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A Conversation with the Cast and Creators of “Halo” (SXSW ‘22)

I had the chance to join a panel discussion with many of the cast and crew of Halo, which premieres on Paramount+ on March 24th. Participants included star Pablo Screiber (Orange Is the New Black), actor Jen Taylor (the Halo game series), actor Yerin Ha (Sissy), showrunner Steven Kane (The Last Ship), and executive producer and former game designer Kiki Wolfkill (the Halo game series). Below are some of the highlights of my interviews.



The following has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Kiki Wolfkill on the Game Industry’s Expansion into Hollywood

I’m curious what it’s like for you and what perspective you can provide on this industry that you’ve been a part of since the early 90s and what it’s like to see it evolve from what it was like then to this place at the center of the mainstream pop culture with huge budget TV shows like this one coming out.

Kiki Wolfkill, Executive Producer of Halo, Former Executive Producer at 343 Industries: I feel like I could talk about that for hours. I’m so proud of where our industry has come and how far. More importantly, I’m so proud of the fact that Hollywood is finally realizing, maybe ten years later than it should, the depth, density, and richness of these worlds that games create. There’s such an interesting and unique level of engagement that gamers have with these IPs, these worlds, and these characters. In something like Halo we have a whole universe built in and around the games. I think that’s something that’s been a long time coming. I think the medium is a storytelling medium even though it is very different from television or from film. It’s really unique. Recognizing that these worlds in games get built the way they do because game developers are storytellers and world builders. Taking that into this side of the business is so amazing to be a part of, and lets us do the things we can’t in the games. It’s a very deep character story with Master Chief – John is achievable because we have nine hours and we have this medium, and writers, and a showrunner like Steve Kane, who can really bring it to life.

Pablo Screiber on Finding Master Chief’s Humanity Through His Relationships

My question is about your relationship with Bokeem Woodbine as a performer. One of the things I most appreciated about the first couple of episodes are your scenes together and the way you’re able to bring out this long lived-in friendship, but a complex friendship, so I’d be curious to hear you speak to your relationship with Bokeem and how you built that out.

Pablo Screiber, Master Chief John-117: Sure. Bokeem is an amazing actor and a person who has a real sense of history and gravitas from the moment that you meet him. You feel a lot of what he’s been through and what he’s lived. I think that kind of life experience is invaluable for screen performance. The character he plays, Soren, is just a really rich and vibrant character. He’s got a lot of interesting history from having left the Spartan program at an early age after his augmentation has gone wrong. Now he’s this intergalactic space pirate who lives out in The Rubble and survives off of capturing UNSC ships and stealing their bounty. He’s got a family which, for John, interacting with them and with Soren after all these years apart feels particularly interesting. It is off-putting for John that Spartans could have children. He had never even entertained the idea that family was something that was possible. Soren really awakens John to the possibilities of a human life in general, that there are more possibilities than he had imagined. All those things together, including other things in the plot, are going to start the chain reaction of John discovering more and more about who he is as a human being outside of being a soldier.

Jen Taylor on the Differences Between Acting in the Halo games and the Halo TV series

I was curious about your intentionality of your performance. Do you approach voice acting in a TV show knowing that it’s going to be for Pablo or other characters to react to differently than a gaming universe where it’s more focused on the player’s response to the performance that you’re giving.

Jen Taylor, Cortana: I’m always thinking anything I do whether it’s TV, video games, stage work, or I’m selling you a taco. :Laughter: Maybe not selling you a taco – we all love tacos. I’m always thinking about objective. I’m generally not thinking about how it’s coming across. I’m more thinking about how I can affect the person to get what I want. So how can I effect Pablo to get what I want from him? How can I affect Kwan (Yerin Ha’s character) to get what I want from her? That’s what I’m thinking about: what is my objective? What am I going after? What is getting in my way? What would it look like if I got everything I wanted? Those are the things I’m thinking when I’m trying to speak to you as the player in the video game. I’m thinking about that when I’m speaking to my fellow actors on stage and on screen. It’s really a similar process for me. Slightly different technically, but the process is the same.

Halo launches on Paramount+ on March 24.

Please read our review here: “Halo” Launches to a Rocky Start, But There’s Reason to Hope (SXSW ‘22 Review)