Cyberpunk 2077 is no stranger to celebrity talent, from obvious ones like Keanu Reeves as the rocker-turned-terrorist Johnny SIlverhand, to some more sequestered ones like Grimes playing the android popstar Lizzy Wizzy in a side-quest. Phantom Liberty, the game’s upcoming expansion, stars Luther and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actor Idris Elba as Solomon Reed. However, while Reeves and Elba are some of the most high-profile stars in Cyberpunk 2077, developer CD Projekt Red says developing the latter’s character was a different process, and in some ways, a better experience for the team.
Speaking with Kotaku, Cyberpunk 2077 quest director Pawel Sasko explained that while Johnny and Solomon play big roles in Cyberpunk 2077 and Phantom Liberty respectively, the order of operations between writing their characters and hiring the actors was different, and informed their development in different ways.
“When we were designing a story for and then decided to cast Keanu Reeves, it was slightly different than with Idris Elba,” Sasko said. “With Keanu Reeves, we already had a story that we knew we wanted to tell, and we were on the level of scenarios when we casted an actor. Then this is where Keanu Reeves came in. With Idris Elba, it was slightly different because we were on the level of story outlines. So, even before you go into screenplays and scenarios, so just very general. Then we started thinking about an actor that could actually fill that role.”
The team then reached out to Elba, who was interested in joining the project, and according to Sasko, having him signed on to portray Solomon early on informed the entire conception process for the character, his story, and how the player would interact with him in Phantom Liberty.
“You write differently for an actor versus when you just write a story and cast an actor for a role,” Sasko said. “Basically, when designing a story for Solomon Reed or Idris Elba, we already knew for whom we are writing those things. It was like from almost the very, very beginning, like really early, we already knew for whom we are doing [this]. So that was a major difference.”
Reeves’ performance in Cyberpunk 2077 was met with mixed reception, with some feeling his delivery felt flat, and for a character who is as angry and vitriolic as Johnny Silverhand, it didn’t always feel like the performance and the material quite lined up. Which, given the apparent order of operations, makes some sense, now.
While Elba was on board to play Solomon, Sasko says his schedule required some flexibility on the studio’s part. While the studio had worked with big celebrities before, Cyberpunk 2077 has had huge stars in pretty involved roles between Reeves and now Elba. Working with Reeves’ schedule to record Johnny’s lines was a learning experience for CD Projekt Red, and according to Sasko, helped them better coordinate with Elba for his work on the expansion.
“Actors, especially of that scale—but honestly all of them that we work with—we are used to the fact that they are celebrities,” Sasko said. “Some of them are really big, some of them are slightly smaller, but still they’re very busy people in general. Just scheduling, always is something that you really have to have in mind when you’re working with stars on any level. Because sometimes they will be all over the world shooting something.”
Despite some scheduling difficulty, Sasko said that recording with Elba went “really, really smoothly.” We’ll get to see and hear Elba’s performance firsthand when Phantom Liberty launches on September 26 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.
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