No, seriously. Do you? I know it’s not strictly video game related, but the person I interviewed this month, Denny Delk, is the “Got Milk?” guy—the guy who questioned our dairy habits at the end of all those legendary commercials.
And that’s not all you’d know him from! Denny Delk portrayed Murray the Talking Skull in the Monkey Island series, King Otar Fenris III in King’s Quest VII, Hoagie and all the various tentacles in Day of the Tentacle, the narrator in Rogue Squadron 2 and 3, Wicket in the Ewoks animated series, and loads upon loads of other characters you can read about at IMDB.
A few weeks ago, Denny was kind enough to let me bug him about adventure games, LucasArts, the voice actors’ strike I could’ve sworn existed, and much more. Check out what he had to say!
GameCola: How did you get started in voice acting? Had you always wanted to be a voice actor?
Denny Delk: I was working in radio, which led to work as a voice over person in commercials, then branching out. I was contacted to do LucasArts’ first talking game, and have been doing it since then. I had always wanted to be an attorney.
GC: How do you find out about voice acting jobs? Do the game companies come to you, or do you come to the companies?
DD: The companies let it be known that they are looking for performers, and I’m given the chance to audition.
GC: How do you prepare for a voice acting role? How, do get in the mindset of a talking skull, or a time-traveling rocker, or a tentacle bent on world domination?
DD: Most of my voices come from listening to people around me. I’ve always been something of a mimic. And getting into the mindset of a character is fun, in that even a tentacle bent on world domination thinks that the domination is a good thing, at least for him, so you gotta go with that.
GC: You’ve said that Murray the Talking Skull wasn’t intended to be as comical a character as you portrayed him. What was the original Murray like?
DD: The producers weren’t sure what Murray was. We were casting around for a voice and attitude, and I asked what kind of power he had, and they said that he had none. How frustrating for Murray. So I just made him loud and frustrated. We’ve all known people like that.
GC: Since they were both well-known for their adventure titles, and since you’ve worked on adventure titles for both companies, compare working with Sierra to working with LucasArts.
DD: I haven’t worked for Sierra for quite a while. Don’t know what they’re like these days. But Lucas has always been kind of like a family. You get to know the people (engineers, programmers, beta testers) and I’ve always looked forward to dropping in to work with them. I hope it will happen more often, now that they’ve moved to the Presidio in San Francisco. Electronic Arts is similar in its collegial atmosphere.
GC: You’ve performed in a number of Star Wars video games. Do you have an affinity for the series, or are those just the jobs that keep getting offered to you?
DD: I really enjoyed the movies, and the games, especially the games where you pilot the ships, require a lot of concatenation, which requires a pretty steady performance. For whatever reason, I’m good at that. So I’ve been lucky to do a number of Star Wars games.
GC: Were you going to be involved in the new Sam & Max game? Can you offer any insight as to why it was canceled?
DD: I was not on the list for the new Sam and Max game. The new producer didn’t realize I had been on the original. So I really don’t know why they decided not to do it. I hope they change their minds. The first one was wonderful fun.
GC: What do you think it would take to resurrect the adventure game genre?
DD: Adventure games require some patience and commitment. I think that these days, too many people suffer from short attention spans. The shooter games are still popular, but the time to play a good adventure game just seems to be evaporating.
GC: You’ve done a lot of work for adventure games. Do you consider yourself a fan?
DD: I play games from time to time, but I don’t consider myself a gamer like some of the folks I know who play every day for hours at a time. I guess that’s why I don’t play a lot of adventure games, just because I haven’t the time to devote to them. But I enjoy the time I do spend playing.
GC: Have you ever regretted taking on a voice acting job? Or, not taking on a voice acting job?
DD: Never regretted taking a job. There are some that you are prouder of than others. And I haven’t been offered a game job that I haven’t taken. I have turned down commercials. Mostly political ones.
GC: As the president of the San Francisco Branch of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, can you shed a little light on the recent voice actors’ strike? Were you involved? How do you feel about it? Are you happy with the results of the strike?
DD: Well, let’s start by saying that there was no strike. I was involved with the negotiation as the lead AFTRA negotiator. We (AFTRA) settled our contract with the producers in June, if my memory serves. Screen Actors Guild settled near the end of July with the same agreement. I was pleased that the actors will enjoy a substantial increase in pay and that there was no strike. More work for actors, more money for actors, better games for gamers. Sounds like a win-win-win to me.
GC: Do you think it’s justified for publishers to spend loads of money on a celebrity to do voice work, rather that someone the public might not have heard of? Do the celebrity voices rake in more cash?
