With the previous titles having explored a world within the near future, this year’s installment of the Call of Duty series is pushing the franchise even further ahead into the future with this fall’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and adding a whole new dimension on war as we know it.
To learn more about the experience of going behind the scenes on one of the biggest installments of the Call of Duty series yet, we had the chance to speak with actor John Marshall Jones for a behind-the-scenes look at preparing to be an “action hero.”
After previously being known for a variety of roles in film and television, such as Sundance TV’s Rectify and Amazon’s original series Bosch, Jones is embarking for the first time in a video game role as Admiral Raines, and shared some of that experience with us in an interview for his work in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
Ryan Meitzler: How did you get started with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and what has that experience been like so far as your first big video game project?
John Marshall Jones: It’s kind of interesting, I went through kind of a career shift a couple of years ago, where I just decided to start on this new kind of area as an authority figure and I wasn’t having the kind of success that I wanted to. Part of it was because of the change in my image. My pictures and everything had had such a profound impact on the agents and the producers, that suddenly I started going up for much larger roles than anything that I was doing before. And I wasn’t preparing in the same way.
So, at one point I just decided that I’m gonna have to prepare until I’m ready. You know, whether that takes four hours or five hours or six hours to get an audition ready, then that’s what I’m gonna have to do. And so, when I got the audition for Call of Duty, it was 12 pages long: it took about six hours to prepare, of me actually going and sitting down in my garage and saying “I’m not coming out until I feel when I’m ready.” And after that, I came out and I sat down with my nephew, and he and I read the scene back and forth until I could do the scene through completely, flawlessly, with no mistakes: the whole 12 pages for that script.
When I went into the audition the next day, usually they have you sitting down in an office with the casting director. But this time, they actually brought us out into a stage and put us on the set, with the director and the writer, who was also the lead actor himself [Brian Bloom], and he wanted to come out and start acting! And it was like, “Oh snap! Okay, it’s good that I was prepared.”
So we went through the process a couple of times, and you know, sometimes you can just kinda tell that you really made the connection. After the auction he came over, shook my hand and he said “Thank you for being prepared.”And I knew when I left that moment, that I had the part.
RM: Before you started with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, just out of curiosity, did you have any history with video games? What was your familiarity with Call of Duty before getting the part?
JMJ: My familiarity with Call of Duty is through my nephew, who loved playing Call of Duty all the time, and he lived with me for a while, so I got to see it. Call of Duty of course is a first-person shooter, so you’re on the ground in different war environments.
But, Infinite Warfare takes that to a whole other level. You know, you’re running up the deck and jumping into an airplane, and taking off in jet fighters, and you’re having dogfights out in space, and then you jump out of the fighter in space and you’re kind of tethered to your planes. You’re sort of floating through, and you’re fighting these robots that make you land on the ground, so you’re back to the first-person shooting and fighting…and it’s wild. It is so much fun to play. It’s amazing.
RM: Can you talk about Admiral Raines and what his role is in the game, and what was it like to play that character?
JMJ: Admiral Raines is the highest ranking officer in the game, but he’s not the highest ranking officer in the Navy and Air Forces that you’re fighting with. He’s actually taking orders from the higher ups and then having to justify those orders to Captain Reyes, who the gamer plays through. And Raines doesn’t, in his heart, believe in these orders: Raines wants to go out and engage in the fight, but the higher-ups want him to stand down, basically.
But Raines is really good friends with Reyes: he’s also kind of a mentor to him as well. So conversations that they have aren’t just about missions and orders, but some are about growing into the role of leadership. And so, Raines is kind of a mentor, and he’s also a guide throughout the game, so you’re getting your missions from him, but he’s also kind of there to make sure that you’re making the moral choices and understanding the moral choices that you have to make in order to make it through this game.
The game itself is still the traditional Call of Duty, very heavily first-person shooter experience, but it also has added this sort of “movie” element to it, where you have characters that you have a relationship with, and at some points you have to make decisions of whether those characters get to live or die. And you really feel it when you have to let go of someone that you’ve been on a mission with: and they look like real people! You feel like you’re having a real relationship with this person — it’s kind of trippy.
RM: Was there any special preparation or research that you did to play this role?
