What’s it like to work with Hideo Kojima? We asked the cast of Death Stranding

Death Stranding Interview - Die-Hardman and Heartman
Death Stranding Interview - Die-Hardman and Heartman

Throughout his enviable career, Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima has been at the forefront of cinematic storytelling in games, working with stars like Kiefer Sutherland to craft stories that rival the very best that Hollywood has to offer. With this incredible legacy and a fanbase of millions of gamers all over the world, auditioning for a role in an all-new Hideo Kojima game must be pretty daunting. For Darren Jacobs, the voice of Death Stranding’s eccentric scientist Heartman, being kept in the dark was a blessing.

Death Stranding logo

Throughout his enviable career, Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima has been at the forefront of cinematic storytelling in games, working with stars like Kiefer Sutherland to craft stories that rival the very best that Hollywood has to offer. With this incredible legacy and a fanbase of millions of gamers all over the world, auditioning for a role in an all-new Hideo Kojima game must be pretty daunting. For Darren Jacobs, the voice of Death Stranding’s eccentric scientist Heartman, being kept in the dark was a blessing.

“I was not initially aware what the project was, or even that it was a Kojima Productions game at first, as it was hidden behind a code name,” explains Darren Jacobs.

“After my first audition, however, I had a sneaky feeling it was Death Stranding, which meant that I just had to book the job. I knew of Hideo’s work and the past games he had released, but I was not aware of the global fandom Hideo-san had accumulated. That was a complete surprise to me… and it was more than a little daunting too.”

“I do have a wonderful memory of when I first met Hideo and the team,” the Yorkshire native continues. “They were filming the mo-cap for Mads Mikkelsen’s iconic cutscene with the soldiers, and I was there to see it being filmed. It was magical seeing how they all worked together.”

While it’s Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead’s Daryl Dixon) who plays the lead role of Sam Bridges in Kojima’s unique art-game, its most powerful performance was reserved for veteran actor Tommie Earl Jenkins, who provided both the voice and motion capture for Die-Hardman. Although his name is a knowing wink to an ‘80s action flick, Hardman is a complicated character whose final scene (the content of which we won’t spoil here) provides the emotional climax for the game’s story.

Tommie Earl Jenkins, left, and Darren Jacobs (Image: Bobby Quillard)

“So this particular scene was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve done as an actor,” says Jenkins, speaking about the emotional scene he shot opposite Reedus. “I knew what the journey was supposed to be, but how I got there was going to have to be done in the present moment and by that I mean I had to be fully present with Sam.”

“Norman was 100% engaging with me during the scene and looking into his eyes throughout only helped me to intensify it,” he continues. “At the end of the scene when Hideo yelled cut everyone had tears in their eyes. It was pretty crazy.”

It all sounds rather intense, but Darren Jacobs assures us there was plenty of time for fun on-set too.

“The team laughed at me when I would see the script dialogue for the first time; we would be on Google repeatedly, finding out what the words actually meant, in disbelief that one word could have so many syllables,” Jacobs jokes. “I had been to England just before one of the voice sessions, so I took in some British treats to the studio for all the team to eat…and the Fruit Pastilles, Hobnobs, and pickled onion Monster Munch were a complete hit!”

Although he does not disclose Hideo’s thoughts on British baked corn snacks, Jacobs does elaborate on the game’s themes of connection.

“[The themes] really struck a chord with me; we can see the results of mankind’s actions, and also, inactions, affecting us right now, and it is our choice whether to work together as a whole or suffer the consequences.”

“I think I connect with Death Stranding because it is literally about connecting people,” adds Tommie Earl Jenkins. “I’m a person who loves connecting with people. I love the personalities of people. I guess that’s why I’m pretty active on social media. But also emotionally I can connect with all that’s going on in the game because I relate to Sam. He’s someone who travels through life on missions by himself. I’m a bit like that. Although I’m not alone. Life is funny, scary, exciting, frustrating, and full of surprises. We don’t know where life will take us and that’s a great thing. I think most people will find something to connect with in Death Stranding.”

If their social media accounts are anything to go by, both actors formed a strong connection with Hideo – one that could continue into future projects.

“I, sadly, do not know,” says Jacobs when asked if Heartman will return. “Even if I did, there are NDAs and spoilers I would not want to spill.”

When asked if Die-Hardman would return in future games, Jenkins has this to say: “Honestly, I don’t know. I would love for that to happen, but we’ll have to see.”

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