Exclusive – Destiny's Crow actor talks killing Cayde and embracing villainy: "In a way, it was very exciting"
Brandon O'Neill looks back on 10 years of playing the Crow in Destiny.
It has been quite the journey for Uldren Sov in the world of Destiny. He has been the villain that killed off beloved characters. He was hated by fans and then beloved. He has died and come back to life. And that is only just scratching the surface of all that Uldren, now known as The Crow, has been through.
Actor Brandon O'Neill has voiced the character since his introduction, and he has had quite the journey with the game too. RadioTimes.com were lucky enough to spend some time with Brandon recently - over Zoom - to talk about his time with the game and the road he and his character have been on so far.
We spoke to him about the early days of his time on the game and the initial mystery of what he was auditioning for, to the moment he realised just how big a project he was now a part of.
When he first got word that he had an audition for the part, O'Neill was very much kept in the dark about the project. Not only did he not know the character or the game's name - he did not even know which studio it was that he was auditioning for!
O'Neill recalls: "Well, I was doing a theatre piece and I was doing six days a week, eight hours a day, and this breakdown came through my agent. He sent me an audition and it said a company was looking for a character called The Space Thief and I was like, that's me. I can do that, whatever that is, that sounds like it's up my alley. There was no name for the company, I didn't know it was a video game. I just went and auditioned in the casting directors office and they had a camera in front of me.
"They had a fake gun and they wanted me to jump up on this stool and wave this gun around and say my lines and they got different camera angles so I didn't really know what I was doing. And then they had me come in for one more session with one of the people from Bungie who introduced themselves as a director, but not as part of Bungie. Everything was super top-secret at that point. And then I did a last audition at the Bungie studios so at this point I'm like 'OK, this is a video game'.
More like this
"But I wasn't terribly familiar with Bungie myself, I didn't play a lot of video games, I didn't play Halo so, to be honest, I wasn't terribly familiar with them. Again, they had me in the mo-cap space kind of imagining giant machinery and working with other actors and I was competing against these people that I was in the room with - it felt very much like a film or a theatre audition."
Read more Gaming interviews:
- RuneScape producer on 20 year anniversary: "The scary part for me is what happens next"
- Fall Guys designer answers existential questions: "Do they sleep? How are they born?"
- Avengers game Hawkeye actor talks "difficult" Hulk fight
- Asim Chaudhry says "gaming is amazing for your mental health"
When it came time to do the actual audition, it was far more than just a test of his voice that Bungie was going to be looking at, with O'Neill saying that they "wanted to see the full package". But Bungie's approach led to Brandon having a lot more in common with his character than just dulcet tones. "I feel like Uldren is kind of related to me, in a way, like he's got similar eyebrows and similar cheekbone structure and I think they made it easy on themselves to convert my physicality into a character on a video game.
"I found that a lot of times they wanted gestures to be a little bit more pronounced just so it's a little bit more exciting on the screen because the mo-cap captures something and then they digitise it and then they try to make these animated characters look natural. So, I think a larger range of motions sometimes helps them find what they're looking for because humans aren't always waving their arms around and punctuating sentences with little arm motions - we don't tend to do that".
It was when O'Neill first turned up to work at Bungie that it became immediately clear to him how big a project he had taken on. It was here too that he got the original "Han Solo" style pitch for Crow.
"I remember it was the first day I showed up to work and I had signed paperwork, again not knowing what for, but knowing it was top secret. There was no name for this game yet and then when I showed up at Bungie they took me on a tour of the place and I realised how massive this thing was. At the time when I got the role of Crow, which is what they were calling him back on day one, he was going to be a Han Solo, space thief kind of guy who knew his way around the universe but didn't like Guardians or the City, at all.
"So he kind of kept to the outskirts and they told me that I was going to be helping guide the player through the game and that's when I kind of realised, alright this is a big gig and I'm going to be working quite a bit on this."
O'Neill's Crow famously killed a beloved character called Cayde-6, who was played by two cult icons - gaming industry legend Nolan North and Firefly star Nathan Fillion.
We had to ask whether O'Neill had any reservations about taking someone so beloved out of play in Destiny permanently - and if he had ever crossed paths with Fillion in real life.
"Nathan who?" O'Neill asks with a laugh. "No, I haven't met him, we weren't able to get into the studio together. Most of the time he'd record his stuff from LA, or wherever he was, and I'd record my stuff in Seattle. It was shocking when I got the script I can tell you that but in a way, it was very exciting because Uldren was going to go from a sideline character that people were just annoyed with to the central villain of the piece."
O'Neill's character is a very interesting one in the Destiny universe. At first, he was a hated character, but he has gone onto become one of the most beloved characters in the whole franchise and it was quite the whirlwind for him to watch it all unfold.
"I feel like it happened in real-time for me. I mean, that fact that this game has been going on for like seven years, well I've been working on it since 2011 so we're going on 10 years of experience with this guy. We had stuff way before the game was released, and then we scrapped it all and went onto something new but I've been living with this guy for so long - so to feel his journey in almost real-time has been amazing.
"To have the chance to follow an arc like that instead of just showing up on the screen, making some funny jokes and getting killed - I get resurrected? Who gets to do that? They could have easily just killed my character off at that point but I think they had a bigger story to tell about the light and the darkness and there's a larger narrative.
"These guys at Bungie are not messing around. They've written 2000 years of history for this planet, for these people and they're starting to write languages for the Eliksni. The amount of work that goes into this is astonishing and I just feel super lucky to be a part of it.
"And there are fans that are helping to create that which is part of the beauty of this thing being such a worldwide experience is that there are fans all over the world contributing language and lore and artwork and it's phenomenal."
Given how popular a franchise Destiny has become, it is surely only a matter of time before we get to see it make an appearance on the big screen, but would O'Neill be up for reprising his role in a live-action capacity? Well, he would, but he does not think the role would be offered to him should it eventually happen.
"Well, being an experienced actor, I would love to be a part of it, let's just say that, I would love to make an appearance on screen in some way - if it's just my voice then fine. I have no delusions that they won't take a character like Uldren and cast them with some amazing A-list actor.
"So yes, I would love to be a part of it but knowing where I sit age-wise, I don't think I'm the right age for Uldren anymore. I don't think I'm pretty enough for Uldren. Even if they threw the blue makeup on me, I don't know. Maybe I could play Uldren's Uncle or someone."
Follow Radio Times Gaming on Twitter for all the latest insights, or check out some of the best subscription deals in gaming below:
- Get unlimited gaming with Utomik 3 month subscription for £13.49
- Buy Nintendo Switch Online 12 months membership for £14.99
- Get a 14-day trial of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for £2.99
- Get PS Plus 12 months at CDKeys for £43.99
Looking for something to watch? See our TV Guide.