James McAvoy says he’s always interested in taking on challenging acting gigs. His newest project — “Twelve Minutes,” an interactive crime thriller in which he stars as a man trapped in a murderous 12-minute time loop — certainly tested the Scottish thespian’s skills and stamina.
McAvoy, whose credits include playing Prof. Charles Xavier in several X-Men movies, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” and “His Dark Materials,” had never worked on a video game before. He says he was “immediately intrigued” by the concept for the game when he was approached by “Twelve Minutes” creator and director Luis Antonio.
But it took him some time to wrap his head around the narrative, he tells Variety.
“By nature of the fact that the character has got almost infinite decisions, reading any script was going to be complicated,” he says. “It was an innovative and complicated script like I’ve never seen before.”
“Twelve Minutes,” co-starring Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe, is set in a couple’s apartment and shows an overhead view of the action. The characters in the game are nameless, and we never see their faces: McAvoy voices “the man” whose romantic evening with his wife (Ridley) is interrupted by an intruder (Dafoe) accusing them of a heinous crime — claiming the woman killed her father eight years ago. Players take an active role in the narrative to help solve the mystery. (Spoiler alert: Some choices lead to the death of McAvoy’s character.)
“Twelve Minutes” is set to be released Aug. 19 by Annapurna Interactive, the gaming division of Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, available for PC via Steam and the Windows Store, and on Microsoft Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
Recording the lines for hundreds of different outcomes took four different sessions over several months. “It was tiring,” McAvoy admits. “I wouldn’t say it was tiresome. The hardest work, the truly tiresome work, is when the material is not good. The sweat was given gladly because the material was good.”
Antonio, a gaming industry vet who has worked at Rockstar Games and Ubisoft, wouldn’t reveal how many branching paths are possible in “Twelve Minutes.” Adding to the complexity: The characters in the game eventually become aware that they’re stuck in a “Groundhog Day” loop, which presents new choices when the scene replays itself.
“It’s not a linear medium where you get to the last page, and the story’s over,” Antonio says. “The game itself is about repetition and being stuck in a loop. There’s not a generic ending that wraps up the story and you leave the game.”
McAvoy says that recording “Twelve Minutes” was, on a certain level, similar to voice work for animated films. His credits here include “Gnomeo & Juliet” and “Arthur Christmas.” He also stars in the Audible original series “The Sandman” as Morpheus; Season 2 is set to debut next month and Audible has greenlit a third installment.
The specific difference with the “Twelve Minutes” game, McAvoy says, was that “every time I walk into a room, I’ve then got to do a thousand different alternatives — where I make a slightly different choice or a massively different fatal choice.” Instead of shooting a few takes of a scene, “This was like 100 different takes before you move on.”
Antonio said because of the numerous “Twelve Minutes” narrative strands, he revisited the story arcs after recording batches of the script to make tweaks. “We were throwing these situations at the characters, and some solutions that came up [during the recording sessions] made more sense than when I wrote it in a vacuum,” he says.
That said, McAvoy was impressed at how tight the script was. “You’re really only ad-libbing when it’s not written well. It was actually enjoyable to let this script sing for itself 99% of the time, you know?”
McAvoy says he’s an avid gamer. His favorite titles include “The Legend of Zelda” series (he called out “Ocarina of Time”), “Secret of Mana,” “Wing Commander” and “FIFA” soccer. During the pandemic, McAvoy says he’s played a bunch of “Call of Duty: Warzone” with his mates (“It’s been a godsend, really”).
Says McAvoy, “You get the opportunity as a video game player to make perverse choices, to make morally ambiguous choices — choices you would never make in real life.”
Annapurna Pictures formed the games division in 2016. Annapurna Interactive’s games portfolio includes Sam Barlow’s “Telling Lies,” “Outer Wilds,” “Sayonara Wild Hearts,” “Florence,” “Gorogoa,” “Donut County,” “Maquette” and “What Remains of Edith Finch.” Upcoming titles include “Twelve Minutes,” “The Artful Escape,” “Solar Ash,” “A Memoir Blue,” “Hindsight,” “Neon White,” “Storyteller,” “Skin Deep” and “Stray.”
Watch the trailer for “Twelve Minutes”: