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Ali Wong: VR Is Like Weed, Give It a Try

Ali Wong may be best known for her standup comedy, and for starring in Netflix’s romcom hit “Always Be My Maybe.” Earlier this year, the comedian participated in a different kind of project: Baobab Studio’s interactive virtual reality (VR) movie “Bonfire,” in which Wong voices the robot sidekick of a stranded intergalactic explorer.

To commemorate the release of “Bonfire” for Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, Wong recently told Variety about her work on the project, and her thoughts about VR in general.

Wong admitted that she didn’t have a whole lot of experience with VR before teaming up with Baobab Studios. “I’ve seen a lot of the publicity surrounding VR over the years and think it’s an exciting new medium, though my exposure was minimal,” Wong confessed. “ My husband is a gamer, so I’ve tried VR out with him, but that’s all I had going into ‘Bonfire.’”

“Bonfire” is a narrative VR experience, albeit with a lot of interactivity. The story casts the viewer in the starring role of a space explorer who crash-lands a spaceship on an unknown planet. It lets her or him interact with robot sidekick Debbie (voiced by Wong) as well as a cute monster emerging from the woods, and it also ultimately forces the viewer to make a decision on the future of the planet and all of its inhabitants.

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“Making the viewer a part of the story was very intriguing to me,” Wong said. “It was really different from anything else I’ve ever done.”

Wong has voiced characters for animated shows and movies before. “I love voiceover acting,” she told Variety. “One of my favorite projects I’ve ever done is (the animated Netflix show) ‘Tuca and Bertie.’ It gives me a chance to play characters people wouldn’t normally cast me in, because I get to be more vulnerable and play in a fantasy world.”

Wong said that her voice acting for “Bonfire” differed from previous projects due to the interactive nature of the film. Since viewers can influence the plot, and actively interact with a character, she had to record a lot more material. “Many lines the viewer may never hear, and sometimes up to 30 variations — I thought it was crazy,” she recalled.

Baobab engineer Amy Rebecca Tucker told Variety earlier this year that this interactive approach was very similar to the flow of a stand-up comedy set. Comedians have their basic flow plotted out, and know which jokes they want to hit during a set. “There is not a huge difference in story direction,” she said. However, they still read the room, react to their audience, and make them feel special, while at the same time sticking to their routine.

While that basic structure may be the same, Wong said that “Bonfire” wasn’t much like her comedy sets at all. “The script was clearly written for people of all ages, unlike my stand-up,” she said. “Debbie is so compassionate and nurturing. She does not talk about sex at all.”

Asked what she thinks about VR after working on “Bonfire,” Wong responded: “Give VR a try. It’s like Marijuana. It’s the future!”

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