Interrogating “Her Story” Creator Sam Barlow and Actress Viva Seifert (Interview)

This is an interview with Viva Seifert, the actress behind Her Story. Make sure to also read my interview with creator Sam Barlow.

AU: First of all, congratulations on such a brilliant performance in “Her Story.” Sam mentioned that the whole game was filmed in only a week. He said that the intensity helped it feel like an authentic police interrogation. Do you agree and can you talk more about that, how it affected your performance?

Viva Seifert: Firstly, thanks for the compliment and I am very glad that you liked it. (My performance and the game!)

Yes we filmed the entire thing in 5 days. An 80 page script, just me and Sam, so it was intense to say the least. And rather exhausting. You know, there was no let up. Nowhere to hide…We would have a brief breather during the day to eat and drink a coffee then back to work.

It was awkward in the room which definitely lent itself to my performance. It felt like it should feel being under interrogation. I had the feeling I was subtly being scrutinised by Sam, or at least if he wasn’t scrutinising me right then and there then he certainly would be when he took the footage home and started assembling it. It made me feel uncomfortable….which of course was great and just what I needed for my performance. Also the feeling of the unknown….am I doing it right? what am I doing? Am I convincing?

However Sam very much let me go and do my thing. Sometimes i would have to stop and ask him…”is this ok?” (needing reassurance) to which he would reply, “Yes, if it wasn’t I would give you some bad direction”. So I would continue on doing my thing!

We have worked together before so at least we had the knowledge of how we both work and that obviously very much aided the speed of the shoot. Sam would brief me before each interview of how my character was and where she was coming from and then we’d just take it away.

But in short, yes, it was intense and hopefully that is as close as I will ever come to a police interrogation.

(null)

AU: That does sound pretty brutal. So thank you for enduring it for the sake of the game! It seems to have paid off!

I asked Sam if there’s an official explanation for the story and if he would ever share it. Basically, he said that the version in his head changed sometimes based on your performance. Does that mean he left some of the interpretation of the script up to you? Or was he very clear with how it should be performed and interpreted? In other words, were you privy to that information or is the story even a bit ambiguous for you? (Don’t worry — I’m not trying to get you to reveal it against his wishes.)

VS: The story is not ambiguous for me but i can totally see how it could be and I like that. It’s open for interpretation. It’s up to you how you piece the jigsaw puzzle together.
There was a moment when I performed a long monologue and he said with a big smile on his face that he hadn’t envisioned a part of it being delivered that way….and i asked “good?” and he said “very good” and we moved on. So this was a clear moment when I knew I was being allowed to just be.
He was clear on his story to me when we were filming which I then interpreted and delivered my way. If I had any questions he would answer them in a methodical way. But during the whole process his thoughts might have changed but we (‘I’) were just trying to get through it without collapsing….

AU: Having worked with Sam before, was it an easy decision for you to agree to taking the part? Or did that make you hesitant? 😛

VS: Oh it made me hesitant….JUST KIDDING! It was an easy decision to make really. He told me he was writing a new game and central to its story was a character that he thought I’d be perfect for…(flattery will get you everywhere!) Though of course he had to tell me more…one stumbling block might have been that I had moved away to Cornwall but he quickly came back with the fact that we could shoot this anywhere…we just needed a nondescript bland office type room and most towns have a few of those so problem solved….he would come to me….
Then after I had committed he sent me an 80 page script and the central character he said I was perfect for was the only character!
But really at the end of the day my decision to do it was based on me knowing that I was in safe hands. He was doing something independent, brave and different and I admired that. We had worked together before, he’s a great writer and it didn’t surprise me that he was breaking away and going it alone and I knew in order for him to do that he must believe in what he’s doing so count me in!

AU: Ahh so I guess the location was at least part of the reason it was done in such a short amount of time? I’m glad it worked out, because I hate to think what the alternative might have been!

Did you know you would be singing as part of the role? As out of place as it was in a police investigation, the song is just so deliciously creepy, and you did a great job with it, so I’m glad it was in there. Some of my readers (myself included) wanted to know if you might consider releasing it as a proper song. Is there a petition we can sign to make that happen?

Also, I listened to some clips from Joe Gideon and the Shark, but it’s a very different sound. Do you want to plug any other music here that folks who liked “The Dreadful Wind and Rain” might appreciate?

VS: Not the location so much, more the budget. It was an independent video game. We both had to get on with it and get the filming finished. The sense of urgency and pressure was always there, again aiding the entire feeling of an uncomfortable sitting.

