Yesterday in part one of our interview with Courtnee Draper, the Bioshock Infinite voice actress explored with us in detail the process of recording dialogue and her thoughts on the issues of racism and sexism within the game. Today we explore the creative process she went through in preparing herself for the role of Elizabeth and what's next in store for her career. Read on!
Jerry Bonner: The section where Elizabeth sings “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was, for me, the emotional highlight of the game. The song obviously has a deeper meaning to the overall narrative, as well. How much of that were you aware of when you were singing the song? Or were you just told, “Hey, sing this old hymn” and that was it?
Courtnee Draper: First of all, I want to say thank you because that means a lot what you just said!
Ken told me that he wanted to give me the opportunity to sing because he knew I sang. At that point we were pretty deep in the recording, so I knew the narrative and the overall gist of what he was going for. Maybe not all the details or exactly where the storyline was, but I knew the world of Columbia and I definitely understood the emotional sentiment that Ken wanted to covey and why he wanted me to sing that song in particular.
For me personally, my grandfather had dementia and was in a nursing home, dying. So, I was flying back and forth between Boston, Colorado and Los Angeles; Colorado being where my grandfather was. And so, when we recorded that song…Ken always had this knack of knowing when I was emotionally fucked up and that would be the day he would give me all the emotional scenes, just by happenstance. So, I literally flew from saying goodbye to my grandfather a couple days before he passed away back to Boston and I walk in and Ken hands me that song. I was an emotional wreck…so when you hear that recording, I was literally bawling and crying through that song. Ken said he wanted me to give him all the emotion I could, so I did. And these weren’t attractive tears…I mean, there was snot coming out of my nose, the whole deal. It was pretty sexy, let me tell you! So, it means a lot to me when people say things about that song like you said because, as an actor, I really put it all out there.
JB: What did you have to do mentally to prepare yourself to voice the alternate/older, 1983 Elizabeth; where she has fully accepted her role as the “Lamb of Columbia” and is laying waste to New York City?
CD: Oh, yeah! That was really fun because I had never done a voice that old before. Originally, she was called “Nanny.” Ken would give us these little dollops of information; I called them “secrets” and every time we would go to recording, I would say, “Give me a secret! Give me a secret!” So, he would give me one secret per recording. I remember before we recorded that sequence one of the secrets Ken gave me was, “OK, check this out: there’s going to be this character called Nanny…” And he proceeded to tell me about this alternate dimension where Elizabeth subsumes Comstock’s role and my mind was blown! I just thought that was the coolest thing.
Honestly, I was more excited by the opportunity do this voice more than anything. We did that at the end of a day and we recorded two versions of Nanny. I literally had been screaming and crying all day, so my voice was very tired and basically shot. So, by the time we went to do Nanny I was already kind of in the register that I needed to be in vocally to get across that kind of hopeless, cracked and aged quality to the voice…and that’s the one they went with. So, I guess my preparation was just a lot of screaming beforehand! (Laughs)
JB: What are your overall thoughts on Bioshock Infinite as a whole? In particular, focus on how the story ends and Elizabeth’s role in that ending.
CD: I love stuff like that. I mean, it’s very cerebral and philosophical and you really have to pay attention; like the ending of the movie “Inception.” For days after seeing that, I would go back through the entire movie and try to figure out which way it went. Does the little top at the end keep spinning or does it fall over? I feel like the Bioshock Infinite ending is one of those things where I don’t think it’s just a cool twist; I think it’s like you can’t see it coming from a mile away. Even working on it, I had NO idea…and I still try to explain it to people and still can’t adequately do it justice. It’s crazy to try and wrap your mind around it!
And I think Elizabeth’s role in that ending, you know, you see her go from this very naïve, innocent creature who’s been locked in this tower who can see the best in everyone. And then, after she gets tortured, you see her really change. After she sees bloodshed, she becomes a little hardened. My favorite part of the ending is that Elizabeth isn’t just making sure that Comstock never comes into being; she’s choosing to sacrifice herself because if Comstock never comes into being…she also never comes into being. That character arc for her…to go from naïve and innocent to really hardened to this place where she can still see the good in the world and still see what’s necessary and choose to sacrifice herself to save Columbia. I think that from a character standpoint, that goodness in her, that humanity in her that still exists at the end of the game is really beautiful.
