‘Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’ Voice Actor Cody Christian On Bringing Vulnerability To The Combat-Ready Cloud Strife; “I’ve Experienced Things Very Much Similar To What Cloud Is Going Through In My Real Life”

Let the record show that despite embodying one of the most well-known (and well-armed) protagonists in video game history, Final Fantasy VII’s stoic ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife, Cody Christian, does not carry around his own six-foot-long, one-foot-wide Buster Sword to solve his problems. No. Instead, the actor admits that he deals with the ebbs and flows of life and career in a much more humble way. “There’s [a] honesty and vulnerability that we see in Cloud,” said Christian. “[And] I think they’re very powerful and relatable on such a human level. I’ve experienced things very much similar to what Cloud is going through in my real life. And I don’t wield the Buster Sword, and I’m not fighting Shrina to save the world. I’m similar in a lot of ways where I could put this tough look on. But the reality is if you talk to me, I’m just goofy and corny. I live a very boring, simple life. I love working out, playing video games, telling stories and acting.”

Though Christian claims to lead a humdrum life, his digital one is anything but. In Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which serves as the second game in a three-part reimagining of the original 1997 game, Cloud (Christian) and his group of friends Tifa (Britt Baron), Aerith (Briana White), Baret (John Eric Bentley) and Red XIII (Max Mittelman) are tasked with a dangerous mission to stop the legendary super soldier Sephiroth (Tyler Hoechlin) from plunging the planet into chaos.

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Here, the actor speaks to Deadline about the fun and challenges of bringing one of the most badass heroes in gaming to life.

DEADLINE: It’s been four years between the release of both Final Fantasy VII Remake and the recent release of Rebirth. Can you walk us through the journey of having played the titular character, Cloud Strife, thus far? 

CODY CHRISTIAN: There’s part of this story that I’ll speed through, and that’s the whole finding out that I booked the role and not knowing what I initially auditioned for and the chaos of that. Because I got the phone call that was like, “Hey, we’d love to book you for this. And also, by the way, here it is, and here’s the project and here’s the character.” It was all kind of thrown on me at once. So that is its own part of the story. But as soon as we got into the booth for the first time on Remake, we didn’t start at the very beginning because there was promotional stuff that we needed to get done; a trailer to release. It was very intimidating because, from my perspective, I’ve been on film and television for the last two decades, but this was my first legitimate and official voice actor gig. So, I knew how to tell a story, at least emotionally, but there’s a lot of technique and particularities that you have to learn, and I think that only comes through time invested and experience when it comes to voice acting.

Something I had to learn was being very limited. Onscreen, I can just exist through my body language through a sign, look, or glance. I can communicate emotions a lot.  But it becomes an entirely different ball game when you strip the visual aid away from that, and it’s just your voice now. So, my first batch of recording, I feel like I blacked out because I went into thinking like, ‘Fuck, I really hope I don’t mess this up, and I hope I don’t get fired.’ Because they’re expecting a professional, and obviously, I can pretend to be that as much as possible, but this is my first gig. I had an amazing camp of people that walked me through everything. I credit this man all the time, and I really want to give him his flowers. My main voice director, Kirk Thornton, from the first and second games, is a veteran voice actor and transitioned into directing. There was trust, comfortability and respect amongst the two of us from the very beginning. And rather than him using his seniority and position to make me feel inadequate, it was quite the opposite. He was team Final Fantasy, team Cloud, and anything and everything that I needed, whether it was just technical pointers on being able to get everything on mic or using the diaphragm to bring intensity into moments or even little things like eating green apples to get rid of the little tongue clicks and sticky stuff that you hear on a mic that you don’t realize until you hear it.

The first couple sessions were pretty much me going in and hoping for the best. I had to get used to delivering lines and then having it be completely silent for maybe two minutes while they listened and deliberated and made notes on the other side of the wall. At first, I was super insecure about that because I didn’t understand the process of what they were doing and what I was supposed to do. But after those first couple sessions, I felt very comfortable telling the story of Cloud because I had people who genuinely cared about the project, the character and the stories that Square Enix was telling. I think we were able to give a really great performance in the first game and then follow it up with even more in the second.

