Having voiced the iconic assassin in the Hitman video games for 21 years now, David Bateson shares some behind-the-scenes memories, and reveals why Hitman 3 holds a special place
David Bateson, as Hitman’s Agent 47 does, does not don a dark suit with a white shirt and red tie for his interview with MetroPlus from his home in Denmark. Rather, he in a light polo T-shirt akin to one of the famous character’s disguises. And instead of the stoic expression and icy-blue glare for which Agent 47 is known, Bateson has a warm smile as he fondly speaks of his relationship with the video game character that millions of players have grown to love over the years.
Known for his suave signature ensemble, Agent 47 is recognised by his confident and cool stride, and modulated and deep voice, the latter courtesy Bateson. Named 47 for his clone sample that is ‘640509-040147’ — a figure that is tattooed with a barcode on the back of his head — this ‘test tube soldier’ grew up in a laboratory, and was groomed to become the perfect hitman.
While the World of Assassination trilogy follows a more personal storyline, games such as Absolution and Blood Money are individual missions compiled. The first Hitman release was in 2000 with Hitman: Codename 47. Eight more games have been released in the next two decades, all retaining the dry and dark humour of the plotlines, as well as the various destinations for missions, including Maharashtra and Punjab. The latest release is Hitman 3 released on January 20 to millions of pre-orders across the globe and rave reviews.
Bonding with 47
“It is hard to describe what it is like to get to know a character and to become a friend with him. I know he doesn’t exist… I mean, he does exist (laughs), but I don’t know any real hitmen in my normal life. But I really know 47,” Bateson says. The voice actor calls Hitman 3 — which launched on January 20, 2021 — “the best game”, adding that its reception has been quite unlike the previous games. “This one is a lot more emotional because gamers know there won’t be another Hitman game in this trilogy as Agent 47 comes full circle,” he explains.
- Bateson is no stranger to controversy; when the 2007 Hitman feature film starring Timothy Olyphant came out, he had stated that he did not take to the casting, later clarifying that Olyphant appeared too young for the role while Agent 47 in the games was much older.
- There was also a brief period during which Bateson did not voice Agent 47 as he was removed from the franchise. However, fans virtually rioted for his return through an online petition and social media protests. Eventually, Bateson announced he was back, and all was well again.
Bateson, who is a BAFTA Games juror, admits it is rare for an actor to be associated with a single character for this long; 21 years does not just mean a number of games, but also a number of generations of gamers who have had fresh chances to fall in love with the series. And these fans have stayed loyal.
Bateson reflects on a time when he and the Hitman team were VIPs at 2015’s EGX gaming convention in Birmingham, England, where the meet-and-greet queue wound around the building. Not wanting to let fans down, they took the time to meet them all, to the point that the building security who did not want fans starting a riot by closing the convention on schedule had no choice but leave the building’s keys with the Hitman team to lock up before they went home.
Yes, Bateson has been playing Hitman 3, with his daughter and her boyfriend. “I feel comfortable hearing my own dialogue, but what is weird is hearing my own daughter say ‘Dad, this is so cool hearing you talk in my head!’ and I didn’t know how to feel about my daughter about to strangle someone with some fibre wire, and she is hearing her father in her ear saying ‘Target down’,” he laughs, “There is something very pedagogically wrong with that!”
Bateson, 60, speaks highly of the different teams of writers for each Hitman game; he agrees the new energies (writers) bring new challenges and nuance for the players and the storytelling.
Voicing from within
He says, “When we record my lines, which are done every six weeks over a six-month period, we have a routine now where we record three takes of the same line. I decided which was the best take, and the guys on the other side of the window decided too, and it matched every single time. It is wonderful to give this character, which has such a fanbase, life.”
And Bateson indeed gave Agent 47 life, but also gave players a sense of intimacy and immersion. He recalls an incident from when he was recording one of the early games. “For the second game, I started doing something new. The studio couldn’t see what it was as I was in a closed room so they asked what I was doing. I said ‘I’m breathing really close to the microphone’. I asked them how it felt and they said, ‘Really spooky, it feels like you are really close’. It was exactly what I was going for because Agent 47 was standing behind a curtain and was about to take out someone on the other side. That is what the player, who is mostly wearing headphones, needs to feel… they need to feel my voice,” Bateson says.
Had the writing team stayed the same over the years, David admits he would be “very frustrated.”
- Q: How many red ties do you own?
- Bateson: Just two. I have the official Hitman red tie, and another which is a backup, it is a little too orange for my taste.
- Q: If Agent 47 had an everyday name, what would it be?
- Bateson: Something boring like Bob would be hilarious as he puts on some flip flops and heads down to the beach.
- Q: What hobbies would Agent 47 have picked up during the lockdown?
- Bateson: Something calming like pottery or painting. I will not have 47 knit anything!
Understandably, there have also been creative differences during the making of the games. Bateson recalls that during the production of Hitman 2 (2018), when the writers approached him with throwaway lines for when Agent 47 was in disguise, such as ‘Would you like some more ice, sir?’ or ‘I’ll call a waiter over’. Bateson immediately shot them down, insisting 47 was a silent assassin. The writers, however, convinced the actor to record the lines so that the player would feel more involved in the mission. Bateson agrees this upped the experience by a notch for the games, and for the player.
Looking back on the past 21 years of growth, gaming and god-like status in the industry, Bateson does not know when he will see his “friend” again. Down the line, he anticipates an ‘early years’ game of 47’s time growing up in the laboratory in which a 19-year-old could be voicing the character.
However, there also won’t be another Hitman game for a while as developer IO Interactive will be dedicating time and energy to the James Bond games, including Project 007. In fact, fans have already been asking IO Interactive to have Bateson voice Bond. To this, Bateson simply responds, “You never know!”