Dean Erickson

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 01 August 2006. Last updated on 05 September 2009.
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Dean Erickson
Dean Erickson plays the role of Gabriel in The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery.

This interview was originally conducted in March 2006.

Fans of Gabriel Knight should instantly recognize Dean Erickson, for he is the actor who portrays the lead role of Gabriel Knight in second game of the famed series, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery. Erickson has accumulated several television credits before joining the cast for the game at Sierra On-Line. He has also had many colorful careers outside of acting and is now working as a financial advisor in California, US. We are privileged to have this interview with Erickson who still remains in active contact with his game fans. In the interview, Erickson speaks of his past and present careers, his work in The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, his view of the Gabriel Knight series, and what holds for him in the near future.

Before your acting career, you had worked on Wall Streets. What careers had you had before you became an actor? What inspired you to learn the craft?

After graduating from Brown too many years ago to mention, I thought I wanted to be where the money was in order to get my share. I didn't realize that they wouldn't just hand it to me when I got there. Ah, the delusions of youth.

So, I went to Wall Street and worked for about six years in a variety of jobs that held high potential and high responsibility. The problem was that I wasn't having a lot of fun. I'd always been way too serious as a kid, studying hard, practicing sports for hours on end, and I was way too serious while I was in the investment business. It IS a serious business, but you have to know how to do the very best you can and then leave the ups and downs of the market at the door when you leave at night. I didn't do that very well when I was in my twenties, but do it much better now.

So, I left Wall Street and stumbled upon acting. I actually took an acting class to become more comfortable in people-oriented situations, because I anticipated raising money for a hedge fund that I would manage. For better or worse, I enjoyed the class so much, and felt like it gave me an opportunity to learn about myself and have some fun at the same time, that I veered off, career-wise, toward acting. Once I found acting, I wanted to be good at it, because that's always my desire and because people who would be watching me deserved my best. Studying with working actors like Uta Hagen, Victor Garber, and Anne Jackson, among others, was also inspirational, because you knew from their passion that the calling was, at its best, bigger than themselves. It could be a gift to others. That's what I wanted my acting performances to be. You're contacting me ten years after we did Gabriel Knight 2, so maybe my performance made some impact on somebody. That is reassuring and hopeful.

You had several small roles in Frasier. What other acting roles had you done (in television and other media) prior to your role as Gabriel Knight? How difficult was it for you getting these roles?

It's always difficult to get acting roles. I sometimes think a marketing degree may be as helpful as acting classes, because you have to know how to market yourself to get the job. You also have to want an acting career more than anything else in the world, because it isn't an easy life. Most people had to work full-time to support their other full-time job of pursuing their acting career. I had saved some money from my Wall Street days, so it wasn't as bad for me, but you still face more rejection than most people. Of course, that is IF you are fortunate enough to get auditions.

Prior to Frasier, I had done only off-off-Broadway stage roles in a variety of productions. I played Hal in Picnic, Diomedes in Troilus and Cressida, and Cassio in Othello, among other roles. And I loved almost every minute of this early part of my career. I was learning and growing and it was an exciting time for me.

How did you (or your agent) learn about the audition for The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery? Was Gabriel Knight the only role you had auditioned for this game? How many actors were you aware who also auditioned for the same role?

My agent learned of the audition through Breakdown Services, the standard outlet for finding out about professional auditions. An assistant at the agency was familiar with GK1 and was pretty excited about the possibility of me doing the role. I doubt my agent was as excited about a CD-ROM game, because it was an unproven medium at the time. She was more interested in TV and Film, but the audition meant a potential paycheck for both of us.

It was the only role for which I auditioned. I auditioned for Dan Parada, the casting director, then came back to audition for Will Binder, the director. Of course, then I had to fly up to the Sierra Studios to meet Jane Jensen to get her seal of approval.

I don't know how many others auditioned, but the role was available to anyone in Hollywood that had access to Breakdown Services. But I doubt Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise was notified, so you can scratch them off the list right away. ;-)

Where was the audition conducted? How different was this audition compared to other auditions you had? Who from Sierra On-Line was present? What were you asked to do in the audition?

