When Mass Effect: Andromeda sets off on its mission to explore our nearest galactic neighbour in March, it’ll be taking a touch of Westerosi flavour with it as Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer joins the cast.
The sci-fi action RPG – developer BioWare’s first new entry in the series in five years – sees players controlling one of the two Ryder twins as they search for humanity’s new home. The game will feature Dormer as Dr Lexi T’Perro, an Asari physician and psychiatrist on board the Tempest, the game’s main spaceship, who will serve as a key ally for players as they venture around the Andromeda galaxy.
WIRED spoke with Dormer to discuss her shift into games, Lexi as a character, and how acting in the medium affects a performer.
How did your involvement in Mass Effect come about?
They approached me, and I, in my ignorance of gaming, was not quite aware of what a big deal that was. I said yes because from the little I did know about gaming I was intrigued and wanted to do it. It was only when I was doing it that my friends who are big gamers explained to me what a big deal Mass Effect is.
Did reprising the role of Margaery Tyrell in Telltale’s Game of Thrones prepare you for acting in games?
[The role] gave me some help on a technical level; an understanding of what they need from you when you’re in the booth. It was sort of a miniature training, but that was easy because I’d played that character for so many years and I knew exactly what she was. The fun part was working out who Lexi was.
What was it about Lexi that appealed to you?
She has an analytical, objective brain. She’s there to maintain the mental and physical health of Ryder and his crew on the Tempest [and] I liked the idea of playing this sort of objective species. Lexi is academic in the way she thinks – she has a great interest in alien anatomy and she’s sort of omnipresent on Ryder’s journey through the game, to advise in this calm way. That appealed, to play that kind of character because I haven’t really done anything like that. I haven’t played a straight, analytical character before.
What was the recording process like – entirely vocal, or did you contribute motion capture?
It was an entirely vocal performance. That’s quite cool as an actor because it gives you an opportunity to play roles that look or move in a way you never would. Apart from the fact that I’m not blue and never will be – unless I get on Avatar number 256 or something – it’s interesting because they move in a different way. [BioWare] uses a different actor for motion capture, so it’s kind of cool to realise you’re a small cog and you have to be quite specific in giving the team what they need to add the final piece to the character. She was pretty much there, in front of me when I came into the room – it was almost like I had to match her, not the other way around.
How was that experience for you as an actor, not being able to put your own physicality into the performance?
I quite liked it actually. I liked the specificity of my objective. It’s a fun thing about being an actor, depending on what medium you’re working on and with what creative team, you [might be] asked to have more autonomy, or to work more to a specification, and no job is ever the same twice. Even though I’ve had an experience of gaming, playing Margaery for Telltale, something I knew inside out, then coming to this where Lexi was more or less fully formed apart from the voice – it’s fun to do something different and adhere to someone else’s vision for once.
You’ve done fantasy for several years now – how did you find the genre shift to Mass Effect’s sci-fi universe?
I love those incredibly immersive worlds. What I was really impressed about with Mass Effect: Andromeda is there’s almost as great a level of history, mythology, races, species, as you would find in Westeros. I think that’s where gaming, and games like this, are so impressive, in the narrative and history of the worlds they create. That’s exciting as an actor, because obviously your imagination is triggered in that way.
It’s a modern interpretation of an all-encompassing other world that gives the player great escapism. It doesn’t matter if it’s Tolkien and Middle Earth or Battlestar Galactica and its Twelve Colonies or Westeros, or what we’re doing here with Andromeda – I love those immersive things, that highly detailed level of storytelling is why I became an actor. With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, I think a bit of escapism into a completely different world is healthy for all of us!
Both of your gaming roles to date have featured branching dialogue and divergent storytelling – how does that uncertainty affect your approach to the roles?
That’s lot’s of fun – it’s like an actor’s dream. It’s fun because a lot of the time, you stand on stage or set and think “wouldn’t it be interesting if this person answered me in a different way once?” or “what would happen if…?” I like those multi-choice games – I think it’s fun for the player that they actually drive the narrative, and it’s fun as an actor to play one, two, three, four different reactions to a scenario.
I think it’s kind of the future in storytelling – the way technology is going, I’m sure it won’t be long until you can make those kind of options in the drama you watch as well. Gaming is ahead of the curve there, to be honest – it’s exciting.
Your filmography is a mix of tentpole franchises like Hunger Games and smaller, indie fare – do you have a preference?
No, I like to shake it up – sorry if that sounds like an opt-out answer! But it’s completely the truth. Just before Christmas, I shot In Darkness, an independent that I’d co-written, which was a very interesting experience and a lot of fun, and then I went straight onto a much bigger film that was a big period piece with veteran actors like Sean Penn and Mel Gibson. Then you add Mass Effect on to that, and I’m thinking of going on stage at the end of this year.
I’m so lucky – I’m genuinely privileged as an actor to be able to keep [active in] all mediums and quite a few genres. I haven’t done all of them – I’ve yet to do a rom-com, for instance – but I would never outright say no to anything. I take [roles] on a case by case basis, and that’s what keeps my life exciting.
And In Darkness is your first film as writer, yes?
That’s correct. I co-wrote it with my other half, and he directed and I starred in it. That’s myself, Ed Skrein, Joely Richardson, Neil Maskell. We had a lot of fun doing that, on a very, very tight budget, which is the complete opposite to what I’ve been used to over the last handful of years. To have everyone doing it for the passion and the love, and frantically doing it all in a 25-day shoot, in London – which is my home, and I love – that was a lot of fun, and very rewarding.
Do you have plans for more behind-the-camera duties?
It’s addictive. I love it. I think I’ve got to the point in my career where I’ve been involved and worked with so many incredible creative people, whether they’re writers, directors, producers, I’m even more obsessed with storytelling than I was when I started this job. I have infinitely more respect for the collaborative element of film-making, of TV drama making, of game making. I like playing as a team, and I really liked producing, writing, having a say. Let’s see how In Darkness is received, and then I’ll re-assess the situation!