John Rhys-Davies is a Welsh actor known mainly for his towering presence and characteristic voice. Even if you are not a big movie buff, I’m certain you have seen some of his performances, either as Salah in Indiana Jones series or as Gimli in a trilogy of Lord of the Rings. TV science fiction fans are most notable of his works on great show Sliders as professor Arturo and on Star Trek: Voyager as Leonardo Da Vinci. For us, gamers, more important is his amazing work in both FMV and voice over departments in the plethora of games.

His first video game experiences were with Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness and Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger in 1994. The Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness was “only” voice over work, but it took 3 weeks to complete. John was expecting short stint but was surprised to actually find out that his work as a narrator of the game means reading 1000 pages of script (about 5 times of what he originally anticipated). After some renegotiations, he got additional money, but according to Corey Cole it was still pretty small paycheck considering the amount of work). He nicknamed the QfQ 4 “the CD-ROM from Hell.”12 His voice complements to the atmosphere of the game amazingly where even the most mundane sentences sound like Shakespearean poetry.

Wing Commander 3 was a completely different ball game. The Surge of Full motion video games in early 90ties led to some big budget efforts and WC3 was at the time game with biggest budget produced (3-4 mil USD)3. The cast of the game included well-known actors, such as Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell or Tom Wilson. John Rhys-Davies was offered a role of Paladin. Long time friend and mentor of Colonel Blair. His on screen time was limited to the introduction and few additional scenes (including a pretty great confrontation between Blair and Paladin). John Rhys-Davies recalls differences between traditional film shooting and interactive movie.

“Basically, the truth of acting is in listening. And, when you have one set of possibilities what the listening does is produce a response that is different each time. Now with interactive conversation, it goes to there and there it splits (showing how story splits depending on player choices). One way you are angry, your morale is high, you hit me, the other way your morale is low, you don’t hit me and then it comes back again and continues (showing how story reunites after the split). And because of the way at the moment people are shooting these things they don’t follow the different arcs all the way through in a different way. So what you as an actor have to do then, is to find a piece that work with that possibility and that possibility identically…which is interesting.”4

1996 was another big year for John Rhys-Davies. He returned to bigger and meaner Wing Commander 4. The overall budget went up to 12 million5
and while his role was again supporting his character is more important than in WC3. His character Paladin moved outside military and become a senator. His portrayal of a man with a significant burden on his shoulder, a man whose decision can lead up to the war, is one of the most memorable moments in gaming.

The second big release of 1996 was horror/techno-thriller Ripper. Already impressive cast of actors such as Christopher Walken (in his probably most overacted role ever), Paul Giamatti (when he was a completely unknown actor), Karen Allen and many others. John Rhys-Davies plays a Vigo Haman. A mobster who has a certain information about the Ripper. Who may or may not know who the Ripper actually is. During Ripper shooting, John was already involved in making video games for over 1,5 year and was astounded by progress games made with each iteration and made some interesting predictions during that time. While we are far from buying out actors we already use CGI and motion capture on capitalizing of actors and adjusting their visage to the director liking.

“Time will rapidly come when they will be able to take all the measurements of an actor like me and buy me out. Then they will write the script like that, and they will say…who is the stock actor for this…Let’s use Rhys-Davies. Ahhhh, he looks a bit young for this, lets put another 40 pounds on him and bulk him up, give him some more lines on his face, make him a slobbering idiot, more than he is now (imitating keyboard clicking). Ok, right do it…there won’t be actors anymore.6

Next FMV experience led John Rhys-Davies to one of the best science fiction franchises ever created, Dune. Dune 2000 was technically a remake, retelling of 1992 video game Dune 2. Rebuilt with improved engine and expanded storytelling by using FMV. John in his role as House Atreides Mentat (Noree Moneo) briefs player about mission objectives before each mission. This character appeared in Dune franchise only once and was not reused in any of the following games or books.

Dune 2000 was unfortunately last FMV game where we could see John Rhys-Davies. However, he didn’t leave video games completely as he continued to work as a voice actor. Most games he worked on were a continuation of the Lord of the Rings franchise (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth, Lego The Lord of the Rings and others) but there were other notable appearances too. For example Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (2002), Freelancer (2003), Lords of EverQuest or Risen (2009). Last but not least we will enjoy the presence of John Rhys-Davies in Star Citizen (that is if the game will be released one day).

John Rhys-Davies had an immense career in movies. His contributions to video gaming span last 20 years. He was a pioneer and was never afraid to try new things, even the things he did not fully understand. As an actor, he pushed his own boundaries, moved past his comfort zone and brought us joy in every single game he ever appeared.

Further reading:

1. Rock Paper Shotgun – Gaming Made Me: Quest for Glory IV
2. A Quest for Glory – An interview with Corey Cole…
3. Computer Gaming World 122, pg.12
4. Wing Commander 3 – Behind the Scenes videotape
5. Ten Years of Wing Commander IV
6. Interactive Entertainment EP.17 09/1995, interview with John Rhys-Davies