2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Q&A: Actor Arif S. Kinchen on ‘Saints Row,’ ‘Police Academy’ and the value of mints

Published: January 16, 2014, 11:57 pm, by Terry Terrones

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 I first met Arif S. Kinchen at E3 in Los Angeles last year. It was at an after hours event hosted by video game publisher Bethesda, we were introduced by a mutual friend. The timing couldn’t have been better as I had been tearing through “Saints Row: The Third” before coming to LA and Arif has played the role of Pierce Washington since the franchise started.

We talked about “Saints Row” and had a great conversation about video games, voice acting, acting in front of a camera and life in general. I’ve kept in touch with Arif since then and with the Gazette’s new Pop Culture blog finally had an opportunity to interview him.

Last week Arif and I traded emails about his work. A transcript where he talks about how he got his start, the “Saints Row” franchise and gives advice to aspiring voice actors and actors is below.

Terry Terrones: Tell me a little about your background. Where are you from and when did you first get into acting?
Arif S. Kinchen: Well Terry, I am one of a select few actors actually from L.A., CA ;) Specifically, Korea Town. And I got into acting 1) because of a cute girl in my 6th grade production of The Music Man and 2) I lucked up getting into the movie House Party when I was a teenager due to good friends from LACHSA (LA County High School for the Arts), and I haven’t looked back.

TT: You’ve performed in television, films and video games but you’re most well known as a voice actor. Describe a typical day of recording.
ASK: A typical day is getting my kids to school, making sure my phone and tablet are charged and the studio/location is in my GPS. Sounds funny but that’s really important. Then I get to the studio about 10-30 mins early, see if the copy/script has changed since last night and get settled. Most times I’m in a booth alone facing three or more persons on the other side of the glass, depending on the gig. I’ve had up to 10 people looking at me for a Pepsi gig. Can you say #NowImNervous;)? More often than not I’m alone in the booth. But sessions like Saints Row 3 & 4, Am/Pm and Dead Rising 3 allowed for a multi person collaborative experience. And some solitary ADR (pickup/add stuff in) sessions later. Also ADR sessions like 12 Years A Slave and 8 Mile absolutely require multiple people in your session to emulate “Real Life” experiences.

TT: Was getting into voice acting something you always wanted to do or did you fall into it by accident?
ASK: I used to mimic my favorite characters from TV growing up. I think my mind shifted when I heard Michael Winslow in Police Academy though. It made me aware that I could do “things” with my voice. Then I met James Avery and I told him I wish I could do cartoons. He said, “You’ve got a great voice, go find a VO agent.” So I did. I’ve been with Sutton, Barth and Vennari Talent Agency since December 1996.

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TT: Did you get a bunch of work as an actor right away or was it a more gradual process?
ASK: Ups and Downs and Marathon’esque is how I describe my climb. It was “Accelerated’ly Slow” getting here.

TT: In your opinion, what makes for a good voice actor?
ASK: Stability, stamina, improv, light-heartedness, be able to act and the gift to LISTEN! Plus mints, because you’re in peoples faces. ;)

TT:  Are we reaching a point where gaming is becoming more like movies and TV? As an industry vet with experience in so many mediums is this what you’re seeing or does it just appear that way to outsiders?
ASK: The tide IS shifting and the lines are becoming more blurred! No film or TV show doesn’t have an online component ala twitter, Instagram feeds and YouTube. Plus people are getting TV shows because of social Media. So digital has kicked traditional media in the nuts ;) Now with that being said, due to the fragility of the traditional media market, a lot of the talent that would’ve been at the forefront of this generations TV film, animation and such have gone to the call of the new frontier – video games, CGI and NuOldeTv ala steaming services and deals (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc). So without the constraints of having to kinda stay in the box and express the visions anyway they want, plus the rendering capabilities and the talent pool of actors, producers and artists that can see what video games mean to people, it’s easy to believe and see why the Video Game World is taking over. Plus, if your games are made, the viewers experience is different every time you play (or at least a little bit different), so more bang for the consumers’ wallet.

TT: One of the roles you’re most associated with is Pierce Washington from the Saints Row franchise. There are things Pierce says and does that are pretty wild. Do you ever come across dialogue or actions that your character does that makes you uncomfortable?
ASK:  Yes, in regards to Zimos at the gimp races in Enter The Dominatrix and calling those nice establishments #FreckleBishes ; )

TT: How did you get the role of Pierce Washington?
ASK:  Auditioned + Douglass Carrigan + God’s Grace = me getting Pierce Washington

TT:  Aside from Pierce, what other characters have you enjoyed playing over the years?
ASK: Professor Rocket on Crashbox, Lil Dee in The Wash, The Booty Jeans song on Sym-Bionic Titan, being Marlow Briggs, the NEWEST guy RED from Dead Rising 3 and ALL the characters I portrayed in The Suffering: The Ties That Bind

TT: Actress Katee Sackhoff recently stated she’d love to play Harley Quinn in the new Superman/Batman movie and would like to get into the Star Wars reboot. What other types of roles, whether acting or voice acting, would you like to be a part of?
ASK:  What she said :) I really want to get on Almost Human, The Crazy Ones, The next Marvel property, anything Transformers related, a season on The Cleveland Show, a TellTale Games project (not Game Of Thrones) and anything with Team Ninja or Naughty Dog.

TT: Time to give some career advice. If someone wanted to get into voice acting, what advice would you give? What about film or TV acting?
ASK:  For VO, I’d say WHY? Because most people want to do it because they think it’s EASY, and they make all their friends laugh, “When I talk like Jar Jar Binks.” And that sucks. VO is the same amount of cerebral and, sometimes physical, prep (if you do motion capture) plus you gotta really be able to act because NO ONE sees your face! Traditionally, your face helps you convey your intent, humor and passion, right? (LOL LOL LOL)  For on camera w/a hint of VO, I’d recommend they get ready for more “No” than “Yes” as you begin your journey. Most times your talent has nothing to do with why you didn’t book the job. There are scenarios that you can’t fathom that prevent you from getting the gig. I know, in my heart of hearts that more often than not “your audition today is for your job tomorrow and beyond.” So, stay levelheaded, don’t cuss out casting directors or actors, and take classes. If you’re an amazing actor, you can still learn something ; ) If you’re in school (college/high school) take a theatre class, at the very least. In closing, have fun.