Actor Jim Pirri Chats About His Role as Boozer
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
Talking Iron Mike with the Actor Eric Allan Kramer
The characters of Days Gone were not like any other cast I’ve seen in games. They were original, diverse, human and relatable. Each one played a key role in the story and their actions made sense. Without this group of characters, Days Gone wouldn’t have felt the same. That speaks to the level of writing and the performances by the actors and actresses. One character that left an imprint on player’s hearts was Iron Mike. Iron Mike represented hope in a cruel world, and was a crucial part in Deacon’s journey.
I had the opportunity to ask the man himself, Eric Allan Kramer who played Iron Mike some questions about his character. Eric Allan Kramer is best known for his roles in Good Luck Charlie and Lodge 49, but has appeared in numerous shows and films such as, True Romance, Robin Hood Men in Tights, American Wedding and recently appeared in the new show On Becoming a God in Central Florida. It was wonderful to talk about one of my favorite characters in Days Gone and to understand a little more about Iron Mike. Eric provides an in-depth look at who Iron Mike is, what type of person he may have been and his relationship with Deacon.
The Broken Road: This was your first acting gig in a video game, correct? How was your experience, and how did it differ from television shows and films?
Eric Allan Kramer: Very first. And probably the best way to get my feet wet in that world as everyone was incredibly helpful and available. Also some solid actors to play off of. The suit took a little getting used to but I was surprised as to how quickly I became comfortable in it once we started playing the scenes. Very different from one camera shows and films as you never had to move the camera, reset and relight to cover different angles. You were covered the entire time and could just run the scenes, very quickly finding a rhythm and flow. If anything it felt closer to Multicam shows.
Most people know you from the TV show, Good Luck Charlie as Bob Duncan. I remember watching this show in high school! What similarities if any do you see between these two characters, Bob and Iron Mike?
Ha! Not much, I think… Except both have to deal with other people who feel they know how to do things better. And I guess they are both exterminators in a sense, yes?
One of my favorite quotes in Days Gone comes from Iron Mike;
“We make the world what it is, by what we do. All of us.”
This quote resonates a lot right now with our current world state. What type of positive words do you think Iron Mike would say to the people?
I think he would say to look for the people doing good and encourage more of that. Help when you can, point out to others what can be done when you can’t.
How would you describe Iron Mike to someone who has never played Days Gone before?
Iron Mike, I think, is a guy who you want and, at the same time, shouldn’t have in charge. He is a compassionate leader, caring and looking out for the best interests of his community. But at the same time he has lived and seen too much. He is as broken as the world around him and I think that stops him from making decisions that he knows need to be made. He leans too much on compromise and lets his desire for how he wants things to be win out over reality.
How much of yourself was portrayed through your character?
I think there is always a bit of yourself that you bring to every role. Not sure how much of myself I recognize in Iron Mike, but there were certainly moments in speeches he had that hit home in a real way.
When Deacon first arrived at Lost Lake, he was reminded that if he stepped foot in the camp again Iron Mike would kill him. In your mind, what do you think changed in Iron Mike’s head to bring him back in?
Iron Mike always, whether he admitted it or not, looked for the good and the positive in people. Maybe because he felt he lost that in himself. Deacon’s journey was an honest one and I think Mike saw that, felt that, even if he believed Deacon was blind and it was foolish.
Iron Mike and Deacon have almost that tough father/son relationship. He even says that Deacon reminds him of his younger self. What type of man do you think Iron Mike was before the apocalypse?
I think Mike was probably a hell raiser. Lived on the edge. I don’t think you survive very long in that kind of post apocalyptic world without having that in you.
In the scene with Iron Mike and Deacon in Sherman’s Camp, the revelation of how it all went down was dark and really made you feel for Iron Mike. As an actor, how much does a scene like this impact you while you are giving out the dialogue?
What’s great about this game is the humanity that is at its core. Situations and dialogue like in that scene make the world and those characters far more real. And, as an actor, characters like that are very rewarding to play.
Even with Iron Mike gone, his legacy will forever mark the lives of Lost Lake including Deacon, Boozer, Rikki and Addy. Do you think Deacon can fill in those big shoes?
If anyone, Deacon can. I think the two of them showed each other the best of themselves along with a warning of the dark that lies underneath. I’m sure Deacon will carry that with him.
If you could change one thing about Iron Mike, what would it be?
I would keep him alive in case there is a Days Gone 2… Although, I don’t think we could ever rule out his spirit coming back and tearing someone a new one.
