This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.
Brett Zimmerman has been around the block, starring in some notable titles with some huge names. Now, Zimmerman is taking his career into new territories. He will be starring and lending his voice as the primary player, “PFC Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels” in the highly anticipated Call of Duty: World War II game. He is also set to star in the VR film Flesh and Bone, which will be released this fall. We got the chance to talk with him about how he got into acting, his new roles, and his love for comics. Read below to learn more about him.
To get started, I’d like to hear how you got into acting. Was it something you always wanted to do, or did the bug bite you later in life?
Acting, for me, was certainly a bug I caught later in life, but once I got a taste for it, it became infectious. I had an appreciation for movie nights from an early age, however. My mom worked a lot of overnights on the weekends as a nurse in the ER at Carolinas Medical Center, which left all us dudes at home alone with Dad. I have two amazing brothers, who I hold as two of my best friends, and our dad loved taking us for ice cream and watching late night movies. I can remember being roughly 6 years old living in Charlotte, North Carolina when my dad, quite the jokester, would wake my brothers and I up after we had gone to bed many times saying “Hey, boys wake up, you’re late for school!” As we came to, and realized it was in fact Saturdaynight, our dad would then chuckle in awe and say, “I’m just teasing boys…who wants to watch a movie and eat ice cream”? What movies we watched is a bit hazy, as I was young and half asleep most of the time, but I will never forget how enjoyable that was for me as we bundled up on the couch together while we waited up for mom to get home.
As I got older, my adoration for films grew, but it wasn’t until college that I discovered my own personal interest for acting. I never truly knew what I wanted to be growing up, and going into college I was still undecided. I tested multiple majors, juggling several different jobs, and right after my freshman year decided to start working with a local agency out of Charlotte, NC to create additional income. I signed with Evolution Talent Agency, with the intention of booking work for local and regional print jobs, as well as commercial spots for TV. My resume of work at that time consisted of editorials, catalog work at Macy’s, and commercial spots for both Coca-Cola and Bloom Grocery Store. The fire had been lit.
The more I was on set, the greater my interest grew. I joke that if I had half the interest I did towards my college curricular as I did for production on set, I would have graduated with honors cum laude. I paid attention to everything, and had a desire to learn. Through Evolution, I later landed a gig doing featured extra work for a week on One Tree Hill in Wilmington, NC. That week, everything became so clear. I knew without a doubt I wanted to be an actor. Graduating from Clemson and receiving my degree was still a priority, but that didn’t stop me. I worked that much harder and that much faster immersing myself into classes. As a developmental agency, Evolution gave me guidance, and helped align my path towards LA. They set up agency meetings, class lists, and points of contact here when the time came. December 2007, I graduated from Clemson University with a degree in Business Management and remained home for the next two years. Once securing enough of a savings to trust the road ahead, my mother and I packed up every inch of my car and made the drive across country, arriving here in February 2010. She stayed for a week while I met with agencies and got settled in. She and all of my family are back home in Fort Mill, SC, but I get home as often as I can. Family always grounds me, as they are the roots to who I am.
I’m nearing my 8th year here in LA, and it’s certainly a home away from home, but in no way has the road gotten any easier. Thankfully, I love what I do and trust wholeheartedly, that’ll never change. I hope to affect people and inspire them through the scope of my work…that is the joy in acting.
You’ve acted in a wide range of genres, from daytime soaps to drama to action and more; which is your personal favorite to watch, and which is your personal favorite to act in?
With the amount of content out nowadays, it’s easy to find an appetite for every genre, but I’m guilty for enjoying a good drama film with some kickass action! The same goes for the type of roles I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I find so much pleasure in making someone laugh or smile, but I get geared up differently when diving into an action role. Being able to take yourself somewhere emotionally is one thing, but finding that range while embracing the physical challenges opens me up in a completely organic raw way, and not just physically, but vocally as well.
Call of Duty is a pretty big name in the console gaming business. How did you land the role of PFC Ronald Daniels?
I auditioned for COD close to 2 years ago, which is crazy to think about. Callbacks weren’t until months later, around August or September of 2016, and I eventually got the offer late last year. I remember, though, receiving the first set of audition sides, and feeling so uncertain as to what I was getting into. The first scene was a monologue, which was written so well that I connected to it right away. The second scene was roughly 6 pages of combat, which was paced with minimal dialogue and expressive battle chatter commands. Seeing as how I was unfamiliar with auditioning for games, I did the only thing that made sense…I moved every bit of furniture in my living room, and created the map layout scripted within the pages before me. I recall my roommate strolling into the kitchen while I’m casually diving into the prone position to sight up two enemy combatants in the building (aka my lazyboy sofa, lol) just beyond our clearing.
When I finally sat down with the creative team, we discussed the overall storyline, and they expressed how important it was for the players to be able to connect to their squad while facing the many conflicts that arise throughout the overall plot line.
It’s fun to reflect back on the process, but the role of Daniels by no means came without a ton of heart. I put everything I had into finding the parts of him that were genuine to myself, and at the core of that was family.
What can you tell us about PFC Daniels’ story?
Ronald Daniels was born into a farming family in rural Longview, Texas. Since a young age, he’s been an avid hunter. He’s young and idealistic, charismatic, and carries a sense of pride and ambition. As we first meet him, he’s just joined the 1stInfantry Division as the primary playable character of our story. I describe him as the gamer’s window into this story that is bigger than all of us. As a young soldier in a trial by fire, Daniels learns that being a hero comes at the heavy price of personal sacrifice. As he fights to keep his fellow soldiers alive, he realizes that there is no glory in winning, only surviving, but he would lay down his life for any one of the men or women fighting beside him.
