, and the vast majority of what you do as an actor is performing with your eyes.
The fact that we’re able to start getting 1:1 performance, where you’re able to give something that’s subtle and doesn’t have to be heightened, and put it into the story, means that audiences, who are smart and can feel when something is natural and not pushed or heightened, as those savvy audiences will start to see those types of performances come out.
A great recent example of that is Christopher Judge in the God of War games, where so much is being said by a simple look or shift in body language, and I’m very excited as the technology is continuing to progress. Games have always had a foothold in storytelling, but I think we are in a golden era now, where games are starting to come into their own in the storytelling space. The fact that we get to be a part of that is an amazing opportunity, and one we’re all very thankful for.
Last question, and we have to ask: who do we have to talk to to get Cal Kestis in a live-action Star Wars project? Show, movie, whatever it is, how do we make this happen?
I honestly don’t know. All I can say is, while that would be very cool, our focus right now is to make sure we tell a satisfying story within the video game arc. We want to make sure that, while yes we do have expanded media like the book, and we did do some crossover media around the first game, the most important thing at least to me is to just be able to tell a satisfying story within whatever medium we’re currently utilizing.
I think that games are an amazing space to be able to tell stories, while also having an immediate connection with the audience. When you play a game, you’re able to be injected into the story in a way that you can’t in any other way. You get to literally interact with it, and I think that’s a really cool thing.
Yes, it would be amazing to explore Cal in many ways, but our number one priority right now is to make sure we do something really great here. From there, who knows, but hopefully people really enjoy Jedi: Survivor.
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