Returnal’s Jane Perry on women in games and embodying psychological trauma
“There were comments on Twitter after the game was released saying ‘Oh she’s ugly, she’s not very attractive, she doesn’t interest me,'” said Jane Perry, the voice of the main character of Returnal, Selene.
“And I thought that was such an interesting commentary, I thought it was kind of enlightening in some ways in terms of what’s expected of female characters in games, especially if they’re going to be a awesome hero like Selene.
“And I just thought that person is probably feeling that because they’ve been fed a regular diet of a particular stereotype. And I think when you’re fed a regular diet of one thing, you have been brought up to kind of expect that.”
Selene isn’t your typical video game protagonist. As Perry mentioned in her speech after her BAFTA win for Performer in a Leading Role, Selene is a middle-aged woman and mother. There’s a tension between duty to his career and duty to his children – as well as shooting sprawling aliens on an isolated, time-cycled, inescapable planet.
Perry explains how Anne Beyer, Selene’s face model, turned Twitter’s remarks into a positive.
“She hit back at that person and said, ‘Your comment was really great, because I’m actually a model. And in my acting career, I’ve been told too many times that I’m too glamorous , and that I’m too beautiful. And so being able to play Selene was my chance not to be that.” And so she spun it around and took it as a big compliment and I kind of took it as a great addition too.
Returnal’s narrative director Greg Louden told Perry that – in reference to stereotypical glamorous video game women – everything Selene doesn’t make her who she is.
“I thought that was such a profound and wonderful statement,” Perry says.
“I look at Selene and I see someone who inspires me, I see someone who pushes the boundaries of what we might expect from a woman. And I’m just like, why not?
“I know strong, powerful, brave women. I have so many women like that in my life. So why shouldn’t they be represented in the games?”
Indeed, it was Selene’s bravery and fearlessness that lured Perry to the role in the first place, as she describes the character as “determined”, “courageous”, yet “flawed”.
“There are things going on in his life that I think, while we can’t relate directly to his situation, we can somehow relate to the feeling of loss or a feeling of internal psychological struggle,” says- she.
“And I love biting into those things as an actor. I find it so interesting to see how our past can play out in the present and in the future, how our past can inform the choices we make in the moment. C It’s very intriguing to me what makes people tick.”
Although Perry’s career began in television and theater, she has become well known as a video game voice actress – something that humbles her, but which she describes as “a little weird”.
“I think games give me the opportunity to play characters that I might not play if I was on screen,” she says. “It’s fun to jump into game country because you become amazing people that you might not otherwise be.”
Selene is certainly extraordinary. Perry notes how invested the Housemarque team was in the character.
“It’s very much rooted in the experiences some Housemarque members have had in their own lives: about parenting, careers, ambition, letting things go and driving in ways that seem maybe unhealthy,” she said.
“I loved that so much: that it came from a real, honest place, a place of treatment for people who were actually dealing with the same things that she was dealing with – just without the aliens.”
Casting Selene and dealing with her psychological trauma proved a challenge, with Perry relying on the spontaneity of her performance rather than over-preparation.
“Psychologically, I just allowed it to happen in the moment, because it was a very difficult space to occupy,” she says.
“I just let it sink in. So the preparation was more about being available for the moment, as opposed to thinking and taking me to a particular place of trauma before I even started recording.
“That’s what I really love about film, television and voice work is that you can do something spontaneous and it will be captured. And once they have it, they have. There it is. And it’s such a wonderful thing.”
Perry also says that Selene’s crazy moments were painful to go back over so many hours of recording.
“I think in acting you have to be very careful that the psychology of your character doesn’t get too much into your own psychology, that can be extremely damaging. So part of acting training and being an actor is about understanding the boundary that exists between you and your character, being very respectful of that.
“However, even though you’re extremely respectful, there’s a bit of concordance that happens, and I would carry a bit of her with me. And I’d be very tired of it.”
With Returnal and her iconic role as Diana Burnwood in IO Interactive’s Hitman games, Perry chose to play powerful and headstrong women. She attributes this simply to her voice, which has a natural gravity and authoritative nature.
But she also discusses the diversity of roles in gaming as the industry grows.
“There are a lot of women my age who play [games], who really appreciate them, who get so much out of them. And so these women need to be represented, we need to see representation,” she says.
“Diversity is very, very important. So we need to see people from the world’s majority in games playing lead roles, we need to see women playing lead roles, and we need to see the difference that exists in the world reflected. on us in the entertainment we choose to participate in. Games are no exception to this and I think [the industry is] in fact, really taking that into account.”
Coincidentally, much of Perry’s work has been done with Scandinavian studios, but she notes how intriguing this is and suggests – taking the Finnish Prime Minister as an example – that perhaps these countries have (usually ) “a different relationship with women”.
“Women are maybe dressed in a slightly different way than they are in some other countries,” she says. “And I sometimes wonder if that comes through in the narratives and the stories they tell in the games?”
That said, she wants to do something lighter in the future, maybe in animation, despite the seriousness of her voice.
“In a way, I’d like to take a step back from the alpha female and just be someone completely silly and frivolous,” she says. “That would be really fun.”