For Joe Kucan, fame returned 25 years after playing an iconic role as villain Kane in video games Order and conquer. A new generation will now see Kucan in the nostalgic release of the 25th anniversary of the Remastered Command & Conquer Collection, which debuts this week.
Kucan’s bald head, thick goat and threatening voice made him the villain of video games. So much so that actor Robin Williams once asked him for an autograph, as noted in my interview with Kucan for the Wall Street Journal more than 20 years ago.
I was delighted to meet Kucan last week as he still has his ironic humor and continues to operate a community theater in Las Vegas.
“You helped move it all, you know,” he said.
At the time, GameSpot considered Kane to be one of the 10 best villains in the game of all time, when it played the megalomaniac who was trying to take control of the Earth as the leader of a terrorist group called the Brotherhood of Nod.
Kucan grew up in Las Vegas as the son of two teachers who loved literature and theater. He dropped out of college to act. Westwood Studios, a game development studio that Louis Castle and Brett Sperry founded, hired him to join as a dramatic director in 1993.
He shaved his head, and it became his signature look. Sperry urged him to shoot villain scenes as a promo for a game, and Kucan followed suit. The rest is the history of video games.
When EA announced it would bring back Command & Conquer, I asked if Kucan would come back. In the next game interview, EA offered me an interview with the legendary Kane.
For the new game, Kucan filmed a short video aimed at fans. But sadly, Kucan said in our interview that all of the original high-resolution images were lost during the transition when Electronic Arts bought Westwood Studios in 1998 and then closed them in 2003.
In the remaster, EA reuses sequences and did their best to clean them up. It is a remastering of the real-time strategy games that pitted the Brotherhood of Nod against the Global Defense Initiative.
“My contribution was really to dig under the bed and in one of my guest rooms and remove old cassettes and beta max CDs that had B-roll footage,” said Kucan. “I provided them with that. And other than that, I left them alone. Dean, my contribution was to not interfere. And I can guarantee you that it was the best possible contribution. “
Kucan told me that he had played in 97 games based on C&C, then I realized he was using this dry humor on me, adding that he had no idea how many games and packs extension released in the past 25 years.
“I always think of Kane as being around us, as the Force,” said Kucan. “He never left.”
Kucan asked me if I would pressure EA management to shoot more scenes with Kane, because he needed the money.
But playing Kane was not like a big Hollywood role at the time. Each slice of C&C made money, but Kucan didn’t get royalties from the games, but he was still happy to be employed as an actor and director. In 2000, Sperry declared that Westwood could not do a C&C without Kucan.
But after his work ended at the end of Kane, Kucan took over the management of A Public Fit Community Theater in Las Vegas. He had been doing it for ten years when “he stopped suddenly because of the coronavirus”.
“We are going to have to redefine not only the way we rehearse and produce, but the way we present the pieces,” he said. “What does an audience look like? How do we do social distance? This is my main occupation. “
Kucan’s time as the world’s most despised villain ended before the advent of social media like Twitter and Facebook. And that was probably a good thing, said Kucan, because it probably wouldn’t be fun to get a lot of hate messages on the Internet from game fans.
“This is why I try to keep it very low,” said Kucan.
A bad pre-social network
From time to time, the fans recognize it. Three years ago, he was at his brother’s wedding. A guest approached him and recognized him from C&C. Then the DJ came and asked him if he was the director of The Public Fit Theater Company.
“I have to say a little satisfying to be recognized for some of the theatrical work I did in Vegas,” he said.
The immediacy of the feedback you get from the theater is what made Kucan stay there, even after tasting the video game industry as Kane. Creating games has been such a long process, and you could never see the fans reacting while you were playing, said Kucan.
“In the theater, it’s immediate,” he said. “The curtain falls at the end and you know how the audience kissed you. Each show is different. It’s the oldest form of storytelling. And I find it satisfying and really precious. “
As for what was memorable about his Kane days?
“I discreetly suspect that I was the first director to put James Earl Jones on a green screen,” he said. “I think it’s true. Because I clearly remember bringing James from his caravan to shoot [Command & Conquer] Tibetan sun. He entered the sound stage and saw this big green screen and a sort of desk sitting in the middle. And he says, “What is that?” “
As for how fans should view Kane, Kucan said, “I think fans should embrace the archetypal nature. The character knows that he is an archetype. I think there is something to be said for the character’s self-awareness. I’m not saying he knows he’s in the video game. But he certainly knows that he is a type of archetype. I think it’s part of the character tradition where he knows, “I’m the bad guy.” “