Interview with Guy Cihi (The Gaming Liberty)

Date published: 2010.10.30
Source: The Gaming Liberty

What will you be playing this Halloween? TGL will be playing Silent Hill 2, a title that still packs one of the most original, disturbing, psychological and downright clever horror experiences out there in videogame land.

Silent Hill 2 stars James Sunderland, a man who receives a mysterious letter that states his dead wife; Mary Shepard Sunderland, is still alive. James embarks on a journey to ‘Silent Hill’, the place where Mary is supposedly to be found. What follows is a series of twisted, bizarre and terrifying events that forces James to bring into question his existence, his moral ambiguities, his memory and his psychological resilience. The character of James Sunderland is played by Guy Cihi who not only provided James with his distinctive voice but also performed the motion capture for him. TGL recently caught up with Cihi and spoke with him about everything from live, love, loss, his experiences working with Konami and Mount Everest. Here’s what Guy had to say.

TGL: Hey Guy. Could you tell everyone at TGL a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you ended up living and working in Japan?

GC: I was born in New York. I studied Industrial Design in Connecticut and worked in that field for a number of years. In 1985 I formed a partnership with one of my clients. It was an interesting opportunity because we made our products in America and sold them in Japan. That was very rare at the time and it’s probably even rarer today. I was single and excited about the chance to travel the world. My partner and I built that company up significantly. Sadly he died of cancer and I miss him dearly. I sold my stake in that company back in 2000 and started doing venture capital and incubation work which means that I help entrepreneurs start new businesses. It is interesting work and I love it. It’s sort of like my design work before, but instead of designing consumer products, I design entire companies. I live near Shibuya in Tokyo. It’s a youthful and fashionable area. I love living in Japan, but I keep a lake house in the mountains of upstate New York for rigorous mental vegetation and laid back physical stimulation.

TGL: How does the president of AGS Capital get involved in contributing to such a huge video game franchise as Silent Hill? How did you audition for the role?

GC: It was quite by accident. I was between jobs at the time. AGS Capital hadn’t gotten off the ground yet and I had only just sold my stake in my first company. I was sort of taking a break and relaxing in New York. My older kids were living in Tokyo with their mother (my ex-wife) and so I travelled back to there regularly to spend time with them. On one of my visits my daughter asked me to escort her to an audition for a Playstation game. At the audition the assistant director, Jeremy, gave me a run down on the basics. While waiting for my daughter I spied a script sitting on a side table in the break room. I started reading it. I don’t know why, but the next time Jeremy walked through the room, I asked if I could read for the part of James. Several months later Jeremy called me in New York to tell me I got the part. I asked about my daughter’s part, but he said she didn’t get it. I told him that before I could accept, I needed to check with my daughter. After all, it was supposed to be her audition -- not mine. When I asked for my daughter’s permission she said, “Go for it, Dad!”

TGL: Did you always have an interest in voice performance and acting or was it something that you stumbled into by accident?

GC: I’ve always had an interest in acting. I performed roles in school musicals and plays since second grade and I studied acting as an elective in college but, as I said, my major was Industrial Design. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to perform in SH2 and I truly appreciate all the fans that have been kind enough to write and tell me they liked my performance. Thank you all!

TGL: Have you ever considered pursuing voice acting as a full time profession?

GC: Nope. I did some recordings for one of my venture companies once, but that was just to help them save money. My wife said to me once that if my other business ventures all fail, then at least I’ve got something to fall back on. (That’s my keeper wife talking. She’s great.) I would like to perform in Community Theater someday -- if I can find the time.

TGL: Tell us a little about the character you play in Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland. What kind of a guy is he?

GC: James is just your average everyday mega-tragedy man. He’s got so much pain packed inside that there’s no room left for him to survive. Acting as James was cathartic. I was recently divorced at that time and still very close to my pain. I was easily able to deliver tears and sadness on demand. I went through hell with my ex and was at times near suicidal. If it weren’t for my children, I’m not sure I would have made it. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them alone with only her to raise them. What I mean to say is that if the SH2 directors asked me for anguish, all I had to do was dredge up some dark memory and the sadness was all right there with me again. I’m generally a happy go lucky guy. One of my talents is the ability to forget painful experiences. Performing as James reminded me that we never really forget our pain. We just hide it away. Fortunately I’m not haunted by any really heavy dark stuff like James. I’ve healed.

TGL: How did you prepare for the role and which was the hardest scene to play?

GC: I just got deep into the character. My training (two whole semesters) was based on ‘method acting’. Whenever I stepped onto the recording stage, I was James. It was scary. He’s got a lot of hurt and anger inside, but he’s also kind and protective. Listen to me, I’m protecting him! I can’t really talk about it. It’s painful going back inside him. The one scene that had to be redone the most is a scene that comes late in of one of the alternate endings. For all the hard work it required, it’s really a very short scene. Blink and you’ll miss it. It’s where James picks up Mary’s lifeless body from her deathbed (he strangled her) and then turns and carries her away. I was crying on the set each time I lifted and carried Mary’s lifeless body, but creating that level of emotion over and over wasn’t the problem. The problem was the director said I was too slow getting Mary up into my arms and turned around. No matter how many takes we did it, the director said it was too slow. As I lay in bed one night, I replayed the problem over and over in my mind and I suddenly remembered an acting “trick” from college -- a stage technique for carrying a ‘dead’ body. The next time we tried the scene I nailed it on the second take. I wonder if anyone reading this interview knows the trick?

TGL: You provided both the voice and performed the actual motion capture for James, correct? Which did you prefer, the voice performance or the motion capture?

