The Art of Playground Insults: Voice-Acting Advice from the Cast of Canis Canem Edit/Bully

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To be involved in the creation of the many pedestrians and passers-by in any Rockstar Games project is, I’m sure, a dream job for any aspiring character actor. I know for a fact that I’d take great pride and glee in tracking myself down on the streets of Los Santos and provoking my NCP to the point where he yells “You don’t wanna f**k with me!”

If you’re familiar with Rockstar’s masterful portfolio, which includes the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series, you’ll have no doubt failed to resist chuckling at most of the slurs, outbursts and insults slung at you by these highly characteristic non-characters, the iconic and vocal bystanders. As you narrowly miss mowing down pedestrians on the pavement in Grand Theft Auto IV, you’re almost certain to be hit with a “Watch it, f**knuts!” or a, “My nose job!”, whereas if you randomly attack someone you may be treated to an “I’ll beat you like my ex beat me!” or a “Help, someone, I’m in danger, I have a career!” It’s all devilishly filthy, outrageous, pompous and controversial stuff that never fails to briefly step over that line of being massively offensive, but hey, this is a series that’s notorious for including in their games the option to murder prostitutes and assassinate rival drug enterprise kingpins. Never does the game demand this of you, but the fact that the option is there is a distinctive reminder of what game you’re playing. Hell, Red Dead Redemption even reminds you of how awful you’re being with an Honour system.

Another quintessentially distinctive feature of a Rockstar Games product is the esteemed writing and vocal performances. The playful, playground-insult style dialogue wasn’t at all out of place in Rockstar’s gang warfare and mob-themed games; if anything, the comic relief neutralised the intense subjects and themes, reshaping the more depressive and existentially heavier tones in games such as Grand Theft Auto III and IV into more upbeat, self-aware and often absurdly hilarious games. However, there’s no place more fitting for these immature one-liners than in Canis Canem Edit, or Bully as it’s probably more commonly known.

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Canis Canem Edit tells the story of Jimmy Hopkins, a 15-year-old, detention-frequent troublemaker who has been expelled yet again. His now pushed-over-the-line mother sends Jimmy to Bullworth Academy for the year while she honeymoons with her new husband. Sticking to signature Rockstar underbelly-grimy style, the institution of Bullworth is, needless to say, one of the grimmest private schools around. Setting the tone for Jimmy’s journey is a subtle hint hidden in its own Latin title; “Canis Canem Edit” fittingly translates as “Dog Eats Dog”. Cue fights-for-survival from each of the boarding schools’ cliques, which consists of nerds, bullies, jocks, little kids and occasionally, even the teachers.

Some of Rockstar’s finest ambient writing stems from simply lingering in dorms and corridors, overhearing scuffles and arguments, flirting and fighting, backchatting and apologising, whilst lead performances are, needless to say, wonderfully effective in articulating, immersing and enhancing the aesthetic of each environment. I reached out to several professional voice actors who worked on the seminal game, requesting that they share any advice for aspiring performers.

Adam Sietz, Voice of Zack Owens

Adam Sietz’s Rockstar credits include playing Zack Owens in Bully, an Innocentz gang member in Manhunt, a cop in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Crackerjack in The Warriors, and pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V

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“I would start off by mentioning how much the voice over business has changed since I entered it. I had a manager.  I needed a reputable agent. I had to have legitimate performance credits behind me. I needed a door opened first.

With the technology of today, anyone with a laptop and a USB microphone can enter the VO business. There are many websites. Pay the fee submit your auditions. Roll the dice. Book your percentages. Bam. You are a voice over guy/girl. 

It is different. It is harder to book work today. The lucrative nature of the business is not like it used to be. I used to walk into a room. I’d be up against approximately 40 others for the job. Today, that slot has possibly 400 others vying for the same opportunity. That said, opportunities do exist today that did not exist in the past. I also believe in the old adage “the cream always rises to the top”. By pivoting and exploring new avenues and revenue streams to utilize these talents, I’ve been fortunate to have a successful career in a business I always wanted to be in.

I have been coaching for performance with talent and corporately for years. From children to CEO’s, Actors or veterans. I teach many things, but along the way I do make sure to drive these core principles in:

1) Always Continue to Educate Yourself. Build your skill set. 

2) Do not attempt accents if they are not absolutely perfect. 

