Gears 4: How gaming taught Liam McIntyre to be a Fenix

Brodie Fogg 4 October 2016

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Gears’ leading man Liam McIntyre talks working with The Coalition and John DiMaggio and whether he'd play a Fenix on the big screen.

The fourth instalment in the beloved Locust-lancing series, Gear of War, releases 11 October for Xbox One and PC. The first Gears of War game to release on Xbox One brings with it some huge changes to the series well-trodden formula. Not only has development been handed over to The Coalition (who handled the remastering of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition) but it also replaces old-man Marcus Fenix with his spritely progeny, JD Fenix. A huge change to be sure, but one that longtime gamer, Gears fan and Aussie actor Liam McIntyre has given his all.

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We sat down to chat with Liam about all things Gears 4, including working with voice legends like John DiMaggio (Bender, Futurama) and nailing that balance of tough and optimistic with Gears 4’s leading lad.

Gears of War 4 is available for preorder now on Xbox One and PC

Liam, how are you?

It’s just you me and a candlelit dinner.

How romantic.

How are you dude?

Great, thanks. Enjoying this lovely weather. How’s it feel being back in Australia?

Yeah, really good. I managed to miss the Grand Final for the first time. I managed to catch the replay the day after, but it’s just not the same.

The atmosphere was pretty crazy out there. Big turnout.

I’ve just never seen people play football that well. It’s a lot faster than back in the day when it was just all-in-all brawls. Anyway, that’s not Gears of War. I’ll get with the program.

So what’s it like filling the shoes of such an iconic video game character, a Fenix.

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I know, a Fenix! No pressure, right? It’s pretty amazing. I’ve played games for as long as I can remember. When I was in hospital for asthma I’d be playing a Magnavox Odyssey with some old version of Pong.

A Magnavox?

I know. I was like “how old is this hospital?’”. But yeah, I spent a lot of time with Civ (Civilisation) and a whole lot on 64. I’ve been a gamer for a long, long time and to be in such a genre-defining and awesome game series is a dream come true. And to be a Fenix adds a lot more pressure to it. You go from "cool, video games!" to the son of one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. Cool, that’s no pressure at all.But yeah man, it’s been great. I get to put another spin on the Gears world. JD (McIntyre’s character) is a little more idealistic, a little less jaded by war and there are a few conversations where you really get to see the difference between old Gears and new Gears.

Interesting. So it’s grumpy old man Fenix versus this fresh new face.

Old man Fenix versus this annoying, young kid Fenix. Kids these days (laughs).

Spartacus isn’t short of its own fandom, and you’re no stranger to conventions and the like. But how has the community responded to your casting in Gears?

It’s such a great community and the team do a great job of connecting with the fans. You know it’s a similar kind of world to Gears (the fandom). It gives a lot of people purpose. It’s a group of strong, determined people. It’s got that “band of brothers” mentality, well brothers and sisters this time around, which is awesome. This kind of camaraderie they’ve fostered throughout the series, which I now get to be a part of, really speaks to people. The community has actually responded really well to what Gears 4 is and what it’s all about. At first when it was announced a new team was coming in (The Coalition), people were like “easy now, what do you mean?”. But now that they’ve released some footage and gameplay they get what it’s about and the reception has been great.You know, it was probably one of the most exciting moments in my life when a website I’ve been reading for over 10 years or whatever previewed the game and said the characters and the story are a really positive direction to take the Gears series. Everyone involved has spent thousands of hours working on this, I’ve spent a bunch of hours recording and trying to get Rod to listen to my ideas, and you think you’re making a good game, but you can’t really know. So it’s been so awesome to see people respond so positively to everything they’ve seen so far.


Yeah, initial reactions have been very positive. That must be a relief.

Yeah. It’s exciting. Because you know, with The Coalition taking over, they have a huge responsibility to the fans. And me too! Being the new Fenix is a scary role because you don’t want to let people down who have invested a decade of their life down. I’m just glad everyone has risen to the challenge. In a slightly smaller way, it’s what they had to do with Star Wars, which proved you can take something beloved and do it justice by expanding on it.

In the face of very fiery and passionate fan base.

Yeah, right. It’s crucial that the game looks the part. But the other crime you can commit is if it just doesn’t evolve or go anywhere. You know, sure I loved this game when I was 20, but will I love it when I’m 30? It’s hard to keep people entertained for a decade.

Exactly. There’s got to be some risk involved when steering the series in a new direction.

Well, sensible risks (laughs).

You’ve done some voice work in the past for Star Trek.