Describe your experience with voice acting. How is it different from stage and screen acting? What additional challenges does it pose? Which do you prefer?
Voice acting was just the start of the characters you’ll see in Call of Duty: World War II. This was so much more. Our characters were built out to our likeness through facial capture. We spent an entire day in a light stage doing well over a hundred different muscle movements rendering nearly every possible way our face could form. Every line, mole, or indentation captured. We then read aloud sentences in different vocal ranges and emotions to test positioning of our mouths and teeth. There are so many moving parts, and so much detail put into each character, level, etc., but the overall process was so well structured.
I describe motion capture as a marriage between TV, film and theater. With both theatre and PCAP you have to project to fill the space, or in our case, the volume. Another comparison would be that both call for actors to deliver a full performance from start to finish. There are no cuts. You either get the take, or you don’t.
Motion capture, at this level, is hands down one of the most challenging performances I’ve ever had to deliver, but it has also been one of the most fulfilling. It’s such an imaginative process. Once you capture a mindset for the world around you, you’re able to find your footing. I will say that the helmet cam took some getting used to, but in some ways I felt it brought more life to my acting. I wore it as if it was my combat helmet. The weight of it was very real.
You’ve done another interesting type of acting recently: the VR film Flesh and Bone. Tell us about the process of filming VR footage, and tell us what you can about the story.
Yeah, I just wrapped Flesh and Bone, directed by Chateau Bezerra, and produced by JauntVR. I play the lead, Charlie, who is grounded by two loves; his life long love, Stella, played by actress Courtney B. Turk, and his unforgiving passion for boxing. The story has similar conflicts to both Southpaw and Warrior. While my character fights towards two goals, he may lose one to gain the other. The film has hopes of competing in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Flesh and Bone was amazing to work on for so many reasons, the firsts of which were that I got to portray a boxer, which I have always wanted to do, and it was shot for VR. It is one of the first boxing films ever shot for virtual reality. Much like motion capture, VR was a new process for me in terms of acting. Similar to motion capture, there is no stop and start for each take. We filmed on a Jaunt ONE camera. That thing literally looks like an alien and it makes sure to capture every side, angle, or movement…it’s everywhere. The difficulty was that many of our scenes were shot inside of an authentic 12ft x 12ft ring, which meant we had to have a heightened awareness to our proximity and placement when circling the camera. Additionally, VR doesn’t allow you to watch playback, so we had to go with our gut and trust in our work, as did our director. Chateau was fantastic to work with, and I have no doubt Flesh and Bone will deliver a “knockout” experience through a well crafted story and its’ seamless transitions.
What are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?”
Absolutely! As you mentioned, I’ve been fortunate to work in a wide array of genres, but I’m still just scratching the surface. I’ve set goals since day one, and met many of those targets year to year. I’ve also made lists of characters, creatures, and roles I’d love to play. Both a soldier and a boxer were on that list.
Film will always have a place in my heart, whether independent or the next big blockbuster. I, like all actors, have a desire for the big screen, but with the growth and popularity of TV shows, there is so much potential to work on new and exciting content. The next step for me would be to find longevity in a role. Whether as a series regular, or reprising a previous role, I’d love to become a character that viewers or players can connect to episode after episode, story after story. The more time you have with your character, the more you’re able to bring your choices into your work.
You’ve worked with some huge names in some well-known titles! Hugh Laurie in Chance, Charlie Sheen in Anger Management, and Eddie Murphy in the pilot for the CBS show Beverly Hills Cop, not to mention your roles in How to Get Away with Murder and NCIS: New Orleans. Have you ever fanboyed over any of these roles or encounters? Tell us your most embarrassing fanboy experience in your career. When did you geek out the most?
I wouldn’t say fanboy would be the exact term I would use, but I did feel like the coolest kid in school when I got to work with Betty White…or should I say, “married her.” In 2010, thanks to Facebook user demand, there was a push for her to host Saturday Night Live. In our promo, which ran leading up to her night of hosting, she credits the internet for her opportunity to do so, but asks users not to believe everything they hear on the web; such as the rumors that she’s “dating” some young hottie. Ready for her punch line? “I married him.” I’m sorry, but it doesn’t get much cooler than that for me. That woman is a gem!
As for a geek out, I have to give that credit to Mr. Marvel himself, the legend, Stan Lee. In 2011, I portrayed Captain America in the Dr. Pepper “One of a Kind Avengers” commercial spot, which ran months before the first Avengers film released. As with all Marvel projects, Stan “The Man” made his cameo in the spot opposite of myself and the other Avengers. As a kid I grew up sketching comic characters with my dad, so yeah, I may have geeked out a bit…okay, okay that may have been an understatement. You got me, hahaha.
Speaking of geeking out, what things do you geek out over? What kind of stuff gets your inner geek revved up?
Well, I gave a hint in my last answer…ALL things comics! There are so many amazing titles set to release over the course of the next few years, the first of which being Thor: Ragnarok on November 3rd. COD:WWII drops the same day, ladies and gentlemen. Looks like Christmas is coming early this year ; )
Also, nothing gets me more excited than to see deserving people working on cool things. My long time friend, brother, and roommate out here, Gentry White, will be seen this season on The Shannara Chronicles portraying Garet Jax, who is a weapons master bounty hunter. If you haven’t yet followed the show, you should now!
Finally, tell us about any future projects you have in the works.
With COD nearing completion, and Flesh and Bone being wrapped, my schedule is now opening up for new opportunities. While I’ve crossed off several character types on my bucket list, I’m hoping to land amongst the Marvel or DC Universe next!