GC: I enjoyed all of it but you need to understand that the actors all performed their scenes together and live on stage in front of multiple cameras, directors, and crew. It was similar to recording scenes for a movie. The main difference was that we weren’t wearing costumes; we were wearing skin tight body suits with nodes attached at key points. Some of the motion cameras were magnetic and the others were laser type. Video cameras were always present to record facial expressions and allow the editors to properly sync the sound recordings with the body language. I don’t think of my SH2 work as voice recording mainly because the voice recording took only about four days to complete whereas the stage performances took almost four months. For me it was just like performing in a movie. Several days were spent exclusively for capturing my walking, running, hitting, and dying. I was sore for weeks after those dying days. Every time you let James die and hit the ground, I swear it still hurts me.

TGL: Did you enjoy working with Konami? Did you think the Japanese writers and developers did a good job when it came to creating a western story with English characters?

GC: Thank you for asking me this, it gives me a chance to clear up some things. I don’t have a very positive opinion about the ‘suits’ at Konami. I mean, they blacked out my face in the making of video because they wanted to avoid paying residual compensation for my performance?!? What’s with that…?? They should have taken the high road. Another bothersome thing is that they didn’t credit the assistant director Jeremy Blaustein for the tremendous job he did supporting the actors on stage and re-editing the script. Don’t get me wrong, we all enjoyed working together on the stage with the creative team from Konami. The creative guys did an amazing job researching and writing an incredibly complex story full of intricate historical references. Their tragic SH2 love story has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time. The fact remains however that the script was put into vernacular English by JB, and I think he deserves more credit for his work.

TGL: If Konami were to revisit the role of James for another game, would you have any interest in reprising your role? Would you ever consider working on another videogame again?

GC: Sure, why not? It was fulfilling and that’s what life is supposed to be about. If you want Konami (or Sony) to hire me again, there’s a guy in L.A. you can write to him. His name is Michael, he’s a great guy. If the spirit moves you, write to Mike. He’s always happy to hear from SH2 fans. His address is:

TGL: How was the dynamic on set? Did you have a good working relationship with the other voice performers and motion capture actors and do you stay in touch with any of the team today?

GC: Working on the set was exciting but it was often draining because the story was so dark. I almost never went home straight afterwards because I was strung out on James’ trauma. The relationships on set were sometimes tense but always professional. I keep in regular contact with Dave Schaufele who played Eddie. Sometimes we ride motorcycles together in the low mountains outside of Tokyo.

TGL: Let’s go back to Konami blurring your face. Having watched the Silent Hill 2 ‘making of’ documentary, Konami seem to concentrate on every character and their development except James. Why is this?

GC: To tell you the truth, I had no idea they were releasing a ‘making of’ video. They never told me. I found out later when a fan asked me about it. The suits at Konami didn’t bother to tell me that the game went platinum either. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. The creative guys are cool -- the suit guys are not. As you know I’m not a regular performer but from what I’ve heard, cutting people off seems like a regular thing for them. I hope that someday Konami management learns how to do right by the people who contribute so much to making their products.

TGL: Silent Hill 2 has such a huge following. Did you know when you first got the part of James that you were about to get involved in something that was such a big deal?

GC: Nope, and I don’t think anybody did. I recall there was a lot of stress on the set between the creative guys and the suits. The creative guys must have pushed hard to get a big production budget and I guess they were getting pressure back from management to deliver something equally big. It’s awesome for everybody on the team that turned out the way it did. But again, it’s only because of great fans like you guys! On behalf of the creative team at Konami allow me to say “thank you” to all the SH2 fans for saving their jobs!

TGL: What was your favourite thing about your time working on Silent Hill 2 as James Sunderland?

GC: Acting! I’m a big ham. I remember after one particular scene where I was weeping over Mary’s sick bed, Monica (Horgan-Mary’s Actor) said to me slowly and seriously, “You’re good!” I loved it. Being appreciated and respected by Monica was my favorite thing.

TGL: What does the Pyramid Head character represent in your opinion?

GC: I believe James created the Pyramid Head to punish himself for killing Mary. I believe James conjured the image from a violent episode in his past, something that happened before he met Mary.

TGL: Apparently, you’ve actually climbed Mount Everest. Is that true?

GC: Thank you! You’ve given me another chance to set something else straight. There’s a big difference between climbing on Mt. Everest and summiting Mt. Everest. I tried to explain that to another interviewer. She didn’t get it. I’m embarrassed. I’m a serious climber and I’ve topped many peaks together with talented teammates. The truth is that on Mt. Everest, our team didn’t get past the ice fall. It just wasn’t meant to be. But I’m still alive and my kids have a Dad. Not everyone I’ve climbed with is still here. I don’t go over 20,000 ft anymore and my limit is coming down the older I get.

TGL: What’s next for you Guy?

GC: More of the same, only different. I co-founded a new pet food company last month called Planet Pet Food. It’s centered around our Nature’s Plan holistic and organics that are good for dogs and cats -- just like nature intended. We have a license with the Animal Planet Channel to endorse and promote our foods everywhere except the US of A. After all the technical businesses I’ve been involved with, I’m sort of looking forward to this one and hoping it won’t keep me up late at night worrying about software code. And I met some cool guys last week in the online PC gaming industry. I had no idea what was going on in that world. These guys have good experience, an excellent product, and a solid business plan, so I’m trying to figure out a way to get myself involved. Who knows, maybe gaming is coming back around for me.

TGL: And finally, could you tell us, did you actually ever sit down and play Silent Hill 2?

GC: SORRY! I don’t even watch TV how am I supposed to play a video game?

Thanks for all your great questions. Happy Halloween!

TGL would like to thank Guy for taking the time out to speak to us. Thank you for your incredibly honest, frank and insightful answers. We wish Guy all the best in life and in his future endeavors. What a great guy. We reiterate his sentiments folks. Happy Halloween!