You might not know Rachel Kimsey's voice right now, but you'll become very familiar with it when Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 releases on November 6th. She plays Rachel Kane, a member of your elite squad of cyborg commandos. We speak to the actress to find out what it takes to kick ass behind the scenes of a video game.
How did your acting background lead you to Call of Duty?
I've been acting for about 20 years. I started out training for classical theater and made my first movie when I was in college, and did a lot of stunt training because it was way more fun than getting my PE credits other ways. At one point, that took me to Taiwan, where I did a live stunt show. There I learned how to do high falls, rope swings, target shooting, and stuff like that.
I moved to New York after college, and everything started to change after I did a national touring company show of Scooby Doo, written and directed by some of the guys from Kids in the Hall, so it was really savvy. When I came back, I saw these notices of filming go up. I don't know if it was fate, but it was for a production of Spider-man 2. I had to be in Spider-man 2, so I called up the production office and asked, "Hey where's your stunt crew today?" They told me the information, I snuck onto the set, and hung out with the stunt crew for about eight hours. They ended up liking me and had some stuff for me to do, and I had the background and training to do work for them.
Spider-man 2 filming eventually moved to LA, and I wanted to keep working with them. So, I slept on a friend's couch, hoping that I would get a call for work. I did, and it was for an on-camera sequence instead of doubling. It was an amazing experience. So, it was really comics that brought me out to LA, where I ended up staying.
Then I got a great role on The Young and the Restless for about a year and a half. From there, I did guest stars in movie roles and appeared in the second season of Heroes. When I got that audition, I was like, "Play it cool... play it cool." First season was my favorite TV show. But I fan-girled like crazy when I met Jeff Loeb.
Not long after that, I was in a motorcycle accident and couldn't work for a couple years because of a broken leg that led to medical complications - and that's when I discovered voiceover. I started working in voiceover during the time I couldn't work on camera and couldn't stand. Slowly, that began to build as more and more of my work. I've turned even more of my attention to voiceover work over the last two years because it's awesome.
It's the most fun, exciting, and rapidly changing side of the industry... and it's been amazing.
Do you play Call of Duty?
I have been learning to play first-person shooter games as a result of working on Call of Duty. I'm a game dork, but I tend toward board, trivia, word and puzzle games. I'm more comfortable with side-scrolling video games because it tells me where to go next, so stepping into a world where I had to figure out what to do in a mission was a big change.
I'm not going to lie - I have a lot of work to do. I need to put in more practice and time, because I don't bring a lot of value to my team yet. But it's really fun to learn, and I'm thrilled at how the welcoming the people I've played with have been.
How is acting for Call of Duty different from your other work?
The exciting thing about working on Call of Duty is realizing how much it's all just acting. The way games have evolved is that the better actor you are, the better it makes the game. You have to do all the same work of caring about where you are, who you're with, and getting the story across.
What's most rewarding about doing the MoCap for Call of Duty is that unlike acting for film or television, where you put all your work into the camera, you can just be. It's amazing to be able to act in 360 degrees, because you don't get to do that on film. It's incredibly freeing, and I told the director that he spoiled me because now I don't want to do anything else.
Tell us about your character, Rachel Kane.
It's a little bit tricky, because I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say. But I will say that this is Black Ops... and somebody has got to run that op. Someone has to come in with the assignment. It's really exciting. You're going to hear me a lot in your instructions. It's really fun to be the voice in the head of the player as well as interacting with the player. Especially with the multiplayer campaign.
I [Rachel Kane] am not a wilting flower. I get a gun and I go in there. But there are a ton of really powerful relationships that all the characters in the campaign get to have together. They're brothers and sisters in arms, and I think having a female playable character is going to be really exciting, because it'll let the players be invested in who they really are.
What's it like to have to imagine everything around you?
It's really challenging at first, but a dear friend of mine who worked on Advanced Warfare gave me the best piece of advice. He said, "treat it like black box theater." In black box theater, all you have are black walls, a black floor, and black boxes, and you've got to make everything up. The more I realized it was like playing soldier in the backyard with a stick as a kid, the more you can really let yourself play and invest in all of that stuff. The transition is a real shift, but it's incredibly freeing once you get there.
