| Last updated
When Valorant dropped, people didn't really know what to expect of Riot Games' dip into the world of FPS. It played almost exactly like Counter-Strike, took a bunch of elements from Overwatch, and was pinned as a high-octane, high-skill game for those really serious about shooters. Originality wasn't its main focus, it was aiming to take some of the best bits from other titles and create its own interpretation - and it worked. Valorant is a resounding success.
Although originality wasn't the focus, there was one part that Riot had made their own - the characters. As a hero shooter, of course, you pick a personality in-game which gives you powers and a character you embody. From Team Fortress 2 onwards, we've seen countless iterations of heroes in shooter games and Valorant somehow managed to make its cast feel fresh. On that cast, there is no one fresher than cheeky chappy Phoenix.
As someone who has lived in England pretty much my entire life, Phoenix feels really, truly believable as a guy I'd meet in a bar in South London. The confidence ranging into arrogance, yet a disarming charm is someone I'd hear on the tube making a gaggle of girls giggle. When 2020 gave us Watch Dogs: Legion which felt strangely divided from real-life London, Valorant's Phoenix filled that gap. So we had the opportunity to talk to Afolabi Alli about what it's like to be the voice of Phoenix, the importance of that role. Oh, and we also asked him if Phoenix prefers Custard Creams or Bourbons... just for good measure.
GAMINGbible: So, for those that don't know Phoenix so well, how would you describe him?
Afolabi Alli: My name is Afolabi Alli. I voice a character called Phoenix in a game called Valorant. And I'd say Phoenix is this, he's this young, cocky, confident and daring character, who represents a lot of young people, I suppose, in the UK. And not like specifically London. But he's just a young guy who genuinely just wants to have a good time.
I remember when we were talking about it in the studio. He's like, he's the sort of star player he's like the striker or the quarterback. So he's the guy. He's the man and he's talented. And he's just a really fun character and has so much depth to him. And although he's this arrogant figure, he also is quite compassionate and caring. He's just a delight to play.
We've loved listening to Phoenix, especially as he seems like a guy we could really meet in London - he's a great representation of a modern British person. Do you know if he was always going to be a diverse character? Or was there another version of Phoenix originally conceptualised?
You know, what? When I went for it, they had this image - they had a picture of what he looked like. And I was like, "Huh, he's Black?" So when I saw that, I was like, well, I'm not having to put anything on. I think instantly, just seeing what he looked like meant I could access playing him. And that kind of changed everything. I didn't realize what just seeing someone that was a character that wasn't slightly lighter or didn't look a certain way, meant. You know I thought I could be this character. I could play this character.
When seeing the initial mock-up, they said he's got to be from the UK and I thought "Oh, this is great". So it's not even a thing where, you know, I might have to put an American accent on which is almost the go-to. So when I saw it, I said this is calm. I'm just gonna go in, and I'm just gonna have fun because they hadn't told me what the project was. I didn't know what I was going in for. I went in it was called Project X or something. All I saw was a tiny picture and a couple of cryptic lines.
My name was something like 'Apollo' - they gave me a fake name. When I walked in, I just thought I'm just gonna mess around and have fun because obviously, with acting you get a lot of NDAs you have to sign. So for me, I'm kind of used to it. I played around with it. One of the big notes that I got from the guys at Liquid Violet (the recording studio) was they said to me just go in and ask "how would you say the lines?" And then that's kind of where it came from.
So when Valorant called me back, a lot of the lines they liked were me ad-libbing, which makes sense why people can relate to Phoenix. A lot of the stuff where I was just free flowing broke off many Americanisms in the breakdown. When we went through the lines we had to change stuff and go: "no, we don't say this" or "you wouldn't say that".
It was Riot having the care to go give up some of the power and ask us what we think. You rarely see that. A lot of time you have to be really strict to the text, really follow what's been laid out. "It's there for a reason". But for me with Phoenix, it was like, "Okay, how are you going to interpret that and what can you bring to it?" That was the first audition, I was having fun, I didn't know if I was gonna hear back. I didn't even think anything of it. I thought it was cool. I get to go to a recording studio because, at that time, I had quite limited audition experience for games. So it was just a lot of fun.
Alright, how about some quick Q and As? Answer these on behalf of Phoenix so we can get to know him a little better. Aston Martin or Bentley?
Bentley. Actually, you know what when I think about it - I think a Bentley is bigger isn't it? So I feel like Phoenix actually would want a smaller car, just for me and maybe my girl because he's a bit speedier. Right okay, here's my answer. Half of me is saying Bentley because that's more "Yo, I am more extravagant. I am the guy." You know, he'd get it custom made and take the B off and put a P there or something. But then Aston Martin is like "Yo, I'm quick, I'm just gonna go pull out the weapon." Yeah actually, Aston Martin, Aston Martin.
