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Why David Hayter Was Really Replaced in "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain"

I'm Nevets: Nerd, cinephile, TV-junkie, bookworm, gamer, and slacker extraordinaire.

David Hayter in his live-action guest appearance in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

David Hayter in his live-action guest appearance in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

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.

Original voice of Snake, David Hayter, Tweets about his replacement in the Metal Gear series

Original voice of Snake, David Hayter, Tweets about his replacement in the Metal Gear series

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 of 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 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.


Kojima's Reasoning

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.

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Hayter's gonna hate.

Hayter's gonna hate.

"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 Otacon's 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?

Kiefer using facial capture tech to help Snake express the gamma of emotions in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Kiefer using facial capture tech to help Snake express the gamma of emotions in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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."

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?

Silence on the battlefield. Complete. Utter. Silence. All the time.

Silence on the battlefield. Complete. Utter. Silence. All the time.

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?

Kiefer Sutherland (left) having the Metal Gear plot explained to him. Snake/The Boss (right) being informed that David Hayter is yesterdays news.

Kiefer Sutherl