JB/: Was there anything you thought was cool and/or interesting that you recorded during earlier incarnations of the story that didn't make it into the final cut of the game?
CD: I know that when I played the game myself there were some things that were different or changed from when I originally saw them…but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I don’t think there were any major story points or powers that didn’t make it in. A lot of things were tested and re-worked and there were different versions of many, many concepts. Any things that did get cut out probably were little nuance-y things and anything major wouldn’t have made the cut early on.
JB: Ken and Irrational Games have mentioned there’s more to come for Bioshock Infinite in terms of Downloadable Content. Can you give us any hints as to what may be covered, or what may happen, in this DLC?
CD: Honestly, I know as much as you do. I know that there is going to be some DLC’s that come out, but I honestly don’t know when we’re going to record it, let alone the actual content! I’m sure they are starting to get back into it now…but I haven’t heard anything yet. So, you’re guess is as good as mine!
JB: You’ve also done voice over work for the Kingdom Hearts series of games. Are you looking to do more video game work or would you prefer more on-camera roles?
CD: I said before that I thought acting wasn’t for me, which somehow got on my Wikipedia page and I regret saying that. After doing Bioshock Infinite, I am definitely interested in pursuing acting once again, and I already recorded voice over work for two more games in the last couple of months. It’s great…work is coming in and I’m excited to be doing it! I love, love, love doing voice over work, and I really love working in games. So, I’m open to anything that comes my way.
JB: Are you much of a gamer yourself? If so, what is your favorite game of all time?
CD: I wouldn’t say that I am a huge video gamer. When I was little, I loved Nintendo. That’s all that I played. The problem is that I didn’t keep up with the latest and greatest consoles that came out. A couple years ago, I got a Wii and after that I got an Xbox, so I played Bioshock, Bioshock 2 and Arkham City. On the Wii, I played Super Mario Galaxy…but my favorite game of all time is Super Mario Brothers 3. Maybe it’s nostalgia but that’s just a really rad game to play. It’s really fun and you get the little raccoon tail and you bop around the different worlds. That’s still my go to game when I want to play!
JB: You are an actress but also a law student at UCLA, which is an interesting hybrid for many reasons. What drew you to the law…or, more pointedly, why do you want to become a lawyer?
CD: When I was little I always was interested in the law. When I was 10-years-old the OJ Simpson thing went down and I was glued to the television watching it all. I’ve just always been fascinated with criminal law in particular. In college, I did speech and debate, which was all arguing and crafting arguments and logic and philosophy, which ties directly into the law. I don’t know…it’s just always been something I’ve been into. I don’t have any regrets about it at all. I love law school; it’s really intellectually challenging and I missed that when I wasn’t in school. I really just needed to immerse myself back in that world for a while.
JB: From your Twitter feed, I saw that you changed your hair rather drastically a couple weeks ago. Was there any reason for that or was it just a “Fuck it, I’m doing it!” kind of thing?
CD: Yeah, I always kind of thought about going blonde and doing my hair really short. I had been really sick for a couple of weeks…and when I came out of that, I guess I was a bit manic and I went a little crazy! But, sometimes I look at my hair and now, in retrospect, I realize, “Wow, my hair was really long…why did I do that?!” My guy friends think I’m crazy that I chopped off all my hair but women that I’m friends with, and complete strangers as well, complement me all the time on it, so I kind of feel like you either love it or you hate it. But I love it…so that’s the most important thing! Some people are really attached to their hair and to me, it’s just hair. Fuck it…go balls to the wall and just do something different! I like to have fun with my style and, I don’t know, it was just something fun for me.
JB: So, what’s up next for you?
CD: I need to finish my finals (laughs), and I’m excited for that. I’ll be working at firm this summer, which is cool. I’m also still doing acting; I’m doing voice overs and still doing video game work. I’ve been talking to various representatives about getting back into on-camera work. I’m just putting my feelers out there and just doing what I can. It’s hard to be trying to get though school and doing the acting thing, but I’m doing as much as I can and trying to make as much time as I can to fit everything in!