Person of interest: David Mogentale, star of stage (and 'Grand Theft Auto')


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"Grand Theft Auto V" couldn't have made a billion dollars without the help of a talented team of developers and voice actors. David Mogentale is one of those actors. The Peters native plays the role of "Nervous" Ron Jakowski, the infamous Trevor Phillips' partner in crime, providing not just the voice but a motion-capture performance .

Mr. Mogentale's big year didn't end with his role in the most talked about video game of the year. Beginning Nov. 7, he'll play the role of Lee, one of a pair of estranged brothers reunited in Sam Shepard's "True West" at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

The actor, 53, has had guest-starring roles on TV series including "The Sopranos" and "Elementary," and he understudied the roles of Biff and Happy in the 1999 Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman." Now a resident of New York, he serves as artistic director of 29th Street Rep, a company with a website that screams, "Off Off Broadway Baby! Where brutal theater lives."

This performance with the Public marks his first return to Pittsburgh since he left for college.

When did you move away from Pittsburgh? I played baseball in high school, and I got a baseball scholarship down south in Auburn in Alabama. I played shortstop in high school but played right field in college. I was back for summers and here and there, but basically I've been gone since I was 18 years old.

Did you have any interest in coming back to Pittsburgh? No, I don't think I did. I wanted to try to be an actor, and I didn't really know how to go about that. I saw Jack Klugman on "Quincy." I thought, "That's the life." In my very narrow focus, I thought, "That would be the great thing to do." Now that I'm in it, it's a little different, but that's what I thought at the time. I could've gone to Los Angeles, but New York was a little closer, so I went there.

How did your role as Ron Jakowski in "Grand Theft Auto V" come to be? Was this your first voice acting project? Yes, it was. I auditioned, and I said to myself, "I'm just going to go all out with this character." They cast me, and there wasn't even a callback. I didn't even know what video game it was for. It was so secretive. It was originally called "Paradise," so I had no idea this was a "Grand Theft Auto" game.

Did you know it was Rockstar Games? Yes, but I didn't know what Rockstar was. But I said, "I'll do it. It's acting." Then I saw the kind of production studio they had. This thing was state of the art. They have their own soundstage in Glen Clove, which is in Long Island. It looked like "Avatar." I'd bet "Avatar" didn't have as much stuff as this setup had.

This is a different situation than getting a typical script because of the size of the game. How does that work? [Rockstar] gives you just your lines, and they're very secretive. They aren't giving you the whole script. Just yours, and you only get it a couple days before.

Did you do a table read? No. We went right into it. It was like, "Here are your lines. Go." You rehearse with the other people in your scene a little bit. He's a little nervous, [and] you're a little nervous. You don't want to mess up too much because time is money.

Did you like the mo-cap aspect of it? That was the first time I did it. Yeah, I liked it, but it was kind of nerve-racking. You have to know your lines, and [the directors] get angry if you don't.

Did that happen? Yeah, you get nervous. That's the rough thing about being an actor with something like this. With a theater show like "True West," I have plenty of time to learn my lines. I had three days with ["Grand Theft Auto V"]. Look at all the lines [the lead character] has. I was nervous for him.

How many hours of recording did you for this game? Including motion capture and line recording, I'd say 80 to 120 hours over about 21/2 years.

Did you know the reputation of the "Grand Theft Auto" series going into this? No, not at all. It was funny. There were only guys on the set. These are the kinds of stories I like. I like doing plays like that, too. You'll see a movie like that, and then all of a sudden the guy has to have a love interest. I hate that. This wasn't like that. This was a guy's story.

Now that you've finished this huge project, do you have any interest in playing the game? I kind of do, but I'm into all this other stuff. I'd have to get an Xbox or PlayStation, and then I'd have to play it for 70 hours. So I just check out my scenes on YouTube.

Tell me about "True West." It's very cool, because it's not your typical play. It's a guy's play. If I saw this play when I was in high school, I'd automatically want to be an actor. It's very visceral. It's very brutal. When I was growing up, I always thought of plays as something I never wanted to go and watch. This is something that's exciting.

Now that you've had this video-game experience, do you prefer that format to performing on a stage? Stage performing is the ultimate experience for an actor. I've done TV. I've done movies. Acting on a stage is the most satisfying for the actor, because no one can tell you what to do once the play starts. It's all yours. And you get that in front of an audience. That's the best.


Max Parker writes The Game Guy blog at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com. On Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.

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