For a studio that once claimed animating female character models would be too expensive, Ubisoft has come on leaps and bounds for representation in recent years. Jade makes a triumphant return in Beyond Good and Evil 2, while Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey proves that there’s no shame in gender, sexuality or brutally murdering evil cult members who are stupid enough to cross you.
It’s been a great generation for women in games, although there’s still a long way to go in some respects. Trusted Reviews recently had the opportunity to catch up with Melissanthi Mahut regarding her role as Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, one of the series’ strongest protagonists yet.
Obviously, we asked her a bunch of questions regarding the game itself, fan culture and the process behind being cast in a huge videogame project. Read on for our full interview!
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TR: Congratulations on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey!
M: Thank you! Thank you very much.
TR: The reception behind Kassandra’s character has been almost universally positive, and I was wondering if you talk about the casting process behind such a big videogame project?
M: Yeah, sure! I’d previously done a bit of work on Assassin’s Creed Origins, playing a few minor characters. Following this, Ubisoft contacted my agent to see if I could audition for one of its new upcoming projects. I don’t think we even knew it was Ubisoft at that time, so at the beginning I didn’t know what I was auditioning for. I just knew it was a big role in videogame and thought “wow okay.” You know, given my previous experience was limited to what I did in Origins, I thought why not do more of it?
I went to a studio in London, after which they asked me whether I’d like to come back to Canada for the final audition? At this point, I was like holy crap – we’re getting there! Obviously, at the start, I thought there was no way I’d get something this big, so I might as well enjoy the audition process – so I did. After all, at this point I still didn’t know what I was auditioning for.
So I get to Ubisoft and think – whoa, this could be one of two things; but it’s definitely gonna be a big thing. They’d already chosen Michael Antonakos for the part of Alexios, and I had the wonderful opportunity to be there and audition with Michael. The actual audition process was somewhere between a film and a theatre audition. There were a lot of people in the room, it was a really big room, almost like an Amphitheatre. It was really bizarre, but they actually tested everything.
They tested body, face, voice; it was like a full-rounded audition. It was a lot of fun, and I was really grateful to have people there. Obviously, auditioning can be a bit of a tricky process, but everyone present was so friendly and made me feel comfortable. It was great.
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TR: I can’t blame you; I just imagine it’s super fun to do!
M: It’s amazing! I mean, it’s a little awkward at first; you’re wearing ridiculous suits and having to velcro yourself to everybody and everything around you. But once you get the hang of that part of it then it’s just acting at its best. You’re completely stripped of anything that can be a distraction, focusing on the character and playing with your fellow actors. I think it’s as good as it gets.
TR: With Kassandra especially, much of the positive feedback centred on her being a strong female character. She didn’t rely on tired tropes and that’s been a long time coming in games. I was wondering if this was something you considered in your performance?
M: Yeah! To be absolutely honest, my experience with games wasn’t particularly rich until maybe a couple of years ago. At that point, when I’d landed the role, I started doing a lot of research into what had previously been done. There have been quite noticeable performances and appearances by female characters, but I believe this is the first time this specific franchise has taken that direction. It’s a wonderful step forward and I feel privileged to be in that position.
I found that the more natural I could be with this character, the more “me” I could I be with this character, would ensure that it wouldn’t just be a female character in a man’s world, it would be a female character in her own right. Kassandra is strong, not because she’s trying to prove anything to anybody but because that’s exactly who she is. I felt that was important to highlight. It wasn’t trying to fit in, trying to prove something. The feedback has been phenomenal. I mean, a lot of friends send me pictures of their daughters or sisters playing as Kassandra and they’re so excited and so happy – that just fills me with joy.
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TR: I saw on Twitter that you’d been sharing cool fan art creations of Kassandra. I think I saw a LEGO Alexios and Kassandra, which is so cool.
M: Oh my god!
TR: Did you expect this kind of reaction when you got the role?
M: Not really. Everybody kept telling me that this was going to happen. Michael kept telling me this was going to happen. It’s one thing hearing it or one thing thinking about it or logically assuming that this was going to happen, but it’s completely different when it actually happens.
It’s been completely overwhelming. The fan art – I mean, have you seen some of the stuff that people are coming up with and creating? I’m filing everything, I’m downloading everything and I’m trying to respond to everybody to tell them how great the work they’re doing is from fan art to cosplay. There’s some incredibly intricate and amazing artwork and I’m very grateful.
