“They’re outsiders,” says Jane Perry. “Maybe this is what draws the characters together, the sense of being not entirely comfortable in the skin that they’re in or in the world that they find themselves in.”
Perry is discussing the relationship between Hitman’s Agent 47, voiced by David Bateson, and his handler Diana Burnwood, who she voices. But she could also be talking about the actors themselves.
For both actors, auditioning for these roles was a serendipitous moment. Bateson had recently moved from London to Denmark, while Perry had moved from Canada to London: two actors living away from their native countries.
“In some ways, it is about saying yes to these things that happen in your life, because you just don’t know where they’re going to end up,” says Perry. “And here I am, all these years later – and same with you David – playing these amazing characters, because we followed a whim and a fancy.”
Says Bateson: “It’s interesting in a game like this, where both of us are of another citizenship, finding ourselves in another country and actually, unbeknownst to us, perfectly cast for Hitman characters.
“I think personally, that has drawn us together, the characters together and also as we’ve got to know each other, that [feeling of] outsiders looking in.”
Perry adds: “They’re not your average people. And so maybe that’s interesting, this parallel between us, being outsiders in the country that we have chosen to live in, it sort of lends itself to that in some way.”
Perry and Bateson have great rapport, which is perhaps surprising when they only met in person for the first time last October due to Covid restrictions despite working together on the Hitman games for a decade.
“I had the sense of David as this kind of famous person who lives elsewhere that I didn’t really know that much about, he was sort of shrouded in mystery to me,” says Perry. “And that worked okay for me, because Hitman himself is a little bit like that.”
Bateson has been the voice of Agent 47 in each of the franchise’s eight main games. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hitman: Absolution, in which Perry voiced the in-game tutorial before becoming Diana Burnwood in the World of Assassination trilogy.
So what drew these actors to their respective roles? “I like killing people. I mean, nothing gives me greater pleasure,” quips Bateson.
Really, it was the quality of the writing, the intriguing characters, and the opportunity to play these outsiders having extraordinary moments.
“When I first got the brief about Agent 47 where they said ‘okay, he’s an emotionless killer and has no memory of his childhood’ I went ‘great, there’s so much to go on here’,” says Bateson sarcastically.
He notes how he wanted to flesh out the character, under the surface. “My way of doing that was to try and give him almost a kind of Frankenstein’s monster feel to him, a kind of curiosity as to what pain actually is,” he says. “So it was almost an observatory type of feeling I was going to go for, which was not a feeling but it had a shadow of a feeling.”
He admits to having a “dark sense of humour” but didn’t want to make light of the lines. “I wanted to take the lines very seriously, but still inject some kind of humanity into them,” he says. “Just a hint of it, almost like a haunting feeling. And I think that aspect has developed over the years.”
Perry discusses the real life inspiration for Diana.
“There are agents and there are handlers and there is that moment where they have to pick up the phone and say, ‘I’m going to send you out into the field, I might never see you again, anyway, here’s what you’ve got to do and here’s how you’re going to do it’. And I just think wow, they must have nerves of steel and this ability to compartmentalise and I rather enjoy that when I play Diana,” she says.
“I really do find that fascinating, how people can carry that level of stress and responsibility in their day to day working lives.”
There are a number of elements that contribute to the gravitas of any moment, such as the writing and scenario as much as the performances.
“For me as an actor it really is just listening and looking at the given circumstances and then bringing the truth of that seriousness – or comedy as it might be – into that moment,” says Perry.
And there is a certain level of comedy to Hitman with its absurd murder humour, despite the generally serious tone. That’s something that’s developed over time as the writers and actors have – consciously, or subconsciously – influenced each other.
“I think that dark, delicious humour has matured and evolved like a good cheese or a good wine, without the writers wanting to belittle or turn it into some kind of a lightweight comedy, because it’s not. People are dying horrific deaths. But it’s nice to have that dark humour,” says Bateson.
Perry agrees: “I must admit, when we get to those bits where there can be that wryness and humour, I absolutely adore it. I love it so much. I mean, it’s fun to play the seriousness of the mission briefings and that sort of thing. But [the humour is] like a little treat that pops up every now and then that you really just get to indulge in and enjoy. So I just adore that about Hitman.”
The relationship between Agent 47 and Diana has also developed over the course of the trilogy. The assassin is, in Perry’s words, “half man, half machine… but I really do feel that as time passes, there’s this incredible, deep, profound care for him. And I think if anything should ever happen to Agent 47, Diana would be absolutely devastated.”
“I couldn’t see her working at a chippy or something,” quips Bateson.
He continues: “It’s been a three-game story arc, essentially. And that has been a smorgasbord of storyline to tuck into. For us, it’s not just been a one game independent story. So I think reading about the reaction to our relationship, especially the conclusion of the third game, that has had a wonderful effect and has washed over the fans.”
He describes the trilogy as having a “delicious conclusion to post agency bliss”, but both actors would be keen to continue playing these roles.
“I’d happily play Diana for the rest of. I adore her. I love her. I love her sophistication. I love her intelligence,” says Perry.
“The relationship has matured and the game has gone on to another level,” says Bateson. “It would be fabulous to be able to continue our relationship in a future example of this game. I don’t know how or what it would be like, and obviously I’m sure [IO is] working on it now but their main concentration I would imagine is Bond.”
Indeed, IO Interactive has taken on the Bond licence, which both actors agree is a great fit for the studio following Hitman.
“They clearly have a great aesthetic of the fantastic locations, and the elegance of the characters, and the danger, and the intrigue. These are all things that we associate with the Bond franchise as well,” says Perry. “So I think it’s going to be a very easy lateral step for them to take, from Hitman to Bond. And I suppose the challenge is, how are they going to make them different, one from the other?”
“I think it is an absolute big compliment to IO Interactive that they pulled this one off to get the Bond franchise,” says Bateson. “They’ve done all the hard work over 20 years to get their game plan and exotic locations and the wry humour and to have established those two characters as people not dissimilar from Bond and M.”
For now, there’s this pair of wonderful characters and a whole load of absurd deaths. Do Bateson and Perry have a favourite?
“I have two, because I’m a bit of a sick puppy,” says Bateson. “Any or all chandelier deaths or a statue falling on you. I just find that more amusing than shooting a sniper rifle from a distance.
“And the other one I like, which is so wrong, I like pushing people off balconies.”
Perry agrees, particularly with how humour undercuts the drama – something that’s key to Hitman’s appeal. “They do set up a character as being super powerful and super dangerous. And then of course, the comedy comes in the undignified aspect of their death and their demise,” she says.
As for future locations, Perry suggests a cold northern country where Agent 47 can have a “little interchange with the polar bears”.
Bateson, meanwhile, suggests London. “I can push people under tube trains then,” he says. “A murder on a double decker bus, or a taxi.”
Intrigue and murder on London’s underground – what could be more Bond?