Famous for his role as Kane in the Command and Conquer games, Joe Kucan sat down for an interview with DualShockers to talk about the legacy of the series and his part in it.
When granted the opportunity to have a 1-on-1 interview with Joe Kucan, I excitedly leapt at the chance. Joe is instantly recognizable to someone who grew up playing the Command and Conquer games, like yours truly. He’s the actor responsible for portraying the series’ iconic antagonist Kane, the leader and messianic figure of the Brotherhood of Nod. Joe has played this role in every installment of the series (even the more reviled ones), and his enigmatic but charismatic character was a core component in giving the real-time strategy classics their personality. Behind the scenes, he also directed the voice lines and cutscenes for Westwood Studios’ early games.
Since his last appearance in 2010’s Command and Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, Joe has been absent from the world of game development. The impending release of Command and Conquer Remastered has seen him resurface, much like the deathless character he portrays. I had hoped to have a good discussion with Joe about the legacy of the series and his role within it. What I didn’t expect from the interview was the sheer level of charisma and genial humor he provided.
In asking what he’d been up to since his first public appearances, Joe regaled me with his time in office as the president of France; a term which ended in disaster due to his inability to speak the language. That didn’t stop him from growing rich off grift and corruption, though. Oh, and he founded a non-profit theater company in Las Vegas which has been running for the past ten years. That should set the tone that our conversation took.
Read on to hear what Joe had to say about his time with Command and Conquer, and what to expect from the remastered collection of this classic series.
Kris Cornelisse: Command and Conquer Remastered is coming out soon-
Joe Kucan: Yes! I’ve heard. That’s what they tell me.
KC: Yes, so, there’ll be a quite few new players and returning fans getting to revisit the early days of the series-
JK: Yeah, so, tell me about the genre, man. Tell me about where strategy games are sitting now. We’re primed, right? We’re going to jump right into a thriving marketplace?
KC: Weeell…unfortunately the real-time strategy genre doesn’t seem to be that flourishing. It’s all MOBAs and Fortnite and such, these days.
JK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hope we have new players, and I’m optimistic they’re gonna have new players, but I just heard that and it sorta made me pause a little bit because I think there’s a certain nostalgia for all of this stuff. I’m guessing, Kris, that you feel a certain nostalgia for all this stuff?
JK: Right, so I think that that’s part of the real allure, and if that translates into new players and a new bit of nostalgia moving forward, sort of like neo-nostalgia? That’d be awesome. But I interrupted you, go ahead and finish your question.
KC: You more or less pre-empted the question. How do you feel about the enduring legacy of the Command and Conquer games, and what it’d be like for new players to come experience that and your work?
JK: I could not be more flattered and surprised by the enduring legacy of the games, I’ve gotta tell you. You know, we’re sitting in our little studio 25 years ago, banging this thing out…I don’t think anyone anticipated its long shelf life, and certainly not the impact it had even in the short term.
I think that initial reaction to the game, and the universe, the storylines, all that stuff; I certainly didn’t anticipate it. If I HAD anticipated it, I would’ve done better! I would’ve done a better job, instead of just coasting through the whole thing and cashing the paycheck, which is pretty much what I did!
I think I’m curiously excited — I’m crixcited? Curcited? — about what the new sort of reactions will be. Because, like you say, it’s a very specific genre. Real-time strategy is a smart person’s game, let’s face it.
JK: It’s a game for gamers. It’s a game for people who enjoy game theory, and — it’s right there in the title — strategy, right? It takes a certain skill to play this game. Not to disparage the Fortnite shooters and the, y’know, guys with their sniper scopes and what have you. But it is a different skill set, isn’t it? Thinking about a big picture…strategy, approaching these games, is really different from just entertainment. And there’s certainly a great deal of entertainment to be had in Command and Conquer.
When you really have to think and plan and strategize: I think that makes your involvement in the game levels above the sort of first-person shooters where you’re just sort of running around like a tank.
KC: Yeah, I’d definitely agree. I’ve heard it described as “managing crises,” with so much going on, you have to juggle it back and forth.
JK: I’m going to steal that for future interviews if you don’t mind. Managing crises, I like that very much.
KC: I think it was Day talking about Starcraft, so there you go. With my blessing!
JK: Oh. Star…craft. I’m not familiar.
KC: Eh, it was some other game, might’ve been…y’know. Somewhat relevant. But it wasn’t Command and Conquer.
JK: Never heard of it. Can’t imagine it sold more than four or five copies.
KC: No, no, definitely not. Definitely didn’t, you know, become an esport giant or a national sport or anything. Perish the thought.
JK: I am curious to see the new reactions, but I’ve gotta be honest- can I be honest, Kris? Do you mind?
KC: By all means!
