Interview with Raphael Sbarge – Voice of Kaidan from Mass Effect


While some video game voice actors come into the job from a background of playing games themselves, others come looking for a challenge and something new to test their acting skills. Raphael Sbarge, voice of Kaidan Alenko in the Mass Effect series, as well as several other Bioware games, isn’t a huge gamer but is a fantastic actor. We were lucky enough to be able to sit down with him at MCM London Comic Con and ask him about his feelings on the character, what he feels makes the Mass Effect series so special and why he thinks that Mass Effect fans are the best fandom around, in spite of around half of them choosing to kill him off. Oh, he also mentions Mass Effect 4, so you’re going to want to find out if he’s on board with coming back for more down the line.

Laura: Could you start by introducing yourself for those who don’t know you?

Raphael: Sure, I’m Raphael Sbarge and I play Kaidan Alenko in Mass Effect.

Laura: As an actor, how is it knowing that your part in the Mass Effect series is one that maybe half of all players will never see or will only experience a small part of?

Raphael: Well I don’t really think about it. Obviously, it’s out there for the people that want it and there’s a lot of both men and women that love the character and what he brings, their relationship with him as a character. There is obviously a very strong romantic bent on that and I’m glad they were able to add the option for the man – man relationships and the woman – woman relationships into this version of the game for all of the players. There’s a larger proportion of women, and a certain type of men, who keep me alive and I think that’s why. There’s a huge romantic side to the character. There’s also a lot of men who come up to me and say, “Oh sorry dude, killed you on Vermire, sorry,” and that’s totally fine, I don’t hold it against them. You know, Ashley’s cute and I get that. I don’t really have any attachment to that death, I just really enjoy being a part of the game.

Laura: What do you feel Kaidan has going for him in terms of character? What do you feel he offers to both the story and to his relationship with the player character as Shepard?

Raphael: I think he’s a loyal and very passionate warrior. He really brings a voice of conscience or reason for Shepard. He’s a good man and he cares deeply for the player.

Laura: How is it as an actor having to react to the same scene multiple ways depending on the player’s choices?

Raphael: It’s fascinating. It really is fascinating to play the same scene a few times over with a different subtext and from an acting point of view it’s really fun actually because you’re getting to explore different options – what would I do if the character went this way or that way?

Laura: What memorable experiences have you had in the recording booth?

Raphael: We’ve done these games now for, what is it, over ten years? The thing I really love about being in the booth on Mass Effect is that it’s unlike most acting on video games which is usually just a bunch of screaming. Invariably, if you talk to anyone that works on those games they’ll say that their voice turns into a hamburger afterwards, that they can’t talk for three days, they’re wiped out. Directors just want it louder, louder, louder, scream more. What seemed really cool about Mass Effect when it first came along is that it was a shooting game that was really devoted to characters and stories and relationships and not just screaming. They made a very specific point of saying to me, “Hey, this is more like an episode of 24 or a movie. We don’t want this to be childish or cartoony, we want it to be real.” That was what was really engaging about being in the booth for the game and made this game into something special. I understand also that it brought in a lot of women to games. Between Kaiden and Shepard there’s this subtext of something that wants to be said but often can’t, those are some of my favourite scenes to play.

photoLaura: Have you played the games yourself?

Raphael: You know, I’m not a big gamer myself but I’ve played some of [the first game] and a little bit of two, but I haven’t got into three yet. It’s something that sometimes I feel a little sheepish about because, more often than not, I’m engaged with a lot of fans for whom this is their whole world. With that said, I know enough about the games that I know it’s an absolutely extraordinary universe and Mass Effect fans are some of the most passionate and engaged fans that I’ve ever encountered anywhere.

Laura: Do you have anything yourself that you’re passionate about in the same way that the Mass Effect fans are toward your series?

Raphael: Yeah, I’m really engaged in my work as an actor, I’m fascinated by the craft of acting, I even teach acting. I also care very deeply about the environment and do a lot of work trying to help the environment. I’m also a father, so I care incredibly deeply about my children. Whatever your passion is, it’s great to have a passion.

Laura: What’s your favourite part about appearing at conventions as a voice actor for video games?

Raphael: What’s really fun is being able to talk to people, there are these people who see me as Kaidan and while truth be told I’m not Kaidan, I’m a part of him and I’ll be a part of him always in a sense because of the melding of the two of us, but in the end I feel like these conventions are really about the fans being able to get a moment with someone or something that feels lifelike and three-dimensional. It seems to bring the game to life for them. I can see in their faces and particularly their eyes how important it is to them and that’s a lovely exchange to be able to have.

