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Siobhan Williams Details Her Key Role In The Quarry And Moments Too Tough For Her To Watch - Exclusive Interview

This article contains spoilers for "The Quarry."

Siobhan Williams has been working nonstop since her debut in the CBC series "Heartland" in 2010, racking up more than 30 credits in film, television, and video games. Among her acting gigs, Williams has starred in ABC's "Black Box" and the Disney XD animated series "Beyblade Burst," and she even hit the trail to do a couple of Westerns  AMC's "Hell on Wheels" and Epix's "Billy the Kid."

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Williams' career, however, is that her experiences have added up to her biggest role to date in the new video game "The Quarry." Whether it was because of her work in the video game-inspired Cartoon Network series "Level Up" or her turns in the horror fantasy "Van Helsing" and wicked action comedy "Deadly Class" — both on Syfy — Williams' path seemed destined for "The Quarry." Add in the fact that she performed her role via motion capture in Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis's 2016 film "Welcome to Marwen," and it simply seems Williams' turn as a camp counselor-turned-ass kicking survivalist was a starring role waiting to happen.

Developed by Supermassive Games and published by 2K Games, "The Quarry" is set in a remote wooded area near the small, upstate New York town of North Kill, where a group of nine camp counselors are gathering at Hackett's Quarry campground. Players first meet Laura Kearney (Williams) and her boyfriend, Max Brinly (Skyler Gisondo), in the game's prologue, as the couple encounters North Kill's creepy sheriff, Travis Hackett (Ted Raimi). It soon becomes apparent to Laura and Max that Hackett's Quarry contains some dark, disturbing secrets, and eventually the couple — along with their fellow camp counselors — find themselves in deadly fight for survival as other members of the demented Hackett family emerge.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Williams discusses all facets of "The Quarry," from the motion capture work that resulted in her startling photoreal appearance in the game to the horrific elements director Will Byles and his creatives to bring the game to life. Williams also delves into the differences in sensibilities between acting in a video game versus film and television, gushes about her work with the likes of Raimi and his fellow horror legends Lin Shaye and Lance Henriksen, and reveals her love for the video game predecessor of "The Quarry" — the worldwide smash "Until Dawn."

From film and TV to motion capture

I know you've done video game work before this, but with "The Quarry," you're doing motion capture acting. How much different the audition process might be when you're doing motion capture, as opposed to a movie or TV role? Knowing it's a motion capture project has to change the mindset a little bit, I would think.

Yeah, for sure. I treat the auditions pretty much the same way, just because of how far games have come now. Even five years ago, games were a lot more emphatic with body language. Things were exaggerated. It's like, "What do you want?" You had to convey those big movements, whereas now, the fidelity is so high that you can be a lot more grounded and a lot more natural because they're taking all your facial expressions and all the nuance that exists in you. It depends on the game and the quality of the game that you're auditioning for. With "The Quarry," I didn't actually audition for it, but if I had, it probably would've been very much like a film and television audition.

Prepping for a horrific role

I'm sure you have to prep your psyche for a role like this, being that "The Quarry" is a horror story. It's interesting because Max, at one point, asks Laura in the prologue, "Did you see 'Evil Dead?'" when you're entering a basement at Hackett's Quarry. To prep, did you watch any specific horror movies, like "Evil Dead"? Maybe "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "The Hills Have Eyes" because there's demented families involved, or werewolf movies? There's a lot going on in "The Quarry," and I would imagine a lot for you to absorb in prepping for a role like this.

I did. I watched some of the movies that were referenced. I also watched some unrelated movies, and I also really focused on playing some horror games because I thought that would be a good education in what we were doing. I played "Until Dawn" a couple more times, too, to get more acquainted. I'd already played it a few times before, but [this time was] to jog the memory. I played ["Resident Evil 7"], which had some great "killbillies" in it that are horrifying. I actually played it in VR once and couldn't last more than two minutes. I was [like], "Get it [the headset] off! It's too immersive. Oh, my God!" I took pieces from lots of different things and tried to really get invested in the script, for the game, to figure out Laura and all the different arcs, and how the story went.

The influence of Until Dawn

I'm glad that you mentioned "Until Dawn," because, coming from Supermassive, people call this the spiritual sequel to that game. You must have been pumped then, knowing, "Okay, I played 'Until Dawn' before." It's the next step, really, in a way. Isn't it?

Actually, I'm really excited [the game is referred to as] the "spiritual successor," because when we were making it, I knew that it was the follow-up, but everyone at Supermassive and everyone we were working with were stressing, "It's not a sequel. It's not the sequel to 'Until Dawn.'" I [said], "I know, but I love 'Until Dawn' so much. I hope that it's still associated." When [Game Informer published an article] that said it was the "spiritual successor," I [said], "That's perfect. That's a perfect way of saying it, because it is. It's the same breath as 'Until Dawn,' but unrelated in lots of ways." I was so happy to be associated with that game because I'm such a super massive fan of it.

