Wes Johnson

Wes Johnson: The Elder Scrolls’ Most Famous Voice

Legendary voice actor Wes Johnson talked about his lucrative career in a Q&A during The Elder Scrolls Online’s 10-year anniversary event. As part of a voice actor panel hosted by Zenimax Online Studios’ Senior Community Manager, Gina Bruno, Johnson delved into how he started in the industry and what led him to where he is today.

Wes Johnson is treasured by the Elder Scrolls community and has voiced countless roles in the series since Morrowind. He has lent his voice to an astonishing number of characters across a wide range of Bethesda games. However, he is most recognized for his roles as Sheogorath in Oblivion and Skyrim and Hermaeus Mora in The Elder Scrolls Online. For the upcoming Gold Road Chapter for ESO, Johnson reprises his role as Hermaeus Mora. He discusses his process and challenges while working on an MMO with such a massive scope.

Early Career: From Radio to Videogames

Wes Johnson started out doing standup comedy and sketch comedy before landing a job in radio. This eventually led to his first paid video game gig for Unreal 2 in 2003. “All I did,” recalls Johnson, “was die in 200 hundred different ways.” He recounts arduously recording a series of “effort sounds for four hours.” That’s a long time to continuously scream out in pain! It seemed to pay off, as Johnson’s next gig was his first stint at the Elder Scrolls series with Morrowind.

This was the beginning of a career-spanning relationship with Bethesda. Johnson would go on to voice some of the most recognizable characters from the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. For Elder Scrolls, fans will be familiar with his role as the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath, as well as Emperor Titus Mede II and Lucien Lachance from Skyrim.

Sheogorath from Skyrim

Voice Acting: Trials & Tribulations

As the Elder Scrolls is based in a rich fantasy universe, it can be tricky to pronounce everything correctly. Wes Johnson’s first point of call will be with the developers and sound engineers. He believes that “you want to make sure that all the voice actors are on the same page.” Otherwise, it could end up with a bunch of lines being pronounced “completely differently.” He jokingly recounts that he has “heard people pronounce Hermaeus Mora about 1,400 different ways”.

To prevent this, Johnson insists that “you go with the guidance of the writers, of the devs, of the engineers, the directors.” He says that directors can truly “make the difference” with how things are pronounced. It’s “like a dance” where “the two of you are coming together to try and create something that is brand new and yet familiar at the same time.” He emphasizes that “a good director can change everything.”

Hermaeus Mora from Elder Scrolls Online

When discussing his more recent work with the Elder Scrolls series, Johnson praises how “videogames have become a lot more cinematic. It’s like “a movie that you live inside of.” He goes on to say that he “loses all track of time” when he plays these games. “I think I’m going to play for half an hour at night. The next thing I know, the birds are chirping outside, and the day is toast. And then you go to sleep, and you dream in that world.” He praises the work of the development team by saying they are “even more cinematic than movies have become.” In regards to ESO, Johnson gives credit to the developers and says that they “really care” about the game.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Deep Lore & MMO Approach

Johnson also recalled some of his recent work for The Elder Scrolls Online as “so emotional,” the writing as “wonderful,” and being touched by the lore “to the point where I kept thinking about it later on.” He describes the writing and lore work for ESO as “so rich.” What separates it from other games is “how deep the lore can get and how personal things can feel.”

When revisiting the character of Hermaeus Mora for ESO, Johnson describes the differences between his process and that of Skyrim. In Skyrim, Hermaeus Mora “was a little more ponderous,” slower, and had “a clicking” in the voice. When recording for ESO, Johnson mentioned the challenges of working with such a slow and methodical character in an MMO. “There is so much more that has to be spoken and so much dialogue that has to be done,” continues Johnson, “if I were to do it in the exact same way as I did in Skyrim, you all would still be sitting in front of your consoles right now getting to the first chapter of Necrom!” To avoid this, Johnson worked with the director to “keep the essence” of Hermaeus Mora while getting through the dialogue “in a more rapid manner.”

Finally, Jonhson gives some incredibly helpful advice for anyone looking to become a voice actor themselves. He encourages people to become more open to their imagination as it’s “the best special effects department in the world.” It can transport you to where you need to be to bring a character to life. He also advises that “you have to love it and you have to want it,” as it is a hard profession to break into, but it will be worth the time you put into it if you’re passionate.

Make sure to check out our full hands-on preview of the Gold Road expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online.