Lord Of The Rings Star Talks About Playing A Sadistic Nazi Villain In Call Of Duty: Vanguard
Actor Dominic Monaghan has serious range. He starred in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series as the good-hearted, humble Hobbit Merry, one of the Fellowship’s nine members. His next role is the sadistic Nazi officer Jannick Richter in Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty: Vanguard, which releases this Friday, November 5. In an interview with GameSpot, Monaghan told us about how preparing for a character like Merry and Richter actually aren’t all that different.
As an actor, Monaghan said his job is to find the justification for his character’s behavior, and then bring that to life. In the case of Merry from The Lord of the Rings, viewers might find it easier to relate to a simple, country-loving Hobbit than, say, a war criminal. But there is a truth at the heart of each character that Monaghan taps into.
“Obviously Merry’s motivation to do things might be a little easier to understand. He’s trying to help out his friends. He’s trying to stay alive. And fight for the good guys. And I’m sure the character I play in Call of Duty, he probably thinks he’s fighting for the good guys,” Monaghan said.
Monaghan said he couldn’t give away too many specifics about his Vanguard character to avoid spoilers, but he said Richter is “paranoid” and fearful about how the war is going. The only glimpse of Richter we’ve seen so far came in a campaign trailer where he is torturing someone. This appears to be the pivotal scene that jumped off the page for Monaghan when he first got a hold of his script.
“There is a speech in which I talk about how much I admire Hitler and what Hitler has done for Germany, and who he is as a person, and what I’ve learned from him,” Monaghan said. “And I found that interesting, that you can look at people from different angles. And obviously there must have been people feeling that way about a character like that. Can I make that believable? Can I make that real? [The teams at Activision and Sledgehammer] impressed on me the writing and producing team behind it, they impressed on me there wouldn’t be that many bad guys, but there would be quite a lot of allies. So I was on a team of very few people trying to be the voice of the dastardly Nazi party. So it just seemed like a very fun, flashy, exciting role to play.”
Also in the interview, Monaghan confirmed that he didn’t initially know that the job was for Call of Duty. As is common, Monaghan was only told later in the process that it was for a Call of Duty game, and that turned out to be good news since he is a fan of the series and is familiar with it.
“I could tell based on the pages and the scope of the project that it was obviously a big game. And as we get closer and closer to talking to the writers and producers, they revealed it was Call of Duty. Which is obviously exciting because I play Call of Duty and I know the game,” he said. “From that point on, they put the team together. They were obviously keen to have people from different shapes and sizes, from different countries; a diverse cast–to say the least. And I was happy to be part of that team.”
The full interview follows below, in which Monaghan also talks about the motion-capture process and how it felt like performing a stage play. He also reveals which movies he watched to prepare for the role, and he shares his thoughts on the upcoming 20th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings.
Call of Duty: Vanguard launches on November 5 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. For more, check out GameSpot’s Call of Duty: Vanguard preorder guide.
What can you say about your character in Vanguard? Who is he and what is he all about?
There’s a lot that goes on in the game that involves my character. I would argue that quite a few of those moments are a little spoilerific, so I don’t necessarily want to reveal too much without having people have the opportunity to play the game. But obviously I am a German officer who finds himself at a very interesting time in the history of the Second World War. The Germans consider they might be close to winning it, and then very quickly realize that some of the news they are hearing is not necessarily true, and maybe they are finding themselves in a situation they wouldn’t think they’re in.
“He’s a sadistic, very enjoyable-to-watch guy. Because he makes some big bombastic swings.” — Dominic Monaghan on his Vanguard character, Jannick Richter
The guy that I play is quite invested in the victory of the German Nazi party, and he’s quite paranoid, and quite scared, quite fearful. And I think probably in different circumstances he probably would have lost his life in the war along time ago but he’s found himself in a slightly lofty position as an officer, and seems to also enjoy torturing people at the same time. It’s fun. He’s a sadistic, very enjoyable-to-watch guy. Because he makes some big bombastic swings.
In Lord of the Rings, you play one of the nicest, most good-hearted people in Merry. And in Call of Duty, you’re obviously playing a very bad person. Can you talk about how you became attached to the part in the first place and the contrast, not necessarily with Merry specifically, but in terms of playing a good character versus someone who is pretty evil?
You always have to approach it the same way, you have to try and find the justification for their behavior. And the reasons for their actions. Most people in the first-person tend to think what they are doing is exactly right and fair and reasonable, and it’s OK to do. So I don’t approach the characters in a different way. Obviously Merry’s motivation to do things might be a little easier to understand. He’s trying to help out his friends. He’s trying to stay alive. And fight for the good guys. And I’m sure the character I play in Call of Duty, he probably thinks he’s fighting for the good guys. He probably thinks that he’s doing the right thing. So I try and make sense of my characters; try and understand my characters as much as I can.
And then in terms of the process of getting the job. I was sent the project through my agents. Obviously it had a different name at the time. Because they are very reluctant to say there’s a new Call of Duty game. But I could tell based on the pages and the scope of the project that it was obviously a big game. And as we get closer and closer to talking to the writers and producers, they revealed it was Call of Duty. Which is obviously exciting because I play Call of Duty and I know the game. From that point on, they put the team together. They were obviously keen to have people from different shapes and sizes, from different countries; a diverse cast. To say the least. And I was happy to be part of that team.
Is there something that jumped off the page in what you saw in those original pitches for the game that made you want to get involved?
I read kind of a big scene for the character they wanted me to play in which I am kind of trying to get information out of a prisoner. But before I jump into the general torturing of said prisoner, there is a speech in which I talk about how much I admire Hitler and what Hitler has done for Germany, and who he is as a person, and what I’ve learned from him. And I found that interesting, that you can look at people from different angles.