JK: A little bit of honesty in the midst of all this nonsense? I’m a little scared by the scrutiny, because I look back at some of that stuff that we did, and I understand the limitations of not just the technology, but the space that we were in, the knowledge we had, the talent available to us, and the sort of time deadlines that were thrown at us. I recognize all those limitations and I see where we certainly exceeded a lot of those expectations.
But I also look back at some of it, and I think “oooh,” there’s some cringing. Anybody who looks back at something they’ve done 30 years ago…25 years ago; you’re certainly going to look back and go “Ooh, really, okay, well, yeah, nnngh…”
So I’m a little nervous about the increased scrutiny, especially since the evolution of games has continued. And we’re sort of forcing the evolution of this game now, right? The remaster is just kind of forced evolution. We’re upping the graphics, we’re changing some of the code, but at the end of the day-
KC: Removing plenty of the limitations, yeah.
JK: Yes, so my considerable ego is sort of gearing up to be…kicked a little bit. *laughs* With that sort of reaction. And there’s something about- you’re saying you’ve been playing this game for a while? You sound like quite a young man, so I can imagine that your first experience with the game happened when you were, what? 10, 12 years old?
KC: Younger, even.
JK: Right?! So that experience as a kid is sort of brand new, wide-eyed child looking at this game. The experience that you had is going to be hard to recreate as an adult. You go “Oh, I remember this!” or “I remember that feeling that I had!” I don’t really think it can be recaptured or even be recreated, but it can certainly be appreciated. That’s kind of what I’m hoping for.
KC: Well, I can tell you I’ve just been replaying some of the older games. I’ve just finished Command and Conquer 3 yesterday, so-
JK: See, it feels like I just did Command and Conquer 3 like two years ago. So for you to call it one of the older games…it kind of hurts my soul.
KC: *laughs* I don’t mean it in that regard! But, y’know, it has been a while…the franchise has been relatively dormant, so.
JK: That’s true, that’s true…
KC: I don’t suppose you have any insider information about whether that will change or not?
JK: Well, they had licensed a Broadway show based on Command and Conquer. It was going to be a big musical. We were scheduled to start rehearsals in June, but the whole coronavirus shuttered it indefinitely. So I don’t know if that’s still going to go forward, and I think there’s a clause in the contract that the exclusivity clause I think becomes invalid after a certain date, so I’m not sure if that’s going to go forward or not.
KC: Well all the best in getting that off the ground then, for sure!
KC: So I have to ask then, what led to the creation of Kane’s persona in the original Command and Conquer? Did you have any influence or say in the writing process, or did things change around your acting? How did that happen?
JK: Ahhh, well…the original game, a lot of things were written very differently, and the pipeline was very short. We’ve got an idea of what the storyline is, but in terms of specific monologues and specific approaches, they would happen kinda piecemeal. We would shoot things over the course of weeks as we decided to change approaches and what have you.
With other performers and some of the other actors, we had to have everything sort of in-place. [Eric Martin’s] Sheppard had one day of work, so we had him for one day to record all of his things and we couldn’t really go back and change too much. We had some pick-up days where he would come back and change some stuff, but as a general rule, it was pretty quick.
So in terms of creating the persona of the character *laughs* I always felt like the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the persona was important. I’m not suggesting that I felt like I was in on a joke, but I felt like I was in on the spirit of what we were doing, that I was sharing that with the players; that there was some sort of shared experience that we were both having. It wasn’t just the player having this experience, but on the other side of the camera, I was having this experience as well.
So I think that part of the persona, of the character, just became an expression of that shared common feeling about what it is we were doing, which was…silly! Conquering the world! Conquering the world is a silly trope, really.
KC: Oh yeah.
JK: Yeah, and I think that you have to play that a little bit tongue-in-cheek. And I wonder if that came across.
KC: I’d say you did a pretty good job of it, personally.
JK: Well, thank you! I’ve said this before; there are fans of the game, but when you talk to the fans of the game, they are very encamped. They are very pro-GDI, or they are very pro-Nod, and it’s not just the strengths of the units in the game that create that loyalty. I think there’s a certain interest in the personalities involved — the sort of grand sweeping feeling of the story — that helps create some of that loyalty. Don’t you think?
KC: I would say so, yeah. People definitely choose their side, as it were.
JK: Yeah, and I like to feel that I’m a small part of that.
KC: I would definitely say so.
KC: So I guess we’ll just wrap it up; do you have a message for all of my fellow brothers and sisters of Nod who continue to serve in the name of Kane?
JK: YES. I don’t know how it is in Australia, but here in America? The left lane on the freeway is the passing lane, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the passing lane. Slower traffic, stay right. When you’re passing your car, you move into the left lane, make your pass, and then back into the travel lane — the right-hand lane. Which is just a long-winded way of saying stay out of my way.
Command and Conquer Remastered is due to release on June 5, 2020 for PC, on both Origin and Steam. This release will include both the original Command and Conquer and Red Alert games plus all of their expansions.