Siobhan Williams on Playing Laura and the Unique Challenges and Triumphs of The Quarry
If you haven't experienced The Quarry yet, you may want to turn back now, because this interview is packed with spoilers!
The interactive horror game and spiritual successor to the cult hit Until Dawn dropped earlier this month, blending gameplay and incredible cinematics for a terrifying experience you just can't get anywhere else, and we haven't stopped thinking about it since it came out.
Our favorite character has to be Laura, played by Siobhan (pronounced "Shuh-vaughn") Williams. She begins the game as a regular teenager traveling to Hackett's Quarry to be a camp counselor for the summer, only to find herself thrust into a supernatural situation pitted against werewolves, a ghost and a family willing to risk it all to protect those they love. Is it any surprise, then, that the experience turns her into an epic action-horror hero?
We were honored to get the chance to hop on a Zoom call with Siobhan to discuss the game and the unique challenges it posed to her as an actor, plus what it was like working with acting legends and making one of her dream jobs come true.
Sweety High: Were you familiar with Until Dawn and Supermassive Games before you auditioned for Laura in The Quarry?
Siobhan Williams: I sure was. I was a big Until Dawn fan, and still am. I discovered it back in 2016. It wasn't freshly out, but it was still pretty new, and it was one of the first video games that I actually bought. I grew up not having any gaming systems when I was a kid, and when I got a bit older, I was like, "I'm allowed to do whatever I want!" and I bought a PlayStation.
I'd heard amazing things about Until Dawn, so I bought it, and also this big projector to watch movies on. I had this big wall at my apartment at the time, and so I played it at probably eight or 12 feet wide and I was so obsessed with it. I remember my first playthrough, I killed a bunch of characters that I didn't mean to kill, and I was really mad. I went back and played it two more times, and since then, I've gone back to play a couple more times, and I loved it so much.
Playing it, I was like, "I'd kill to do a video game. That would be so much fun." Weirdly enough, after playing it, I got my first video game audition ever. I thought it was so weird. What a cosmic event! After an audition process of a few weeks I wound up booking that game, and that was a crazy example of getting what you ask for. I ended up working on that game for more than two years. It was going to be a big game—and then the studio shut down. The gaming industry is very, very volatile. Things can change super quickly. That was a taste of what games can be like.
And then, when The Quarry came around, I absolutely lost my mind because I was such a fan of Until Dawn and Supermassive, and especially working with Will [Byles, director] and Graham [Reznick, writer]. I was beyond excited.
SH: We spoke to Zach Tinker, who played Jacob, and he told us that the release of The Quarry was also up in the air for a little bit…
SW: Yeah! I was definitely a little bit jaded after my first game fell through. I didn't want to get too excited about anything, just because I knew that things could change so quickly. I was just so excited about the potential the game had.
SH: It was also filmed in motion capture over a pretty long period of time. What made that experience pretty different from a typical acting job?
SW: I started filming it in the summer of 2019, before COVID had hit. We filmed the prologue first, so just me and Skyler [Gisondo] doing the opening. Then we came back in the fall for a little bit. I think I probably went down four of five times over the course of two and a half or three years and filmed little bits and pieces. It was definitely an exercise of trying to keep some emotional memory of what you'd done before and how it would relate down the road. Sometimes you'd film a scene that in the game took place 15 minutes later, but in life, you were filming it five months later. It was a bit of a challenge, but a welcome one.
(The Quarry via 2K Games)
The filming process was also much, much faster than film or TV. Film can be even slower, depending on the budget, but for television, you're going to film anywhere between six and 10 pages a day, most likely. On a day on The Quarry, we were filming like 40 pages a day. For film or TV, once you've completed a scene—or even in the middle of a scene—they have to reset and move all of the cameras and angles. When you're doing mocap, there are no cameras. Everything is set up and detected by motion sensors, so there's absolutely no turnaround time. You're doing one scene, and then you're doing the next scene, and there are no breaks. You have to be really on it and really prepared, and know, when you're shooting out of chronological order, what came immediately before. You don't have time to spend half an hour flipping through your script to review what they were doing before. It's very, very fast-paced. You don't get a lot of takes. It's really great. I thrive on that, luckily, but it can also be a really big challenge for a lot of people.
SH: In the case of The Quarry, where there can be multiple versions of the same scene, does do film those all at once, or is it more broken up by storyline?
SW: Luckily, Will had this brilliant flow chart we all could reference that showed where every potential option goes, whether it just leads back to the same place or heads off in a completely new direction. That was really handy at the time, and I wish I had it now so I could play the game knowing exactly what my choices would lead to!
