During a recent Final Fantasy preview event, we were returning to our seat when we found it occupied by someone talking excitedly about the game to another journalist.
They were clearly a massive fan, talking in detail about the game’s big ideas and tiniest minutia. We thought it might be a writer from a Final Fantasy fan site, or perhaps a streamer that’s dedicated their time to knowing everything about the game. It was Ben Starr, Final Fantasy 16‘s lead actor.
So after four hours with the game, we got to sit down with Ben, who plays the game’s protagonist Clive Rosfield, and later Susannah Fielding, who plays Jill Warrick to chat about the process of recording the game, the burden of keeping it a secret, and what it’s like for Ben, a Final Fantasy superfan, to take on the mantle of the lead role in his favourite series.
What was it like to get the call telling you that you’d be cast in Final Fantasy?
BS: I didn’t get the ‘congratulations, you’re in Final Fantasy’ call. I turned up, 5:30 on a Friday, absolutely exhausted to play a really small role in an unnamed fantasy RPG game. I got stopped halfway through and they said, ‘Ben can you read these lines’ so I just sight-read the lines for a character called Clint Richmond. The lines really resonated with me and they were really emotional, so I left the room and got a call four days later. I was filming Midsummer Murders when my agent called and said “You’ve got the lead in a video game.”
It wasn’t until a few days later when I came in to read for my younger self that they gave me the full script and told me what the game was and my mind just… I couldn’t tell anyone, so I found myself just pacing around my flat randomly touching stuff, ‘what do I do?’, I screamed into a pillow, and I jumped up and down. That’s been four years.
What was it like seeing your character for the first time?
BS: I wish it was a transformative experience, but I think I just reacted to how anyone who was dissociating with that they were doing (laughing). Now, as other people are playing it, I’m getting a more visceral feeling.
Before I’ve been able to compartmentalize it as “Oh this is just some silly thing I’ve been working on with four of my mates,” and now people are playing it and I’m getting all the thirst tweets of people going mad for him (laughs).
Do you think if you knew it was Final Fantasy you were auditioning for that it would have affected the performance you gave?
BS: It’s so time and place. I was tired, I was so emotionally open, which this role really requires. For whatever reason I was able to let myself go to that place, I just went for it. What is there to lose, you know? It was that “what is there to lose,” that changed my life.
I was talking to Morgan Rushton, who works on the localization team, and early on they said, “How’s it going,” I turned to him and said, “This is the biggest thing I’ll ever do,” to which Morgan said “Yeah but what about something like Star Wars,” so I turned to him and said, “this is my Star Wars.”
“I left the room and got a call four days later. I was filming Midsummer Murders when my agent called and said, ‘You’ve got the lead in a video game.'”
What’s your favourite Final Fantasy game?
BS: Eight. That’s not because I think it’s the best, that’s just the first one I played, and I’m thankful I got to play it. But I could go to bat for any of them. I could tell you why Final Fantasy 13 is one of my favourites. It just has a 10/10 soundtrack for me. I recently got to go on stage with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for Final Symphony and they asked me what my favourite piece of music was.
It’s Fisherman’s Horizon from Final Fantasy 8, it’s Dust to Dust from Final Fantasy 13, and you could see it ripple through the crowd of people in little pockets of support for each game. I had people come up to me and go, “You have no idea how important it was that you recognized Final Fantasy 13.”
[At this point in the interview, we were joined by Susannah Fielding who plays Jill Warrick, the game’s female lead.]
We were curious about how the process of recording for the game transitioned once the lockdowns of 2020 began and being able to travel to a studio became impossible?
SF: We started before COVID and we started doing quite a lot together, then everything got changed and we had to learn on the job in terms of how to keep going.
BS: I was always so happy when you (Susannah) had already gone in and recorded all your lines because I thought, “Yeah! You’ve already done all the work, I just have to react to you (laughing)”.
SF: Yeah, so it was hard when we had to split, we haven’t actually all been allowed together it’s been dribs and drabs. It was quite spaced out across four years. You never know when you sign up for a job like this. You don’t know how many expansion packs or things like that you’ll come back for. I’ve done other jobs where I think, “This will be a three-week job” and it ends up being like five years.
What was the recording process like during the Covid era? Was there a strange disconnect between the recording line for one of the biggest games in the world from your bedroom?
SF: I did do some from home when things were very locked down, but we were allowed in the studio ourselves since it’s like this sealed chamber.
BS: There was all this expensive kit that they couldn’t send to us, and we had tons of priority stuff that we had to record like all of our facial captures, so we had to get into a studio for that, it was tricky. They wouldn’t send it out to us (laughing) we had to have a separate operator to look after it. There aren’t classes at drama school about how you act with one of these things.
SF: It’s very much patting your head and rubbing your belly.
After four years of working on the game, how does it feel that it’ll be in the hands of millions of fans in a matter of weeks?
SF: It’s just really lovely to see people here today finally playing it. There’s a buzz because I’ve been doing it in a room on my own for the last four years, so I can’t wait to see more of it, I haven’t seen all of myself when I was going in to record there was always half the scene missing so it takes you out of it.
BS: There’s just a strange feeling of not really knowing what to expect when it comes out because it’s been ours for so long, but it’s so exciting.