I was able to sit down with Neil Newbon earlier this month to talk about his role as Astarion in Baldur's Gate 3. During which, we talked about his love of tabletop, as well as the more sensitive aspects of playing the character. We also chatted a bit about what it was like to mocap a certain scene that's been making the rounds on the internet.
In case you've been failing your perception checks, on July 7 Larian Studios did a "Panel From Hell" release showcase. In it, they showed an optional sex scene with the druid Halsin, who can turn himself into a bear. You see where this is going.
Astarion's face has been associated with this unorthodox expression ever since. What's utterly surreal news to me, however, is that Newbon—who is also a performance capture artist and consultant—guided Halsin's voice actor Dave Jones through that intimate moment.
"I got to direct Dave Jones in that bear scene," Newbon says, "I did not know they were gonna use Astarion as the model. So I was the director in his scene, doing that stuff, and then saw it later with my character. It was very fucking meta."
Despite the surreal elements involved, Newbon says they treated it like any other scene that might make people uneasy. This is in keeping with the game's use of intimacy coordinators, and from what he's told me, there's been a consistent effort to keep everyone comfortable.
"Larian has been great to include intimacy directors very early on, And also, whenever an actor wanted them. They flagged every [intimate] session: 'This is this kind of stuff, do you require an intimacy director?' … They're so incredibly good at keeping a safe space for the actors, as well as the crew, because the crew gets affected by stuff too."
This all spawned out of an initial question I'd asked about what it was like to do an early Astarion scene, wherein the vampire spawn goes in for a midnight snack on your character's neck. I am predictable, so I of course let the pretty man have a feast on my tiefling Paladin. Look, my Oath didn't say anything against hickies. "My favourite bit of that is when he gets caught, and just goes 'Shit.' … It was great fun, especially doing silly things like that, like biting somebody's neck on the floor."
My own personal choices aside, Astarion's also become the subject of thirst on the world wide web, bear loving notwithstanding. This is obviously due to the character's good looks, something I can confirm via my intense journalistic research of staring at him a lot during my 80-hour playthrough. However, a character receiving that kind of attention can be understandably strange for the actor behind them—Newbon, thankfully, doesn't seem to mind.
"I think it's incredibly flattering … I don't have an issue with it at all. For one, I keep my private life quite private, because I want people to focus on the characters … So when people have 'the thirst' or whatever you call it these days for Astarion, I'm definitely removed from that, 'cause it's like: 'Oh cool, they love the character or they really dig this aspect of the character that I helped create!' … So for me, I think it's a glorious compliment.
"I think [Astarion] is the community's character. For fans of the game, the characters become theirs, in a way—and I think it's great. All I'm doing is going: here's the story. Whether you like it or hate it, as long as you have a reaction, I'm cool with it … Neil gets to be very chuffed that a lot of people were entertained. Astarion gets the ego trip of being thirsted after."