What we would do is to film a scene up until a certain point and then pause. We'd just freeze for a second and then we would go into one potential option, then go back, and do the other potential option. That's what we normally did for a choice situation. If it was a whole new scene that came as the result of that, we'd do them one at a time. That was a challenge as well, because you want to play the preceding part neutrally enough that it could go either way, and sometimes, if it's going to go back to the same result anyway, that even if you're playing something angry or polite, by the end of it it'll make sense to what's coming next. You always have to think about where what you're doing is leading and that your emotional play makes sense regardless of what's chosen.
SH: How surreal is it to now watch a photorealistic version of you play out these scenarios on screen?
SW: It's very surreal. A lot of my friends have been like, "Isn't it weird to have people play you in a game?" And I don't know. It doesn't really feel like me. There's a weird disconnect, just because it literally is so surreal. But it's so, so gratifying to see it all come together, and it's come together better than I ever could have imagined. You're always nervous as to how something's actually going to look in the end. There are so many factors that have to come together to make something look great, and I was really blown away by everything, from the sound design to the lighting to the soundtrack and composition. There's nothing I would change about it. And, as you mentioned, it was a relief that it came out at all.
(The Quarry via 2K Games)
SH: The Quarry feels like a big leap from Until Dawn, especially graphically.
SW: It's amazing how much the technology has changed in six of seven years. It's incredible what they're capable of. I remember all of the guys at Digital Domain and Supermassive were really kind and kept me in the loop the whole time, just because I'd been there so long, and would show me pieces of what they were doing. This animation really wasn't like anything I'd seen before. I couldn't believe I could see the pores on my face—and they were my real pores. I remember when they were doing the scans of us, they told me the scan actually measures the blood flow under your skin, so when you're moving, depending on what you're doing, it can replicate that. These people are basically rocket scientists. I don't understand it at all, but it's amazing.
SH: Have you always been into the horror genre?
SW: To be honest, not so much! I'm a big psychological thriller person. I really like those projects, but horror definitely scares me—as it's supposed to. I've shied away from horror movies a little bit, but they're something I really enjoy when I feel like it. Sometimes I'm really in the mood for horror stuff. Horror games, on the other hand, I've been really into. I think Until Dawn really opened the door for that for me.
SH: What was it like to then wind up being this action-horror hero with this game?
SW: Amazing! I love playing roles that are very different than who I am. As an actor, I can get really bored playing characters that are just me, but on camera. I'm not really interested in that, so I was super excited that Laura got to become what she became. It was such a treat reading the script.
When I first signed on to do this, all I had the script for was the prologue. I knew based on Until Dawn that crazy things would happen and that I had no idea where I was going to end up, and I was really excited to see that. When we came back and started shooting the jail stuff, I was like, "Oh man, I get to say this? Yes!" I was so stoked with how the script was. I didn't get to see a lot of the eyepatch stuff besides a few concept images, and to actually see it all come together was incredible. Liam [Grice] who did a lot of my character art and whatnot is just brilliant. He really transformed Laura and I felt very lucky to be able to play this character.
SH: Laura's return also comes as a pretty big surprise to a lot of players, who might not recognize her at first. What have been your favorite reaction to that scene?
SW: I remember I was watching Jacksepticeye's playthrough, and he was just like, "Who? Is that…? No. It doesn't look like her. It can't be. Maybe?" And I was so excited, because I thought everyone would be like, "Of course it's Laura, look at her." But it has been a long time in the game since you've seen her, and you've since become invested in all of these other characters and kind of forgotten about her. I've gotten so many sweet messages like, "I was so happy when she came back! I thought maybe she'd just be dead after the prologue!" Especially because that happens in Until Dawn. I love that people don't recognize her and that she's changed from this normal camp counselor and been really hardened and changed by what's happened to her, which is something I really wanted to play when I was doing the mocap. I wanted to show she'd been through a lot and that she'd totally changed as a person. I'm glad that it tracked.
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SH: Another interesting aspect to Laura is that whether players think it's better for her to be compliant or defiant, they play it that way, and kind of make her into their ideal version of the character.
SW: Totally! And I can feel that, because when I was playing this time, when Travis pulls Laura out of the cell to interrogate her for the first time, I was just like, "I want to see all of my lines that were my favorite to say!" I remember playing them and thinking it would be so satisfying to be like, "Eat s**t!" I was doing all of these things and going, "Am I setting myself up for failure by saying these things?" It's nice to be able to act out what feels right emotionally and just hope that the consequences are not dire.
SH: It's also very possible to finish The Quarry with everyone dead and miss out on a lot of the finale. Is it strange to know that, depending on how people play, they may not get to see any of the big conclusion you filmed?