The second game was a very different experience. I was genuinely excited to get back into the booth and step into Cloud’s shoes again. I knew story-wise where we started in the first, what was going to happen to the character, and where we would leave him and lead him during the second. Rebirth sees Cloud brought to life in such a sympathetic way as he goes through this emotional journey and explores his vulnerability, opening him up as a book. The second game was a special experience, and I believe I am correct in my optimism, but I believe the third will be even better. Because now, I can finally breathe and enjoy what I’m doing and not feel like a clown or imposter. Because I’ll be real with you, it was a lot of that in the beginning. I knew how much this game meant to people; it was never lost on me. So, I knew I was going to do my absolute best, but I was kind of holding my breath and crossing my fingers because obviously, it’s like you could do your best, but you’re not going to please everybody. So, seeing the success of the first geared me up and made me 10 times more excited for the second.

Aerith (Briana White), Cloud (Cody Christian), Tifa (Britt Baron) in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Aerith (Briana White), Cloud (Cody Christian), Tifa (Britt Baron) in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

DEADLINE: Cloud is one of the coolest iconic video game characters ever. He’s got the Buster Sword, he’s got the sweet moves, but also, he’s quite a piece of work. There are times when he’s so curt to his friends, but there’s also times when he can be heartfelt as well. What is your take on Cloud, having played him this long? Is he a loner with a soft heart or a rugged soldier through and through? 

CHRISTIAN: My main focus with bringing Cloud to life—because it’s not the first time it’s happened, I’m not lost on that either. There’s been other exceptional talent that have lent their voices and abilities to bring him to life. I just knew my iteration was to focus on the human side of this guy. I get that we’re in this heightened sense of a fabricated environment, and there’s Shinra, and there’s this and that…but I didn’t want to get lost in the extremes. I wanted to focus more on just the core of who this person is. That prompted me to do a deep dive and really understand, well, what was young Cloud like? What was the pain there? What was the trauma there? What happened? Then, piecing together everything about him wanting to become a SOLDIER, his loss of identity, and not knowing what is purely and authentically him and what is something else or someone else.

The way I look at Cloud is he’s very much a product of his environment. He didn’t just pop out being this moody, broody, guarded, badass SOLIDER who doesn’t seem to care about anyone or anything outside of himself. That’s all a result of trauma. If we start at the end result of what we know Cloud is known for, the joy that I’ve had has been doing the work in reverse, figuring out how we get there and finding these pure moments of who this guy is. And who he is, in my opinion, is this goofy, loveable, loyal, wannabe SOLIDER that turns into all of these things for real. But I think there’s a confusion amongst himself. There’s dissension within. Almost like imposter syndrome, ‘Am I really who I think I am?’ At the surface level, Cloud appears to be one thing, and I’m so happy that this second game has allowed us this opportunity to dive a little deeper. I love that there are moments too, where Cloud admits to being lost, confused and not knowing. And there’s honesty and vulnerability that we see in Cloud as he admits to these things that the audience already knows. I think they’re very powerful and relatable on such a human level. I’ve experienced things very much similar to what Cloud is going through in my real life. And I don’t wield the Buster Sword, and I’m not fighting Shinra to save the world. So, it’s been a joy to play him because of how complex he is.

DEADLINE: Do you claim any similarities to Cloud? 

