Friday at SDCC, WB Games and Monolith Productions revealed Shelob, one of the most iconic and powerful villains in Middle-earth, who comes to Middle Earth: Shadow of War in an entirely new way. The open-world action RPG game based in the world of Tolkien lore tells a story set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Not only did the action and massive battles of the game astonish us during our brief hands-on time with the game at E3, but it also features a star studded voice cast including Troy Baker (Last of Us), Laura Bailey (Injustice 2), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Alastair Duncan (Westworld), and Pollyanna McIntosh (The Walking Dead). Before the group took the stage for the Shadow of War panel. We were invited to talk Troy, Laura, Pollyanna, and Monolith Productions‘ Michael de Plater about the added pressure of this world and taking directions from Troy Baker.
It’s not uncommon for an actor in film or television to want to go behind the camera and direct, but it’s rarely if ever been done where a voice actor has gone from providing the skeleton and soul of video game characters to directing for a game itself. Shadow of War sees Troy Baker divide his time between cast member and motion capture director. With titles such as The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 to his experience, Baker isn’t any kind of stranger to putting on weird suits and having dots painted on his face by VFX artists. When asked about how and what made him want to take that step, “It kind of organically came out, something I was interested…and I don’t think anyone would have given me the opportunity had there not been the relationship with Monolith and Mike [de Plater],” said Baker. In a strange way of putting things, Troy sees his role in the project as that of “a quarterback on the field executing the coach’s vision.” When it comes to getting the necessary performance out of your actors perhaps there isn’t anyone who can see things from that perspective like an actor?
When Laura Bailey who plays the elite assassin, Eltariel, ran through her performance she echoed the level of trust Monolith had in Baker’s double duty. Bailey explained, “As an actor coming in, having worked alongside you [Troy] for soo many projects, knowing he was going to be the person I would look to for direction I had absolute trust in him to get the best performance the studio is looking for.” It isn’t just any actor who can step into such a role as Baker and Bailey both agreed. Troy himself had concerns about stepping onto set and having other actors ask why they’re even listening to him. As he’s found, the actor has enjoyed this new part of the process for him soo much so he’d be open to doing it on other projects like the new Batman: The Telltale Series.
Perhaps no world in pop culture comes with more pressure to get things right than the world created by J.R.R Tolkien. With a fan base that rivals Star Wars in sheer rabidness, we asked the group about the author’s significance on story today. “Without Tolkien, there would be no Star Wars, Game of Thrones, no anything. What he was creating was more than just a world of wizards and dragons”, said Baker. While Bailey gets to play a character more built from the ground up, The Walking Dead’s Pollyanna McIntosh has the daunting task of playing Shelob a character from the films but expanded upon in the game. According to the actress, “it’s hard not to be because if you go from the source material there’s soo much history and mythology there. Being supported by middle earth enterprises and the source is a joy for me.” Before she goes back to Middle Earth or Kirkman’s world to lead the trash people on the show in the upcoming season 8 war, I asked Pollyanna if she’d ever do a role not entrenched in war. “Yeah well, I’m a large Scottish woman with a strong voice. [laughs] When they need a soldier they call me.” joked McIntosh.
Shadow of War’s most talked about feature is the nemesis system which allows you to convert enemies to your aid through the power of the ring. During combat, players will go through different dialogue choices using the nemesis system and depending on your mood converted enemies will be wimps or be bad ass warriors on your side. According to Monolith’s Michael de Plater, “an ambitious more than two-hour film has to meet these game systems we’ve built. The story gives meaning and context to what we’ve done and if we’ve succeeded they’ll all come together.”
The continued story ot Talion in Middle Earth: Shadow of War comes to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on October 10, 2017.