Mackenzie Mason, the Actress Behind the New Cortana, Gives a Revealing Glimpse of "Halo 4"

Mackenzie Mason, the Actress Behind the New Cortana, Gives a Revealing Glimpse of "Halo 4"

Complex: Are you a gamer? Do you play video games? 

Mason: I don't play them like a gamer plays them. The game I've played the most is Halo. And I played it all through the 2000s (mostly the first [Halo]). And then I've played a lot of [Halo 3] just trying to get a feel for it before 4 came out. So yeah, I'm familiar, I'm just not an expert.

[She was being modest—she confessed her obsession with Super Mario World once the recorder was off.] 

Halo seems to have this universal appeal. A lot of different people are able to get into it. Do you feel that way?

Well yeah, it's the only one that I—I mean, if you ask someone if they know video games, and they say no, and then you say, "Well, have you heard of Halo?" They always go, "Oh yeah! Obviously." So Halo I think resonates with everyone; whether they've played it or not, they know what it is.

Why do you think that is?

Well I think the name is great [laughing]. And then I think because it's so popular—and I think it was one of the first video games that was so, so big—and it had so much recognition, that I think that everyone's somehow heard of it.

It's almost like Star Wars.

Exactly. I was just saying that to someone. It's as much information as Star Wars, and as much knowledge and following as Star Wars does. It just needs the movies.

So what do you bring to the role of Cortana?

Well, because we're doing the performance capture, it required an actor who could do—not only physicalize Cortana, because she never has been before, it's all been computerized—so, all of the movements, the way she moves, the way she approaches things, has to be organic, and a person. I mean, I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out, and a lot of auditions. So I think that by the end I was able to do it, and the big thing with Cortana in this game is that she's going through something called Rampancy, which is deterioration of the computer that she is. So that basically happens when she's seven years old. AIs have a life of seven years.

So basically, it means that her knowledge is full, so she can't gain any more. Every time she downloads something—to tell Chief where to go, or to get them out of a situation—she has to download data. That data doesn't get erased, so it all just stays in her. So she's at a saturation point. So that basically begins to deteriorate, and she can't gather information as quickly as she used to. And her output is less controlled. So basically she has highly emotional states that are uncontrollable. So I could be talking to you right now like this, and then all of a sudden I'm bawling, saying a line from, like, ten years ago. Or giving you—you asked me a question about how we're going to get out of this ship, and I tell you how to get out of a planet that we left five years ago.

I'm a huge Halo nerd, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Was it challenging for you to act that all out?

Yeah! It's like, I mean, it's—imagine I give you one line, like "Chief, go!" and then you have to say it in ten different emotions back to back and just, like, go. So it was like, "Okay, just go," you know, in whatever order you want, like, whatever ways, so you know, it's like 100 varieties of one line—because they're going to splice them and edit them so it's like she's glitching. So I mean, every day it was like, you know, it was emotionally draining. I was crying a lot. I was screaming a lot. My voice went away a couple times. It was insane. So I think that's a huge difference in Cortana in this game than the previous ones, where she's never had to deal with something like this. So now she's dealing with mortality, and the whole thing is that Chief's human, right? And she's a computer. But in this it's opposite. She's human, and she doesn't understand why, but she's very emotional. She's a chick! And never been a chick before.

She was a little bit of a chick before. She had some attitude.

Well, sass and the sarcasm is like I think what makes her so great. She still has that. But now it's in between crying fits and confusion [laughing]. So I think that gives her a whole other element.

Tags: halo-4, mackenzie-mason, cortana, 343-industries, halo
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