TR: I imagine it’s super-overwhelming but, as you’ve said before, super-privileged to be a part of.
M: Absolutely! It’s wonderful when you get to do something you strongly believe in, and you see that the response is not only what you expected, but ten times that. It’s great to know that it resonates and means something to people. You never really know how these things will play out. You put in your best effort and when you’re done, you let it take its own course. It’s not up to you anymore, it’s about how people relate to it or receive it. To have this kind of response is an incredible privilege.
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TR: Going back to the dialogue in Odyssey. It’s one where you can make lots of decisions when you’re the characters. You can decide to be evil and kill somebody, or let them go and give them money. I was wondering how much fun you had exploring such different range as the character?
M: It was a lot of fun, but at the beginning it was really challenging too. In any kind of approach I’d had in terms of acting up until this point, you’d have a script, you have a play, in its entirety; it’s two hours or a maximum of four. That’s the arc of the character, so there’s a beginning and a middle and an end.
But, in this case, the end was so far away that we didn’t really know what “the end” would be like. It was a lot of fun trying to explore but at the same time being true to original designs set at the start with the writers and the creators and the stuff we’d decided to bring to the character as well. Having all these dialogue options was really great!
TR: How long was the recording and shooting process for Odyssey – because it’s the biggest game in the franchise and one of the biggest I’ve certainly ever played.
M: We started in May 2017 and we’re still going when it comes to downloadable content – so it’s been a long process. Last year I reckon I was home a total of four weeks in the year. It’s been super-intense and a lot of work. I’ve loved every single step of it, don’t get me wrong. There are 250 pages minimum of script per week for voice acting; your average film will have around 180 pages – so it’s a huge script, a huge project. I think the minimum time you’d need to play the entire thing was something like 100 hours.
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TR: Definitely! Even after playing through the campaign, I’m like – oh wow, there’s still so much more to see.
M: It’s a gargantuan project, and the process of creation took around 3 years, maybe a little more. It’s been incredible, and a lot of fun exploring all the options and seeing all the different sides of the character. I mean, honestly, it’s an Odyssey. It’s a character’s journey; and the character you had at the very beginning is unlikely to be what you have by the end. No matter the choices you make, you’ll be morphing the character.
TR: One of the things that was also brought up when Odyssey was being played in previews and reviews was regarding its characters. You can play Alexios or Kassandra as gay, straight, bisexual – which is something new for such a big game like Assassin’s Creed. Was this something you expected when going into the performance, or do you feel it’s a positive move forward for acting in videogames?
M: I understand that the developers of the title come from various backgrounds and are of different sexual orientations and so wanted to make the game inclusive and insightful in the way it represents romancing. I was aware this was a big thing, over anything else, on the game’s release.
Personally, I found it completely natural having the option to romance whoever you want. In the gaming world, I think it’s a great step forward. I began to notice on Twitterthat one of the first things people picked up on was that you now have the option to a) play as Alexios or Kassandra; and b) you have no limitations as to who you interact with, who you romance, who you don’t romance. I think it’s a wonderful avenue to explore, and I hope things continue in that vein from now on.
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TR: Oh totally. Have you had a chance to play the game yourself?
M: I haven’t. I’ve barely been home! I’m finding friends who have the game and I’m kind of overstaying my welcome at their homes because I try to play a little whilst there. I’ve catch a bit here and there, but I haven’t actually had the opportunity to sit down in the comfort of my own living room and play the game. I’ve seen a lot of gameplay, I’ve seen clips, I’ve seen trailers. Once things calm down, I think I’ll have a little more time.
TR: A decade or so, many actors or celebrities wouldn’t treat games with the same seriousness as films or television. Do you think this image is changing?
M: I really think it is. It always troubles me that, when you chose this profession, along the way you kind of lose sight of the reasons you got into it in the first place. It’s a very competitive industry, with so much focusing on your image, what you project and what you look like – everybody does this, myself included. You become a little obsessed about what you look like and what you want to project. The baffling thing about video games is that it isn’t so much about you.
One of the reasons I love motion capture is that it really doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman; you’re old, you’re young; whether you’re thin or you’re fat. It doesn’t matter because the only thing that actually matters is what you bring to the character and how much imagination and passion you have.
I love the fact that it takes a little of the focus away from you; it becomes more about what you bring to the character. I hope that it keeps developing and more actors get into it. It’s such a wonderful medium through which to be able to express yourself. You can be anything you want in a video game.
Have you had a chance to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter @trustedreviews.