The audition was in Hollywood at one of the typical rent-by-the-day-or-the-project casting studios. Only Dan Parada, the casting director, was there on the first day. Will and, possibly, Dan were there on the second day.

They were pretty typical auditions, too. I think I just read a scene from the script, but don't remember which scene. One or both of the auditions were on tape, as I recall. It was fairly straightforward.

Gabriel Knight was previously voiced by Tim Curry. How did you prepare yourself for the role once taken on by Curry? Did you play the game Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers to prepare for this role? What elements of the character in your portrayal did you believe to be different from the character portrayal done by Curry?

Tim's a great actor, I wish I had his career, but I didn't pay much attention to what he did. He only voiced a character and, due to the nature of animation, voices often need to be more over-the-top, because they have to impart more of everything without the visual aspect of a real, live person on screen.

I only saw bits of the first game and, possibly, only after I was on set. It was just a different animal than live-action, so I don't even know what elements were in the animated character.

To prepare for the role, I watched a number of the better movies that had Southern characters and studied voice tapes of Southern dialects in order to find my own way of speaking that was comfortable for me, as well as geographically logical and understandable. To learn the character, I read the script many, many times and just tried to connect with what he was going through always informed by what he had been through, how he'd grown up, his influences, etc. Any part of his history or motivation that felt weak or blank, I filled in and tried to strengthen, so everything had resonance for me, while always trying to make logical, but interesting, choices for the character.

What was the filming schedule for The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, including location and duration? How closely was Jane Jensen (designer of the game) involved in the shoot?

I forget the town's name where Sierra had its studio at the time. Perhaps, it was Bass Lake, CA. I do remember staying nearby in a very nice cottage overlooking the actual Bass Lake for three and half months during the late summer and early fall of 1995. I worked every day, Monday through Friday, eight to ten hours a day. I was in almost every scene, so I didn't get bored. It was absolutely great. I would get done with shooting at the end of a day, go back to my cottage, get something to eat, and refresh my lines and motivations for the next day's scenes. I loved it.

Jane was involved, but was not on-set that much. Will Binder was in charge on-set and did a great job. Of course, it was still Jane's creation, so she had ultimate control, but I think she felt pretty good about what we were doing once we'd started, so she just let us do it.

What challenges did you find acting for a video game (such as blue screen shots, multiple takes for different game scenarios)? How different was the acting experience compared with those from your other roles? How close did you stick to the script during filming?

I don't remember having any problems. I always asked Will what the background would look like when it was computerized, so I would know how to handle the set and to what I could refer during a scene. So, that wasn't an issue. Multiple takes were kind of fun. I just set up a different circumstance in my mind each time and then I acted through it. It was like taking a great acting class every day.

The biggest difference was that there wasn't a lot of rehearsal as compared to theatre. You were expected to come in, know your lines, hit your marks, and do it. One or two takes were usually all you'd get, unless you really screwed it up. So, you had to be ready.

I think we stuck very closely to the script, but Jane was open to Will's suggestions when he had them.

During your shoot, with whom did you find most enjoyable to work? In particular, what were your experiences working with Will Binder (director), Joanne Takahashi (who plays Grace Nakimura), Peter J Lucas (who plays Baron Friedrich Von Glower), Andrea Martin (who plays Gerde), and Jane Jensen?

I enjoyed working with all of them, though I barely worked with Joanne, because our time on-set overlapped by only a week or so. She was lovely, very sweet. Peter was a good actor and a good guy. Andrea was terrific. I enjoyed working with Jane and appreciated the opportunity she gave me to bring her creation to life. I thought Will did a fantastic job of making it all work under fairly high stress. He was very professional and really made it all happen on-set. We're still friends and talk from time to time. He's doing well.

What were some of the most memorable moments (good and bad) you had during the shoot? What were some of the funniest outtakes you had in the game? What post production work did you have to do after the principal photography, such as voiceover?

I remember being so sick one morning from food poisoning that they had to send me home for the day. After vomiting in the parking lot and then again on the drive home, I decided they'd made the right decision.