Laura: Do you have any advice for fans who meet you at conventions? Is there anything that makes you think “Urgh, I hate it when the fans do that”?

Raphael: You know, I really try and make conventions about the fans so I don’t feel like there’s a right and wrong thing for them to say, it’s really about them getting to have their moment. People tell me that they’ve killed me or not killed me, that they love me or that they want to have my lovechild. Whatever it is, it’s all fine and I feel very graceful to be able to be part of this amazing community.

Laura: What do you think about Mark Meer’s comparison of Mass Effect and Star Wars in terms of scope in our interview with him? Do you have your own comparison you prefer?

Raphael: I was really stuck by that when he said it. I thought it works, it really made sense. I think I’d have to say I concur to a certain degree. I know I’m not a gamer but from my experience with the fans I’d say that’s been pretty close to my experience. The passion and the frenzy that has been worked up by fans after watching the movie, or in this case playing the game. They’re also talking about making a Mass Effect movie so that does seem a very smart idea. I thought it was a very interesting perception. Do you think that that’s the case?

Laura: I agree, I really do. I feel that in terms of its sense of scope and the way it builds up both threat and the hero’s interpersonal journey, it just makes for a lot of good comparison points between the two. You mention the Mass Effect movie, if you had the option is that something that you’d want to be involved in? Would you want to play Kaidan?

Raphael: You know, I’d love to be a part of the project. I don’t ever in a million years think that I would be because first of all I don’t look like Kaidan, or what we know Kaidan currently to look like. I really would love to be a part of the project, even if it was just a cameo it’d still be a blast.

Laura: If someone else did have to take the reigns and take control of your character, is there anything specific that you’d want the actor to make sure they bring to the role of Kaidan?

Raphael: It’s so funny, because as you play a character like this I feel like, in a way, I don’t have a voice about that anymore. I feel like the fans are the people who really should get to decide that. I really feel like Kaidan has become a fans character and a fan favourite and because people have such strong opinions about him that to that degree I’d hand it over to whoever would take the torch next. It really is a great part and both men and women who’ve talked to me about how important the character is to them, it makes it obvious that the character stuck a chord. I think the important thing would be hearing what they have to say about casting.

Laura: Bioware have mentioned that they’re making a new Mass Effect game too. Would you want to be involved in another Mass Effect game if the opportunity were presented to you, or do you feel you’re finished with the role?

Raphael: Oh of course I would want to be involved. I love working with Bioware. Probably, if it’s a Mass Effect 4, I bet you they’re planning to call it something else and I bet you it’ll be in a different universe, but Bioware’s a fantastic company and they really do care about what they do. They really care about us and the fans and as a result, honestly, it’d be a delight to be working with them.

Laura: I know you’ve done both acting for video games, as well as for TV and film, do you have a preference between the two mediums?

Raphael: That’s a hard one. I love watching films and I love acting in films, I love the three dimensionality of film, but the thing that’s so spectacular about games now is they look like films; it’s like breathing live into a very real looking visual image. I find it amazing the way that there’s this passion that people have with their connection to the character and the way the character and the writing have turned into something that’s stuck a really big chord with fans.

Laura: Do you feel that’s more present in games?

Raphael: I think so, partly because you’re just spending that much more time with the character, it’s long form storytelling so you have all these unique encounters. Also, because you’re working together, taking part in shooting the Geth, there’s this sense of camaraderie and bonding with your squad that is very particular to video games. Maybe that’s why the Mass Effect fans are more passionate than perhaps any other fandom.

Laura: I’ve spoken to several people recently who’ve done voice acting work for Bioware and it seems that there’s a lot of people who do voice work with Bioware and stick with them for a long time. What do you think it is about Bioware that keeps voice actors wanting to work with them?

Raphael: I always have fans asking me how they can get into voice acting and I tell them that I wish I knew, I could be a very wealthy man if I could give that secret out but I really don’t know. I just feel like such a lucky man to have been able to be a part of voice acting. I’m grateful that Bioware likes to hire me and has hired me before, KOTOR and a bunch of other Star Wars games. I hope that I can continue, working with them is always a pleasure.

Laura: Lastly, have you got anything else you’d like to say to fans who didn’t have a chance to meet you this weekend. Is there anything you’d want to say to them?

Raphael: Firstly, thank you so much for all of the passionate love and affection that’s been expressed and shown. I’m so sorry if I missed someone who wasn’t able to get here, please follow me on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. I’m on there a lot and love to interact with fans. I try to do things and put things out there that the fans will love. I hope to be able to cross paths with all of you soon.

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