Interview with MacKenzie Mason – Come Fall in Love with the New Cortana!
The Halo franchise has been undergoing quite a few changes with the shift in regime that has officially started with Halo 4 (and unofficially with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary). One of these changes, in case you weren’t aware, involves Cortana, the lovely yet rather chatty and annoying AI who accompanied Master Chief during his personal war with the Covenant, the Flood, and the orbiting Halos. Not only is Cortana’s role changing a little, but Cortana has an entirely new voice actress–MacKenzie Mason. We were lucky enough to snag a few minutes of Ms. Mason’s time and find out exactly why we should fall in love with her Cortana.
Mason is a relatively new actress in the world of film and TV, and Halo 4 is her first voice acting role, period. For many new actors and voice actors, getting a gig in a video game is simply that: a gig. But for Mason, winning the part meant a little more to her, as she is actually a Halo fan herself.
“I am a huge fan of both Cortana and Halo. I got really excited to audition and obviously couldn’t believe when I had actually gotten the part. I was the happiest girl in the world,” she said rather excitedly.
As a fan of Cortana, Mason had a more unusual experience acting this particular part than she would any other role. For starters, 343 has let everyone know from the beginning that a good chunk of this Halo story is about the end of Cortana’s life cycle. The life cycle of the “intelligent” AIs runs roughly seven years, and at the start of Halo 4, Cortana is approaching the end of hers. Anyone who has played any Halo game knows that Cortana is both well aware of this fact and has opinions about it–opinions she will undoubtedly express loudly and often throughout the game. But was it difficult for Mason to portray one of her favorite characters dying?
Relax, she’s a pro.
“I felt so close to her the moment I got my first scenes that explained her path in the this game, going through rampancy (which is basically death),” Mason reflected. “She begins this game with the knowledge that she is going to die and has a really hard time dealing with her deterioration and accepting her own mortality.”
While it would seem difficult for any of us to voice a character we really like, knowing this character is dying, Mason said that the sadness of Cortana’s story was one thing she enjoyed the most. “There is so much depth and pain to her journey that I really got to explore a lot of different emotions,” Mason said.
Due to Cortana’s extensive story and actual depth to her character this time around, Mason was not “pigeon-holed” into the foundation that voice-actor Jen Taylor already laid down in the previous games. “I was able to do my own spin on Cortana and bring in so many new elements to her that brought her to life. I was told my role was to breathe life into Cortana by giving her a full performance and honoring her story through all the crazy emotions she goes through in the game,” Mason said.
“I really believe that I did that, and I hope the fans feel the same way,” she added.
Breathing life into an AI…in many ways, that could be what Cortana is all about, period. In the Halo novels, other AIs criticize Cortana for being “too human,” but isn’t that why she has melded with Master Chief so well? Due to his–for the lack of a better word–formulation into a Spartan-II, Spartan-117 doesn’t have much of a personality, and he’s not very talkative–a trait most Spartan-IIs have. So in a way, Cortana has always had to be the more human of the two, something that Mason has worked on the hardest to bring out with her performance.
When I asked what she liked most about Cortana’s character, both now and in the past, Mason noted that she found herself relating to Cortana in a way. “I really just love her strength and her way to find playfulness in even the most intense of situations. Her sarcasm is such a great addition to her personality. I also find her very strong and sassy, which are characteristics I myself possess.” (This may be one reason why, when I asked Mason what she didn’t like about Cortana, she didn’t have an answer.)
Mason wants Halo fans to have a similar experience she did in being able to relate to Cortana on a different level than what’s been possible with previous games. Whether you were a fan of Cortana in the past or not, Mason hopes everyone will be able to find a soft spot for her by the end of the game.
“I want die-hard Halo fans to see the humanity and the depth that I brought to Cortana, to make her more relatable and compassionate. I really hope that fans see that and as a result, feel closer to her as they go through this journey with her and fall that much more in love with her,” Mason emphasized.
Falling in love with an AI may sound a little too Joker for most of us, but if Cortana truly takes on these more human emotions and roles as Mason has expressed, then I’m sure everyone will open their hearts to Cortana at least a smidge–no matter how much you wanted to choke her in the earlier games. I ‘ve never liked Cortana, but Mason’s enthusiasm for the character and her emphasis on Cortana’s emotional spiral has definitely left me with more of an open mind about the character.
Thanks so much for your time, Ms. Mason! I can’t wait to hear your performance myself.