As a fan of "Until Dawn," how much does that affect your performer's sensibilities going into the role? Are you thinking as a video game player now or are you still thinking as an actor, going into the role?

[I'm] definitely aware of both, for sure. [If] I wasn't a gamer at all, I would be looking at it a bit differently and be a bit less aware of how things would translate after the fact, but I was thinking both ways. When I'm in the scene, I'm not thinking about it from a video game perspective. When I'm prepping, and when Will [Byles] and I and the other actors are going over blocking and whatnot, I'm able to picture how things are going to be shot. 

With this game, it was really interesting too, because Amrit [Bajwa], our DP, knew how it was edited together. It was a lot more like a movie in terms of the shots that they were using. Sometimes, I would think it would be more like an older video game, but really, it would end up being a lot more cinematic. I was pleasantly surprised by all of that. I was going in order [as an actor and gamer] to visualize because of what I'd done before and played before.

Changing paths, changing narratives

Normally, with a film or television show, you might film an alternate ending, but with video games like "The Quarry," now you're talking about multiple avenues, multiple paths that your character might travel down —  I would think you might feel like you're filming more than one movie. It's interesting how all the characters can take different paths and really end up with a much different narrative.

And that was definitely one of the challenges that was presented that was really cool. There are certain paths that will lead to completely different endings and relationships, and then, certain paths that will actually lead back to the same place. You never know if something's going to affect you long term or not, and as an actor, it was interesting to have to start in one place, make two totally different reactionary decisions, but make sure that they fluidly led back to the right emotional place. That was something neat to work through with Will, and he was so good about providing us with insight about where we were coming back to and [saying], "Don't forget."

Twitch reactions and seeing yourself on camera

The Quarry is really popular on Twitch. Have you had a chance to see any anyone's reactions to the scariest scenes — and the ones involving you specifically?

I have watched lots of people play it on Twitch, which is so neat. It's really cool to be able to watch other people enjoy and react to it. Secondly, I personally have a really hard time being scared by this game. I don't know why and I do know why. It's because I was there and I know how it was made, so, I don't know. Objectively, can you tell me what some of the scarier parts were? Because then I can tell you if I've seen reactions or not.

Yeah, it's hard to say without giving away things.

That's true.

Maybe it's when Laura loses an eye, and you get splattered with blood? That must be jarring, to see yourself losing an eye all of a sudden or at the very least, weird, because you're doing this via motion capture and what we see on the screen is much more explicit. Maybe it's not scary, but it must seem weird to you.

It is, for sure. It's very weird. Will explained once, "You're going to be covered in blood," and I [replied], "Oh, cool." And then I saw it, and I [said], "That is a lot of blood." It was really cool. I found all the things that they did really impactful, and I was definitely pretty grossed out.

I remember, before I'd even played the game, it was probably within a few hours of the game coming out. You know how, when you pause the game, depending on the state that the character's in, it'll go to their face and how they look? At the beginning of the game, everyone looks great and hunky dory, and then, as they get more and more messed up, when you pause, it'll be a much more unpleasant face. Someone posted a screenshot from the game immediately after my eye had been ripped out but before I bandaged it up. It was me with a gaping hole in my eye and I remember feeling, "Ugh. That's very gross and disturbing." To say the least, it was very exciting to see how it ended up and people's reactions.

Seeing the things nightmares are made of

Seeing Laura being splattered with blood for the first time or losing her eye, does that sort of thing creep into your dreams or cause nightmares?

Not really, to be honest. I think because of my role and being so in awe of all of the work that went into it behind it — I am in awe of it — It doesn't creep me out so much. The one thing that really stuck with me, and I actually can't watch — I have to look away — is when Constance [Lin Shaye] gets her face blown off. That is so graphic, and I can picture it right now, talking about it, and it makes me sick. It's disgusting and it's my fault. There's definitely certain images in the game that stuck with me and that I would like to unsee, but I can't ... I'm [like], "Wow, that's amazingly graphic."

What would Williams do?

As Siobhan the actor, you're given a script that you have to follow it as Laura, but as Siobhan the video game player, do you find yourself saying, "Personally, I'd make different decisions than the ones that Laura is presented" in "The Quarry"? Do you get what I'm saying?

I do. Do you mean in reality or as a player?

Well, if it were real, I'm sure you'd say, "No way. I'm getting the hell out of Dodge the minute I meet Sheriff Travis" — but would your decisions differ than the ones Laura makes in the paths she's presented in the game?