3) Trust your gut instincts. They will always serve up your best characters.

…and most of all remember this…

GOOD Acting is: Make-believe your audience is willing to believe.

That goes for on stage, screen or behind the microphone. Make sure they (& YOU) believe it”

Memorable Zack Owens quotes:

“I can’t believe I was robbed by a dork, and I’m a dork!”

“I warned you, I have years of repressed anger!”

“That’s less cool than I am!”

Robert Stanton, Voice of Mr. Galloway

Robert Stanton’s Rockstar credits include playing Mr. Galloway in Bully and a Smiley member in Manhunt:

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“I suppose the most interesting lesson I’ve learned over that decade and a half is that an afternoon or two of work, combined with the extraordinary creativity and craftsmanship of a whole team of people to make a game or a film or what have you, can have a big affect on people. I recently received a DM from someone who told me that that character in “Bully” inspired them to become a professional writer, though fortunately not an alcoholic. I was touched and humbled to read this. It also does make sense, as malingering from school to watch Dick Van Dyke’s show, or watching Fred Gwynne, whom I only knew as Herman Munster, play Big Daddy on stage in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and completely transform himself in a gigantic, hilarious, poignant performance, inspired me to be an actor. I must have done something right that day in the booth, but I was one of many people who created a game that had meaning for people. I do recall from both games the great wit of the writers, and when you have good material to work with, it’s always a joy.

Also: I know on “Manhunt,” I blew my voice out. I’d like to think on “Bully” I escaped with it intact”

Mr Galloway Memorable Quotes:

“Come on, I’m trying to get to the liquor store!”

“To be honest I’ve already given up, I only hang on out of habit”

“I need a drink…”

“Do the assignment and be quiet, I’ll just be sitting here drinking my… tea”

Phoebe Strole, Voice of Lola Lombardi

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“Something I would tell aspiring voice-actors, if they want to do this as a career, is to know your worth. The voice over industry is massive now, and there are many ways in which to work, which means that often, the corporations that own the creative properties are entitled to pay rates that you may feel don’t reflect the type and amount of work you’re doing. It will help you tremendously to be savvy about getting what you deserve to be paid (without shooting yourself in the foot, of course – there’s a balance). I would recommend joining SAGFTRA. Non-union jobs are eating up our work, which is another reason why rates can be hard to keep fair. Also important is building relationships, which takes a lot of time. Be open to other types of work that may not immediately interest you. Someone who’s casting that tiny local radio spot may be casting for, well, Rockstar Games the next week. To my mind, it’s only a net benefit to have your voice in as many ears as possible. You’ll be surprised what work may come your way after a while just by staying in the game, being reliable, and doing good work.

Lola Lombardi Memorable Quotes:

“A stalker, how exciting!”

“Shut up, you jealous bitch!”

“I heard that the new boy is a dangerous thug… it’s so exciting!”

Charlie Saxton, Voice of Melvin O’Connor

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“As far as my advice goes, I would say give a little bit *more* on your first take. Don’t be over the top; but really bring a heightened, truthful energy into the character, whatever the emotion may be. It’s easier to “bring it down” than “bring it up”. And always do your vocal exercises!”

Melvin O Connor Memorable Quotes:

“Excuse me, sir? Might I solicit your aid in a quest?”

“Feel the wrath of nerd rage!”

“I’m such a fat mess…”

Writer’s note:

I’d like to give a massive thanks to Adam, Robert, Phoebe and Charlie for offering their time and energy on this project; it was amazing to receive such diverse and helpful insights. I’ve attached links to their respective social media channels below; give them a follow!

Social Media Links:

Adam Sietz: https://www.adamsietz.com/

Robert Stanton: https://www.instagram.com/robstantinople/?hl=en

Phoebe Strole: https://www.instagram.com/phoebestrole/?hl=en

Charlie Saxton: https://www.instagram.com/charliesaxton/?hl=en

Image Credits:

https://medium.com/super-jump/jimmy-hopkins-the-avatar-of-my-youth-e4d951a9a498

https://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/bully-scholarship-edition/promo/promoImageId,130272/

https://whatculture.com/gaming/rockstar-quiz-how-well-do-you-remember-bully?page=5

https://muc.fandom.com/wiki/Melvin_O%27Connor

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