Interview: Cody Christian On How He "Humanized" Cloud in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
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Interview: How Cody Christian ‘Humanized’ Cloud in FFVII Rebirth

A week after the launch of FFVII Rebirth, I got to sit down with actor Cody Christian, who performed the voice of Cloud Strife in the Final Fantasy VII remake trilogy. In our interview, the actor talked about the impact Advent Children had on his performance, what it was like to be turned into a Moogle, and how he used his acting career to bring a beloved video game character to life. Here is my interview with Cody Christian:

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Brent Koepp: How much did the original FFVII inform your performance as Cloud in Rebirth?

Cody Christian: I think the key thing in what you just said was “informed.” I had to do a lot of prep work and, honestly, just seek the right information, especially going into my performance in Final Fantasy VII Remake. But for me, at least the first iteration of the game in 1997, I didn’t grow up playing Final Fantasy. I knew of it. I have an older brother who is very, very heavily involved in JRPGs in general and a lot of what Japanese culture has to offer. So he kind of pointed me in the right direction. The very first thing that I did – because I didn’t have access to play it myself – is I watched an entire playthrough of the original Final Fantasy 7.

And then that led me down just a path of getting informed. I read all the information provided in text about the game. And then this obviously led me to watch Final Fantasy Advent Children, which I watched multiple times. So, all of that to say, I acquired as much information as I could about Cloud, knowing that there still had to be a part of me that added Cody to it. And the main goal with that was to get informed and know who this guy is inside and out or at least how he’s been depicted because the benefit is the character isn’t brand new.

We’ve seen Cloud. We know Cloud and the fan base attached to it. There’s history, and there’s lore to the character. So it’s just about doing the work and then feeling comfortable enough that I knew what I needed to know so I can add the little drops of what I wanted to the character, which was just humanizing Cloud. I mean, yeah, in moments, he’s an undefeatable Soldier who can tackle the world, but at the end of the day, he’s still a human being. So that was kind of my priority in regards to portraying him.

Compared to FFVII Remake, Cloud has a lot of really emotional moments in Rebirth. I was wondering what kind of challenges you faced portraying this side of the character, who is normally more tough and emotionless at times.

Cody Christian: It actually wasn’t a challenge at all. The bigger challenge was to identify and build on this character that is usually erring on stoicism. A character that is guarding his heart and emotions by choice because that’s not who he is to the core. So, for Final Fantasy VII Remake, I think that it was more of a challenge to feel everything that was going on in the story, but to not externalize it with the character.

With Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, having the incredible material written by those in charge of the project was the most important. Those in charge of crafting the story and writing the scripts paved the way for my performance. Like listen, at the end of the day, I like to take a lot of ownership of how I portray Cloud. But I’d still just show up like many other people. So I have to tip my hat to the writers for providing a landscape for us to just really flesh these characters out and give this story what it deserves cinematically in 2024.

I have always been an actor first, that I know. And I’ve been acting for over two decades. I’m 28 years old. So, to have an opportunity in FFVII Rebirth and the support from the writers within the project to say yes, let’s “perform,” and let’s tell a story that we want people playing to be so engaged that they feel what we want them to feel. That’s everything to me, man. So I’m so happy to see our performance being received well from fans and critics.

Rebirth has many emotional moments, for sure. As someone who played the original game back in 1997, I got choked up in a few places due to the acting performances in the game. I love the original and consider it a masterpiece. But the cutscenes were limited to text to a degree. So to see how far you’ve guys taken the story in FFVII Rebirth is amazing.

Cody Christian: So many people have such a beautiful attachment to Final Fantasy VII. And yeah, the original from 1997 is perfect. But looking at the stunning cutscenes and the animations in Rebirth, you can appreciate it. We live in a time now where we have access to technology, and anything short of what we delivered in the Remake trilogy would have been selling this beautiful game short. It would have been robbing it of what it deserved. So I’m happy that things have been executed the way they have been with Rebirth, where the story kind of shifts.