And obviously there must have been people feeling that way about a character like that. Can I make that believable? Can I make that real? They impressed on me the writing and producing team behind it, they impressed on me there wouldn’t be that many bad guys, but there would be quite a lot of allies. So I was on a team of very few people trying to be the voice of the dastardly Nazi party. So it just seemed like a very fun, flashy, exciting role to play.
Is there anything kind of different prep you had to do given Vanguard is a period game?
I certainly watched some German-based stuff, and war-based stuff. I watched the World of War, The Pianist, Schindler’s List, and Inglourious Basterds very close to each other to feel how Nazi officers have been shown throughout history in movies. And World of War is a documentary. I hit upon the idea that I wanted the character I play to be very well spoken. My voice became something that was very specific. I kind of whisper quite a lot and enunciate very differently from the way that I do, and that seemed to be a shortcut into the character. If someone is very specific about the way they speak, they are probably very specific about the way they look. The way that they dress. The way that they act. And that seemed to help.
“I initially was quite trepidatious about how I feel about it. But I ended up, very quickly, absolutely loving it. Because it’s just like doing a play.” — Dominic Monaghan on the motion-capture process for Vanguard
I saw on Instagram you posted a photo of wearing the Vanguard mo-cap suit. What was that like for you?
It’s pretty tight, skin tight, so you have to let go of a lot of your dignity. It’s like wearing a wet-suit. It’s pretty skin-tight. There’s a lot of little bobbly things all over it. And you can get yourself velcroed to one arm very easily… So there were a few moments like that. It’s strange. I’m used to going through the process of makeup and hair and costume and props, and you just don’t have that on . So you get in your suit, you walk into the middle of the stage, you do a little t-pose, and you do this little dance; they have you do this. You do this dance to make sure all your joints work OK. And then you start. You get going.
It’s a little bit like doing a play where everyone rehearses, rehearses, rehearses, and once everyone thinks they’ve got it, then they say, “OK, we’re going to go for a take.” And if you get it right, then that’s it. So that’s how your day goes. It is very different from being on a movie set or a TV set, and I initially was quite trepidatious about how I feel about it. But I ended up, very quickly, absolutely loving it. Because it’s just like doing a play.
You’ve been involved in games for a long time with XCOM and Quantum Break. Can you talk about working on very effects-heavy movie like Lord of the Rings and then an effects-heavy game like Call of Duty?
You have to use your imagination. A lot of the stuff you think is going to be there is not there on the day. Much more so I would argue in video game world, where all the tables and chairs are covered in a blue cloth because they change them, and the props are not what you think they’re going to be. And everything is covered in dots. I think your need for imagination is probably stronger in video games than in movies. In movies, they try their best. You might be on three quarters of a set, with a quarter you have to make up, or you might see a dragon’s head but you don’t see the rest of its body and you have to figure it out.
But that’s your job as an actor. Your job as an actor is to make it real. Those challenges I find more inspiring than anything else. Because the challenge there is how good is your imagination? How good are you at trying to make something that’s clearly not real real? And I find that challenge kind of fun as an actor, because that is our job.
You’ve been invested in gaming for a long time, whether it’s the jobs you take or just your passion for the medium in general. Do you have any thoughts about where you think games are going in the future?
I am definitely interested in working on video games and I think they’re really fun, I think there is a great future in them. It has obviously become a very influential medium. Lots of money in the medium, lots of success in the medium, lots of financial gain, and commercial gain, and critical gain as well. So I think it’s a medium that’s going from strength to strength. I have a 6-year-old nephew, his dad–my brother–doesn’t really play games that much. We used to when we were kids but he doesn’t have time [now]. I just said to my brother, that’s great, I understand it, it might not be something you’re into–but just so you know, the next three or four years, your son is going to be spending quite a bit of his time playing video games. And if you’re not playing them, you’re going to miss out, because he’s going to be playing them.
“I am definitely interested in working on video games and I think they’re really fun, I think there is a great future in them. It has obviously become a very influential medium.” — Dominic Monaghan
If you look at something like FIFA or Call of Duty, in the not-too-distant future, instead of looking at a screen and holding a controller, you probably put on a rig and you go into those worlds. You run around and maybe you wear a pack where if you get shot you feel a little miniature compression on your shoulder or wherever you’ve been shot. It becomes more and more immersive, probably the online communities get stronger and stronger. So if you’re not playing League of Legends or you’re not playing Call of Duty, you might just be checking in with that community to see what everyone else is doing, saying hello, sending messages to people in the game.
So it’s just growing and growing, and I’m excited. It’s 2021 now, so in 2011, the games were like OK, great, but we didn’t realize it was going to go this far in 10 years. So by the time we get to 2031, I’m sure it will be extraordinary.
Lord of the Rings is celebrating 20 years this year. Have you thought about that contextualized it in your own head about what it all means to you? Or do you not think about it that much?
I don’t think about it that much. I don’t know how healthy it is for me to think about it or dwell on it that much. Obviously when I was working on the project I loved it, and I had the experience and the experience has obviously dictated huge parts of my life. But I’ve not seen Lord of the Rings for probably a good 15 years or so, and I’m not sure when I would or what the reason behind watching it would be. It’s crazy to be involved with something that’s 20 years old. Because obviously it ages you significantly and really, really freaks you out; it freaks out your parents. It’s great.
As an actor, you should be so lucky to be involved in one project in your entire career that hits, let alone being involved in a trilogy that became a cultural icon of movie history in so many ways. So I’m reminded of it a lot. I’m obviously still great friends with a lot of the guys in it. It’s great, it’s great to do a film that I am proud of, that I think is great, that I think stands the test of time. And I think in a lot of ways it’s a film for everyone else. It’s not a film for me. I was in it. I had the experience. I loved it. And now the audience gets to breathe their own life into it.