In the 21st century being an actor isn’t just about being onstage or in film in a traditional sense. With the help of technology, actors can transform in ways that were once only a dream. Stars like Andy Serkis, Sam Worthington, and even Kit Harington have recently done motion capture performances for movies and video games like Avatar and Call of Duty. Adding to that star studded list is Ruffin Prentiss, the Virginia born actor playing the lead character of Ubisoft Entertainment’s, Watch Dogs 2. Keep reading to learn about Ruffin’s experience playing the lead character in a major video game and the advice he has for aspiring professionals.
TAM (The Actor’s Monolith): How did you get into acting?
Ruffin Prentiss: I originally went to undergrad to be a dentist. I was Pre-Dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh but I knew I also wanted to be a theater minor. In high school I was always in the drama club but I wasn’t able to be in actual productions because I played three sports all year round. Once I got to college, I didn’t have sports conflicting with theater so I began auditioning, and in my first production I played “Magnus” in The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. Such a fun role! By the time I reached the end of my sophomore year, I was bit by the bug and changed my major to theatre. From there, I went on to Rutgers University to get my MFA in Acting and I have been immersed in the world and industry ever since.
TAM: Are you a gamer? If so, what video games did you play growing up?
Ruffin Prentiss: I would say I was a gamer (currently getting back into it since working on Watch Dogs 2). As a kid, my first system was a Super Nintendo, which then was upgraded to a Nintendo 64, which then became a Playstation 2. I played a lot of sports games and fighting games, so a lot of EA sports games and of course Tekken, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter. When the Nintendo 64 came out I started to become more interested in mission and story based games like Star Fox and GoldenEye. And finally when I got a Playstation, GTA became my jam! I dabbled in the Call of Duty games but never reached an expert level. The GTA games ( III and Vice) were definitely my favorite games as a teenager and probably the most exhilarating gaming experiences I had.
TAM: Can you tell us a bit about the audition process for Watch Dogs 2?
Ruffin Prentiss: Auditioning for Watch Dogs 2 was a lot similar to auditioning for a TV or film project outside of the fact that the sides, the character name, and the project name were all made up. Discretion is very important in the gaming world. However, I went into a casting director’s office just like other projects and read my scenes with a reader while being taped for the audition. The only difference was that at the end of the audition, they asked me to walk from one side of the room to the other to see what my physical movement would look like in preparation for Motion Capture.
TAM: For those who don’t know, tell us a bit about Marcus, the character you play in Watch Dogs 2.
Ruffin Prentiss: Marcus Holloway is a young African American man, self-taught programmer and hacker, who was born in Oakland and was the victim of being profiled for things he didn’t do. Marcus wants to fight back against the system that pushed these labels on him. He joins a hacker group called “Dedsec” where he meets like-minded and exceptionally capable hackers to help him in this fight. This system and its headquarters exist in San Francisco which is one of the leading cities in the tech industry and with Marcus living in the bay area, it sets him up to take on this system (ctOS) head on.
TAM: What’s the biggest difference between playing a video game character and a more “traditional” role?
Ruffin Prentiss: I think a lot of people tend to think that because games are animated that they might be slightly more cartoonish. Some games do live in that realm, but because of the level of technology in today’s games, they are so life-like and realistic that when I approached the role, I approached it just like any other role. I wanted Marcus to be as real and human as possible. I also wanted him to be as relatable as possible so that the player could get behind the missions and what the character is fighting for. The only difference is really adjusting to the MoCap suits and helmets, but at the end of the day, acting is acting. As long as you are being truthful, you are doing your job.
TAM: Now that Watchdogs 2 is out, what’s it like to see yourself in a video game?
Ruffin Prentiss: Its been kind of surreal to play the game. Marcus and I don’t look exactly alike so it’s even more strange to hear my voice coming out of someone who looks similar to me but isn’t me. On the reverse end, it’s been cool to see how the performances look in the fully rendered game. Watching certain cinematic scenes that I remember shooting with my cast mates become fully animated in the world of the game is cool. The ability of the animators to make everything look so real and detailed is nothing short of amazing.
TAM: What advice can you give to aspiring actors and other entertainment professionals?
Ruffin Prentiss: There are two things I would say. Wherever you can study or train, I say do it. The more time that you commit to learning different techniques–learning more about yourself as an actor and what you personally need to make your performances as full as possible–the more capable you become when challenged with difficult and new material. You want to put yourself in the position to make the director or producers investing in you feel like the job itself is in capable hands, and I think that begins with training and honing your craft. The last bit of advice I have would be to stay committed and keep working hard for your dream. It might sound cliché, but in this industry we face rejection frequently. Our job essentially is to go on job interviews (auditions). However I like to think about it as a numbers game. The more auditions we get, the higher our percentage of getting a job becomes. No matter how many times you hear “NO”, keep pushing because the next audition could be your “YES”. Stay focused on what you want and learn to love the journey. If you can do that I believe you can find success in this industry.
TAM: What projects are you working on next?
Ruffin Prentiss: I have a recurring role on CBS’ Elementary that I shot a couple of episodes for. I’ve also been fortunate enough to do a few voice-overs for commercials recently and I am gearing up for the infamous pilot season. Outside of that I’m back on the auditioning path!
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