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Words: Stacey Henley
The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is overflowing with deplorables, but none quite so despicable as Micah Bell. The camp rat is the biggest thorn in protagonist Arthur Morgan's side throughout Rockstar's 2018 game, but to hear his voice and motion-capture actor Peter Blomquist tell it, he might not really be the villain of the game at all.
"I've never really thought of Micah as being the definitive antagonist," Blomquist tells me. "He's not a likeable character and he's despicable in many ways, but there are plenty of characters who play a big role in influencing Morgan's choices and morality."
This idea of morality is key in Red Dead Redemption 2 - and, indeed, its 2010 predecessor, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on May 18th. Every decision that Morgan makes - or rather, every decision the player makes as Morgan - changes how the world sees him, and even how he sees himself. And as Blomquist points out, the real villain in the game is Arthur Morgan himself, not Micah.
"You can play Arthur as low honour," he says - Morgan can be played as quite the b*stard, if you want. "We all have our own antagonist inside of us." The only real difference, as Blomquist explains it, is that Arthur is introspective about his misdeeds, while Micah can't be, and so he never gets better: "Unlike Arthur, Micah doesn't question himself. The patterns are laid in too deep for him to reject."
For all that Blomquist might not think Micah is the game's ultimate villain, he does think the appeal of the character lies in his villainy. "It's so fun to play bad guys," he tells me. "There's a freedom; I go to work and get paid to be an asshole. It's amazing."
He adds: "We live vicariously through villain rage. They just put it out there, and I think part of us goes, 'If only I could do that,' some days."
While Arthur and John had ostensible gang leader Dutch van der Linde as their parental figure, Micah had nobody. And according to Blomquist, that's a big source of Micah's resentment towards Arthur, and key to his motivations throughout the game.
"Micah's father was a terrible person, he had a terrible upbringing, and his grandfather was an absolutely despicable person," he tells me. "That's a hole in Micah's life that he cannot fill. He tries to, but he doesn't have the tools to do it.
"At a few points, it becomes a little awkward for Dutch to hear how much admiration Micah is expressing for him, and it sounds disingenuous, but I believe it was genuine. Dutch is the only one he wants to be part of his imagined family."
Micah Bell isn't the only gaming b*stard Blomquist has experience with, either. He also played Doctor Harlan Fontaine in Rockstar's 2011 release, L.A. Noire - another game which pushed the boundaries of motion-capture technology. While L.A. Noire's visuals perhaps haven't held up today they were certainly ground-breaking at the time - and having recorded Harlan and Micah a decade apart, Blomquist saw the massive advancements in motion-capture technology.
For L.A. Noire, Blomquist describes having to act out a scene then return the next day for facial capture. "We'd shoot the scene and then the next day we'd sit in a booth and watch the scene we did the day before, rerecording the dialogue," he recalls. "They'd cut and paste our heads onto the skeletons from yesterday, and for cutscenes that went on a while we'd just have to stare straightforward, constantly."
Red Dead Redemption 2 was completely different. "It was like performing in a theatre in the round, it was great to feel this total freedom that we were living in that environment," Blomquist says. "Rockstar were the ones creating these changes. They weren't, like, reading a manual and going, 'Oh, that's the latest thing in mocap!' That team was inventing the technology as they went."
Blomquist's ties with Rockstar go back even further than L.A. Noire, too. A decade before being cast as Micah Bell, Blomquist played through the original Red Dead Redemption and has fond memories of it.
"I'd never seen anything like Red Dead before. I wouldn't call myself a gamer, but I can become totally absorbed in a game if it has a strong story, and I was just enthralled by Red Dead."
While Blomquist describes being "starstruck" at meeting the likes of Rob Wiethoff (who plays John Marston in Red Dead Redemption and its sequel) and Benjamin Byron Davis (Dutch van der Linde, and also a star of L.A. Noire), most of the actors were all new to the Red Dead series despite RDR2 being a prequel, so "it was brand new territory, and we were all in the same boat".
There was one thing which shocked Blomquist once he met the cast, however. "It was quite interesting for the first time, meeting Rob, and hearing that Marston voice [Blomquist promptly launches into a deep, gravely tone] and realising, 'Oh my God, Rob actually sounds like that! That's just his normal voice!'"
It's clear Blomquist has a real connection with Red Dead Redemption 2 and Micah Bell, even if he is a rat, and understands the impact the game can have.
"Someone posted online the day it came out, 'I just beat RDR2!' like they had just blasted through it, and I guarantee they hadn't done half of the game. I think it was Roger [Clark, who plays Arthur Morgan], who responded: 'You don't beat RDR2. RDR2 beats you.'"
Featured Image Credit: Rockstar Games
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