In FFVII Rebirth, there is more of a focus on Cloud’s relationships with the other characters in the story. What was the process behind working with the other cast members?

Cody Christian: I can’t speak on all video games, as I have limited experience in the games industry. So I will say this with regards to Rebirth: we didn’t get to work with each other in the studio. At least for me, I never got to record with anybody in the flesh. The only time that really happened was if an actor recorded sessions prior and they had the lines from another session, and they would pull them into my recording. And during those times you got to play off of the other actors.

But we’ve been doing this since 2019, which is like, five years? So the entire cast has known each other enough, and we’ve grown close enough that we have that connection. So if I’m reading a scene, say, for example, with Barret, I know the actor John Bentley so well that I can almost imagine and create that story in my head of how John is going to play it. And that sort of thing only comes with time and actors becoming comfortable with each other.

But man, I wish! I would love to act with the other cast members in a room. Listen, if there’s ever the chance for this, if there is ever like a new Final Fantasy VII animated series of these characters where we could all be in the same room and be bantering back and forth, I would jump at the opportunity to do that! But for Rebirth, the process is a bit more precise and methodical during the recording process. So we didn’t really get a chance.

What was your favorite Cloud moment in FFVII Rebirth? Or do you have any favorite acting moments in the game?

Cody Christian: Oh man [laughs]. Okay, so I have a couple. There is this moment where Cloud goes and gets transformed into a cute Moogle. He’s flying around, and he can only say “Kupo.” I absolutely lost it in that recording session. Because recording that scene was a good two hours or so. So, for those two hours, imagine me in this scenario having to play Cloud, looking like a tiny cute Moogle but trying to communicate with one word over and over again.

I remember this moment because we had to record about 10 lines of “Kupo” back to back to back to back, but each “Kupo” had a different intention behind it. It was just a crazy experience [laughs]. So, that was definitely a highlight for me. The other highlight that I thoroughly enjoyed as an actor was the part of the story where there’s a shift in Cloud’s behavior after Sephiroth gets his hands on him a little bit too much, and he starts to become a bit more unhinged.

These scenes become a game of cat and mouse, and there are interesting exchanges between Cloud and Tifa or Cloud and Aerith. During these moments, these characters get to see the side of Cloud, which is almost scary. Because it’s like, is Cloud there, or is he not there? There’s, like, this underlying tone of sinisterness which is something I never thought I would get to play when portraying this character. So, to dabble in that was a blast for me as an actor. I hope it looks cool in the final performance.

How much do you feel Cloud has changed from Remake to FFVII Rebirth?

Cody Christian: When Remake first came out, the concept of ‘we are going to take one game and let it exist among three titles’ kind of showed the landscape and how massive this project was going to be. Now, we are talking about 300 hours or more of a character’s story being told across multiple arcs. The scope of that is crazy. So, understanding that this story was going to take some time to unfold and that we’re going to have a different Cloud in 1, 2, and 3 – that was communicated to me before I jumped into this game.

So I kind of knew that this guarded, cold, and stoic Cloud was going to be shifting. And we’re going to get to tackle a little bit more vulnerability. We’re going to get to tackle a little bit more of the intimate side of Cloud’s relationships. A true humanizing of “who is this” person behind the Buster Sword, if you will. So, in regards to prepping for this role, it was more of a mindset. It was an attitude shift. There was a comfortability I brought into FFVII Rebirth that I didn’t have in Remake simply because of experience, pressure, and expectations.

Look, you try to silence all the chit-chat surrounding this role. But inevitably, this kind of thing is going to creep up on you. So, the first game was what it was. But with Rebirth, I finally got out of my head about the fact that I’m not like a fraud with regards to the voice acting thing. I dropped the whole voice aspect, and I’m like, I’m just acting in a different medium now. And that helped me tremendously. And this type of storytelling, like, let’s see this tough badass man that will slice through six people, who will then also break down and cry – that’s my bread and butter as an actor. I absolutely loved to do this role. I was even more excited that I actually had the support from the people making the choices for this game.

