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Guybrush Threepwood: The Memoirs

As the Monkey Island series experiences the unexpected double broadside of a new series of adventures and a shiny overhaul of the 1990 original, who better for IncGamers to get hold of for a chat than Guybrush Threepwood himself?

OK, so Guybrush himself is just pixels and rendering (Father Christmas isn’t real either, sorry), but voice actor Dominic Armato is about as close to Mr Threepwood as you can get. By our count the Special Edition of The Secret of Monkey Island will be his fourth vocal outing as the mighty pirate – leaving LeChuck’s Revenge as the only mute-Guybrush adventure.

As he minds the galleon wheel and adjusts his tricorn hat, Dom tells us that he was introduced to the series through a somewhat unusual source.

“My first experience with Monkey Island was on – of all systems – the Sega CD. I’d pestered my folks about it for months, so when Christmas rolled around, they relented and got it for me.”


This may not be the platform of choice for Monkey Island purists, but no doubt it was less aggravating than swapping around the four discs of the Amiga version. Having also played Lucasarts’ excellent, music-themed Loom on the PC, he was eager for further adventuring after his first taste of piratical fun, “I adored [Monkey Island]. So I rushed out to play LeChuck’s revenge and officially had a new favorite series of video games.”


Of course it’s quite a step up from being a fan of the series to voicing the main character, especially given that creator/designer Ron Gilbert had left Lucasarts shortly after LeChuck’s Revenge. “Like everybody else at the time, I’d assumed the series was dead with little to no chance of being resurrected,” says Dom. In fact, several years on from LeChuck’s Revenge, a new Monkey Island (Curse of) was being crafted – and, as luck would have it, Armato was in precisely the right line of work.

“Though I’d been doing voice-over (VO) since I was a little kid, I’d moved out to Los Angeles to pursue more character work (cartoons, video games, etc.).  So, like most other people who work VO regularly, I’d head into my agent’s office a few times a week to pick up whatever copy had come in and record it for my audition. When I picked up a drawing with the title ‘Guybrush Threepwood’, my jaw hit the floor.”
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When he realised he would be reading for his dream role, Dom pursued it with added vigour: “It turned into one of those ‘Nobody else is going to get this part’ moments. If necessary, I’d land the role through sheer force of will.” Whether this is a coded suggestion that he turned to the dark arts of voodoo we are unable to confirm or deny. Nonetheless, waiting for news of this initial audition was a particularly stressful process. “Usually my MO is to immediately forget about my audition the moment after I’m done. If you get a call, it’s a pleasant surprise, but you can drive yourself insane waiting for phone calls. It’s a skill learned as a matter of self-preservation. With Monkey Island, however, I just couldn’t help it. I thought about it every day.”

Ultimately though, this was enough to earn a second audition, “I was called back to audition for the voice director, Darragh O’Farrell, in person at a studio in L.A. At the time, I believe it was down to a handful of actors.” Realising that his experience with the games could edge him over the finishing line, Dom was keen to get this information across: “I spent the audition with Darragh trying to be certain that I nailed every single line, while waiting for an opportunity to subtly sneak in the fact that I was a fan of the games and knew them inside and out. I don’t recall how that opportunity presented itself, but when it did, I made sure he knew.”

This may even have been the deciding factor that landed him the role, “Darragh later told me that it was a close call between me and one other actor, but that the project leads – Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahern – reacted very favorably when he told them that I was a fan of the games.” As well as guaranteeing his enthusiasm for the role, Dom suggests that the developers may have concluded that his affinity with the previous titles could really bring the material to life, “So much of interactive voiceover is trying to get at the context of the lines you’ll be recording. Since I already knew the world, the characters and the Monkey Island style of humor, I presume they knew that would give me a huge advantage over somebody who didn’t.”


Before going into the recording process in a bit more detail, Dom bursts any preconceptions about late-night grog parties, plunder contests and casual wenching, “It’s a thrill to be working on the game, and there’s nothing more fun than nailing a great line, but it isn’t like we’re swigging grog and engaging in all sorts of zany hijinks.” Disappointing news for all those hedonist pirates out there looking for voice work. That said, he does recall one notable exception, “When we recorded the Pirate Song for Curse of Monkey Island (CMI). Then, we had a booth full of gravely-voiced (and largely tone deaf) fellows belting out a rollicking tune. That’s a good time no matter how you cut it.”
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The reality of the job turns out to be concentrated periods of vocal grafting. “The first thing to understand is that it’s a LOT of dialogue. The [CMI] script filled a binder about five inches thick. So when you’re the main character, that’s a lot of time in the studio” Dom says, “you have to keep things moving, otherwise it’ll take months. But on the other hand, you can’t grind yourself to the bone or you’ll lose that fun energy that the game needs to have.”

Both CMI and Escape from Monkey Island (EMI) shared similar working practices, he explains. “For CMI and EMI, we’d usually do two four-hour sessions each day. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. So we’d hit the studio in the morning, have a bagel and screw around for a little bit before getting started (Studios always have bagels. Don’t ask me why, they just do.) Then, I’d take a seat in the booth (standing is preferable, but standing in one spot eight hours a day for three straight weeks? not so much) and we’d start running through lines.” He adds that it’s rare for the individual voice actors to even meet, let alone do any work together.

“Structurally, [CMI, EMI, the Secret of Monkey Island remake and TellTale’s episodes] are all a little different. Recording the special edition of SoMI was a whirlwind. I think everybody was still kind of in disbelief, even as we were doing it, and we blew through the entire game (my lines, anyway) in a few days.” TellTale’s process perhaps differs the most, as Dom’s lines are now on a specialised tablet PC: “I’m enjoying being able to work on a chunk, reflect on it for a month, and then come back to do some more,” he says.


Happily, Dom is still able to play through the series without too much self-consciousness, “For the most part I’ve been happy with my work on Monkey Island, and that’s allowed me to sit back and have some fun with the games once they’re done. I’ve done other work where I was less comfortable with what I’ve done, and that’s hard.” He admits there are occasional lines he wishes he could re-do and “they do kind of drive me nuts,” but has a rational perspective on the matter; “When you’re reading 5,000 lines, it’s probably inevitable that a couple aren’t quite going to come out how I’d like, and I’ve learned not to beat myself up over it.”

Of all those lines of dialogue, it’s Guybrush’s gung-ho introduction that Armato rates as his favourite. “That simple intro, ‘I’m Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate!’ – it’s all of Guybrush’s zeal and bravado and naiveté distilled down a quick little line” he says, “It isn’t … funny or witty or sarcastic, and I’d probably feel differently if I hadn’t performed it [but] so much of his character is encapsulated in that simple line, and that makes it oddly special to me.” When it comes to the standout puzzles of the series, Dom has a lot of love for one especially breathtaking moment: “Nothing approaches the absolute genius of the puzzle when Fester Shinetop ties Guybrush to the idol and tosses him in the harbor. The moment when you finally figure it out is one of the best moments in gaming history.” Strangely enough, this is an admiration he shares with Ron Gilbert, who referred to the ocean floor puzzle as one of his favourites in a recent, self-penned retrospective.  

While we had Dom’s attention, we asked about his take on Gilbert’s near-infamous carnival ending to LeChuck’s Revenge. “It sure seems to point in the direction of this whole world being a construct of a little kid’s mind – and the anachronisms would certainly support that theory” he ponders, “But the exact back story? What’s up with the skeletons? Search me. Hopefully Ron has it locked away in a safe deposit box somewhere, to be released upon his death.” After considering for a moment, he adds “Second thought, bad idea. Not if he values longevity, anyway.”
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From classic LucasArts 2D, through a more stylised ‘cartoony’ look in CMI to full 3D for EMI and beyond, the Monkey Island series has undergone several visual transformations from 1990 onwards. “I’ve always thought that the style of CMI was pretty much unimpeachable” Dom says, “It was so much fun to look at that I think it eventually won over even some of the most skeptical critics.” On the subject of EMI’s somewhat lukewarm reception amongst fans and critics he offers the opinion that “On a line-by-line basis, it may have actually been the funniest of the series. But I understand where the criticisms come from,” while adding that he’s entirely too close to the series to be completely objective. We raise the issue of Guybrush’s somewhat controversial Special Edition hairdo and suggest it may be on the overly massive end of gigantic, but Mr Armato is having none of it: “Don’t you mean [it’s] amply piratey?”

Curmudgeons and haters of change take succour, however, because Dom himself was unsure about CMI’s artistic direction to begin with, “I was a little taken aback when I first saw the drawing of Guybrush that accompanied my audition copy, but from the moment Darragh showed me some captures of the game early in the recording process, I was totally sold.” He’s also well aware that fan criticism often originates deep within hearts of purist love (not to be confused with acid reflux), “There’s always going to be a contingent of Monkey Island fans who will hate change, no matter what form it takes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s symptomatic of their love for the series.”

Fancy Pants

As we cast off in a lifeboat and begin the choppy trip back to shore, we’re able to yell some final questions back to the galleon’s deck and cup our ears to catch the replies.

Given the freedom of any island from the series, Dom would settle on Plunder: “It just seems so peaceful and serene. Great beach club. Tropical drinks. Fried chicken. Plus, I’ll always be impeccably groomed. Just stay out of the jungle.”

Sadly, on the vital subject of whether we’ve seen the last of the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, he is deliberately cagey, “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of Monkey Island’s famous faux fowl. The guys at Telltale have been working very, very hard on what I think is a great script, and we don’t want to spoil the surprises. Or more accurately, I feel it would be best if I left it to them to spoil their own surprises.” While on the topic of birds, didn’t he play also voice a duck in EMI? No doubt he sent them a large bill – did that ruffle any feathers?

“Pull a fowl move like that? Please, I’m not quackers.”

Awful puns ringing behind us on the breeze, we hit the open seas.


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