Why David Hayter Was Really Replaced in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The title says it all. After acting as the American voice of Snake ever since the very first Metal Gear Solid game in 1998, voice actor (and screenwriter) David Hayter has finally gotten the boot. Throughout the years, Hayter has been an outspoken and genuine fan of the Metal Gear franchise (even taking a paycut in order to have the original cast brought back for the 2004 MGS remake, The Twin Snakes) and has appeared in every sequel, prequal, and spin-off of the series that's spawned from that original PS1 game. He's beloved by fans, his delivery of lines have become iconic ("Metal Geeeear!"), and now he's gone. Tossed away like yesterday's trash and replaced with everyone's favorite Lost Boy, Kiefer Sutherland.
The question is... why?
Now don't get me wrong, Kiefer is great. I'm a big fan — really. He was awesome as the quintessential 80s jerk and he's still awesome as the ass-kicking Jack Bauer that he's known as today. Nevertheless, you simply don't replace the actor portraying the main protagonist of an ongoing, already successful franchise when you don't have to! This would hold true even if the actor was awful; which Hayter was not.
What's David Hayter's Perspective?
As you can probably infer from the above Tweets, the man who gave voice to Snake doesn't appear to be especially thrilled by being replaced. Aside from the comedic value of watching a voice actor make passive aggressive jabs and comments on Twitter, though, these sorts Tweets gave us another important piece of information: that it wasn't Hayter's choice not to return.
Before this, many believed that it may've been possible that the Hayter simply turned down the role. Which, while that would have been sad news, it wouldn't be anything new in showbiz (plenty of actors are replaced after choosing not to reprise their role). Hayter eventually elaborated on his replacement in an interview with Game Informer where he brought up his encounter with a producer of MGSV while the game was still in production. Hayter asked if they should hammer out a deal for reprising the iconic role and was told merely that he wouldn't be needed. Hayter recounted:
“That was basically it, and then I talked to Kris Zimmerman (Metal Gear English casting and voice director). She said, ‘We’re going forward, but it looks like they are going to try and replace you.’ They tried to do that before, and it never worked. They tried to get voice matches, and it never happened.”
And so the plot thickens! As it turns out, this wasn't Kojima's first attempt at replacing Hayter with an A-list celebrity. Hayter went on to tell Game Informer:
“I had to re-audition for Metal Gear 3 to play Naked Snake. They made me re-audition to play Old Snake, and the whole time, they were trying to find somebody else to do it. I heard that Kojima asked one of the producers on Metal Gear 3 to ask Kurt Russell if he would take over for that game. He didn’t want to do it.”
And to make the entire debacle even more melancholy, Hayter continued by speaking about how hurt he felt to be replaced, and how much the series meant to him:
“It was annoying to me, because I thought that I had given a lot to the series and really helped promote it. At the same time, I genuinely feel that the run I had as Snake was remarkable. If you get that once in your career, that’s amazing. I don’t have any ill will toward Kiefer Sutherland or anything like that. The whole thing could have been handled better and a little more respectfully, but I’m not going to cry about it.”
“I was so annoyed by the Metal Gear V debacle, and people said, ‘Are you gonna play the game?' Yeah. That’ll be 60 hours of humiliation that I can’t get to. I haven’t played the latest two iterations, because it’s just too painful.”
For video of the above mentioned Game Informer interview, check below. The juicy bits start at around 59 minutes in.
According to Metal Gear creator, Hideo Kojima, his reason for replacing Hayter was due to a desire to recreate the series. In an interview with Gametrailers (the clip can be found on Youtube here) Kojima also added that motion capture factored into the reason.
"I wanted to make sure the actor who did the voice also acted out the facial expressions as well. Snake is now 49, and I was looking for someone who could realistically convey the feelings of this older, weathered Snake through both his facial expressions and his tone of voice. A friend of mine, producer Avi Arad, recommended Kiefer Sutherland, which made a lot of sense for us, so we approached him. ... The technology now allows acting to take center stage, so that's the direction we're taking."
I suppose the implication here was twofold. First, that they wanted to take a new direction with the series and, second, that Hayter wasn't actor enough to pull off the facial expressions required of Snake in The Phantom Pain.
Sounds reasonable enough... right?
But wait! If Kojima was wanting to recreate the series by bringing in new blood, why did he keep the guy who played Otacon when casting for the role for Otacons father? And, come to think of it, why did he not change the voice of Snake for the Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? Was the recreation of Metal Gear only meant for Americans? I'm not one for conspiracy theories (see my other articles) but I've gotta say: something smells fishy.
I mean, honestly, do these look like the kind of facial gestures that only a master thespian like Kiefer Sutherland could pull off?
How Useful WAS Kiefer Sutherland's Facial Capture?