I can only do much. So the fact that I had the support from the creators of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth of “yes, let’s make these characters feel real,” let’s make this story feel powerful, let’s flesh out these iconic moments from the original game, and let’s treat it in a cinematic way. This is a cinematic universe. It doesn’t matter that you are playing and have a controller in your hand. When I look at this game, I can imagine it on a 100-foot IMAX screen. Because it justifiably exists there. So I just think having that approach with myself and everybody involved really meant everything. I always tip my hat to my director, Kirk. That’s my man. I feel very safe in his hands and I felt guided in the right ways and able to perform. Without him and everyone else, we wouldn’t have been able to do this. I’m just grateful his second game allowed us to do all that.

You said you had watched Advent Children and other FFVII Compilation titles in the lead-up to Rebirth. How much did those versions of Cloud influence your take on the character? Or did you treat Cloud in the Remake trilogy as a new version of him?

Cody Christian: I think inevitably, just because the character has already been established and I’m not the first person to have my hands on the role – Cloud is Cloud. Cloud exists outside of me and anybody that were to breathe life into him. So, with that said, there is due diligence to remove yourself enough to play the authenticity of the character first. And whether that be something I agree with or not, I’m not important in that conversation because the character and his authenticity take precedence over what I feel. So, with that being said, inevitably, there are going to be things that shine through in whatever iteration where Cloud shows up because that’s Cloud.

But my goal is to play Cloud as truthfully as possible, but then add my own little interpretation. I’ve said this before, but my little interpretation is, “Make this guy feel like a human.” Because at the end of the day, when he takes all of his armor off and puts the sword down, and if he was sitting in this living room right now across from a Tifa or across from an Aerith, and they are talking about whatever – that’s what I imagine. I really put my head in this place where I go: “Cloud’s existing here and now. What would that feel like?”

In a way, it’s kind of crazy because I took my experience in the acting world, and I kind of just looked at it when I went to record like, “What if I was going into a big-budget action film?”. That’s kind of what I thought, in a way. What if I went into the trailer, put Cloud’s shoulder pads on, and had a prop sword over my back? Like, really, I just kind of imagined what that would look like. But more importantly, what would that feel like? And I tried to emulate that and put it into a microphone and crossed my fingers. I hope it works! [Laughs]

Did you get to hear the original Japanese voice actor’s performance for FFVII Rebirth before recording your take on Cloud for the English version of the game?

Cody Christian: Most of the recording process is done first in Japan. Everything is animated, rendered, recorded, and written in Japan. They have their hands on the game first, and they set the entire tone and precedence for the project. Then it comes to us. And basically, I have to match my performance after that line is translated to make sense in the Western world. And we have to match whatever kind of time slot, generally, that they’ve carved out and they’ve created. And it gets very very precise in regards to recording the line in over and under two milliseconds.

Maybe they will stretch this time slot for you, and you will get five milliseconds. So you have to exist in this window that has already been created. So with that, almost every line I get to hear the Japanese interpretation. And even though I don’t fully know what’s going on all the time, I can hear the emotion. And then I have my script lead with me, and I can ask questions if I have any. But I get to hear the tonality and the emotional life behind what’s being said in Japanese first, which, more times than not, dictates how we do it on our end. It’s been a cool experience, and I’ve been heavily influenced by what they are creating in Japan. I feel really attached to the world they’ve created in a way. I don’t know if that sounds stupid, but I want to be out there. I want to be immersed in that environment and what they are doing.

FFVII Rebirth is now available on the PlayStation 5.

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Brent Koepp
Based in California, Brent is an Editor at Siliconera and has been a journalist since 2010. When he's not playing JRPGs or catching 'em all in Pokémon, you can find him spending time with his wife and two dogs.