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Interview: Chad Michael Collins shares his experiences of working on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

The actor teases what to expect from the latest instalment.

Chad Michael Collins
Credit: Chris Orwig

American actor Chad Michael Collins is best-known for his role as Gunnery Sgt Brandon Beckett in Sony’s Sniper franchise.

With a diverse CV that includes roles on Castle, Bones, 2 Broke Girls and Blue Bloods, Chad has certainly been able to show off his versatility over the course of his career so far. His next project is playing lead character Alex in the hugely-anticipated video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which is released on 25th October.

I caught up with Chad to talk about his involvement in the game, discuss his experiences of making it, and to find out what other projects he has coming up.

You play the lead character of Alex in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. How did you get involved in the project?

I got involved with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare not knowing it was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (laughs). It came through the conventional channels, the television and film interview circuit through my representation. I went in there, knew it was a video game but I didn’t know it was Call Of Duty. It’s good that I didn’t know because I would have lost my mind with excitement. It was fun to find out after the audition process that this was the game that I was up for. Video games… the technology gets better and better every year. I’m sure you’ve seen how amazing and life-like these games start looking. You see more and more that the video game industry have to hire actors that can do all the things – act, emote, capture the dialogue and the performance and everything. The video game industry can no longer get away with using stunt guys to do all the action stuff and have the voiceover actor do the character because it’s so real and lifelike now. They need the actors from TV and film to come in and do the whole shebang. Fortunately that was the case with this and that’s how I got the job.

Chad Michael Collins

Credit: Chris Orwig

I’m sure a lot of people have no idea how much work you need to put in for a video game as an actor. You did the full face motion capture for this game. Tell me about that process and what it was like for you…

My character is Alex and for this me and my co-stars we did the full performance capture, motion capture and face capture. Obviously all the characters look exactly like us and we did all the voiceover work too on the characters so it’s us for all intents and purpose. My character Alex, it’s me plus the big old moustache like Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. so that was OK with me. That’s the only thing added on besides some tattoos. That was actually a nice addition since I can’t really grow a moustache on my own (laughs).

I don’t know if people have watched any of the great videos out there of these actors like Andy Serkis who come in and do performance capture but it’s kind of the same thing. You’re in a black spandex velcro covered suit and you get on a closed off soundstage and you’re covered in these metallic glowing dots and black dots out all over your face to capture every little movement and expression. It’s really kind of quite fun because you go on a stage that has no tanks but they have PVC piping and stuff rigged up that you have to believe it is a tank. It really is very childlike. It very much is that sandbox of imagination that come in there, imagine the helicopter over here and imagine you’re on a third story building here and everything else. It’s really quite fun and quite freeing to play on these video games in that way.

It must be quite a strange experience. Is it difficult to get into the swing of things initially or did your other acting work make it easier to just get on with it?

The cool thing about the work we did on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is that the other actors are right there most of the time. It was kind of like a really fun dance, it was a play. I’ve certainly done green screen work on television and film where you are pointing and terrified of some kind of monster that isn’t there (laughs) and stuff like this but outside of imagining helicopters and tanks and all these other things in the video game, the other actors were right there in the space with me so we were able to really play off each other. It’s just very different than the green screen thing. For instance I did Lake Placid 2 back in a day and I had to imagine that a stick in the ground was a 20 foot crocodile (laughs) so there was none of that going on here. That was good.

I presume you’ve seen some of, if not all of, the end product. What’s it like seeing yourself in a video game?

What I learned very, very quickly, and I should have guessed because it was shrouded in secrecy from the beginning and I signed NDAs, this was treated like a Star Wars game. This was treated like an Avengers movie in terms of secrecy and now I am seeing why because the fans love this franchise so much. They will take anything and speculate and hypothesise and run with it. Everything is shrouded in secrecy so basically I know what the fans know when information is dropped from the big boys (laughs). I’ve seen some of the stuff we worked on and the director and some of the people have been really cool hinting at what it was going to look like or showing us an early version of a scene we shot but not very much. Mostly I am discovering this thing alongside everybody else, which is really, really fun and surprising. When these trailers drop I’m seeing them for the first time alongside the 7, 8, 9, 10 million people on YouTube so it’s really quite fun. I feel like, ‘oh wow that’s me!’ but at the same time I’m excited as a gamer to to get my hands on something new so it feels new and old at the same time I suppose.

Well it is one of the biggest gaming releases of the year isn’t it. Hasn’t it been 8 years since the last one?

Yeah. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was 2011 I believe so the fans have been very, very excited to get their hands on a new one. I think the goal is to bring this game back in a bigger and better way. We feel pretty strongly that that’s going to be the case so I can’t wait to see what that reaction is.

I understand that it was actually quite a physical process for you. You were training with former Navy SEALs to get ready for the fighting scenes. What was that aspect of it like?