I'm not sure about the outtakes, because, as an actor, I think everything I do is brilliant. Just joking.

There was only one short day of voice work in a sound studio after the regular shoot.

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery was a rare example where Full Motion Video (FMV) was used successfully in a video game. This technology had largely been abandoned in video games today. Other than production cost, why did you think this technology succeeded in this game and failed in others? In retrospect, did you believe FMV to be a good medium to be incorporated into a game, adventure or otherwise?

I think Jane, Will, the cast, and the Sierra crew did a great job in making everything look like a movie. The actors were professionals who took pride in their craft, just like everyone else who worked on the project. I think that's why, along with Jane's excellent story and characters, GK2 worked so well.

I think it could be a good medium under the right circumstances, given the proper cost-benefit analysis. I believe audiences still would rather connect with live people than caricatures, animated or not.

How much, if any, had your work in The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery benefited your career in Hollywood? What was the circumstance surrounding the loss of your agent half way through the shoot?

My agent got an assistant's position with a well-known agent at a much better agency, because she thought the job would help her career long-term. It probably did, but I got handed another agent when I got back from GK2 and this young guy should never have been an agent. I waited too long to try to find someone else and I just couldn't get any career traction after that. Maybe I was unlucky, maybe I didn't want it badly enough, or maybe it's just a tough business.

I haven't worked professionally since GK2, so I guess it didn't help much. But I did get the cover of the LA Times Calendar section for one day, so I guess I got my fifteen minutes of fame.

In 2002, you mentioned in your online diary that "My sources tell me that it will be another 2-4 weeks before they know if they get one of their projects up and running, then they have to figure out whether I'll be involved or not. Isn't the actor's life grand? Anyway, there's some possibility that I will work again as an actor in my lifetime. :-) That's the most I can tell you right now. Sorry." What was this project? Had Sierra On-Line ever contacted you and expressed an interest to hire you back for Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned?

Wow, someone read my diary? The depth of your research is impressive. I'm just glad I finally took that diary off the web. ;-)

I think I was referring to a possible GK3, GK4, or some other project by Jane Jensen. I was being hopeful, but an actor's life is usually dependent on someone else giving the go-ahead.

What other acting roles had you had after The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery? Was this the only acting role you had in a video game?

The only things I've done since GK2 are a couple of plays. I've played the title roles in Hamlet and Macbeth. I've pretty much done what I've needed to do in acting, so I no longer pursue acting work. It doesn't seem to be pursuing me either, so the business and I see eye-to-eye.

What other jobs had you had after your job at Sierra On-Line? You had worked as a personal trainer (you were certified by the American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports Medicine). Had acting alone been difficult for you to make a comfortable living? How difficult had it been for you with these career transitions?

I was a personal trainer for a couple years until I hurt my back, then I couldn't work for about two years because of it. I got my real estate broker's license while I was recuperating and have been doing real estate entitlement work for the past year while working as a consultant.

I actually spent more time writing screenplays than trying to find acting work after the Sierra job. It was something I could control better, in terms of work schedule. I would hate to depend on getting an acting job in order to survive.

By acting, I chose a very difficult career pretty late in life, not starting until I was about thirty. At each professional transition, I just try to be realistic about my skills and experience and about my potential in the marketplace. I'm actually excited about my upcoming transition, though it's still in progress.

Are you currently involved in any acting project or auditioning for any acting role? It is rumored that you have written a script. What has happened to that script?

I've got several completed scripts. Every now and then I re-work one or begin work on a new project. A writing partner and I had a script out to several producers last year through her agent, but no one has bitten yet. We'll see.

What do you see yourself doing over the next 5 years?

It's very likely I'll be involved in the financial world in some capacity. As a Chartered Financial Analyst and with my experience on Wall Street, markets and investing are still what I know best. I've managed my own investment portfolio for years and done very well. Of course, I like to think I did a pretty good job as an actor, too. ;-)

Thank you, Dean, for this interview. We appreciate that you are still keeping in touch with your fans!

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