Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a tremendous psychological action horror game that manages to completely immerse the player in the mind of someone who suffers from psychosis. Everything from the writing, sound and art direction adds to the overall experience. Having said that, what really takes this game to the next level is the outstanding performance of Melina Juergens.
During the 2017 Video Game Awards Hellblade won the award for Best Performance despite solid competition from contenders like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. This is a pretty big deal considering no one thought a game developed by a small team of 20 people would beat these triple-A titles. In fact, the majority of people (at least what I saw on twitter) assumed Horizon: Zero Dawn would take Best Performance with ease. During her heartwarming speech, Melina mentioned how she was just a video editor for Ninja Theory but somehow ended up being the actor that brought Senua to life. I was blown away after hearing that. Imagine being a video editor for a game development company one day and then the next your accepting the award for Best Performance at the Video Game Awards. Wild.
After watching some of the dev diaries on the Ninja Theory Youtube channel I became even more impressed with Melina’s story. Melina started out as an editor filming behind the scenes content for mo-cap as well as putting together the dev diaries and game trailers for Devil May Cry (2013) at Ninja Theory. It wasn’t until a couple months in did Melina start appearing in front of the camera as a stand-in for the lead character Senua while Ninja Theory still searched for a professional actor to take the role. As time went on she started to become more involved with Hellblade as the developers asked if she could start acting out some test scenes. Something I found incredibly interesting about this was how Melina had no background in acting. In fact in a direct quote from one of the dev diaries she said:
Acting is actually my worst nightmare and I’ve always avoided it even in school. Because the scenes were quite dramatic and crying and screaming and I was having to perform in front of my work colleagues I felt very embarrassed.
Eventually, Melina was approached and asked if she wanted the role as Senua. After thinking the offer over and wondering if she could do the part justice she accepted the part. What’s more notable is not only did she accept the role but she continued her job as the editor for them. This often led to her editing video while still wearing the mo-cap suit. After taking on the role Melina had a lot of preparation to get to in order to reach the bar that was set. She would spend six weeks training and work out in order to get in shape for the body scan needed to bring Senua to life. But it wasn’t just the physical side that Melina had to develop, the role also demanded she got into the right mental space.
Hellblade is a game focused on the story of a person with mental illness so Melina had to prepare herself mentally to fit the role. Besides using her own personal experiences Melina met with a group of people who have a history of severe mental illnesses, seeing visions, and hearing voices. This allowed her to really grasp whats like being a person living with these illnesses and how she would react in that situation. After working on the physical and mental demand for the role the only thing left was to solidify her acting.
Melina would find an empty room or even a forest and spend time in seclusion in order to experiment with her acting to see what she was capable of. This was how she learned to come out of her comfort zone and become a better actor. The live presentations during the Epic Games keynote in 2016 were also a huge factor that helped her to grow into a superior actor. There were no do-overs and everyone was focused on her solo performance. During the Siggraph computer graphics conference, Melina had the hefty challenge of performing as two Senua’s interacting and speaking to one another. This undoubtedly showed off not only what the technology was capable of but what Melina was as well.
Fast-forward to December 7th, 2017 and Melina Juergens is accepting the award for Best Performance at the Video Game Awards. Melina’s story is one that I found incredibly refreshing to learn about it. I decided it would be a good idea to write about this because I feel more people should hear about this “Cinderella-esque story”. Not only that but rounding out the lackluster year for the gaming industry it’s nice to hear about something other than how loot boxes are killing the industry.