CHRISTIAN: There’s a lot of similarities between Cloud and myself. And I think that’s the beauty of the character. I’m not going to take selfish claim over it. I think there’s so much relatability to who he is, how he presents himself, the struggles he endures, and the character he shows through it all. That’s why he’s become, in my opinion, such a fan-favorite character. So many people can relate and see themselves in this character, no matter where you are or where you’re from. I’m similar in a lot of ways, where it’s like I could put this tough look on, and I could put this very intimidating don’t-approach-me-I’m-not-super-interested vibe. But the reality is if you talk to me for more than like 60 seconds, I’m just goofy and corny. I smile a lot. I crack a lot of jokes. I don’t take myself super seriously. So, just like how the image is and how I really am, I think that there’s layers. I think people don’t necessarily know the true Cloud until they get very, very, very close. And part of that is because he doesn’t necessarily allow it. And I’m similar in that way. I appear to be one thing, but I’m not all that. I live a very boring, simple life. I love working out, playing video games, telling stories and acting.

Cloud at the Mogstool in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
Cloud and the Moogle in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

DEADLINE: There are so many iterations of Cloud in Rebirth. You went from a younger, less affected Cloud to Moogle Cloud, to a dramatic Shakespearean Cloud to a scary, corrupted Cloud. How fun was it recording that scene where Cloud is chasing Aerith at the Temple of the Ancients, and he’s beckoning her to hand over that destructive materia? It was like the game suddenly turned into a full-blown horror movie. Can you talk more about the most challenging and fun moments about the many voices you had to capture here?

CHRISTIAN: That scene with Aerith was by far my favorite out of everything just because of the performance. That sinister side of Cloud doesn’t really exist. We hadn’t really seen it. And to bring that level of sinister and something that is so out of pocket, so out of character for him, which is obviously what the scene called for. It’s not him; he’s being controlled. His mind is in different places. But to be able to take it there is almost like a guilty pleasure because the audience knows it’s not right for Cloud to be that way. And especially towards the people he’s acting that way towards, Aerith, Tifa, et cetera. So, it felt wrong doing that voice [laughs]. And I think that’s what made it so exciting because in the whole scope of the story, Cloud never really [goes that far]. I would say he’s a hero through and through. And even when he does things that may not seem right, they’re justified in his heart and soul, and I would say that he makes the right decision. But we don’t ever get to see him not in control or unhinged. And he’s truly unhinged. We get glimpses of it. When he gets his little mind attacks and his flashbacks, we see glimpses, but we never really get to see him completely not in control. And for me, that was the most fun because I just got to take it to a place I didn’t think I would ever be able to. And I remember I had to do take after take of these ominous, sinister laughs, this just deranged lunatic style. And it was so fun. I would do maybe 15, 20, and I was really getting into it. That was fun.

I think the most challenging was the Moogle bit for two reasons. One, I can only say one word now, kupo. And just the circumstances, I don’t care how you look at it, they’re extremely goofy. Going into work—we’re doing serious shit beforehand—and then they’re like, “All right, we’re going to do this sequence.” And I’m like, “All right, cool. Well, what is it?” And they start giving me all the information. Then, I saw the script in front of me on a little monitor. And I’m looking at 30 lines and it’s all one word. And I’m like, “Did you guys fuck up? Is this a mistake?” [laughs]. And they go, “No, no. This is all you can say.” It was so ridiculously funny because I had to do a different emotional inflection on every line.  So, I’m just saying the same thing over and over, and by the time we’re done, we have to go back and listen to me saying this one word and being like, “All right. Do you feel the joy in that one? OK, yeah. But it sounds too similar to the one where he’s supposed to be annoyed. All right, well, let’s change the annoyed one a little bit.” So, it was a very meticulous process, and it was just hard to take seriously. Because it is not a joke. But for me, in the real-time reality of doing it, I felt so silly.

But that has been a joy of this second game, being able to do these wildly different things. And you mentioned the Shakespearean theatre. I was really in the booth posing. I thought I was in a play for real, for real [laughs].

DEADLINE: You did such a good job in that Loveless play sequence. Please talk about that. The robotic Shakespeare coming out of Cloud’s mouth was hilarious. 

CHRISTIAN: How this all works is we have a four-hour recording session. Naturally, what ends up happening is that by about hour three, your voice starts to get a little scratchy. Especially for Cloud, I have to kind of keep it in this lower register a lot, and all of his battle noises and sounds and anything with intensity kind of roughs up the throat. So, basically, we did all the lines of the play, everything but the bellowing, very dramatic lines, and we saved it towards the end of the session… so I just went all in. I’m just glad nobody gets to see what I look like when recording these things.

