Voice123 Interviews the Voice of Duke Nukem: Jon St. John

Posted on May 31, 2011 by


Voice actor Jon St.John is the voice of one of the most famous video game icons, Duke Nukem! Jon has been with Voice123 since March 2008. With the upcoming release of the popular video game, Duke Nukem Forever, we tracked down the busy voice actor to get an interview with Voice123 co-founder/Duke Nukem fan, Alex Torrenegra. Watch the video or read the transcript of the interview below:

Alex: Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing the voice of one of my favorite first-person shooter video games. He is also known as Duke Nukem!

Jon: That’s right, hail to the king baby!

Alex: Many of us are really happy, because finally after more than a decade of waiting, we are seeing Duke Nukem Forever being released. So we are very excited about it.

Jon: You think you are, I’ve been waiting forever for this thing!

Alex: How did you cope with such a long wait, for Duke Nukem 3D to Duke Nukem Forever?

Jon: Well, Duke Nukem Forever is along the same lines as the Duke Nukem 3D game, but in the years between the release of Duke Nukem Forever, I’ve done other games. There was Manhattan Project, hmmm… I can’t remember all of the Duke Nukem games!

I was included in the Duke Nukem Trilogy, done by Apogee Software. I’ve only done the first of their trilogy. I’ve also been involved in many other video games. I’ve done between 120 to 150 games so far. That keeps me pretty busy. I’m in the gaming world. I’m in World of Warcraft, Half-Life, a new game called Rochard that’s pretty cool.

Alex: How did you feel about this long wait. How much access did you have to in-depth information about it?

Jon: I was pretty bummed, of course being a voice actor, I am not privy to a lot of information. As far as the development in the game and when it will be released, that was all on a ‘need to know’ basis, and I of course did not need to know until they were ready to actually record the game. The tough part for me was recording the original tracks for Duke Nukem Forever, which began about 3 years ago. Of course before I could record, I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement which meant I couldn’t talk about it at all, and so fans would keep pressuring me to give them answers: “When is this game coming out? Is it ever gonna happen?” And there were those who would say, “Oh that’s a loser… it’s never gonna happen…” Of course I had to bite my tongue and say nothing, knowing all the time, “Oh it is in the works…it’s gonna happen…”. It was difficult!

Alex: Was there only one recording sequence for the game, or did you make recordings for the previous iterations of the game?

Jon: I’ve probably done 7 recording sessions for Duke Nukem Forever, and I have some still to go. Even though the game is still finished, of course there will be special add-ons and features including… I don’t know if I am allowed to talk about this or not…something that may involve singing. I’ll leave it at that.

Alex: So, all of the sessions, all of the recordings or most of the recordings are going to be used in the game? None of the stuff you did was cancelled and put away, the same way that a lot of the code that was made for the game was cancelled in the past?

Jon: I can tell you there were a lot of ad-libs, and they allowed me to write a whole bunch of lines. I got suggestions from fans while at conventions, and I am sure some of those did not make the game. They were perhaps a little bit too racy even for Duke. You know the fans come up with some of the best material.

Alex: What kind of creative freedom did they give you?

Jon: It’s always written for me. All I am is a voice actor. I just presented it. But I tell you this, the original Duke Nukem 3D game was critically directed by the original president of 3D Realms, and also the casting director here in San Diego, who got me the part. There was a lot of critical directing, and everything Duke said was like this (Duke’s voice) with my teeth clenched the whole time. But in Duke Nukem Forever, Randy Pitchfork and the folks at Gearbox software said, “You are Duke. You know who Duke is, and you’ve been Duke forever. Do what you do.”

And they listened in on the recording session, and just laughed as I did it, and let me have the freedom to put more inflection, more personality into the character, and incidentally I think the character is much stronger today because I was allowed to just do what I felt, and they gave that creative freedom. That was very nice.

Alex: Was Duke based on a person that you knew or inspired from other characters, or you just came up with the entire thing?

Jon: It was developed, in fact in the beginning when 3D Realms was putting Duke Nukem 3D together, they knew they wanted a badass character and they said, “We are thinking along the lines of a Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry character, so give us a couple of lines…”  I said, “Go ahead, make my day…”  They said, “OK, that’s the right kind of voice but remember… Duke is a big buffed guy on steroids, so let’s lower his pitch…” . I repeated, “Go ahead make my day…”, and they said, “Oh! That’s the Duke voice, let’s go with that!”. That’s been the voice ever since.

Alex: By the way, as you may notice already, English is not my native language and I must be honest if it wasn’t because of you I would have never learned to curse in English the way that I learned to do it.

Jon: That makes me feel great. You know I also taught millions of kids around the world to curse too in English! I’m so proud of myself sometimes.

Alex: I have no issue whatsoever with this! How did you get the job back then, How was the casting process?

