Interview: Jon St. John Talks Being The Voice Of Duke Nukem

Interview: Jon St. John Talks Being The Voice Of Duke Nukem

How did you get involved with voicing Duke? How did that come about?
Well, I'm fortunate enough to live in San Diego, where one of the top video game casting directors
lives, a lady named Lani Minella, and Lani happened to be at the radio station where I was production director back in 1994 or 1995. She came in to record a commercial project that I was producing, and when the two of us met, like a lot of us voice actors or radio people do, showing off for each other and doing different character voices and such. Lani said “Wow, you've got really great range. Have you considered doing voice acting?” I said, “What do you mean voice acting?” She said “You know, like for video games.” At the time I didn't know that there were voices on video games. There were very few, in fact, but I said “sure.” I was into doing anything where I could make money with my voice! So, I think the first game I auditioned for and landing was Big Red Racing. Then I did a game called Candyland Adventure – remember Hasbro's board game Candyland? That was adapted to CD-ROM. Then I did Duke 3D.

Do you go in with a specific kind of voice in mind or do you try a few until you found “the
voice”?
Well, they usually show me pictures of the characters and say it's this age range, it's this ethnicity. We want a smooth texture or a gravelly texture to the voice. We want an affectation, like if you're doing a Klingon character – (talks with gritted teeth) – Klingons always talk like their teeth are stuck together. So we dial a character voice in on the spot, pretty much, or if I'm close enough in the audition when I send an audition file to the director via MP3 in email they'll say “Okay, that's the voice we want” and sometimes just dial it in before you get there.

Did you have an idea with Duke with how you wanted to play the character?
I had no clue. When Lani approached me about doing Duke Nukem, because she was the one who cast me in that game, when she first mentioned it to me she said “I have a game I want you to audition for called Duke Nukem.” and I laughed: “Duke Nukem, really?” I thought it was hilarious, or some kind of funny game. She said “No, it's a FPS and you've played Doom, haven't you?” I was like “Oh, yeah, I love Doom.” She said “It's Doom on steroids.” I thought okay, well, whatever. So she hooked me up for the audition on the phone with George Broussard out in Garland, TX, and George is of course one of the guys who created Duke and created the game with 3D Realms.

He had his own idea of what character actor he thought should be Duke, but it didn't necessarily go
that way because Lani, as the director in the studio with me said “I want you to think of Dirty Harry
when he goes 'Do you feel lucky, do you punk?” And I went with the line. George heard it over the
phone and said “It's the right attitude, and I like the way it sounds like your teeth are clenched together, but Duke is a much bigger guy, much bigger than, say, Clint Eastwood.” So I lowered my pitch, and said “Go ahead, make my day.” He asked me to do “Come get some!” and right there I was hired to be the voice of Duke.

How do you feel about the negative reaction to Duke Nukem Forever?
I think it was not incorrectly judged by reviewers and game writers. I don't think there was any malice in it. But I think it was unfair for two reasons: one, the hype created by 2K Games. They put so much money into promoting it. They wanted it to be huge. But because it was so over the top, people thought it was going to be the greatest thing EVER! And when you hype it that much, when it comes out and it's really a throwback to Duke 3D – think about it, Duke 3D on steroids is Duke Nukem Forever. I think when it came out people were just really disappointed by the graphics as they weren't up to current standards. Well, they couldn't be. It was based on a game that came out ten years ago. They just got to acquire it back in 2008 or 2009 and then complete it and do their own thing. So when you compare it to Call of Duty and those other FPSs of the modern era, it's an unfair comparison.

I think that's why reviews were somewhat negative, because they were expecting something the game wasn't intended to be. I think they expected or they anticipated something else. A lot of the reviewers, quite frankly, were too young to really review it and understand what Duke Nukem Forever was all about. I don't know that they ever played Duke 3D! And so they play the game not understanding what the game's all about, being irreverent, sexy, etc. He's just a badass with a bad attitude, and they didn't get that. They wanted it to be something different. I just wish they hadn't hyped it so much. They should've said “Yeah, we finally did it. Here it is.”

Are you a gamer? Do you ever play the games and sit back to revel in your roles as Duke?
Well, one of the first games I actually played was Duke Nukem Forever, and you know, that was
months ago. I wish I had more time or more of an interest in playing the games, but I really don't. My skills aren't great, and when your skills aren't great because you don't spend much time playing, then you're discouraged by it anyway. And I've never had enough time for that. I've got kids! We used to play Duke matches together when they were younger. But life comes at you fast, and as a voice actor I'm struggling to get work all the time. So as a voice actor, I don't really have time to play games.

We are strictly just voice actors. That doesn't make us gamers. People will ask me “what was the
influence behind this thing?” and I really can't tell you! It's sort of like William Shatner being quizzed about an episode of Star Trek! He can't remember all of the episodes and storylines! It was just another gig. I don't mean to sound too flippant about that. Duke has been a fantastic job for me. I gained a lot of notoriety from it. But I do have to say it is just a job because video game acting is a very small portion of what I do. Most of the stuff I do is commercial work.

Tags: john-st-john, duke-nukem, forever, 3d, voice, interview
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