You can pick up Days Gone on sale for only $19.99 in North America right now on the PlayStation Store!
Thank you to Eric Allan Kramer for coming on The Broken Road to help celebrate Days Gone Week! For Iron Mike! You can catch all the latest news about Days Gone from Bend Studio on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Lead Open World Designer Eric Jensen Rides The Broken Road
Days Gone is known for a harsh but beautiful world that is unforgiving and will push you to its limit. You must adapt to your surroundings if you want to survive. Whether that’s a horde of Freakers, enemy marauders, infected animals or a roided out Freak as Deacon likes to call them, they are all coming for you. That’s one of the mechanics that sets Days Gone apart from other games. The open world is full of life and it doesn’t allow you to take a breath. The game wants your heart to race, it wants you to use your whole arsenal and it wants you to use strategy. That’s when you know you are playing something special. So, how does a big open world like this come to be?
I spoke with Lead Open World Designer Eric Jensen, who oversaw and worked on creating the open world design in Days Gone. Eric is a huge part of Bend Studio’s success over the years. He started his career with Bend over 14 years ago where he worked as a QA Analyst for Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror. Now, he and the rest of Bend Studio produced their biggest game to date last year and it displayed the type of incredible talent that is located over in Bend, Oregon. It’s always a pleasure to learn more about their development process and gain an understanding of the type of hard work that went into it all. Eric shares plenty of interesting insight here, including his role in Days Gone, crafting the open world and those sweet PlayStation trophies.
The Broken Road: As a Lead Open World Designer, what were your main responsibilities in Days Gone?
Eric Jensen: I worked on, oversaw, or collaborated on most systems, content, and interactions outside of missions. This included all of the Ambush Camps, Infestations, NERO Checkpoints, Hordes, Encampments, camps jobs, dynamic encounters, open world population, and collectibles. I think that’s everything… 🙂
The trophy photos relating to the storyline were all scripted by you to capture a cinematic moment that tied to the trophy itself. Usually in games, our trophy photos capture a blurred picture or even a black screen. Hopefully, this kicks off the new norm for trophies in future games. What made you choose to do it this way?
Yes! I absolutely hope that more people adopt this technique. The best thing about Trophies is they offer a record of the games you have played, for better or worse. When you think back to all of the games you’ve played in your life, for the most part the only proof of those accomplishments are your own memories. I see Trophies as a cool opportunity to both show off those accomplishments but also to remember them yourself. That’s where the Trophy screenshots come in to play.
I’ve always loved the idea of capturing the moment when you accomplish something in a game but quite often they end up as black loading screens, some menu screen, or an in-game shot with very little context of what you achieved. Apparently it’s a little known feature, but the PS4 has a screenshot cache function where you can trigger a Trophy screenshot in advance of the Trophy unlocking. Insomniac’s Spider-Man used the same technique with their story act and boss Trophies.
Since Days Gone was a story heavy game I chose key moments within the story to tie Trophies to and then found the coolest frames within the cinematics tied to the moments. I would add a key frame to each cinematic then when it was hit it would capture that screenshot. When the mission was complete and the Trophy popped, it would then attach that previously captured shot to the Trophy. My hope is to continue this technique and advance it in the future so players have something cool to look back on after they have completed their favorite games.
You oversaw the trophy names too, correct? That must be a fun job to have! Tell me, how many references do you initially try to throw in?
I did! Myself, David Lee (Community Manager), and Elyse Lemoine (Senior Narrative Designer) worked together on all of the Trophies. Jeff Ross knew how passionate David and I were about Trophies so he gave us the opportunity to lead the charge with them. Looking back at Trophy lists from some of our favorite games we noticed it’s always been an opportunity for developers to have a bit of fun that may not always fit the tone of the game.
Very early on we knew we wanted to have references to other games as well as some of our favorite movies.
We have references to Die Hard, Shaun of the Dead, The Fast and the Furious, GTA IV, Ghost of Tsushima, Burnout, and even Syphon Filter. I also snuck in SpongeBob Squarepants and Wu-Tang Clan in to a couple Trophies.
It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work to try and come up with clever names that also made sense to what the Trophy was. I think my favorite was “Days Gone in 60 Seconds” for defeating a Horde in under a minute in Survival Mode.
Many people may not realize it, but the open world of Days Gone was designed by only 5 to 6 people and you were a big part of that. How did the team accomplish such a great feat?
Yea, the open-world design team was at its peak 6 people. I will note though, that we absolutely could not have accomplished any of that without the help of other designers, artists, animators and programmers.