DEADLINE: #ReleaseTheChristianCut

CHRISTIAN: Like sneak some cameras in the booth and show people because if you saw what I was actually doing, you would think I was a madman. But sometimes it’s what’s necessary. And when I tell you I was posing, you know how Cloud looks during that whole sequence? That’s what I look like recording the sequence. I was really in there, all of my heart and soul.

Cody Christian
Cody Christian

DEADLINE: What is something you think would be surprising that people didn’t know about voice acting? You mentioned green apples earlier, but what else is specific to your process?

CHRISTIAN: This is an old-school trick, but when my voice was really starting to go out, it was getting a little scratchy and it was noticeable. And that’s the thing, with these audio files, you have to have the quality at such a ridiculous level because once they get the master recording, it then needs to be compressed hundreds of fucking times in order for it to fit into the game, it needs to leveled correctly, it needs to be bounced off 30 other things that are happening. So, vocal quality matters. When I started to get a little fry, I took a baby shot of whiskey. Not enough to get sauced [laughs]. But just a tiny bit to wet the palate. But that was more circumstantial to get us through [a tense] session.

The biggest shock for me, though, is you don’t realize all the noises that your mouth is making until a microphone is right in front of your mouth and you have headphones on. I could hear everything. So, I think a lot of it is just a learning curve of understanding the natural sounds that your body makes when you’re trying to communicate and understand that there’s not a place for them in these vocal recording lines [laughs]. I had to learn how to do these little tricks with my teeth and tongue positioning and not blowing out so much air on certain things.

These are just little tips of the trade that I’ve picked up on session after session. Now I feel very comfortable to just walk in and do my basic warmups and go for it. But I’m not the most technical guy either.

DEADLINE: That’s wild. So much to think about when reading a line or two.

CHRISTIAN: You know what’s the worst? You know those growling sounds that your stomach will do, and you can’t even control that shit [laughs]? Obviously, it’s not anyone’s fault, and you can’t do anything about it. But, when you’re trying to do lines and then all you hear is just this demonic growling, gurgling sound, it’s just so off-putting. It’s something that never needs to be heard directly [laughs].

DEADLINE: Do you have a favorite line or idiosyncrasy of Cloud’s that really helps you understand how to get into character? In Rebirth, I think it’s so funny when Yuffie and Barret find this cute bird that resembles Cloud’s hairstyle, and the bird lands on Cloud’s shoulder. It’s this cute moment for the group, but Cloud refuses to give in to the heartfelt moment and instead mutters, “Kill me.” Is there anything that you find particularly endearing about playing him? 

CHRISTIAN: There’s a blunt honesty about Cloud that I really adore, and I try to adopt into my own life. In that circumstance, you just painted, right? Nobody would really say that, but he will, and he does. And he’s so true and true to himself. And that’s something that I really idolize about the guy. I think his one-liners are the best. I think his responses to Barret are some of the best in the game. “Not interested” is a big one for me from Remake. But I do have another one, and it doesn’t have much merit, but I remember saying this line. This goes back to the first question you asked me. I think it was one of the first lines I ever recorded. Cloud in the Avalanche search party, and Cloud’s line is, “Different reactor, different layout. Depends when it was built. Never seen one like this, but I’ll manage.” And I don’t know why, but that is so cemented into my mind. Maybe it’s because it was one of the first things I ever recorded or ever saw after they recorded it in the cut of the trailer. But whenever I start to shift or drift away from the mindset of Cloud, which I think is way more important than the lines, that little thing gets me back every time.

There’s so many times in the booth, I’ll just be on my own waiting and just staying in place, and I’ll think about it. And I think also the timing of the first game plays a significant role in the impact that the sequence of words has for me. It’s my anchor, so to speak, to keep me in the Mecca of Cloud.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

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