In some parts, yes, and in some parts, no. When I play the game, I'm a lot more willing to take risks and be overly reactive and [say], "F-you, cop. I'm not doing this. You're creepy," but in real life, I would definitely play it a lot more safe. I would do whatever I thought was my best move to stay alive, but Laura has those options, too. Sometimes, she's playing it safe, and sometimes, she's getting mad and making decisions that are maybe a little bit too reactive.

In the grand scheme of things, I've been in some situations in life that were ... I don't know how to say it, but very high stakes. I've seen that some people, and I mentioned this in a previous interview, when really bad things happen, when catastrophes happen, most people go into shock and don't react and have no idea what to do. Some people spring to alertness and figure out what the hell to do. I found out in a really s***ty situation a few years ago that I am the latter, so in that sense, Laura and I have that in common. I would be able to get through anything and power through, but I do it in a very calculated way and never take those risks where I have emotional outbursts. It's a bit of both.

When I played the game with my son, I told him, "I want Laura to be defiant." I wanted to, in a way, put her in danger so she's going to have to be more reactive. To me, that's more fun to take that risk when playing the game — but then he told me, "She's not going to last very long that way!"

Totally. I agree. It's the same thing. That's the benefit of this being a game and not your real life. You feel like, "Well, what's the worst that's going to happen? The character's going to die, and I will play it again and make a different decision and see that outcome!"

The wonders of motion capture

Is this your first experience with motion capture acting?

No, actually. I've done a few projects before. I was working on a video game for a few years with Capcom here in Vancouver. It was going to be great, [but] then, the studio shut down in our third year of shooting, so, that never came out. I got a good deal of experience there. I also did a movie with Robert Zemeckis a couple of years ago that featured some motion capture stuff that he did. The film was animated and also live-action.  I was in the animated portion, a little bit so, I did some motion capture there.

Was it "Welcome to Marwen"?

Yeah, that's the Zemeckis one. You got it.

It's been a long time, but I did talk with him about mo-cap when it was relatively new, for "The Polar Express." He's a pioneer with that, along with [James] Cameron. Having done motion capture acting with Zemeckis, it must have been exciting to walk onto a set like "The Quarry" and say, "Yeah, I know what this is all about." Even so, with all the experiences, do you ever get over the wonder of what you can do with motion capture?

No. I love it so much and every single day I walked into Digital Domain, I was [like], "Oh my God. This place is so cool." There's something really neat about knowing that you'll never fully understand the technology that is behind all of this, because it's so complex, and they're at the forefront of what they do. It's really neat to hear about what's new in their day-to-day and what they're dealing with, because it's such a different world from mine. I love being able to come in as an artist and learn about all this tech and feel like the worlds are colliding, and I'm learning so much. I really geek out on the software that they've developed and hearing about what they're up to. It's a really neat part of the industry that I feel super lucky to have been a part of.

It must be a freeing experience, too, because you can show up and there's no sitting in a chair for hours for makeup or getting fitted for wardrobe, or anything like that.

I think so. The pacing is so unique when you're creating a game like this, and the project is so big. We probably ended up shooting 500 pages or something, over the course [of filming "The Quarry"] ... for my character alone. The game was longer than that, but ... it is very freeing, and it is a great exercise in imagination. I hope I have more experiences like that in film and maybe in subsequent games.

Imagination is still very much a part of Williams' actor toolbox

At the same time, there's something to be said about how makeup and wardrobe can be valuable tools in aiding your performance. Without the benefit of those tools, is there something special that you bring to help when you're motion capture acting or do you just rely on the script?

A lot of it is the script. It's so well-informed, especially with the writers and with Will, that we had on the game. There also are pieces of — basically, two-by-fours. If you can imagine, like when you have [something that's supposed to be a] car on set, it's usually built out of two-by-fours, with sensors on it or a steel frame of some sort. There are pieces that can a least give you an idea of distance or placement, which is great. We were also really lucky that they'd set up TV monitors. This was at least by the end of shooting. At the beginning, we didn't have quite so much because the game was in a much earlier stage of development, but we were able to see what a set [or environment] would look like, which was really cool, and look around within that.

That was helpful. The biggest thing, other than that and talking to Will and asking lots of questions, which I did, is imagination. It can go so far. [It was] especially when you have a director there [like Will]. He wasn't just a film and TV director who comes in to direct and then leaves. He was the whole head of this project — the creative head — and he had his hands on everything. Any questions I had, he would know the answer and that really helped. He had such a clear, vivid idea of what everything was going to be like that he could answer any question I had, and that was really helpful, too.

There is something so freeing about it all being imagination. I love being a character actor. That's always been my dream. I've always wanted to play characters that didn't look like me, who lived in different time periods or had different accents. That's my dream. Being completely stripped of anything like a wig or a 19th century dress, or anything like that, you're not getting any assistance from props or wardrobe or whatnot. It's really cool to [say], "Okay, I'm going to imagine everything."