It actually wasn’t so bad. We didn’t get shipped out for any kind of a Hell Week or anything like that. We were actually in a nice temperature controlled soundstage so it was quite lovely actually (laughs). It does get tiring stomping around and stuff like that but it wasn’t a basic training run through with these Navy SEALs guys, it was really just getting our heads wrapped around and matching our physical movements to our characters and it was really very informative. I have had some really great teachers and instructors on some of the Sony Sniper movies I’ve done. These guys are obviously elite, Navy SEALs involved in very highly classified operations and just very cool and very accessible.

They showed us how to properly hold the guns. Alex being CIA and kind of a chameleon able to go in behind enemy lines and adapt and change, the way he holds a gun is very different than the way that Farah, our freedom fighter militia hero, would hold her gun having been born and raised in an occupied country in the Middle East. They very getting very nitty gritty with those technicalities and stuff like that on top of the broad strokes training and advice they gave us on how to just be soldiers. It was really incredible. I loved it and I wish I had more time with them but they were on set every day and extremely helpful in the process for all of us.

Chad Michael Collins

Credit: Chris Orwig

It’s incredible to hear just how much work goes into making a game as I really don’t think that’s as appreciated as it should be. How did making a video game compare to making a film or an episode of a TV series?

We’re just a small part of the game it feels like because with the Call of Duty franchise there’s the multiplayer version of the game, there’s the single player campaign where we feature heavily and there’s all sorts of different modes. They’ve got hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands of people – developers, animators – everybody working on this game to bring all those modes to audiences. I know that they’ve been working on this game development wise for three years. It’s taken them three years for them to put this game together and release it. It’s hard to believe that the end is finally near but I guess it is coming close at this point so everyone is very, very excited to have it come out.

To your point about the detail that goes into this, there was a really great story campaign trailer follow-up video that appeared on YouTube and it interviewed the writer and director. It talked to the Navy SEALs. They really went into detail talking to journalists who had covered war zones that were similar to ours. Gritty and real, going for that realism, that was the goal of these guys so of course you’ve got to get that right. It’s sensitive. It’s a very grey area, it’s war so these guys pulled no punches. I’m very proud of the story and how these guys handled it left and right.

Outside of this game you have such a diverse and varied CV working across a wide range of genres. Not every actor gets to do that in their career so what has it been like to show such versatility?

It’s been a real gift and a real blessing. I love the variety. I think that’s one of the reasons why I signed up be an actor in the first place. I had been working at a desk and I had a white collar career going but it was a bit monotonous. You show up every day at this time, you leave at this time, you do these things rinse repeat day in day out, week in week out, year after year. With acting every role is different, every project is different, the locations where you film are different, the people you meet and play with are different. I think the variety that comes with an acting career is what’s always been most appealing to me. I’ve been pretty fortunate to do some sitcoms. Obviously I love playing my cops and my soldiers and I’ve done a lot of that kind of work in my career but romantic comedies and stuff like this, I really do enjoy it all.

I hear there may be another Sniper film in the pipeline. What can you tell me about that and what else do you have coming up?

There’s rumours flying around that another Sniper movie will be in the works. I don’t have anything tangible yet that I can say on that but it’s looking pretty good that we’ll have Brandon Beckett back behind scope for audiences around the world in another instalment of the Sony Sniper franchise.

I’m in an episode of the new Creepshow, a new series based on the Stephen King and George Romero horror movies that were so popular in the early 80s. AMC Shudder has a series out right now and I’m in the season one finale that comes out I believe the week of October 31st, Halloween Week, which was a lot of fun. It’s another role that is very much a departure for me so it was a double joy to do this, especially with Greg Nicotero and their effects and everything else. It’s a blast. The show’s actually really well received right now and I can understand why, I had such a fun time shooting this.

Other than that I have a holiday movie coming out. I don’t have details on that yet but it should be coming out this year. Follow me on social media and I can get everybody the updates on what’s coming out and when. The big one as we’ve talked about is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare dropping October 25th, which is coming up soon.

Are you ready for the craziness?

I am. So far it’s been pretty moderate and light. Let’s let these players play through the eight hour campaign and get really attached to my character and we’ll take it from there. We’ll see a lot of memes and fake moustaches up everywhere. Alex I think is going to bring back the moustache in a big way with a whole new generation.

I feel like someone needs to so go for it…

It’s been a while since Magnum P.I. hasn’t it?

Yes and the new Magnum P.I. doesn’t even have a moustache so what’s that about?

It’s tragic! He’s a handsome guy but the moustache is just synonymous with that role isn’t it?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is released on 25th October 2019 by Activision. You can pre-order the game on PS4 and Xbox One now. Watch the trailer below:

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