Bond or Mission Impossible?
Ooh, because Phoenix is slick hmm. I'd say Mission Impossible because of the sort of layout of Valorant and how it works. James Bond's a bit more like 'hey, let's get a drink and we're gonna go to the bar'- You know, it's a bit more seductive. It's a bit more sensual and suave. And Phoenix has got that but I say Mission Impossible.
Okay. Custard Creams or Bourbons.
Okay, takeaway Indian or takeaway Chinese?
He'd like something hot.
Yeah, yeah, Indian. He wants it hot, hot. He wants something really hot.
Clubbing or a house party?
Come on. Clubbing, no brainer.
Xbox or PlayStation?
Oooh, Xbox or PlayStation? You have to go with the classic original PlayStation. I think you have to.
Go to Glastonbury or go to Notting Hill Carnival?
Notting Hill. That's a no brainer as well.
There was one more - a classic British cup of tea or coffee.
Oh, he's British. So I'd go with tea, but part of me feels like coffee, he'd be like "Yo, can I have a shot of coffee?" That could be either, it depends where we are in the game. I feel like Phoenix could be the guy that says "you know what, while you guys are running around and trying to find the map, I'm gonna have a tea." But I feel like coffee would be when Phoenix is the last person in the game he'd take a quick shot of espresso.
As an actor, what's the difference between doing something like theatre and doing voice acting? When you went in, did you come up with an idea of who Phoenix was beyond the notes they gave you?
So what I will say is that the director, David, he's the initial director that worked on the first three or four sessions with me, like between two to four hours. So they're quite long, quite intense. And what happens is, we - me and David - have this rapport where we play music. So Phoenix actually as a character has his own playlist of music that they used to feed into you for reference.
And then he'll feed in scenarios, I'll give him circumstances almost like if you're working on stage. We like a methodology we work with Stanislavski. And he has like this way of like, his way of breaking down character. And in a way, he brings it in by just saying, "Okay, these are given circumstances, this is what's going on", and you feel it, you're here - this is the vibe.
So this is before we even saw any of the visuals, it's like getting into your body, getting into your breath, and then just sort of playing around. From the start, they gave me so much freedom. I'm talking, I'm saying this doesn't work, or I'm doing gestures in the booth, pretending I've got a gun out. Sometimes we got vision, we got cameras in there. And then David directs and says "okay, so here's what we're gonna tweak". Or "can you think about this". We just create this world. In a way, it's like an actor's delight. If you're doing a play you don't get that much time one-to-one with a director.
Are you interested in doing more video game-related work in the future?
Oh for sure, for sure. It's weird because they kind of say you can't use your Phoenix voice, but, it kind of is just my voice but exaggerated in certain areas. But yeah, for sure I'd love to try loads of different projects. Yeah, I'd love to try out more stuff, if I get the chance and just play around with, you know, different characters. And, you know, and hopefully, try and merge that into more cinematic stuff later on down the line.
When you're in a booth I guess there is a very different type of energy right? Doing stage and screen allows you to bounce energy back and forth between you and other actors, whereas I guess when you're in a booth you're giving your all into something that is quite abstract comparatively? When you've had the opportunity to talk to the other voice actors from Valorant, what's that like?
You know what? It's weird. But what's weirder, is the fact that like, when you're working on any sort of job other than theatre, you could be in a film with someone and have never worked together. And so when I started acting, I thought that was weird. I can be in a film with you and I could have never seen you at all, you could film your scene separately and not even be in a room and like, and it looks like we have such great chemistry.
So in Valorant recording, occasionally I hear a few other lines but I think that was it. Maybe I heard a few of Jett's lines, maybe some from like Sova I think. But other than that, I think that was it.
So when we get a new agent in, is there a sort of welcoming-in process? Do you get to meet them or have to go in and re-record lines where you get to hear them for the first time?
That's a great idea. Maybe you should talk to Valorant because I know nothing. They tell me nothing. And this is like not even NDA, this is I know nothing. The only thing they'll say is "oh yeah we've got some really cool stuff coming out". But that's so vague.
I told you, I didn't know who the character was until I had to say Phoenix rather than Apollo. And you just don't know these things. The team at Riot is so big, they're so vast that everything has to be tight. But hopefully once like COVID restrictions ease up a bit. We can have a bit more interaction with everyone.
But you're right, I think there's definitely an opportunity for someone to sort of go, hey, let's just get everyone together and have a chat or talk about something, you know?
Featured Image Credit: Riot Games
Chosen for YouChosen for You
Most Read StoriesMost Read