Jon: I’ve been a radio broadcaster for about 30 years. I’ve worked from all over the country from Philadelphia to New Orleans, San Diego, L.A., Phoenix, and here in San Diego is where Lani Minella lives. Lani is one of the top casting directors in the industry. So, back in 1995 after we had met she was working on a commercial project at the radio station where I was, and she started doing a bunch of character voices, and I started mimicking back some. We had a little back and forth of our character voices and finally she said, “You know you got really good range and great tonal quality and good dialects. Have you considered doing voices acting for video games?”. And I told her that I’d love to do it. it would be something new and exciting.

So, she brought a couple of games to me, I auditioned for a couple parts and among the first few games was Duke Nukem 3D. Once I did Duke Nukem 3D, that was pretty much the launch to many other games, being recognized as the voice actor who played Duke brought other gaming manufacturers, and  developers to me. They wanted to get me to try out for their games and there you go…the rest is history.

Alex: How has the casting process changed based on your experience, since 1995. Voice123 was launched in 2003 and now a lot of the casting calls go through online services. Many of them still go through the same mediums, but based on your experience, how has it changed for the gaming industry?

Jon: For the gaming industry in particular, it’s changed considerably because there were only a handful of voice actors that were known and could easily be located by developers. Voice123 came along and other agencies that also represent voice talent, and now it is much easier for them to do a nation wide, even world wide search for voice talent, so the talent pool is gigantic now compared to what it was back in ‘95.

There were a handful of us doing this kind of work. Now there are countless thousands of voice actors, especially up and coming young voice actors; the kind of fans I have who grew up playing Duke Nukem 3D, who decided they wanted to be voice actors, and now they are in their late 20’s – early 40’s, and they are striking now and doing just that. They are voice actors, and they now have the advantage, like Voice123 for instance. When an audition comes along, they don’t necessarily have to have an agent in NYC, Philadelphia, LA, like I do to find these parts. They are more readily available and they are able to audition for them much more easily because technology, and like I said Voice123 has been a boom to voice actors who want to find the auditions and find the jobs. It’s much easier today, I’d say.

Alex: You are in your home studio, right now, right?

Jon: This is it!

Alex: What kind of recordings do you do from home, and what kind of recordings do you go to the studios of the producers?

Jon: Most of the work I do…I do here from home studio. It is just more convenient. I have the phone patch, so my mixing console back here patches right into the phone line and I can hear them. They can hear everything I’m doing over the microphone, the software won’t record their voice, I just hear them in my headphones, and most of the projects I do are done here from my home studio. For instance I have radio and TV stations, which I provided the imaging voice for. I’m able to do everything from my home studio for clients like that.

When it comes to video games work, I’ve been very lucky with Duke Nukem Forever. I was able to do everything here in my home studio, but other games I generally have to drive to LA, or down to San Diego-downtown to do those sessions because the developers, producers, directors etc. want to be in the studio to actually direct it and though they could direct it over the telephone. I think a lot of them just want to meet me because I’m Duke Nukem.

Alex: Do you, in real life, behave like Duke Nukem every now and then?

Jon: If I admit it, that would make a bad ass, wouldn’t it?! Not really. I’m a pretty mellow, laid back kind of guy. I live in southern California. Everybody is kind of mellow out here, but the character really is something I channel from within because I do have some inner anger, and when I get to play bad guys that’s my favorite thing. Now Duke is of course a good guy. He’s saving the babes of earth from aliens, but I have played several bad, mean, evil, characters, the arch-villain, and I love those characters the best because they allow me to channel this inner angst into the character.

I think the best example would be a game Twisted Metal 4 that I did many years ago, and I’m the Sweet Tooth spokesperson on this game. In other words, I ‘m doing the narration at the beginning of the game and it’s the most maniacal, evil, voice I’ve ever done. When the game came out they sent me a copy and played it for the first time. I didn’t know that was me at first it was a little creepy. I think I channeled something from the depths of hell, out through my vocal chords, and it’s the evil character I like the best.

Alex: Is there anything that you want to tell your fans or the voice over community, whether that’s talents or producers, or programmers working on their video games; something you might want to share with them?

Jon: Yes, hire me, please! I have kids in college. Help me put them through school…hire me! More importantly I guess, buy Duke Nukem Forever, buy 5 copies!

Alex: I pre-ordered that game back in 1999. Let’s see if I finally get it.

Jon: Good luck with that one, if you don’t have your receipt you are screwed buddy!

Alex: Do you have a fan page, in Facebook or something that we can point your fans to?

Jon: I just use my regular Facebook page, I include everybody as friends, and everyone who wants to be a friend, I friend them, so just Jon St. John on Facebook. Go ahead and look me up.

Alex: Thanks a lot Jon!

*Jon St.John is a Premium Subscriber on Voice123.com, and we are grateful he took time out of his busy schedule for this interview! Duke Nukem Forever is scheduled for release on June 10 in Europe, and expected release date of June 14th, 2011 in the US.

If you have future projects, or special accomplishments you would like to talk to us about, and do an interview, please let us know!