JMJ: I actually have some friends that are in the military, and specifically in the Navy on the officer side, so I’ve spent some time with them, just kind of talking to them about what that responsibility really feels like, and how you approach that responsibility when you also have a relationship with the person you’re talking to.
They’re your friends, but you’re their boss, and with any decision that you make, people’s lives are always on the line, so every decision is a life-or-death decision. So, they take every decision very seriously: there’s a lot of gravity.
At the same time, you’re still having a human experience, so you still love, you still feel loss. You still go through all the things that the rest of us do, but the stakes of your job are so much higher that they affect not only the people that you give the orders to, but also their families, their circle of friends, their communities — it all ripples out. So it’s a heavy responsibility, and the people who excel at it are the people who aren’t afraid of handling that kind of responsibility.
RM: Did you get to do any motion capture for the game?
JMJ: Almost all of my stuff is motion capture. Maybe 20% of it was voice over, and then you’re in that kind of motion capture “spacesuit”; it’s like scuba gear. And then you’ve got this helmet on: the helmet is tight and it’s got two microphones right in your mouth and a camera right in your face, two big lights that are shining right in your eyes. And nothing that you’re going to see on screen is actually there in the environment while you’re acting. It’s an empty space, with a tape on the floor, and so everything is imaginary.
You’re doing this imaginary thing, and you’re running up the stairs and jumping off this platform, and then you see it in the game, and it’s like “Oh I’m running down the deck of a warship, I’m jumping off of this platform into a fighter jet, and then I’m taking off!” It’s like “Oh my God!” But it’s a trippy experience to remember what you did, and then see it for the first time when they turn it into the game.
RM: As someone doing a game for the first time, what has it been like to see your character come to life after doing the voice acting, the motion capture, and all that?
JMJ: It’s weird [laughs]. You know, it’s like I’m sitting there looking in the game like I do in real life, and you know it’s kind of strange. I look 10 years younger, I’m way more fit — it’s got me going to the gym right now.
RM: I’d probably have the same reaction as well, but it would be pretty cool!
JMJ: It’s awesome. Before, I was actually on YouTube looking at one of the [videos] called “Meeting the Captain,” and it’s got this whole segment where you can actually see what will propel you into the action of the game, and it’s all in this mission on the flight deck of this super space cruiser, and it’s just freaking amazing. I mean really, it’s getting so close to real life now. But you know, sometimes it’s hard to tell when the animation isn’t live action.
RM: With Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, have there been any particular challenges in the role so far, or any personal goals you’ve set for yourself as an actor in the part?
JMJ: I really see the video game format as being the movies of the future, because why would you go and build some incredibly expensive set when you can animate it. So, the closer that this animation process gets to real life, the less we’re gonna need to actually go to London to shoot a film when you can shoot it on a soundstage and animate London.
So, I’m really kind of digging getting introduced to this format because it is an additional skill to acting to be able to act in a motion capture format, and so I’m kind of digging it. I’m looking forward to doing more video games, doing perhaps another Call of Duty, and just seeing where this whole thing takes me.
RM: Are there any particular games that you’re interested in or have your eye on, or just in general?
JMJ: I’m trying to stay open to it because the platform of video games is changing so quickly. It’s just like every 6 months there’s some brand new invention in terms of how the effects are employed. So rather than trying to focus in on one, I want to stay open and available to what’s coming up, but I do love this kind of high-action format stuff. I mean who doesn’t want to be an action hero?
RM: What do you hope players will take away from Admiral Raines as a character, and while playing Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare?
Well, I hope that what players will take away is that the game and the action and all of that is really fun, but there’s also consequence to these types of actions. And so, whenever people go to war, the reason why they come back from war a different person — you know, PTSD and stuff like that — is because what’s going on has a deep emotional effect in them.
We want to be able to have fun with the game, but also recognize the emotional effect that losing people that you’re working with and that you care for — what that effect is on people. I think that part of what I really admire about this game is that you’re not just out there shooting and not feeling the effect.
There are people that are around you that you have a relationship with, that ultimately may not make it through the whole battle with you, and experiencing that effect is an important part of getting the full experience with the game.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will release for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on November 4th, 2016.