Williams said playing a 'horrendous character' landed her 'The Quarry'

You mentioned earlier how didn't have to audition for "The Quarry," which is pretty cool considering how big of a project it is. Do you know if there were any particular projects that you've done that helped influence the filmmakers to cast you?

The project that Will mentioned to me was "Deadly Class," a Syfy show that I did a few years ago that's on Netflix now. It went for a season and I played a horrendous character. It was about a school. It's based on a graphic novel by Rick Remender and it's about a school where the world's criminal elite send their children to be trained as assassins.

I was the daughter of the Dixie mob leader, and she was a Nazi and a super racist bigot who hated basically everyone and had a huge '80s hairdo and was very out there. She looked like a Southern belle, but she was a piece of s***, a garbage human. That was really cool because that was a very fun character role. [Along with that], Will probably explored my other work, and [maybe thought], "She can do a few different things. We'll see what she does with this." [laughs] I was very happy.

Williams says Raimi is a 'dream scene partner'

Ted Raimi speaks so highly of you, which is so cool because he's been a part of some very iconic horror stuff, including the "Evil Dead" saga. What's your biggest takeaway of working with Ted?

Oh, my God, where do I start? He made everything so easy. He has so many ideas. When you see the script and how Travis is written, and then you see Ted portray it, you're [saying to yourself], "Oh my God. Where did you get this?" He's a genius and he's so present, but it's totally unplanned. It's not a calculated version of what he's going to do. It's perfect, and it makes my job so easy because he gives so much to go off of.

He's also the world's kindest human. He's literally the dream scene partner and the dream person to be working with because he has all of these brilliant ideas. He's so receptive to anything. We had a lot of great improvisational stuff together because he's so grounded and in character and open. He will be a very dear friend to me forever now. He's the best person ever. I don't even know what else to say. I could go on and on about how talented he is.

Williams is also a fan of Gisondo, Shaye and Henriksen

Was there anybody else in particular where you felt, "Wow. This is amazing"? It's tough to answer, I'm sure, because you got a good cast that you're working with, and you don't want to single anybody out!

Skyler [Gisondo], I have to say hi to, as well, because he's amazing. I love his work. When I found out he was cast in the project, I looked at so many of his shows that he'd done, and I fell in love with "The Righteous Gemstones." It's an amazing show and he's so great in it, and I've watched other movies that he'd done and shows and whatnot. He's awesome and he's also so lovely to work with. I feel like we had a very natural chemistry and banter. [He is] also just the loveliest guy. 

And then there's Justice [Smith], who plays Ryan, and Zach [Tinker], who plays Jacob — I had one or two days with them and Miles [Robbins), who plays Dylan. They were all amazing, too. It's funny because we only did one or two days together, but when I think about "The Quarry," I'm pretty much thinking about all my time with Ted and Skyler, because we had a lot of days together.

All those other guys were fantastic, too, and made me laugh so much. Miles is so funny. So much of his stuff with Dylan, I watched the game and I laugh at him the whole time, in a good way. When Lin [Shaye] and Lance [Henriksen] came in, that was really amazing. They're both also so iconic, and it was so cool to watch them interact on and off set. I remember, again, some of Constance's improvisations were really jarring and really scary. Sometimes you can't see it, depending on where you are and the volume, when you're not in the scene, but you can hear it.

I can remember [saying], "Oh my God, I'm so stressed. This is going to be so awfully scary in the game." It freaks you out, like when she's getting mad, because she finds out that so-and-so has died, and she's blaming people. I was [thinking], "Oh, this is going to make us see so much about Travis. The way that she's playing it, it's going to make us feel so differently about him." It was really cool. I was [like], "I can't believe I'm surrounded by these people," or "I can't believe I get to kill this person or be killed by this person. Wow."

A bad - and bloody - moon rising

Lastly, I have to bring up the werewolf transformations, which I don't want to give away too much about — but it's awesome stuff. How amazing was it seeing Laura's transformation?

It made me nervous, for sure. I was nervous to see my transformation. Will was really kind to show me so much stuff along the way over the years. He'd send me little videos. I remember him texting me once and [going], "Yeah, we're not going to have the werewolves be like the normal, breaking out and all that stuff." They're going to explode. It's going to be blood everywhere," and I was like, "Oh, wow. Okay. I don't know. I don't know what that's going to look like." Then he sent me a video and I was [like], "Oh yeah, that's gross. I wonder what it's going to look like when I do that!"

Also starring David Arquette, Ariel Winter, Ethan Suplee, Grace Zabriskie, and Brenda Song, "The Quarry" is now available in stores and online from Supermassive Games and 2K Games.

This interview has been edited for clarity.