Major Players: Edward Kenway

What kind of research went into preparing for the role of Edward Kenway? What did Joy Division have to do with the casting process? How tall is he? These are just a few of the things we discussed when we spoke with Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag’s Lead Writer Darby McDevitt as well as the voice of Edward Kenway himself, Matt Ryan.

Edward is not the kind of Assassin you’re used to, as you’re likely learning if you’ve already started the game. He’s brash and selfish. He’s a dirty fighter. And he has no real desire to give up his ways to follow the Creed (much to the chagrin of other Assassins). It’s all these things that make him one of the most compelling characters in the series. Darby and Matt share their unique insights into what makes Edward so special, revealing a few exclusive tidbits along the way.

Finding Edward

Edward Kenway began as a somewhat different character, but went through a bit of a transformation when Matt Ryan was cast. Tell us about that change, and how it happened…

Matt Ryan When I auditioned for the part I used a Northern English accent. When we got to Montreal and just started talking, Darby and the guys were like, Hang on, what’s your accent? I’m from Wales and Swansea is the port I come from. So we started talking about that, and about making that the part of the world Edward comes from. What’s similar between my journey and Edward’s is, I left home when I was 19 and lived in Bristol for three years and then I lived in London and then I moved to America. So in terms of just the accent, my accent has traveled. It would be truer to the accent Edward would have.

Darby McDevitt That backstory was brilliant. I didn’t even know Matt lived in Bristol but I said, Okay, Edward was born in Wales but moved to Bristol. I made that up for the character before I knew that about Matt. Bristol was a very common town for pirates. That’s where Blackbeard’s accent would have been from. It’s a huge port town. That was just a happy accident. I have to admit when we sent out the casting call I asked for a Manchester/Mancunian accent because I’d been listening to a lot of Joy Division interviews and I love the Mancunian accent on Peter Hook and all the guys from Joy Division. So some of the first auditions we saw were true Mancunians and it was cool, but it didn’t quite work. It took us a long time to find Edward. We saw maybe 60 people and we finally got Matt.

Major Players: Edward Kenway

It’s not just Matt’s voice that’s perfect, though. He also looks quite a bit like Edward.

Darby I liked his voice, but because we were now going full performance capture we had to worry about how he looked and held himself. Luckily, our animation director said, Matt has the physicality that’s right for Edward. I remember one guy who was a bit too showy – a little too Errol Flynn.

Matt Edward is kind of nonchalant, isn’t he? He’s loose but then he can focus and snap to attention at a moment’s notice.

Darby He’s like an animal. We needed that combination of a guy who has a warm voice and could be friendly but also commanding. Of course, he also had to be physically impressive. Because of technical constraints he had to be between 5’10” and 6’2”. How tall are you?

Matt I’m 5’10 ½”.

Darby Great! If you were 5’9” we might have asked you to wear lifts.

Being Edward

What sort of research did you do to prepare for being a pirate and an Assassin during the Golden Age of Piracy?

Matt Basically Darby sent me a list of books to read – including Colin Woodard’s book The Republic of Pirates – and I researched the period. I think one thing that always fascinates me about doing period stuff is the lack of technology. We take our forms of communication for granted and it’s the first thing I do when I’m doing something set in a different period. I just try to get my head around that. If you’re at sea for months and months, you can’t put out an S.O.S. and have a helicopter come and save you. You’re on your own. Just that sort of mentality is different. Even the shadows were a different kind of dark in those days.

Major Players: Edward Kenway

So I researched a bunch on the period, but before I got to Montreal I didn’t have that much information on the character or the project. The first week was Darby and the team bringing me and the other guys up to speed and getting us on the same page as them in terms of the character. One thing about the process that was amazing was that we had a chance to rehearse. We would rehearse for a day and then we would shoot for a day. That’s so rare these days. With TV there’s hardly any rehearsal and with movies sometimes you get a little rehearsal. The only time you really get rehearsals is in theater. We actually had time to really go through a rehearsal process and flesh out the scenes.

I think throughout the whole process there were more and more things I was gleaning from the character because it was shot from about last October or November until June. It was a week here and two weeks there and each time it would get deeper and deeper and the character would get more and more fleshed out. It’s a really interesting process in terms of that.

Darby On average I think we had two rehearsal days for every three days of shooting. That was a first for me, too. We didn’t shoot Revelations this way and maybe every character except Ezio was coming into the studio the day we shot saying, Okay, I got the script two days ago. I read it. Here we go. So even for me it was a nice step forward. There’s always the question of, Why don’t games have better stories? Possibly because we don’t actually empower the people who are good at storytelling to actually tell that story. That’s one reason, anyway. But I think in the last decade we’ve seen some great games from teams like Naughty Dog and Irrational. We’re doing these fantastic stories now and it’s because the companies are investing more and more and saying, Actors are good at acting. Let’s let them act. Let’s not just put them in a studio and hand them a script.

Major Players: Edward Kenway

What was it like doing the performance capture for the role?

Matt I was just in a big studio and the guys would show me some images and then I’d have to imagine everything. But that’s kind of what’s great about the medium. It leaves everything up to the imagination so you have to really go to a different place in your head than you would if you were doing film or television, where sometimes you have the things in front you. In this case it’s nothing. A stick can be a gun or a sword or anything you want it to be. It really leaves it up to your imagination, which is such a fun thing to do. You find yourself becoming a kid again when you used to pick up sticks in the shape of a gun and pretend to shoot. Suddenly you’re using that part of your imagination again and it’s a really interesting experience.

