Derek Mears has made a career of playing imposing bad guys, including horror slasher Jason Voorhees from the newest “Friday The 13th,” and the classic Predator in “Predators.” Now he’s the voice behind Gek, an Elite alien featured in Halo: Infinity Spartan Ops. It’s episodic content for Halo 4 that takes place after Master Chief’s adventures in the game. Players learn the story of the Spartan IV’s from Majestic Squad in cutscenes, then go out and do their best to play like Spartans. The episodes were created by Axis Animation, who delivered the jawdropping trailer for Dead Island.
“Technology has improved so much in the past few years,” Mears said. “Before you’d have to do a motion capture, then a facial capture. We had to do so many things separately. Now we can just do a performance capture and they’ve got the whole thing.”
Though Mears is better known for his action roles, he got his start during improv (at age 17, no less) with ComedySportz. That training proved invaluable for doing voice work.
“In voice acting, you’re creating everything,” he said. “Your character may be about to jump off a cliff, but you can’t see that. You have to create it all in your mind. On a movie you’re using your imagination, but you’re on a set. There are physical things you can see. In acting, you have one foot in reality and one foot in make believe. It’s the way we played as children.”
Make believe has always been a part of Mears’ life. He has alopecia, a condition which causes hair loss. Particularly in the early stages, hair leaves in patches. It’s not a fun way for a kid to grow up. Mears got through childhood with distractions such as comic books, video games and roleplaying including Dungeons & Dragons. The young boy was learning to create characters in his mind. It was perfect preparation for a life spent in all kinds of magical and mythic worlds, battling or becoming monstrous creatures for people’s entertainment.
The unusual appearance of a man with alopecia? Turned out that’s what Hollywood calls “a great look” for horror and sci-fi movies. His role in Spartan Ops was a huge opportunity for a lifelong lover of games and science fiction.
“I was having a hard time not freaking out when they called about it,” he said. “Trying to stay professional. Would you like to be in Halo? Yes, yes I want to do this!”
Mears’ celebrity status earned him a spot in the “Game with Fame” promotion that Xbox Live does. Stars from all walks of life hop on their Xbox 360s and play some of their favorite games with fans. Celebs would rather not give out their Gamertag for the entire world to have, so Microsoft creates one just for the event. For a lot of actors, that’s not a huge deal. They’re not going to play Xbox after this anyway. For somebody that prides himself on actually being good at games, there’s a small problem.
“We were playing Call of Duty,” he said. “But with them giving me a new Gamertag, I had to start over from Level 1. I didn’t have all the stuff I unlocked so everyone’s killing me. And of course, you’re trying to interact and talk with people while you’re playing. People are asking you questions about the movie while you’re trying to hide. Everyone’s shooting me. I heard somebody say Hey, I just teabagged Jason!”
It’s a small price to pay for the actor to talk to his fans. One of his first big movie roles was a fight scene with Will Smith in “Wild, Wild West.” The megastar’s interaction with everyone made an impact on a guy just getting into the business.
“I was blown away by how genuine he was,” Mears said. “He treated everybody from the caterer to the director the same way. I’m a fan from here on out. I realized the power these artists have to touch people, and the positive energy they create. I remember the first time a rock star talked to me. I’m still amazed. Wait, that person liked my movie? That person follows me on Twitter?”
Next up, Mears plays Edward in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
“I know you’re thinking, not another fairy tale movie,” he said. “But it reminds me a lot of Evil Dead with the slapstick violence. Also, we use a lot of practical effects in places where they ordinarily use CGI. I love CGI, but you don’t want to see it all the time.”
Every actor has a dream project, including the man behind Jason’s legendary hockey mask. If he had his way, one of his cult favorite comic books would get the big screen treatment.
“There was this DC comic called Blue Devil,” Mears said. “He’s a stuntman who gets turned into a demon and becomes a superhero. I could draw on so much of my own experience for that.”
Hey, after the giant bag of money “The Avengers” hauled in, every studio is looking for a new comic book project. Let’s make this happen, Hollywood.
Hansel and Gretel comes out January 25. Halo 4 is available now. For more information on Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, Spartan Ops and Derek Mears’ numerous other projects, follow him on Twitter: [@DerekMears]