And now that we're here getting a good look at Snakes vast array of emotions, does anyone think this even looks like Keifer Sutherland? The answer is no. It doesn't. And in our previously mentioned interview with Hideo Kojima, he explains why:
"Honestly, I wanted to capture the looks, voice, facial expressions, and movements all from a single actor. That would involve making a 3D scan of the actor's face, then capturing that actor's facial and vocal performance, along with their body movements and applying all of that to the character. However, I couldn't go that far with Snake. The reason is that fans have known Snake for over 25 years, and he has an established look. So, instead, we needed to use a CG model of Snake as a base and blend 5 or 6 different people's faces on top of that to add realism. So the answer is 'no'. Snake's face does not look like Kiefer's."
So in one moment Kojima mentions how a real actor (as oppose to a voice actor) was needed to express emotions through his facial gestures, and in the next he's explaining that they had five or six different people in there to act as the model for Snake. And, ironically, his reasoning for Snake not looking like Kiefer is because players already have a pre-established idea of how Snake has looked over the years; but what about how he's sounded since 1998?
In the end, what was really left of Sutherland's facial capture work? Neither his face, body, or expressions wound up looking anything like the character he was portraying. Merely his facial movements as he spoke (which, honestly, didn't appear to be that special). And, of course, that voice. Which seems odd considering the previously mentioned quotes by Kojima. Quotes like the following:
"As for the changing of the voice with the new technologies we are now able to express emotions not only by voice, but also with the expressiveness of the faces.The main theme this time is revenge, and so far the Snake emotions could not match the words, but now that emotions can be expressed also with the faces we needed a real actor, not just a voice actor. So we decided to use Mr. Sutherland." (the full interview can be found here)
If we saw nothing of Sutherlands actual face, though, what really was being added to the story that a voice actor couldn't convey? Could Hayter not scowl correctly?
Speaking of Kiefer's Voice — Why Don't We Ever Hear It?
That's right. With all this hoopla over Snakes voice, the buckets of money they must've spent on getting an A-list celebrity in to do it, we barely even hear the guy utter a peep. The cutscenes in the game have been snipped to almost nothing, Snake hardly talks during the scenes that are there, and the codec is completely non-existent for the first time ever (there is a radio that you can call, but Snake never engages in conversations with it). The end result turns out to be that we have the first nearly mute Snake since, well... ever (unless you count the MSX2 and NES days, when no one spoke).
So, granted, even if Hayter had reprised his iconic part in the series (and the script were the same) we would've actually rarely heard him speak. Which probably leads the reader to ask: Then why do you seem so pee'd off? It wouldn't matter anyway if Hayter were there!
This is a reasonable question. And I don't have much of a defense for it. However, I'm the one writing this so it's my questions that count. And my question is: If they were barely going to have Snake speak, then why not just bring back David Hayter — the voice actor who the fans already know, love, and whose voice has defined the character(s) for the last 17 years? After all, how much damage could his voice do to the plot if it's rarely even heard? And how much could Kiefer's voice have helped?
A Serious Voice for a Serious Game?
A popular reasoning for the voice change, among both fans and Kojima, is that with the new graphics available, no longer are over-the-top voice actors required. In the old days video game graphics weren't polished enough for characters to express emotion through their faces alone so the dialogue often needed to be over explanatory and overdone to get the point across. In the original Metal Gear Solid, for example, none of the characters even had faces; they were just a blur of motionless pixels which vaguely implied a face. Because of this, no character could simply scowl to show anger, give a subtle look to show love, or even frown to express sadness. Everything needed to be verbalized and exaggerated for effect. This is similar to how stage actors need to speak loudly and make big, unatural body movements during performances so that audiences can better understand what's going on from a distance (this overblown method of acting, by the way, even carried over into early films before more subdued, naturalistic performances became the norm).
So yeah, admittedly this is a pretty good argument for replacing actors. Or, at least, it could have been; if the rest of the game were at all consistent with its reasoning. And assuming that Hayter couldn't have toned his own acting down.
This isn't a video game like The Last of Us, where the characters, environments, cutscenes, and scenarios all feel like real life (yes, even the parts with zombies). There's no exaggerated moments, no hiding in cardboard boxes, no corny lines, no fourth wall breaking situations where characters tell you to "press the action button", and, most importantly, all of the voice actors — big, small, and inbetween — sound like real people. In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, on the other hand, Kiefer Sutherland's "subdued" delivery of lines is actually an anomaly when compared to the rest of the games cast. Actors, left and right, from Emmerich's classic, whiney voice, to Miller and his goofy "They played us like a damn fiddle!" types of lines, to the constantly over-the-top Skull face, all sound just as over-the-top in MGSV as ever. So what's the deal? How would the Snake we've grown to know and love over the years be out of place here?
This is a game which includes an enemy made of fire who can absorb bullets. A game where you can distract enemies with life-sized balloons that look and talk like you. When you startle a bad guy, a giant exclamation point appears over the top of his or her head. You have a dog who wears an eyepatch. You have a horn-shaped protrusion on your forehead. Your most fearsome foe is a man in a Zorro mask whose face looks like a skull. The point being: There's nothing about this game which makes its tone appear more serious than the games that came before it.
