Julian Kostov recently took on the monumental task of bringing the infamous antagonist Vladimir Makarov from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) to players both new and old in the recent remake. TechRadar Gaming sat down with him and discussed what it was like on the set of MW3, what it’s been like breaking into Hollywood as a Bulgarian actor, and the challenges he faced during the process.
“I used to be obsessed with video games as a kid. Like most kids, I guess,” Kostov explains. “I would play Starcraft and Age of Empires, and my friends and I would get together after school and go play Counter-Strike in game cafes.” But, as is often the case, once Kostov went on to study, he had less time for games. Fortunately, Kostov got back into gaming with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (MW2).
“I was just about to finish the last level of the campaign in MW2 when I got the opportunity to audition for MW3,” Kostov recalls. “I was going through this monologue that they gave me for the audition and kept thinking: ‘Urzikstan? ‘Urzikstan? This country sounds super familiar, and then it hit me: I was auditioning for MW3.”
In the spotlight
Before his role as Makarov, Kostov worked in several productions, including the TV show Shadow and Bone as well as the first-person shooter Crossfire X. While he did have some experience with motion capture, working with Activision on MW3 was an experience that stood head and shoulders above the rest.
“The second scene I ever did was right at the beginning with all my soldiers,” Kostov recalls. “I didn't get the lines really until the night before; I had to learn like three pages of monologue in Russian, which I could only speak phonetically (at the time). I talked through the scene the night before and found out for the first time that you cut and slice shots together when you’re working with motion capture; it all had to be one shot for each actor. It's the most important scene of the thing. It's going to make or break Makarov, so don't f*** it up and be calm.
“So the next day, I go there, and I don’t have any of the words yet. It took me 24 takes before lunch to nail it; normally, we do six or seven. Everybody's clapping, I'm all hyped up, and then they [directors] go, ‘Alright, we're gonna continue with this scene after lunch,’ and I ask, ‘Why? Don't we have it?’ That’s when I’m told the scene needs to be 90 seconds long. So I ask how long this take was, and Brian just goes, ‘I'd rather not tell you.’”
Thankfully, Kostov perfected the scene and got it down to 90 seconds by the end of the day, after 48 takes. So, although it was an intense day of filming, it was well worth all the virtual blood, sweat, and tears.
“I've acted in various video games in the past, which were voiceover,” Kostov points out. “So motion capture is very different. Obviously, it's a whole different set of tools that you need to work on. We were in full motion capture gear and the performance capture headset, which is, you know, the camera that's beaming light in your face; it feels like you have nowhere to hide.”
Divide et Impera
It’s not easy playing a ruthless tactician and leader of an Ultranationalist terrorist cell. Especially since many fans have already seen Makarov on their gaming monitors before in the original MW3, released in 2011. This nostalgia can often cloud the judgment of fans and can pose a significant mental obstacle for new actors.
“My job is to serve this story,” Kostov asserts. “This version of Makarov is my version. Knowing that millions of people are going to see this portrayal and play it actually makes me more excited. I don't shy away from a challenge like that.”
While Makarov still has the same vengeful goals as he did in 2011, the team wanted to make him more calculated and intelligent in the remake. “We tried to find moments to make him more personal and smarter because his intellect is his biggest weapon,” Kostov argues.
“There's a line ‘Divide et Impera’ which is Latin for divide and conquer. That was supposed to be in Russian, and I suggested that we say it in Latin because then immediately, the two people in conversation look more intelligent.
He also flexes three accents in English during the scene in the helicopter. He says Herschel in a Texan accent. Then he goes McTavish in a Scottish accent. And then he turns to Price and says in a British accent, I promise.” Making Makarov linguistically intelligent was just one of the ways in which Kostov left his mark on the antagonist, and is what he describes as one of his niches through voice acting.
Powers of persuasion
While Kostov proved that he was more than capable of taking on the challenges of Makarov in MW3, getting on a stage and performing wasn’t always easy for the Bulgarian actor. “I used to have huge stage fright,” Kostov admits. “I couldn't even deliver a presentation when I was in university.”
But thanks to a lot of practice, dedication, and hard work, he soon overcame his fear and worked towards breaking into Hollywood, moving to London to start auditioning for more roles.
“Being one of the very few Eastern European and Bulgarian actors in Western entertainment media, it's a great privilege to have gotten this far,” Kostov says. “I know it sounds cliche, but I really don't feel more successful now than I did when I was 22, broke in London and trying to win against that city. It's hard enough to survive in London as an actor; it's even harder to be a Bulgarian actor.”
As a note for any up-and-coming actors looking to follow the same patch, Kostov’s word of advice is to find your niche and hone it. As an example, he stated that while he was breaking into the career, he found that he “needs to be able to speak in any Spanish, French, or Italian accent, so I started learning these, and eventually, I got cast as Italian, I got cast as Spanish, Polish Moldova, Russian, Bulgarian, English, and American.”
Even though this talent for accents may not be what gained Kostov the part of Makarov in MW3, it’s certainly what helped him mold the brilliant antagonist into his own unique version. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kostov and his outstanding linguistic abilities.
For more fantastic interviews with actors who play iconic video game characters, be sure to check out Baldur’s Gate 3 VAs discuss story branches, as well as the In Stars and Time dev talk about why their RPG has to be frustrating.
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Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.