The man behind Frank Woods: ‘Black Ops’ character speaks upWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of people who meet actor James C. Burns have no idea what they know him from.
“I’m on TV enough that people can recognize my face, but they’re not quite sure why they know me. Because I’m not famous, but I’m familiar,” Burns said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star.
With numerous roles on shows like “Prison Break,” “Passions,” “Burn Notice,” “General Hospital,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Criminal Minds” and many, many more over the course of his career, it’s easy to see why fans would know him without, you know, knowing him. But for a certain kind of fan, Burns isn’t just a successful and respected character actor. He is an icon.
“I have, like, 40 million fans. I can walk into a movie theater and order a ticket, or order at a restaurant and have a dozen kids jump me. ‘Hey! I know you!’ And I play with ’em, you know. ‘Vietnam, baby.’
“‘It’s Woods! Oh my God, it’s Woods!’”
“Woods” is Frank Woods, one of the lead characters of game developer Treyarch’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops” series. The “Call of Duty” games have proved to be the most successful and iconic first-person shooter series in recent history, so a sequel to 2010’s wildly popular “Black Ops” was hardly surprising to Burns.
“I’ve been involved pretty steadily since November of 2009,” Burns said. “I have a great relationship with Treyarch, so there’s no surprises here. We’ve been working on this for two years.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Burns lends only his voice to the character, however. He is quick to point out that his work was done with full motion and facial capture technology, so what players see in the game is completely Burns’ work.
“Woods was captured 100 percent live action,” he said. “So every scene you see Woods in, in ‘Black Ops’ and ‘Black Ops II’ is a live action scene. There’s very few things I do in the box. It makes the performance more fluid. Because usually a character has a voice guy, a stunt guy doing the motions and a facial capture guy. Woods is completely me — it’s my voice, my face, my body, shot at the same time.”
For players, Burns’ character is less a standard nonplayer character and more a constant and loyal companion. “In the story, he’s your tour guide. He’s the guy that gives you the information you need to play the game, and that’s consistent with both ‘Black Ops’ I and II,” Burns said. “I tell you where to go, what to do next and what the mission is.
“At the same time, as a character, Woods is your best friend, man. He’s the guy that’s got your back. He’s 100 percent looking at the opportunities and the obstacles, and he’s like, ‘Come on, you can do this! Move forward!’ So when he yells at you, it’s not condescension, it’s like reinforcing. ‘I have confidence in you, I know you can do this. Now, let’s get it done.’”
Despite all the work that goes into the creation of Woods, playing this kind of role isn’t exactly a stretch for Burns, who has made hard-nosed military figures part of his stock and trade.
“This is kind of a stock character for me. I do this guy a lot. I play a lot of soldiers, a lot of cops, a lot of firemen — I play these kind of roles often. I had done a lot of research prior to this. One of the reasons I got the role was when you’re looking for someone to do the technology — because the technology for performance capture hadn’t been developed yet — so they wanted an actor who had stunt training and weapons training, which I had both.”
“Woods hasn’t changed very much from the first day I walked into the audition,” Burns said.
As “Black Ops II” continues the streak of “Call of Duty” successes — moving a remarkable 11 million copies in its first week alone — Burns clearly hopes that the games’ success will spur on his mainstream acting career, as well.
“You get paid for two things — you get paid for your ability to move a scene from point A to point B, or you get paid for your ability to draw attention to a project,” he said. “And unfortunately, B is a much more stable career than A. So the more visibility I have, the better it is, because it means I have more employment security.”