DD: Publishers get to spend their money the way they want. I don’t think celebrities sell games, but I’m not in the position to tell producers not to hire the celebs. And in reality, the celebs usually can’t do the work that a good voice person can. The art to doing voice work is to be able to convey emotion with just your voice. These celebs are used to using their voices and their bodies and their faces. I can raise an eyebrow with my voice. Most celebrities can’t. But if you’re a celebrity, you can tell the producers that you’ll only work for 200 thousand dollars. Then, if the producer thinks its worth that amount of money, the celebrity has a bit of extra mad money.
GC: Do you feel that voice actors deserve a cut of the profits of the games they work on?
DD: I would like to see a way to reward those people who voice very popular games, assuming that their efforts went into making that game popular. That’s part of what the recent negotiations were about. The trick is, how to create a formula that results in the additional reward for a good game, but doesn’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg (the producer). As performers, we have achieved that kind of payout in every other area of our work. I hope we’ll get there.
GC: A few weeks ago you said that you’d be getting a backstage tour of the new LucasArts games headquarters in San Francisco. How did it go? Is there anything you can report to us? Any new adventure games on the horizon, like a Monkey Island 5?
DD: Didn’t get the chance to see what new games are on the boards, but the new campus is incredible. I believe that parts will be open to the public when they get all settled. The park like atmosphere is beautiful to walk about, and we had a discussion about whether the statue of Yoda at the entrance was life sized, or, like the statue of John Wayne at the Orange county airport, was it a bit bigger to give it a monumental feel.
GC: Many apologies, but I’ve got to ask it: How exactly did you become the “Got Milk?” guy?
DD: I was very lucky to get that. The people at Goodby Silverstein and Partners have been incredibly good to me over the years. In fact, one of the spots I did for them for E-bay just won a Clio award, a Mercury award and a Palm d’Or (I think that’s right) at the Cannes advertising festival.
The story: The first ad they did was the Aaron Burr spot, in which the guy in the Aaron Burr museum is listening to the radio while eating lunch, and the radio announcer says that they’ll call a number at random to see if the person knows who was in the famous duel with Alexander Hamilton. The guy in the museum is the one who gets called, and can’t speak because of the peanut butter sandwich in his mouth, and no milk in the carton. I did the voice of the radio announcer, as a top 40 DJ. For some reason, they wanted to do a different kind of announcer, so they called me back in to do an FM DJ. And while we were there, we did the “Got Milk?” tags. They called back to get yet another kind of announcer, but I wasn’t available. So I lost the DJ voice, but got the tag.
GC: Besides the “Got Milk?” ads, are there any other commercials we’d know you from?
DD. Depends on where you live. I’ve done Hellman’s in the east, Toro mowers in the midwest and Toyota in Northern California, just to name a few.
GC: If I looked inside your video game system of choice right now, what would I find?
DD: Right now its a car racing game, and I’m not even sure which one. Just some mindless twitch game that I was playing while listening to a radio discussion.
GC: What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect from you in the future?
DD: Nothing on the boards right now. You know of any auditions?
GC: Are there any goals you’d like to pursue in your life besides voice acting?
DD: I’ve got lots of irons in the fire. My latest interest in in putting up my own web log. I find blogging very interesting. I tend to be a bit irreverent and sarcastic, so my observations would probably run that way. Less a point of view than just popping balloons. Oh, and I’d like to be the greatest swordsman in all of France.
GC: Any advice for someone wishing to make it as a voice actor?
DD: It is hard to get into, so don’t give up your day job. The technology is running away too. It used to be that your voice and a little luck was what you needed. Now you better have a fast computer, a good microphone, the latest sound editing software and an ISDN codec. And for those folks who want to go to a school or take classes to do voice overs—fine, but don’t become a class junky. At some point, go out and do it and stop taking classes.
GC: What’s the biggest problem plaguing the video game industry today?
DD: Probably staying ahead of the technology. It is changing so quickly. We’re not far way from the merger of games and movies. I can see the day when we’ll be able to essentially direct the movie and its outcome the way we play a game. And how often are gamers/viewer going to be willing to pay to upgrade their systems? Money, money money money.
GC: What’s the most important lesson that life’s taught you?
DD: That unlike on the computer, there is no “undo”. Whatever you have done, it’s over. You move forward from where you are. Stop regretting and make the most of what’s to come.
If you’d like to learn more about Denny Delk, listen to some of his voice acting samples or get in touch with him yourself, check out his website!