Sam dropped the song idea over to me after i had said yes to the project, so there was no way out of it!.. He knew I was a musician, albeit a drummer and keyboardist. I pointed out that I was a bad guitar player but he wasn’t bothered. He had never heard me sing or play live. I just dove into it and gave it my best shot. He sent over the murder ballad with his amended lyrics and a bad youtube clip and the rest was up to me. I changed it a little to suit me and the first time Sam heard me singing it was on the day. He practically said ‘action’ to which i replied “Hang on a minute!! Can I at last run through it once before we go for it??!!”

But being a musician and having played many shows made it ok…although this was a private show for one person so rather disconcerting to say the least. No lights to hide behind this time..

Joe Gideon and the Shark is a different sound, although if you strip it back and are left with just a guitar the vocals it’s not that far off. There’s a darkness to the lyrics and an eeriness that could be likened to the Wind and the Rain and my brother Gideon does love a murder ballad that’s for sure. I don’t do lead vocals but wail out a lot of backing vocals whilst beating out the drums and playing keys. However the last song, Friday 13th, on our second album, Freakish, I do sing. Here is one of my favourite songs of our first album…

Would I consider releasing the Wind and Rain? Hmmmm….not sure about that one….. Is there a petition you can sign to make it happen?….Well if you make the petition and people sign it then maybe i couldn’t say no…

AU: Sam sounds just a tiny bit sadistic. 😉 Does that mean the version we saw was your first and only take?
And now that you and Sam have mentioned that you improvised a bit, I have to ask — was the line “Anything you sing may be used as evidence against you” in the script? The way you said it sounded like it could have been blurted out on the spot, but that’s also how you would have wanted the character to sound.

There seems to have been a lot of positive response to your performance with the song. Have you considered playing more music like that, versus what you’re used to playing?

And how many signatures would it take to get you to record the song? I may have to get that petition started!

VS: Nooooo! He’s not that at all… Just super professional! I did 2 takes, not sure which take he used. But he was right to push on though as I seem to remember they were both pretty much on the money. And yes the line following the song was all Sam. His words entirely. But the spontaneous delivery was exactly what I was after. So good…glad you thought what you thought! I really tried and wanted to stick to the script 100% as I was aware that this was a game (not a movie) which hinged upon every word that was coming out of my mouth…If i added a word or missed one out maybe a crucial interview wouldn’t come up when you needed it, or maybe I would wreck Sam’s game so I was super respectful of the script. Plus it was perfect anyways.
I think there were small nuances in the delivery of these words or my facial expressions that could have added some twists and turns in peoples minds (including his?) that he hadn’t expected.
I’m thrilled that people are loving the performance of the song. It goes hand in hand with the game and my character so I think that’s why it’s connecting with everyone. I am writing my own new material at the moment but I don’t think I will therefore record an album of murder ballads or minimal acoustic music as Viva though I loved doing it at the time in the context of Her Story.
And good golly!!!! I don’t know how many signatures it would take to record the song…. Quite a few I think!..but never say never…..

AU: I love that you were so respectful of the script. I’m sure it made a huge difference in how the whole thing turned out.

Although, this does make me wonder about something that I hesitate to ask about. So if it’s out of line, feel free to ignore it. But a reader wanted to know, so I figure I’ll throw it out there. Some folks (not me — I’m pretty much tone deaf) translated the knock code as “BYDHANNAN.” We assumed it was intended to be “Bye Hannah.” So whose mistake was that? 😉

Based on the video you shared, I can see that “Wind and Rain” is very different from your usual work. So it’s understandable that you might not release an acoustic album.

Is the album you’re working on another one with your brother, or solo, or… something else entirely?

VS: Yes that is a mystery to me too…… Can I say that my character was so wrapped up in it all and was so emotional that she deliberately made the mistake to fool you all?….Probably won’t get away with that will I!!!…. All I know is that on the day there was no question that what I was doing could possibly be incorrect. There was no reason to doubt what I was doing. I’m very metronomical so it has come as a surprise that it’s not perfect. However it’s close enough so at least everyone can still decipher it correctly. There is a possibility that I need to speak to Sam about this and beg for forgiveness…

Music wise I’m working on a solo project though it’s a bit of a slow process. I have no director in the room saying “right that was good….next!” It’s just me so I give myself more than 2 takes….(maybe i shouldn’t as often that first take is the best)…hopefully I’ll get something out by early next year…

AU: Now I feel bad that I even asked. I suppose we can pretend the character made the mistake. 😉
People noticed some other mistakes (on Sam’s part), but I think that just says a lot about the effect the game’s had on everyone. These details were only caught because players got so invested, instead of just playing and moving on. So I guess you should be flattered? 😉

I’ll have to keep an eye out for that album. This is your first solo project, right?

