INTERVIEW: Overwatch’s Jonny Cruz Talks Lúcio, Fandom and Fair Pay
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“Look at this team! We are gonna do great!”
That’s the optimistic, encouraging sound of Lúcio Correia dos Santos, whom you might hear in the spawn room at the beginning of a round in Overwatch. These bubbly, inspirational tones actually come from the talented vocal chords of actor Jonny Cruz, who kindly agreed to talk to me about his Overwatch work, his appreciation for his fans and followers, and what it means to be a voice actor in 2016.
The popularity of Blizzard’s Overwatch is staggering, to say the least: the FPS boasts a playerbase of over 20 million players, and its subreddit alone currently has almost 700,000 subscribers. The game also has a dedicated, passionate fanbase, one which Cruz seems to appreciate above all else. This he made very clear at the beginning of our talk:
“I never would’ve thought that this was how it was gonna be. I’m very honoured, and I’m very surprised…it’s so unbelievably beyond the scope of what I thought it would be.”
Along with this appreciation for Overwatch’s popularity comes a certain sense of responsibility to always be respectful and helpful towards his fans, where Cruz told me that he “think[s] it’s important to only put good, life-giving energy out into the world.”
A lot of Lúcio’s positive energy comes from Cruz himself, who told me about how Lúcio seems to have similar world views and outlooks to his own, and how these similarities helped him to secure the voice role:
“When I got the audition for [Lúcio], I remember they described him as just being like a cool, kinda chilled dude. He was motivational and just easy-going. And I looked at this picture they had, it was basically a Latino boy with a skateboard…just that and a few lines of description. I was like “Hey, you know what? I think all I have to do is go in and be me on this.” In some way, Lúcio is a part of who I am, and I think that’s why it rang so true in the audition.”
But voice acting is not always a walk in the park, as evidenced by the current negotiations that are happening over at SAG-AFTRA to try to give “interactive performers” (voice actors, mocap performers, stuntpeople etc.) better working conditions, in order to help them to continue to produce interactive work.
The negotiations are about more than just money (though that is one part of the proposal, to help give performers a better living wage) and is focused around trying to create more suitable contracts in an age of ever-expanding demands for the quality and quantity of performance levels in video games and other new media. “It’s hard to continue to do video games, without residuals,” Cruz said, when I asked him what he thought about the negotiations, “It’s just a new medium, where we’re trying to see what works for everyone. You know, I love video games, I’m happy to do it, and I’m always thrilled to be behind a mic, voicing a character…it’s just that there’s a lot that goes into it, a lot of strain on the voice, it can be taxing. But yeah, we just need to find out what works. And y’know, I’m down, I’m easy to work with. So let’s figure it out!”
Negotiations are still taking place, and you can keep up with the conversation via the #performancematters hashtag, as well as by following @sagaftra on Twitter.
Whilst we were keeping our conversation somewhat serious, I brought up the topic of diversity in gaming with Cruz, who is Hispanic. I explained how one of my favourite aspects of the game is its diverse selection of heroes, all of different genders and races, and Cruz agreed with me, stating:
“I really love the way they’re going about it, by bringing in all these different ethnicities…and all these robots (laughing). You know, you can be anything! And that’s what I really just love about voice acting, that you can play anything, and that it doesn’t matter about your skin, as long as the voice matches. The things I’ve been able to play as a voice actor! (happy sigh) It’s just so cool, man. You know, in regular acting, sometimes you get stuck in certain roles because of your skin colour—the way you look—but in voice acting, I can play whoever. I can play a helicopter on a kids’ show, I can play all of these things that sometimes, in front of a camera, aren’t quite accepted yet, or at least aren’t pushed for. That’s so important for me, not just playing stereotypes. And that’s what I love about Overwatch.”
He also likened it to the musical, Hamilton (a personal obsession of mine), discussing how he enjoys the feeling of “equality” that the musical has, whereby “anyone can play these people, no matter who they are”. I also asked him who he’d play if he ever got the chance to be in it, and he laughed and said “Well, you know, I’d want to be Hamilton, ideally.”
I then brought us back to the topic of Overwatch, as I knew the world would berate me if I didn’t. The Overwatch Christmas event is currently going strong, with new skins and gameplay modes, but I really wanted to know what was in store for the future regarding Lúcio, and Overwatch, as opposed to talking about the Christmas event, the lines for which Cruz recorded several months ago. Cruz wasn’t allowed to go into too much detail about Blizzard’s upcoming work, but he did let me know the following:
“They’ve got all this stuff planned way in advance, but they don’t tell me anything! (laughing) They just tell me “Hey, say these lines!” and I say “You’ve got it, baby!”. They know what they’re doing…I’m sure they’re going to be dropping more [heroes], too. I don’t quite know but I’ve heard talks of all kinds of things. This game is just going to constantly grow, y’know? They’re really putting a love of time, effort and love into this thing.”
I then, of course, had to ask where our Lúcio short film was, to which Cruz laughed and told me:
“Apparently it’s coming! They’re working on something! I don’t know what though, they always keep me in the dark, so who knows? (laughing)”
So, Blizzard, if you’re reading: give the people what they want! More of our rollerblading DJ healer.
Talking to Cruz left me with the impression that he is a guy whose passion for gaming and the worlds he helps create are not left behind when he steps out of the recording booth, but that he always carries with him a certain optimistic and humble pride at having impacted so many people’s gaming experiences. He was also immensely fun to talk to, and has a wonderful sense of humour which I think Lúcio has stolen and claimed as his own.
And finally, Internet, I’m gifting you this gross sketch video starring Cruz, which made me laugh far too hard. Fun fact: he made the poop himself, out of chocolate and peanut butter. Disgustingly impressive.