When we play a video game, the stories we see unfold aim to provide us with entertainment. They tug at our emotions by making us laugh, cry, or jump when we’re scared or anxious for the characters in dire situations. The best stories provide a connection between the player and the character due to a specific theme, such as love, tragedy, revenge or redemption. At some level you have an understanding of the character’s pain and the actions they take. Stories that impact you as a player only come to light by the performances and delivery of the actors who play these characters.
Jim Pirri, the actor who played William “Boozer” Gray gave the audience that type of performance, which made Boozer a standout character in Days Gone. Behind the writing of Creative Director John Garvin, Jim Pirri took the role of Boozer and brought him to life. You may have heard Jim’s voice in other video games before too including Red Dead Redemption 2, Dying Light, Final Fantasy XV, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Injustice 2 and many others. He has also appeared in numerous television shows including Batwoman, Victorious, Friends and voiced in last year’s Netflix Original Love, Death & Robots. Today, Jim chats about his role as Boozer, his relationship working with Sam Witwer (Deacon) and dives deeper into some of Boozer’s main story beats.
The Broken Road: You and Sam Witwer had great chemistry together on camera. One of the things I loved most about Days Gone was the brotherhood between Deacon and Boozer. How was it working with Sam?
Jim Pirri: He was the best! He made it super easy because one, he’s so good and two, such a cool super chill guy. He made it very easy to have that type of loyal brotherhood relationship because he is just a really good guy and an amazing actor. He couldn’t have made it easier.
The comical beats between Deacon and Boozer are done very well following a tense situation. How much did you enjoy saying all the arm jokes?
I loved it! I’m nothing if not a corny dad, so loving all the dad jokes. John Garvin the director/writer was kind enough to totally give us carte blanche and freedom with allowing us to improvise. He was always, how would you say it now say it in your own words. It gave us a lot of freedom to mess around and play like that. Which, I really think helped that relationship go that well that you were referring to in the first question. Thanks to John for setting that up.
As an actor, how do you prepare for a scene as dramatic as getting your arm amputated? At that point, how do you relate to Boozer in that situation?
The simple answer is I use my imagination. I just imagine it. Acting is nothing other than playing pretend, hopefully at a really high level. What I did was I imagined what it would be like. I get the script like the night then start imagining it and working on them. For me, it’s as simple as that. When we shot it, I was focusing more on how the pain would feel and conveying that. Apparently, I am much more a crybaby than Boozer is. Boozer is a lot tougher than I am. I was just focusing on communicating that pain. John was like, no we can’t have Boozer doing that. That’s where you find the difference between yourself and a character. So we adapted and ended up playing more on the anger against the Rippers. It takes something like that to really point out the differences between you and your character which I find really funny.
The mission, ‘Drinking Himself to Death’ is a fan-favorite. I must know, what was it like voicing a drunk character singing old McDonald?
It’s the best! It’s so much fun to portray that stuff as an actor. But, the trick is getting the pain underneath it, which also is fun for us actors. I love portraying three dimensional characters that have a reason for acting stupid or silly and self-medicating in any way because that’s how we are in life. When you play the game, it gives you a deeper experience and makes it more real. Its awesome to do stuff like that. It kind of increases our understanding of humans in tough spots, which we all are at various times and I really like that.
Boozer’s story was filled with a lot of emotional trauma even before the apocalypse with the death of Joany. After wrapping Days Gone, was there one lesson that you took from the character of Boozer and put into your own life?
I will say that the looking out for his brother and his family of choice. I really like and admire and respect the hell out of that. I definitely try to do that with my friends as well, looking out for them in this crazy pandemic. You know it’s much simpler in the way I’m doing it and not nearly as risky, but that’s something I try to embody in some form or another and aspire to.
I want to give you a hypothetical situation here. Let’s say the roles were flipped with Deacon and Boozer, and Boozer put Joany on the helicopter. Do you think Boozer would have handled the situation the same way Deacon did?
Absolutely 100%, without even thinking about it. That’s all I got to say about that one.
I have a two-part question for you. What was your personal favorite moment in Boozer’s story? What did you enjoy the most playing this character?
There’s a few moments. One of them was getting Jack. I’ve been working on it by that point for about three years and a lot of its very intense and dealing with as they say in the game, being in the shit. To have that moment, was a real breath of fresh air. Even though we’re just acting it, you’re imagining it and thinking about these things a lot and trying to put yourself in that position when you are portraying it. When you have something like getting a puppy, especially for Boozer who loves dogs so much it’s like the best thing that could happen to him. Knowing as an artist that its also going to be something that helps him find his way back towards a better life, is also really cool from that point of view.
What a badass he was. That’s honestly it, to be that much of a badass. In my real life, I am not. But I wish I were, and it was really fun to be able to play someone like him. That was the best.
Boozer is a beloved character in the Days Gone community. So much so, as there is a virtual photography theme held each month called Boozer Appreciation ran by your number one fan, @Sim_nell. When you were first casted as Boozer, did you ever think that this character would be so well received like this?
No, not at all. I was just doing my job. Just trying to do the best I could portraying this character with the awesome writing that John gave us. That’s all I was trying to do, and this is a total surprise and very very appreciated.
After a long day of work, how many times do you say to yourself “there’s a bunk calling my name?”
Right now I’m not, but when the game first came out I ended up playing it straight through like two times in a row, which is very rare for me. A lot of times I don’t make it through my own games, not because they’re bad but because I’m really impatient. But this one, I just got sucked into the story, and also just love the game. When it’s those sessions where its three in the morning and you got to get to bed and stop playing because you got work to do, I was definitely saying it a lot. I’m not saying so much anymore, but maybe I’ll start up again.
Finding a puppy for Boozer was such a happy moment in a world filled with darkness. Jack is probably more of a star now in player’s eyes than Deacon and Boozer! Are you a dog person yourself? If so, what kind of dog do you have?
I’m definitely a dog person, although I don’t have a dog. I haven’t been able to have a dog other than for short periods in my life for various situations based on primarily where I lived. I was lucky enough to foster a Pitbull for a short time while the agency found a home for her. She was awesome. Then I dog sat for a friend of mine who was working on a project overseas for about a month or so. I always loved their dog; they had this boxer name Rosie. She was the best! I loved that dog. I felt so happy to be able to interact with her, walk her, play with her, and feed her. However, I know the dogs I would get. I always wanted a Newfoundland. I love big dogs. I definitely would like a Newfoundland, although here in LA I always worry about the heat being a little hard for them to handle with that thick coat. Like I said I also love Boxers, just personality wise. I also would like a Blue Heeler. I think that’s what I really want is a Newfoundland and a Blue Heeler. That might be because that’s what Mad Max had in Rogue Warrior, actually I know that’s where that came from. Those dogs are awesome! I like smart dogs and kind of mutty looking too.
You can pick up Days Gone on sale for only $19.99 in North America right now on the PlayStation Store!
Credit: Photos 3-7; @Sim_nell