Yeah, that’s right. That was really fun. That was just one of those little surprises where they were like, “hey can you help out here?” and I was like “of course!”

So now two games in, how do you find it differs preparing for a voice role to preparing for a live-action role?

They’re two very different challenges. The risk you run as a film/TV actor is to go “oh yeah, we’ll just turn up and say the words in a booth, how hard could it be?”, right? But it’s actually incredibly hard. On the surface, you would imagine that it doesn’t require much effort. But it kind of requires more. Because, when you’re on set or on-location, you’re filming scenes that are happening around you. There’s people in front of you that you’re talking to, the events you’re talking about are occurring more or less in front of you, unless you’re fighting a dragon or something that’s added later, but for the most part you’re in the moment. But with voice acting you’re in this booth with a producer on the other side explaining the scene to you. You know, “alright, so you’ve just fallen off this cliff, and there was just big this chase you’re about of breath and you’re in this big cavern, and this guy comes up to you but you’re hit by another guy. So do that.” So you’ve got to think “okay, big cavern, a lot of resonance, so I need a big voice to make sure I’m heard”, it requires a lot of theatre of the mind. You’ve got to really think of all the little nuances you don’t really think about.

I suppose if you were a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan, you would have a bit of an edge in the industry.

Well, I’m lucky, because I’ve had people that aren’t big gamers that I’ve worked with. They’re kind of like “wait, what?” and I have to explain, this is the bit where you’re mashing X because your guys going to fall off something and if you don’t push fast enough he’s going to die. You know that part at the end of Metal Gear where Snake is crawling through the reactor?” and they’re like “Yeah, yeah”, “this is kind of like that. But not really.” Being a fan gives me a kind of shorthand to game design. There’s no crawling through a reactor in Gears 4 if people are worried I’m spoiling anything there.

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Yeah, right. So in that sense, you’re kind of the veteran with your years of experience gaming.

Well, I don’t like to brag, but yeah (laughs).

Speaking of veterans: did you get to spend a lot of time working alongside John DiMaggio and what did you take from his portrayal of daddy Marcus to help shape the character of JD?

Maaate. Great question. For me the biggest challenge was being cool because Futurama is my favourite show and he is Bender, so that was pretty sweet. I’m so lucky as a film and TV actor, because I get to work with John DiMaggio, Laura Bailey, Fred Tatasciore, all these voice actors that are just unbelievable at their jobs as role models. You watch them and you’re like “jeez, how do you do that” but it gives you grounds to ask questions and learn. I was very lucky to have some of the best people in the business to draw from.In terms of characterisation, though, JD was meant to be 21, right? So they wanted him to be this fun, young guy. And I was like, yeah but Marcus is such an ol’ bastard,. So you don’t want him to be jarringly young. If you came into that as older fan, you’d be like “jeez, who’s this kid? That’s going to be annoying to listen to for the next 10 hours.” So we played with it. We started him really high, like, too youthful almost. Then we said, he’s gotta sound like Marcus, we’ve got to match that voice. But then, that’s not JD’s story, right? JD is the young, hopeful one, not the grumpy, jaded one. So we brought him to this nice middle ground. Still heroic, I hope (laughs), but still a bit gruff. He’s seen a battlefield, but he hasn’t been in live-combat like Marcus has. And you know, Marcus is a dad, but he’s a dad who’s seen a lot of horrible stuff and tends to be a negative person. Whereas JD hasn’t seen all that and he wants to think the best of the world. He came after the Locust War, so he didn’t see any of that destruction. He’s seen a world rebuilding, a world of hope. So he’s going toe-to-toe with his dad about Marcus being more skeptical and JD being like, “it’s going to be okay, right?”. There’s an interesting melding of those two worlds when stuff starts to go down in this one.

Sure, I suppose that’s where Marcus’s world-weary attitude would pay off and JD’s optimism might not so much.

In some ways, it almost lets you see Marcus more clearly. You’ve gone three games where he’s Marcus. Just Marcus. Now you get the son’s voice and you get to see who Marcus is when he’s at home. It’s kind of awesome, seeing more of his character like that. My hope is that JD, even against his wishes, can start that journey towards becoming father. Although he doesn’t want to become his dad, as things progress it might become necessary to take on. It’s going to be interesting.

One final question: Gears 4 brings a new story, fresh characters and lots of famous faces. If interest for a Gears movie sparks up again, would you be open to taking on the role of JD in a live-action capacity?

It’s such a cool world, I don’t think any actor in the world would say no to being in the Gears of War movie. So, count me as a yes, but only if the boss permits it.
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