With such a big world, and such a small team, we had to go about everything a bit different than what we were all used to or even comfortable with.
Everything we created needed to be built for versatility and adaptability. This allowed us to spend a good amount of time designing and polishing a piece of content that could be used all over the world without feeling repetitive or too copy pastey™.
We also built a lot of dynamic systems that would adapt to the state of Deacon or how the player was playing the game so that no two experiences would play out exactly the same.
Think smart, work hard, and you can do a lot with a small team.
You seem to have your hand in a lot of the development for Days Gone. What else did you do for this game that the general public may not know about?
I helped out a bunch with the UI. I designed and implemented a lot of stuff on the Map Menu including the Region panel that shows all your progress in each location, as well as the Fast Travel system.
I helped design and maintained most of the Inventory, Crafting, and Collectible systems.
I designed and helped implement the Trophy menu that shows all of your progress on unlocking Trophies.
I came up with almost every fake brand or business name in the game. I also went to Garvin with the name for the town of Farewell and NERO, the National Emergency Response Organization.
Name one thing that you are most proud of working on in Days Gone.
It might sound a bit obvious, but I’m incredibly proud of the Open World and the team that built it. We had never built an Open World game. We had a small team. It may have taken a bit longer than we originally expected. It really seems to have resonated with people and it’s the thing that nearly every player spends the most time engaging with. So, for that I’m very proud of the Open World we built for the players of Days Gone.
‘This World Comes For You’ holds very true to the dynamic of Days Gone. It’s more than just a saying, as it is the core for the open world gameplay. Was this always the vision, or was it an ever-evolving door to try and set it apart from other open world games?
We knew very early on we didn’t ever want the player to feel comfortable just standing around in the world. We knew we didn’t want traditional slow-moving, shambling enemies, which meant they would likely always be chasing after the player. Then you throw in hungry animals that aren’t too picky about what they eat anymore, and a bunch of ruthless Marauders that are going to kill anything that gets in their way of surviving, and you have a world that is always coming for you. When we first got a version of the open world population up and going and some of our dynamic encounters triggering, it was brutal. It was very clear that we were headed down the right path. After probably 1000’s of hours of play testing and user testing we dialed it all into what shipped with the game.
Was there anything else that you wanted to throw in the open world that had to be cut for some reason? Whether that is a certain style ambush, an additional animal to hunt, different collectibles, etc.
From the first day we knew we were going to have the game take place in our homeland of Oregon, I wanted a Freaker sasquatch. Myself and Greg Callahan (who sculpted the incredible Deacon vs Freaker statue) talked about it from the beginning. Bigfoot is kind of a big deal in Oregon and we both thought that it would be awesome to have one in the game. It would have been so cool but unfortunately, we didn’t get the idea of the ground. Or did we? Maybe there’s one out there somewhere that hasn’t been found. There isn’t. Or is there? There isn’t. =(
The world is constantly alive. When I’m riding the broken road, I will come across wolves chasing deer, Newts crawling off rooftops, bears attacking Freakers and so on. When creating this interactive and seamless world, what is the biggest challenge you came across during development?
Making the world feel alive, lived in, and active was quite difficult. You can’t just throw population in the world and hope that it looks real. We had to create rules and mark up a bunch of stuff in the world with information that we could read in order to produce the correct population. The Hordes seek out the nearest food and water sources. Deer are going to be attracted to water and seek out the same plants that Deacon can collect. We tried to give everything a purpose and a goal in the world, in order to make it as believable as possible.
I saw your name a couple times up on the leaderboards in the challenges as they released in the summer. What was your favorite challenge, and which character would you usually choose to play with?
Haha, Lord knows I tried. I think I was only ever near the top of the leaderboard a couple times and it didn’t last long. Man, the Challenges were so much fun. Both to work on and to play. The Horde challenges are always a blast, but I think my favorite was the golf cart challenge, Dead Don’t Ride. It just had a charm to it that I hadn’t seen in games in a Crazy long time. Also, we were able to feature songs from artists in the studio which was awesome! While I don’t think I’m at the top of the leaderboard on any of them anymore, I did get Gold in all of them in order to get all the Trophies. =)
You can pick up Days Gone on sale for only $19.99 in North America right now on the PlayStation Store!
Thank you to Eric Jensen and Bend Studio for coming on The Broken Road to help celebrate Days Gone Week! You can catch all the latest news about Days Gone from Bend Studio on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.