How do you prepare for the role of a cyborg commando from the future?
I got to meet the writers early on. They told me, "You're a badass. You're grounded, and you deserve to be here. You're not earning your stripes." Just like with a movie, we don't shoot in order, so the real work in getting different pieces of the story happening in different moments in time is in assimilating it with the information that you have.
I also come from a military family. Two of my brothers are active duty, so I keep hoping that someday they'll take me seriously [laughs]. Years of hanging out with my brothers, who taught me keep my elbow down while holding a rifle, really helped. When it comes time to pick up the weapons [for MoCap], these are actions I'm familiar with. Hanging out with [military] guys like this is something I've done my whole life. Then it's just a matter of imagining the world around you.
What was the audition like?
Ok, this is a really embarrassing story. On the day of the audition, I was so sick that I almost called and begged to come another day. But a little voice in me that said you just have to show up with what you've got. I genuinely thought I was going to vomit in the middle of the audition, and in a weird way, I think it really helped. It was a huge obstacle I had to overcome, but still deliver the message and get through the work.
It's a really physical audition process, too. You get to play with the space and move. Managing those things was so much work that it really kept me present. I found out later that the director said my face did this really cool thing where it turned white then green. It's one of those funny things where sometimes you just have to show up and do the work.
What was it like to have your likeness scanned into a video game?
My likeness was actually used in the Spider-man 2 video game. They scanned me for use in the film, and I was told those same scans ended up in the video game. I voiced Betty Bryant in that game, but I don't think that's my face.
It is stunning how much the technology has changed in the years between then and now. The science nerd in me went crazy! You wouldn't believe what they can capture now. One of the things that makes this game look really different is the technology to capture the luminescence and translucence of human skin. Getting inside that big light bubble and having them capture all that was super exciting, and it looks amazing.
One might image a "voice actor" as a lone person confined to a box. Is that true, or do you get to work alongside other actors?
I did some of the voices for the Call of Duty: Ghosts DLC, so I got to learn a lot about the world of Call of Duty and the tone for the franchise. For that, I was in a very well-padded box by myself. But finding that voice was very exciting.
To take the power from what I'd become familiar with in Ghosts and moving with it was thrilling. Interacting with Ben Browder and Sean Douglas [voice of Jacob Hendricks] was wonderful, because magical things happen when you interact with other actors that you can't plan on. You affect each other, and your energy grows off of each other. So, it was great starting out in a box alone, then evolving to voice acting with other people. When I went to do voices on my own for this game, I could hear Ben and Sean in my ear because we spent so much time together.
Did you get to perform alongside Katee Sackhoff?
I didn't get to be there on Katee's days... which was very disappointing as a Battlestar fan. But Abbey Brammell, who voices the female main character, and I are together a lot. I've been a big fan of hers since The Unit. But the funny thing is, I didn't get to interact together on the same days either until the very end. But I'm a big fan of both actresses. They're both extraordinary. I'll also say that I got to read a few of Katee's scenes, and she has a damn good role. If I wasn't playing me, I'd want to play this one.
What is your favorite line from the game?
This is going to sound so nerdy, but when I was doing the voiceovers, the director said, "Ok, now we're going to do a series of nags [directional instructions]." I was like, "That's what you actually call them?"
The big sister in me came out so hard. I was like, "Go over there. No, the door in the corner. No, the door in the corner with the flashing light. No, that way..." I had so much fun doing those parts of the game because it was such a new experience. The really thrilling part is that it's the part where I interact directly with the player at home. I love interacting with the other actors, and the writing for the campaign is so good, but the part where I get to interact with the player is the most fun for me.
How does it feel to be one of the first female lead characters in a Call of Duty game?
It's something that I took really seriously from the very beginning, and it's such a thrill to be part of this world. I have so many dear friends who are hardcore gamers, and the gaming world is so powerful. Female gamers are 45 percent of the people who play these games, and they want to be represented too. The more that they are, the more that we realize how much we all have in common. We build communities by seeing each other, knowing each other, and playing together.
It's no small deal to be a part of that.