Of course, this isn't a bad thing. I, personally, don't know of any fans of the series who are complaining about Metal Gears silliness, weird easter eggs, or its over-the-top story and characters. In fact, we all love those things! But don't say you're changing the voice of your protagonist because you're going for a more serious or realistic tone when there's nothing else about the game that suggests that to be true.
This Is The Story of Big Boss — Not Solid Snake
Like any good fanboy, I like to rationalize certain inconsistencies in the Metal Gear series when I can. I don't want to hate on a series which means so much to me. So here's how I tried to make the replacement of Hayter make more sense: Hayter was, is, and forever will be, Solid Snake. But this is the story of Big Boss. Why not give him a new voice? Right?
It was a hard excuse to swallow and, clearly, I've since coughed it right back up. It simply makes no sense compared with the previous games in the Metal Gear series. Mostly for three important reasons:
- Snake is an identical clone of Big Boss. It's only natural that they have identical voices.
- In case there's any doubt to the above point, on the previous MGS games which starred Big Boss as the protagonist (Snake Eater, Portable Ops, and Peace Walker), each was voiced by Solid Snake's voice actor, David Hayter.
- In the Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, there was no change of actors. The man who played Solid Snake (Akio Ōtsuka) continues to play Big Boss today.
How can we possibly continue to trick ourselves into thinking the change makes sense with facts such as these staring us in the face?
Summing Things Up — And The Truth Behind Why David Hayter Was Replaced
Before we get into my conclusion of the truth behind David Hayter's replacement, here's quick refresher of what we've addressed so far.
- David Hayter never chose to leave the Metal Gear series. In fact, he appeared to be genuinely hurt not to be included.
- This wasn't Hideo Kojima's first attempt at replacing Hayter. We know of at least one other time (during the making of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) when Kojima actively tried to replace Hayter with another big celebrity, Kurt Russel (who turned the part down).
- One reason which Kojima gave for changing actors was because he wanted to have a recreation of the series. However, the fact that he didn't change actors in his own countries (Japan) version of the game could lead some to be dubious about the consistency of this statement.
- Another reasoning of Kojima's for changing actors was because he desired a "real actor" for the part, due to the facial capture technology involved that would allow a live actor to physically portray the characters emotions with his facial gestures. However, Kojima has also stated that — and players can plainly see that — MGSV's Snake looks nothing like actor Kiefer Sutherland. Kojima went on to explain that a CG model of Snake was used and a blend of 5 or 6 other peoples faces were added on top of that to add realism to the character. With that being said, Sutherland did do the facial capture (when he spoke, Snakes non-Sutherland mouth moved, etc.). But, in all honesty, how much of an improvement could that have been when compared to Hayter or most anyone else who possesses the ability to smile, squint, and frown?
- It's also been stated by Kojima and fans of the series that a more "subdued" and realistic voice performance was needed for the game, as its tone and drama were much more serious in nature. However, this doesn't appear to be consistent with the other over-the-top voices and sequences in the game.
- A popular fan defense is that since this is a story about Big Boss and not Solid Snake, then it's only natural for another voice actor to be used. However, as mentioned above, the same voice actor is continuing to be used in the Japanese version of the game. Also, David Hayter has already voiced the same character in all of the past Big Boss-centered Metal Gear Solid games.
- In MGSV, for the first time ever Snake barely utters a word. So how much of a difference was a voice change really making? Why bother making it inconsistent with the previous games when the new actor is rarely even heard?
So what's the conclusion?
While some of us may be happy with the change and some of us may not, the truth is that none of us can ever know for certain why Hideo Kojima chose to replace David Hayter in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. That notwithstanding, in my opinion the truth seems pure and simple: starpower.
That's right. As far as I can make out, it's as meaningless as that. In the acting world, it's known as "stunt casting":
It's nothing new in the vast and wonderful world of media. Kojima simply wanted a celebrities name involved with the project (any fan of the Metal Gear series knows that Kojima is all about publicity schemes). As talked about in our previously mentioned interview with David Hayter, this wasn't Kojima's first attempt at replacing the voice actor with an A-list, Hollywood action star; this was merely his first successful attempt. And as you can see in this clip (the video is set to begin at the 56 minute mark) even the MGS series' voice director, Kris Zimmerman, has stated:
"I do know that Kojima had always wanted to have a, you know, Hollywood star [as a] part of the process."
In the end, though, whether or not it was just a publicity move, or Kojima's longtime dream to work with a Hollywood action star, or if it really was an "artistic choice", no one but Kojima knows. My money is on publicity. However, then again, maybe I just miss the Snake that I grew up with.
Purchase Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
As much as I've poo-pooed all over the casting of this game, I have to admit: It's still damn fun. For long time Metal Gear fans, such as myself, it's destined to fall short in many ways. However, as games in general go, I'd be lying if I were to say it wasn't a great video game to play for the mechanics alone.
I enjoyed the gameplay so much, in fact, that I've since 100 percented it and finally nabbed my fourth Metal Gear Solid platinum trophy for Playstation (albeit, I made sure to do so in MGS1 clothing). Which all just goes to show, even the most disappointing of Metal Gear games beats most other games out there.