SW: It's really hard, actually. Funnily enough, that's how my first playthrough went. You're in the house, and Ryan has the gun, and you're supposed to shoot the werewolf, or Laura and Travis wind up killing each other. When I got there, I was like, "Wait, is that the werewolf I'm supposed to shoot? Is that Laura?" It tells you to look around, so I did, and it was too late—it killed Ryan, and then everyone. Obviously, that was the wrong choice, and now I'm going to miss like an hour of game time. I was super mad, and I was like, "Where's Death Rewind on this thing?" and it told me I had to play the whole game to unlock it. Well, that's a load of garbage. It was very frustrating for me, and I'm frustrated on the behalf of everyone who goes through that. It was frustrating in Until Dawn, too, but that's what leads you to want to play it again and again. It was funny, too, because I remember when I was reading the script and there's the part where Laura and Travis kill each other at the same time, Ted [Raimi] and I were both like, oh my God, this is so dark. It's so badass. Literally, they just kill each other dead at the same time. What an ending. When that happened I was like, I can't believe that's the ending I just got. This is the worst ending! What did I just do? Then I went back and played it again and managed to shoot the werewolf.
(The Quarry via 2K Games)
SH: The game also boasts a super impressive cast. Were there any moments you were starstruck or couldn't believe you were there?
SW: Pretty much everyone that I worked with! I just felt so lucky because they made my job so easy. By far, I worked the most with Ted, and he made the job so easy because he's so incredible and so present, and so talented. Lucky for me, I don't really get starstruck, but I get talent-struck. I love watching other people, and I got to see some of Grace [Zabriskie] recording the Eliza segments, where she's talking directly to the player, and I just remember standing there being like, "Oh my God! She's so scary! This is going to be terrifying. This is so intense, and so amazing, and who would read those lines and think to perform them like that?" She's just amazing. The same with Lin [Shaye] and Lance. We just had one or two days with the three of us together, and there were so many moments where I was just in awe. They were so terrifying—but when you're talking to them, outside of the volume, they're the sweetest, most hilarious people. I was surrounded by legends, and I definitely couldn't believe I was so lucky.
SH: What were some of the most memorable scenes to shoot?
SW: One scene at the end of the prologue that was funny was where, if you decide to save Max, Laura carries him up the stairs. They actually had this big staircase built, and it was probably about two stories high. They weren't going to have me try to actually carry Skyler up the stairs, because that would obviously be dangerous for both of us, but they gave me this mannequin or dummy that probably weighed 4o or 50 lbs. I was just thinking about how actually challenging it would be to carry dead weight up a set of stairs. It would be extremely hard. I remember doing the whole thing, and I don't know what it was, but I got a standing ovation at the end. Everyone was so sweet. That stands out in my mind, just because I felt so appreciated.
There were really so many scenes that stick out to me. All of the jail stuff was really awesome. Because they showed us what the setting and the environment were going to look like, we could really visualize where things were and what was going on. I also remember doing the scene where I was hiding in the bathtub from Lance and just how scary that was. I was genuinely scared.
SH: Were there any moments seeing the game play out for the first time that surprised you?
SW: I think the end did. I'd always tried to picture what Silas would look like, because you see it described as this grotesque pile of messed-up werewolf. Finally seeing what he looked like was neat and as gross as I'd predicted.
And in general I just never imagined how good it was going to look. I didn't imagine the amount of detail, especially in the character's faces, and in the environment. I think because I was lucky enough to be shown so much as we were doing it, I had a pretty good idea. It was just the level of quality I wasn't expecting.
SH: You also have your song, "Everything" featured on the game's soundtrack—though it's tied to a very specific, rare ending in the story. How did that come about?
SW: It was really neat. I was so happy that they decided to include the song. Will told me what ending it was going to be in, and I had no idea how to actually achieve that ending. I do love that it's kind of this secret, hidden easter egg in the game because it makes sense for that scene, where Laura and Max reunite. It's this hidden, happy gem in this game of potentially very dark endings, and the song is kind of a release for that.
I was so, so happy they decided to put it in. I really love making music and I can't believe how many people have reached out to me—whether they got the ending or they just looked me up and found out I make music. I've gotten so many sweet compliments and so many messages about how people really relate to the song and its lyrics. That's so great, because that's why I wrote it. I always hoped that people who didn't experience that same kind of existential dread would love the melody and just the experience of the song, and that the people who did relate to the lyrics would feel like they weren't alone. I was more than thrilled to be able to get my music to a new audience of people, especially with a game that's been such a huge part of my life for the last three years. It's been really nice to be able to have that in there.
SH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
SW: Just that everyone I worked with were the kindest people. It was such a good family. All of the people at Digital Domain and Supermassive for so inclusive and lovely.
Obsessed with all things The Quarry? Click HERE to read our interview with Zach Tinker, who played Jacob in The Quarry.