Anybody who has watched shows on Hulu have probably heard Dave Fennoy’s voice a million times already. Gamers, however, may know him best as the voice of Lee from The Walking Dead and Examiner.com got to sit down with the accomplished voice actor at Dragon Con, which ended Monday, to discuss the impact of Telltale Games episodic series, storytelling in video games, and a puppy named Clem.
Prior to the interview, Fennoy did not one but two panels for The Walking Dead at Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA where he revealed that he was not the original voice actor for Lee Everett and was brought in after Telltale didn’t think the character was working with the first voice actor after the first episode was already done. He was not a fan or the show or the graphic novel and initially approached it as just another job but soon realized that the script was something special.
It was a lot of work too as the main character and gave Fennoy the chance to challenge himself as a voice actor both with “real acting” and the quantity of work through five epsiodes. This resulted not only in multiple awards for The Walking Dead game but also nomination for Fennoy at the Spike VGAs and even the BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars.
Be sure to check out the companion interview with Michelle Hutchison, the voice actress for Clementine, as well.
Warning: There is spoiler material below for those that have not completed the game.
So how are you enjoying Dragon Con so far?
Fennoy: I’m having a ball with Dragon Con.
What’s the most interesting or impressive stuff you’ve seen?
Fennoy: Families of folks dressed up in crazy costumes and just having a really good time. There was a time when I used to look at pictures from Dragon Con or Comic-Con and you’d see these people dressed up and think, “Wow, what’s wrong with them?”
I’ve kind of changed my thinking. I look at these people and they’ve gotten in touch with their inner child. They know how to have a good time. They are enjoying themselves more than to be cool. It’s a very geeky, nerdy thing to do and it’s, I think, a really good thing.
So you named your puppy after Clementine?
Fennoy: I named my puppy Clementine, after Clementine. It’s a little pitbull mix and she’s a sweetheart of a dog. She’s so sweet. She loves everybody and everything. I keep trying to tell her, “You’re a pitbull. You’re a pitbull!”
What did you tell Melissa when you named it?
Fennoy: I sent her an email or text message, I don’t remember how, to tell her and she was, “Aww, that’s so sweet.”
It’s been a little over a year since the first episode of The Walking Dead. In your wildest imagination, did you ever expect this kind of reaction?
Fennoy: No. I knew in the first session that it was different and good. I had a good feeling about it but I had no idea that it would take off the way it has.
Ordinarily, you ‘re working on a game…you do your session and leave…you discover later on that friends of yours also were working on the game but you never saw each other. By the third episode, I felt so special about it that I got the voice director Julian Kwasneski to get in touch with the other actors on the game and we had a dinner together. I’ve never done that before. Never felt the need to do it before but by that episode it just felt so special I wanted to know who are the rest of these people.
I didn’t even get to meet Melissa until Episode 3. I was recording and walked down the street and she was doing her laundry and happened to be standing out on the street and, “Dave Fennoy!” “Melissa, oh no!” and we were insta-friends.
You even invited Doug?
Fennoy: <laughter> I invited Doug, all the voice actors because the project was so special. I don’t judge them by the characters they play.
The Walking Dead already has such a huge fanbase from the TV show and the comic, was there any kind of concern about how this is a whole new cast of characters. Are people going to grab ahold of these characters the same way they do the main line ones.
Fennoy: That wasn’t even a thought. I thought actually it was the perfect storm of project for Telltale Games and gaming in general. The Walking Dead was already very popular as a graphic novel and as a television show. Robert Kirkman, in his brilliance, created a world that can tell many individual stories and this is exactly what they did. We have a world that these people inhabit and have to survive or try to survive and work with one another as they meet other groups and all their challenges and it just works.
This story could go on, not this particular story, stories of The Walking Dead could go on for a long time with different groups of people all over.
You’ve been a mainstay in the voice acting industry for such a long time. You’ve worked on so many games. Has working on The Walking Dead impacted your career or you personally?
