Ever since Sigma’s origin story was released he has rapidly become one of the fanbase’s favorite characters. The complexity of his personality amazed fans worldwide and made him the center of attention for quite a while. Something people were pointing out in particular, was the outstanding work of voice acting in the reveal short. Going from a reserved scientist to a fragile and scared person and finally a violent madman, the video really grabs your attention.
But who is responsible for such an extraordinary performance? TGH had the pleasure of talking with Boris Hiestand, the voice of Sigma, about his story, his thoughts on the character and his first direct interactions with the fanbase.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who you are, what you do?
I’m Boris Hiestand and work (mainly) as an animator and actor. I was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and moved to the UK when I was 18 to pursue a career in the animation film industry which led me to travel the globe for the past 20 years working on films, commercials and TV series. At the moment I’m working from home for a company called Moon Studios on the incredible upcoming game Ori And The Will Of The Wisps.
You mentioned you graduated in animation, take us through that journey. When did you realize that you wanted to become an Animator? Where did you study?
I always loved acting and drawing and knew when I was 14 that I wanted to be an animator as animation combines those two crafts. I studied film and animation in Farnham, United Kingdom, at what was then called The Surrey Institute Of Art and Design.
Do we know any of your works?
You’ve probably heard of Guardians Of The Galaxy and the Harry Potter films! Hotel Transylvania, The Angry Birds Movie. I take it you’ve heard of Overwatch…
What led to you getting into voice acting from such a different career?
I was always doing voices for fun and in my spare time would record some bits of dialogue to animate to strengthen my showreel. Then around 10 years ago I was working on some toilet cleaning bleach commercials and as I put together the animatics for these I did the scratch voices. The advertising agency liked them so I got to be in some commercials as screaming germs. I had so much fun that I decided to put together a voice-over demo which I sent around to see if I could find an agent. Luckily I did and have been doing voices as a sideline to my animation work ever since.
Did you know about Overwatch before you got involved with Sigma? How did hear about the game?
It’s so massive in popular culture it’s hard to miss, especially as a gamer. I have to admit that I hadn’t played the game before Sigma but of course, I’d heard about it. The cinematics are very polished and very much in the style of animation that I’m used to working in so I had a big appreciation for it already. I never could have dreamt I’d be part of it though!
How does it feel to voice such an important character, with such a complex personality and a tragic backstory?
It’s incredible. As an actor you’re happy to get any kind of work at all, so to be given the opportunity to play such a great part is incredibly rewarding for the work itself, and for that work to then be in such a popular game where you know millions of people get to see and hear it takes it to a whole new level. I hope there’s much more to come from Sigma, as there’s plenty of ground to cover with this guy. I was really drawn to his backstory. It’s so much fun to play a villain but to then have so many intricate layers to the personality that make you realize he’s not actually a villain at all is very rewarding to explore as an actor.
What have you liked the most about voicing Sigma? What has been the hardest part of bringing him to life?
The darkness in him, and the conflict he has with himself, the duality play between who he was, who he thinks he is now and who he has become is something I love exploring. The hardest part was tying that all together into something that still sounds cohesive. I think it would have been easy for so many sides of a personality to not sound like the same guy. I hope we pulled it off.
You’re Dutch yourself, what does it mean to you to voice a character from The Netherlands?
I love it of course. I think one of the many things Overwatch does so well is to bring people together from all over the world and showcase different nationalities, and I feel honored to represent my country this way. I have lived away from The Netherlands for half my life already and I miss it a lot, and even though I go back all the time to visit family and friends, this job reconnects me even more which is great. When I get messages from Dutch fans it’s extra special. I’m hoping to sneak in many more Dutch-isms in future recording sessions.
At this point, you’ve probably heard what people say about your character, and there is something I think the fans will like to know. Did you know about the toes beforehand and what do you think about them?
Ha! The funny thing is that even though I draw and design for a living and am very visually-minded, when I first saw the design in the recording studio I never questioned it. I focused on the face and that incredible armored costume, and let the character come from that. I never really noticed it or second-guessed it, which I now find strange, to be honest as it IS a very odd distinctive visual isn’t it… Last week I visited Blizzard HQ and met Qiu Fang, the incredible designer responsible for the way Sigma looks. I asked him the same question and he burst out laughing. I have my own theories now but I keep them to myself. I like leaving people guessing!
Since your appearance in the game, has something changed professionally and/or socially?
I’ve been doing quite a few voices for high profile upcoming games since then but I’m not sure if that’s a result of Sigma or not. Socially a lot has changed, I get so many messages from fans every day now it’s nuts. I try to answer them all but it usually takes a while as I’m VERY busy on Ori.
I know you were at Blizzcon 2019. Was this your first time? How did you enjoy it and the experience of meeting the fans? Any anecdote from the event you would like sharing?
I absolutely loved it. Yes, it was my first time. I knew there were many fans but had no idea just how big the community is and the amount of love these people have for this game, so it was great to soak that up for a couple of days. What happens at Blizzcon stays at Blizzcon.
Had you met previously with the other Overwatch Voice Actors before the panel?
Only on social media. Matilda (who plays Brigitte) reached out the moment the Sigma origin story trailer dropped to make sure I was OK, which was so sweet. I got in touch with a lot of the actors after that as well to ask them for advice on how to deal with all this unexpected craziness. They are all amazing and very supportive of one another, it really is a close-knit family. I was met with big hugs by them all when I arrived at the panel in LA and afterward, we all partied. Good times.
Do you watch Overwatch esports?
I haven’t yet but I will in the future. I obviously support The Netherlands. The team was at Blizzcon too and I spoke with them, they made it to the semi-finals there which was great to see. I was already preparing to meet them onstage at the finals, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
How does it feel that the character you voiced is currently one of the most used in the game’s current meta?
I had no idea he was one of the most used but if that’s true then that is great! I heard he’s quite hard to master so that makes it even better cos it shows folks are dedicated. I’ve only played a few rounds with him myself and got my ass kicked hard, I need to get good. And scream my ult at folks at random times. I’m looking forward to that.
As we close this interview I wanted to ask, what would you recommend to someone out there who’s trying to get into voice acting?
Sometimes happy accidents happen and you can get somewhere without trying too hard, but that’s rare and shouldn’t be your default strategy. Chances are you’re going to have to work hard for it. Ask yourself if you like the IDEA of being an actor, or if you actually like DOING it. If you like doing voices and are a natural performer chances are you already have plenty of material recorded to put together a demo. If not, get practicing, get recording, ask your friends what’s good and what can be better. Practice some more, improve it. Be very critical of yourself. Then when you have a nice variety of material, send it out to agents, see if you can get someone to represent you, or at least give you feedback. If you keep repeating this you’ve got a good chance of getting somewhere!
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