What about acting? Were you doing much of that before Her Story and do you plan to do more since its success? Sam mentioned Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun, the game you worked on together that got scrapped. Did that experience affect your willingness to work on video games in the future?

VS: Yes thank you very much I think we should do that!! It was deliberate…ahem.

Maybe if we had a bigger budget then we’d have someone solely on continuity or we could reshoot, who knows…and yes, the investment of the player is so substantial and necessary with this game. Every tiny movement or tap on my behalf becomes so important….did that eyebrow raise mean something other etc? So some serious scrutiny has been going on…
The music I’m working on is my first solo project. It’s fun! I love losing myself in it and being solely responsible for my own work. But I have to be disciplined which I must say is hard…it’s too easy to be distracted with life things that get in the way when you don’t have a schedule to work to….but it’s coming along. (again, hats off to Barlow who did do it all on his own…he’s a bit annoying actually ;-)…No!! Inspirational!) )
Acting wise, I have been acting on and off for years doing commercials in between touring and albums. The interesting projects are obviously the best so I was really fortunate to meet Sam. I remember when I went for that first audition for Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun. I had no idea what I was walking into. I gave my audition piece my best shot and then there were a lot of smiles in the room…i didn’t know if they were smiling because they liked me or because they were laughing at me…..I got the job. Then my part grew which was very complimentary and exciting, but the fact that it got scrapped didn’t phase me at all. Each installment of the project was a mini job in itself. Then we’d go off for a year and come back and do a bit more.
I never got to see what we did but I got to work with Sam and some seriously great actors so that actually brought me out of myself and gave me a confidence and belief that I didn’t have before.
So video games/ theatre/movies/albums = yes please!

AU: I completely sympathize with you about getting distracted. I love not having a boss, but it also means I could end up, say, obsessing over Her Story for weeks instead of playing the list of games I’m supposed to be writing about. 😉 I also keep wanting another experience like Her Story, instead of all my other options. You and Sam have pretty much killed whatever discipline I had. 😛

As much as I’m enjoying this chat, you sound busy with your new album, so I should probably start wrapping this up.

So…have you played the game yourself? Or would that be too weird and/or not so much fun, knowing the script and all?

VS: No I haven’t played the game yet (don’t tell Sam!)… but I do have it and am totally intending on playing it to have a good look at Sams creation…just need to find the time! I obviously know whodunnit so I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to play it. However I have watched other people playing the game and have seen all the scenes. I like listening to their commentary as they go along and hearing how their minds are working as the story unfolds and they’re unravelling it all….the odd players’ gasp as I reveal something they hadn’t expected has made me laugh out loud. (So I’m reacting to them reacting to me..but they don’t know I’m watching them..ha ha…who’s watching who?!)

AU: Haha! I’ll admit that I never really understood the attraction of watching someone else play a game instead of playing it yourself. I get watching a bit to see what it’s like before buying. But especially with a game like “Her Story,” the fun is in entering your own search terms. But I can see how it would be fun to watch others watching you! And I am starting to play around with Twitch myself. Having played a few days before release, it was killing me not to be able to discuss it with anyone. I kind of regret that I didn’t play co-optively. It was very hard not being able to shout “did you just see that?!” to anyone.

You should totally stream yourself playing it! Can’t really get more meta than that. But you might have to forget the script first? 😉 What about your friends and family? Have they all played it? Did you get to see their reactions?

VS: My 75 year old step father is about to play it because apparently all of his friends have and love it so he wants a go too…I’ll let you know how he goes….

Not sure I’m organised enough to stream myself playing the game…plus maybe that’s just a bit OTT! There’s more likelihood in me recording the Wind and Rain…(as Sam says…he can twist my arm if a million copies are sold and I’ll let him twist it…)

***Note: Sam and Viva both agreed to record “Wind and Rain” if the game sells a million copies. And as of August 10, the game has sold about 100,000. So 900,000 more to go!

***
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Yas

I can understand why he’d be hesitant to share at this point, but I’d love to know the story he envisioned while writing. Thank you for starting this interview!

Ben

Is there a reason Eve taps out “BYDHANNAN” in her segment about the knock code? Was it intended to be “Bye Hannah”?

Bruce

On one clip, she has a bruise on the left side of her face. On another clip the police questions her as to ‘what happened to the bruise’ she ‘instinctively’ reaches up to the wrong side (right side) of her face. Therefore the bruise was fake, and the part in her story about being struck, was a fabrication. Or the actress, made a mistake. Not likely.

Other note: I’ve listed to many version of ‘Oh the wind and the rain.’ Hers is by far the best. Any chance we could get a video of her singing the entire song?

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