Within the pantheon of great gaming partnerships, we’d put genetically engineered assassin Agent 47 and handler Diana Burnwood from Hitman right near the top of the list, perhaps just behind Mario and Luigi and Ratchet and Clank. The pair have overseen dozens upon dozens of deadly missions, in which the industry’s most iconic slap-head has conducted his business as creatively as possible. Few things in life are quite as satisfying as a “Good work, 47” once you’ve done all your dirty work.
We were lucky enough to catch up with voice actors David Bateson and Jane Perry to get a little more insight into their work as two of gaming’s most recognisable characters. Both stars breathe enormous character into IO Interactive’s iconic series, and it’s probably fair to say that the property would be nowhere near as memorable without them. We chatted about the origins of Agent 47’s distinctive timbre and whether Perry believes Diana could survive Atropos like her BAFTA award winning Returnal character, Selene.
Read on for all the responses.
Push Square: Agent 47 has such a distinctive timbre to his voice. Was it an iterative process developing the character’s tone, or is it something that came immediately?
David Bateson: Well, when I first saw the artwork back in 1999 and was asked to audition for the role, I thought it looked all dark and shadowy. It had a Blade Runner look about it but it also reminded me of Orson Welles in The 39 Steps set in post war Vienna. When auditioning for anything, it is important to commit to an approach and stick to it, so that those who listen to your audition get a clear impression of what your idea or interpretation would be if you got the role. So, from the get go, I decided upon a post-war “Phillip Marlowe detective” timbre and vocal quality. The “sound” has changed over the years as the character has become more fleshed out, though. Also, IO Interactive didn’t want a specific US dialect, as Agent 47 should have a nondistinctive sound to him, to underline his “non-identity” as a laboratory-created assassin. It would have been wrong if you could easily place his accent to a specific location in the States.
How do you think Agent 47 and Diana have evolved over the years?
David: Our relationship has grown and matured over the years, without a doubt. Especially during the last three-game storyline of Hitman 1, 2, and 3 which was both a journey back in time to reunite with his childhood friend, but also a journey forward into the unknown future together with Diane. I think you can sense Diane’s concern for Agent 47’s safety as the missions intensify towards its conclusion. It becomes more apparent in Hitman 3 and the Argentina level particularly, where Diane joins Agent 47 in the field — increasing the risk factor of discovery, failure and consequence. Their tango together while they discuss their next move is a metaphor for how their relationship has evolved — cool and controlled on the surface, but with an intimacy of mutual understanding and respect for each other. It’s as close as their personalities could get to a form of love for one another. I also think their last telephone conversation at the end of the game reveals just how much their relationship has evolved.
Jane Perry: I think Diana is nothing if not consistent. She is adept at keeping her emotions in check and takes to a cool clinical coldness, like a duck to water. Having said that, I think she has evolved into someone who cares, and I really do think that she cares deeply for Agent 47. Work, of course, will always come first! But that deep respect for Agent 47 can’t help but make a small crack in the uber polished exterior. They have been through a lot together and have overcome some pretty incredible things. He is intricately woven into the thread of her life. That history equates to a kind of love. Maybe not the way you or I would experience love, but I think for her 47 occupies a parcel of her heart.
There’s a sinister side to Agent 47 in terms of the way he assassinates his targets, and yet the games strike a nice balance between being violent and playful. Do you find it challenging to find that middle-ground between serious and slapstick?
Jane: I think the balance between the inherent violence of a game about a Hitman and the humour and playfulness is one of the things that has given the Hitman franchise its considerable longevity. That balance is a tricky one, and IO Interactive gets it spot on. They are brilliant! As for the challenge of striking that balance, I would say the text and the storylines are so well written that one merely needs to play the reality of what is written on the page. I love the seriousness of the mission briefing: outlining who did what and why exactly a character has a hit on them (I’m usually totally on board by the time I’ve finished recording one and am ready to go out and start dropping chandeliers or orchestrating some magnificent accident myself!). Then when you get into the more granular aspect of how to go about it, that’s when it gets fun — and I love that shift. It is delicious and gorgeous to play as an actor.
David: If you are a sort of test tube killer devoid of emotion and with no childhood memory to help define you, then the only thing I could go on at the time, was to think of Agent 47 as a kind of Frankenstein monster, in terms of a person in search of his creator. It would be uninteresting for Agent 47 to be utterly devoid of all emotion — though he is created as such. I liked to imagine him in the early days of Agent 47 — devoid of all emotion and childhood memory, but with some inner sense that something is missing: that feeling haunts him and can, on occasion, colour the way he says things.
I had a bunch of “déjà vu” experiences in the early years of moving to Copenhagen (of which I have no explanation or opinion) but having the sense that you’re almost looking at a memory of a dream, without any explanation or anchor in reason, is what I imagined Agent 47 to feel on occasion. It comes across as slightly haunting and almost wistful (though of course, he has no concept of what that is). His job is to fulfil contracts by killing people. The very concept of fear or pain even, is foreign to him. However, I like to imagine him looking on sometimes, with an emotionless curiosity, at what his target is so desperately trying to hold on to: life! Therein lies the dark “humor”.
Add to this psychological potpourri — the writer's creative juices, in telling a story and thinking of fantastical ways to carry out a contract — and you have the makings of some deliciously wicked assassinations!
One more point which is impossible to quantify, is this: who knows how much of a subconscious effect the writers and I have had on each other over the years? We’ve spent many, many hours together, both in the recording studios and at some IO Interactive events and game conventions, and that has provided some “fertile soil” for how Agent 47’s personality may have developed. Many occasions where our mutually dark sense of humor has perhaps “sowed some seeds” of how to “shuffle off this mortal coil” with a smile on your face!
Out of all the Hitman missions, which are your favourites and why?
Jane: Sammy! Don’t ask me to choose! I simply cannot. However, I was chatting with a friend who lives in Dubai the other day. I’ve never been but recall the absolutely stunning rendition of it in Hitman 3. Talk about glamour! There must be a good handful of people who’ve made their holiday plans based around mission briefings in Hitman — it just makes you want to go to all these deluxe places — and I’m no exception. And the way Grey and Agent 47 skydive and pop on top of the world’s tallest building (IO Interactive’s version of the Burj Khalifa) is fab. When I go, I shall take the lift, thank you very much!
Jane, congratulations on your recent BAFTA for Returnal. I’m curious whether you think Diana would be able to survive a never-ending space loop like Selene?
Jane: Thank you so much! It was a great honour to win, and I am still reeling from it. I am utterly delighted to see games, and performances in games honoured in such a way. There is so much talent in this industry, so many amazing creators, tech people, animators, artists, actors, writers, etc — and BAFTA Games was such a wonderful way to recognize and celebrate that. It was so wonderful to be a part of it all this year.
As for your question about Diana surviving Atropos. Well, Diana is tough as old boots, so I don’t see why not! She might need to rethink her wardrobe, however...
We’d just like to take a moment to thank David and Jane for their time conducting this interview — both were candid and very considerate with their responses, which we hope has made for an enjoyable read. What are your favourite Agent 47 and Diana moments? Flush our head down the toilet in the comments section below.