Fennoy: Well, once again I’m here. None of the other games brought me here to Dragon Con even although I’ve been on some of the biggest game titles ever. But this game touched a nerve in the populace, in the gaming world. It’s a milestone in this industry that signals we are going in another direction. Storytelling is coming to the forefront.
I started doing game voices in the early to mid-90s. There really weren’t that many stories even if I got to play Nick Fury or iconic characters. There was just a little bit of story story and a whole lot of bang-bang shoot-em-up. There’s not really the bang-bang-shoot-em-up. There’s still a lot of zombie killing action but it’s really about the relationships between the people and the choices the player has to make.
This isn’t a game that you have to be a gamer that’s good with his thumbs and “I’m ambidextrous! I can do it all!” None of that matters. What matters is the choices you make and, once again, the thing I hear from gamers is “I’ve never been emotionally involved with characters in a game before and Lee and Clem made me cry in the final scene.”
Do you feel like the gaming industry is finally catching up story-telling wise to TV and animation and film.
Fennoy: Absolutely and it may surpass it. There’s been a lot of talk for a number of years about interactive drama and we thought maybe we’d all be sitting in a dark movie theater with a little gadget and whichever votes were the most that’s what happened on the screen. Or you’re watching TV, same kind of thing.
But where it has really come to the fore is in The Walking Dead game where you make choices about what’s going to happen in this drama about what this character is going to say. Because of the success of The Walking Dead game we are going to see more and more of that.
One of the interesting ways they handled the writing was social aspects in handling race and religion. They did it so deftly, can you comment on that?
I think that Robert Kirkman created was continued with Sean Vanaman and the writers at Telltale. They’re writing about real people. These are people you know these are very current characters. All the kinds of conflicts that we can have as human beings or as human beings in Atlanta and Macon, GA are the kinds of conflict that these characters show up with.
You have a former college professor who is going to jail who is ashamed of that but he wants to protect this little girl. He doesn’t necessarily want to let everyone know who he is and what he did. You have Kenny, who’s got a family, he’s a white guy, probably doesn’t know any black people. The only black he knows aren’t really friends so there’s tension and conflict there but these two guys need each other. It’s a love/hate relationship. He’s best friend, worst enemy.
I think that is what makes it much more interesting and it makes the player confront him or herself. A lot of games don’t really do that. Gamers are growing up just like gaming is growing up and they want something more in this entertainment field.
Obviously, you’re not going to be in Season 2.
Fennoy: <Laughter> Can you find a way to save me?
But Clementine is. From you as a fan of a game, not necessarily inside information, where do you hope she develops as a character?
Fennoy: Wow. You know it’s funny, anything I could come up with, they would do something else. Kirkman and Vanaman and company always go in unexpected directions. You can’t guess what is going to happen and who’s going to live and who’s going to die.
I would hope she becomes somewhat of a badass and is a survivor.
Kind of a Michonne character?
Fennoy: But different in her own way. I’m sure she would find somebody to join forces with. Now Whether that’s a teenage boy, who knows. Maybe she’ll be older. I’d like to see here as a teenager and there’s a love interest with teenage boy. But knowing them, they would kill him off. <laughter>
We’ll just have to see.
Other than The Walking Dead, what’s been your favorite voice acting experience?
Fennoy: I enjoy it all so that’s a really tough question. I play Vol'Jin on World of Warcraft and I’m really enjoying that. Playing Commander Kellog on Archer is a lot of fun. But even narrating When Earth Erupts for Science channel is fun and you get to earn things like how to pronounce that volcano that erupted in Iceland and kept planes out of the sky for a week, “Eyjafjallajökull.”
Other than Hulu, which Melissa described as a “juicy gig,” what else are you working on that people should be paying attention to?
Fennoy: I think the show is off now but I was doing promos for Brooklyn DA on CBS. From time to time I do live announcements for various shows. I can’t actually mention the name but I've got a cartoon series up for network that if it goes, that will be a really good thing. Hulu, of course, I do that every day and love it. I just want to continue doing what I do and when you love what you do you never work a day in your life.
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