Adi Tantimedh writes;
You may not have heard of Canadian actor Michael Mando, especially if you don’t play videogames. He plays Vaas Montenegro, one of the villains of the new shooter game FAR CRY 3. Vaas is the Best Villain of 2012, the type of pop culture bad guy you love to hate, who’s there to entertain you with his evil. That is their function.
Vas has become the mascot for the game and its spirit, a gleefully sadistic psychopath with a philosophical bent and childishly low threshold for boredom in a game that reflects its tone: it’s another murder simulator that keeps throwing the player new enemies and ways in which to kill them.
For a long time, voice acting in videogames were dismissed as perfunctory at best, unintentional comedy at worst, stiff in writing and execution, but we’ve reached the point where the stories in games are as important as the plots in movies, and casting the right actors with the right voice has become as important as any movie or TV show. Actors like Jennifer Hale, Nolan North and Troy Baker have become highly-respected and in-demand in the world of games with a list of work longer than most film and TV actors’ filmographies.
Ubisoft, the publisher of FAR CRY 3, has done an interesting bit of viral marketing for the game. They spent a certain mount of money filming a live action webseries prequel to the game, THE FAR CRY EXPERIENCE, highlighting Vas Montenegro, which means Michael Mando gets to actually play the character, in costume and make-up, without the filter of computer graphics laid over, torturing Christopher Mintz-Plasse in a darkly comic satire about Hollywood exploitation, reality shows, found footage, voyeurism and complicity.
And on top of that, they’re offering the webseries to watch free on Youtube. I didn’t have to be sent links or be offered any incentives to push it. They didn’t even publicise it in a big way, letting fans find it themselves on the internet via the usual youtube channels. And we can link to the videos here so you can see what I’m talking about.
Once every few years, an actor, often an unknown, bursts out of nowhere with a performance so unpredictable, that everyone who sees it is blown away. That performance usually sets that actor on a new career path of more interesting and high profile in bigger movies, but nothing they do will match that initial, unexpected performance. Every actor prays for a role like that. Back in the early1980s, Morgan Freeman broke out in a movie called STREET SMART as a charismatic but murderous pimp who menaces a reporter played by Christopher Reeve. Freeman had previously been a struggling actor in small roles and light comedy roles (including a slightly goofy Count Dracula) on the children’s educational TV series THE ELECTRIC COMPANY on PBS. Of course, he has since gone to win Oscars and playing roles of great dignity and gravitas like Nelson Mandela and the President of the United States, but no role has matched the mercurial, feline danger of that role in STREET SMARTS. In the late 1980s, Lawrence Fishburne showed up on the map as Jimmy Jump, the hip-hop gangster and hitman leading gang boss Christopher Walken’s troops in Abel Ferrara’s KING OF NEW YORK.
Breakthrough performances aren’t always from unknowns. They might be turns you don’t expect from actors because of their previous images as blander types, usually at the behest of agents, managers and studios, but when it’s time for a change, the ones who have the ability will go for broke, showing us what they’re really capable of. In the 1990s, Val Kilmer broke out as an unpredictable and silky Doc Holiday in TOMBSTONE, keeping us guessing whether he was an gentleman with the heart of a killer or the other way round. Most recently, we had the late Heath Ledger totally unhinged as The Joker, embodying nihilistic chaos as an ideology in THE DARK KNIGHT.
It’s no surprise that these types of roles are generally bad guys or anitheroes. Denzel Washington won an Oscar by playing a corrupt, murderous cop in TRAINING DAY. It’s not enough for the role to be just a bad guy, it has to be a unique take on that particular role, usually an active collaboration between the script, director and actor. There has to be an element of playfulness, of insinuation, of letting the audience in on the joke, of the vicarious thrill of partaking in the fantasy of being bad and having fun at it. This is what all these breakthrough genre roles have in common.
It’s too bad most mainstream critics who ever see Michael Mando’s performance. It has all the same elements that make them take notice of a breakthrough performance. It’s clear there are entire moments, even split-second turns, that are completely improvised rather than scripted. It’s those spontaneous moments that wake an audience out of just passively watching, that makes an audience suddenly feel like they’re in active dialogue with the actor. The actor is telling another layer of story that might otherwise have been hidden in the script. Any actor worth their salt, when given a chance to go wild, will seize it like a runaway bull because they may never get the chance again. And without the humour of Mando’s performance, THE FAR CRY EXPERIENCE would have degenerated into snuff-torture-porn instead of satirical dark comedy. There are other oddball and memorable characters in the game, but Mando’s Vaas has become its gleefully amoral heart.
I’m sure we could all think of a Hollywood douchebag far more deserving of hideous torture than McLovin, but that’s another joke in itself. To watch the webseries and then play FAR CRY 3 is an interesting meta experience unparalleled in games and movies: you watch Mando’s performance as Vaas and then you become the one who got away and then gets to kill him. There are interesting layers in the game to discuss, including its social commentary and unintentional and dodgy imperialism and racial subtexts, but that’s for another time, and other writers have brought this up already, and none of it detracts from Lando’s (and the other actors’) performances in the game. Pop culture has become very J.G. Ballard.
If anything, this just shows that the internet is ahead of the curve, and mainstream critics are playing catch-up. As for the final fate of Christopher Mintz-Plasse, you can find a virtual version of what’s left of him in the game, a optional coda.
(Spoilers in the video below)
Michael Mando is on Twitter. I have not met or spoken to him.
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh