Since 2000, David Bateson has lent his voice to the lethal professional assassin Agent 47 in the Hitman series of video games.
The latest game in the long-running franchise, Hitman: The Complete First Season, shakes up the series by going an episodic route - something new to the world of video games. Instead of releasing the entire game in full, developers IO Interactive opted to roll out six separate chapters over a period of months through downloadable content, culminating in the complete game, or season, as a whole that gamers can play their way through.
Heat Vision caught up with the man behind the world's most dangerous killer who opened up about his history with the character, the game's new episodic format, and his thoughts on the two Hollywood Hitman films (spoiler: He's not a big fan of Timothy Olyphant's take in 2007's Hitman).
You've been voicing Agent 47 for 17 years now, since the series' first game, Hitman: Codename 47. How has the character, and your portrayal, evolved?
I'd say Agent 47 has become more human, more complex, more nuanced. His sense of humor has evolved, too, in that it's become very distinct. It's very dry, very deadpan, very dark, of course. I mean, don't get me wrong, Agent 47 doesn't do this for laughs, but there is a level of subtlety to him that has evolved from the two-dimensional way he was originally conceived. I think all of that has come about over the years as a result of the writers having honed their skills, but also I think due to the fact that my relationship with the writers and the creators is more interactive.
Have you seen either of the two Hitman films that have been made? I saw a comment you made about Timothy Olyphant, who played Agent 47 in the 2007 adaptation. [Bateson called Olyphant's portrayal "crap" during an interview.]
(Laughs.) Don't get me wrong, I will seriously give him credit. I think he's a clever actor and a talented actor. But I'm also sure that there were a fair deal of politics involved. I think 20th Century Fox had the rights to Deadwood and they wanted a piece of the action from Hitman, maybe as a franchise or trilogy or whatever, and using one of their own actors would help to really nail that down. But, bless him, I just thought that when you took off his hair he looked about 12 years old. Like, put the gun down, Timothy, it might go off in your hand. But seriously, the director was a music video director and it was his first featured and it looked stunning with the explosions and stuff, so Timothy did a great job under those circumstances, but I think, bottom line, he was miscast. He did as good as you could, under the circumstances. However, Rupert Friend [star of 2015's Hitman: Agent 47] that was a lot more interesting. Rupert Friend is a very intelligent, clever actor. It's all too rare to see an actor willing to really risk making him or herself look so vulnerable or unattractive as he does in the Homeland series. He has a kind of sensitivity, a vulnerability to him and also this incredible tough assassin look, but I think he was much better cast. Although, to the die-hard fans he looks much less like the part. I thought he was much more convincing than Timothy.
It's a hard look to pull off, but you have the look yourself. Would you be interested in playing Agent 47 in a film? Have you ever been approached about playing him onscreen?
Yeah, I would in the drop of a hat. Actually, when we were on the pre-publicity of the first film, even before they'd cast it - because I think Vin Diesel was signed to play it first, and then I heard Bruce Willis was actually signed, which I kind of went "Ooh …" But anyway, so when this hiatus came and they dropped Vin Diesel, they were thinking who's going to play him. If I remember right, they were thinking of Paul Walker at the time, but they ran with this idea of, "Who is Agent 47? Nobody knows what he looks like because if you see him, you're dead." So there was this window of opportunity of giving an unknown film actor, such as myself, that opportunity. It could have been fun. Instead of thinking "Hey, there's Tom Cruise or Matt Damon, nobody knows him.' But it was a lot of suits deciding that. The bottom line is, I know the rules, it's not going to happen. I was never in the running.
Is his sense of humor something that comes from you? How much of yourself is there in Agent 47?
There have been many times when, as an actor, I see a potential in a line and I try to gently ease it in that direction. Something I see in him that reflects my own disjointed upbringing, whereby I am able to hang some emotional memory taken from my life onto one of his scripted lines. He haunts me. I guess that's what acting is all about. Finding the humanity in a character and being true to it. Not that I'll ever know what it's like to kill someone. (Laughs.)
What is it about the Hitman series that stands the test of time?
Now this is a good one, because no one, no one, could have possibly known how well Hitman was going to do when it first started out. I think Hitman and its creators at IO Interactive set the bar very high right from the get-go. It didn't compromise itself by dumbing down, so in the long run that's been its strength. It's a franchise that really demands your attention and your skill. I think they've secured an even stronger relationship with the fan base with this new episodic release, and IO Interactive have been very clever in listening to their fans, so instead of having one explosive release for a six-week period, they've sustained the interest for over a year.
Do you have a favorite "hit" in the series?
Hmm, there's a couple, actually. There's the one from Blood Money, which is the theater one, I like the whole world of the theater so it's just great seeing someone being murdered in it. (Laughs.) In the new game, the most enjoyable hit for me is in the Paris fashion show and dropping the whole chandelier. If anyone's gotta go, that's the way to do it, just do 'em with a whole chandelier. There's a lot of fun hits, I love pushing people off balconies and making it look accidental, but I like the drama of dropping a whole roof on 'em.