I think one thing you’ve got to take into consideration when you’re doing motion capture is the environment. You need to imagine the heat and the pace of things. Often when we’re on the ship I’d be holding two sticks and I’d have to pretend I was sailing. So you’re pitching over the wind and the water and you’ve got to imagine all these things. Sometimes the guys are like, You’ve got to pitch it up a bit. There’s more wind or rain here. So I’d have to project a little bit more. It’s all left to the imagination, which is completely and utterly fascinating and brilliant. I think it’s a fantastic medium. I think it will become more and more popular for more and more actors as it goes along.

How did you balance Edward’s external and internal conflicts to create a rich, robust character?

MattI think the most interesting thing about the process is you shoot it all out of sequence. Normally you would have an arc and you would map it all out in terms of where you want to take the character at certain points in the movie or game or whatever. That couldn’t really happen within this process, so what you have to do is hit each moment. We’d all talk about it and what beats we were trying to hit and trust that it fits in with the story. But that’s the great thing about this character: his conflict.

Major Players: Edward Kenway

He’s so three-dimensional. A lot of videogame characters aren’t. They’re very archetypal and that was the main draw for me really – how conflicted Edward is – and to play those conflicts is a really interesting thing. His drive to get what he wants is so strong, but at the same time he has all these things going on underneath. He’s a real guy, but he’s driven by what he wants to achieve. He thinks he’ll find happiness by achieving fame and glory and riches, but ultimately we all know that’s not how you find happiness. Somewhere along the line he changes routes and becomes someone different.

For more on Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, set sail for these posts:

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Review Roundup

How the Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Companion App Is Your First Mate

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – The Arsenal of a Pirate Assassin

Making Progress in Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag

Assassin's Creed® IV Black Flag

Release date — October 29, 2013
Developer — Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag tells the story of Edward Kenway, a young British man with a thirst for danger and adventure, who falls from privateering for the Royal Navy into piracy as the war between the major Empires comes to an end. Edward is a fierce pirate and seasoned fighter who soon finds himself embroiled in the ancient war between Assassins and Templars. Set at the dawn of the 18th Century, the game features some of the most infamous pirates in history, such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane, and takes players on a journey throughout the West Indies during a turbulent and violent period of time later to become known as the Golden Age of Pirates.

ESRB Rating: MATURE with Blood, Sexual Themes, Violence, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol
the author

Anne Lewis began her career as an editor at PlayStation: The Official Magazine, where she worked under Gary Steinman. She can now be found skulking around the UbiBlog, once more working for Gary. Alas. When Anne isn’t writing about games, she's alphabetizing her comic book collection or shooting at stuff with a bow. Follow her on Twitter: @BDRAnneLewis

15 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. EA on November 5, 2013
    These little tidbits are appreciated by those of us who still have another two weeks to go.
  2. Edward Kenway on November 5, 2013
    Having Matt do the voice over for me was a great idea. He portrays me rather well, if i may add and one of the best things is that he looks quite a lot like me. Class act, dude.
    • Anne Lewis | Communications Associate Author on November 5, 2013
      I'm sure the team definitely appreciates your approval, Edward.
  3. Person on November 5, 2013
    Will we ever find out who the voice talents for roles like James Kidd and Anne Bonny were? The performances were all around incredible.
  4. Sam on November 6, 2013
    I was really impressed with this games storyline and ending, it was a step up from AC3 ( i didnt enjoy it personally) Also all the voice acting was amazing, as well as the Motion Capture of each character.p.s I have just unlocked the Mayan Armor, and am a little annoyed it doesnt have the hood, especially because it is in the "Assassin Hideout", is there any way Ubisoft will be able to add it in an update or something? The outfit looks badass, but it doesnt feel right without the hood...
  5. Randall on November 6, 2013
    Too bad it freezes on the PS3 every 15 minutes and it takes 30 minutes of removing/inserting the disc to ghet it to work again. It's also too bad I haven't heard from anyone from Ubisoft asking about this. $60 pretty much wasted. STEER CLEAR of this game.
    • Sam on November 6, 2013
      I have this game on PS3, and it never lags for me, unless there is a lot going on the screen. I dont think its your game, it is probably the console
    • person on November 6, 2013
      maybe your ps3 is just a piece of shit
    • Edwin on November 7, 2013
      It's more than likely your console. many of my friends and I of course own the game and no one has had any of freezing issues.
    • Bryan on November 7, 2013
      Yup, never had a problem with it on my PS3. Anybody who stays away from this game is REALLY missing out; it finally brought the series back to the level of AC2 (none of the games have been as good since, until this one). and the open world gameplay is just amazing.
    • jeff on November 7, 2013
      Too bad your ps3 is shit. I play this game around 4 to 5 hours a day, and not a single issue.
    • UnderRedSky on November 8, 2013
      Uh oh. Sound's like the laser lens is starting to burn out on your PS3
  6. Lyn on November 7, 2013
    I think Matt is the perfect Edward. But overall, the game is fantastic. The game deserves the title "Highly Anticipated Game of The Year". :)
  7. Francis on November 8, 2013
    I hope we get to see more of Edward Kenway,personally i had my doubts after getting dissapointed at AC3 but i took a chance and was completely blown out of the water...no pun intented.And a satisfying good ending as well non of that cliffhanger stuff from the previous games that barely gets resolved in the next one.
  8. Ezio Aditoure on November 13, 2013
    i have approved

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