[Note: this article contains spoilers for Life is Strange and the first two episodes of Before the Storm.]
While Life is Strange mixed supernatural mystery with teen angst, Deck Nine's prequel Before the Storm has taken a more true-to-life approach, concentrating on protagonist Chloe’s relationships with those around her. In the first two episodes we've been introduced to a younger version of the character with considerably less blue hair dye (voiced by Rhianna DeVries) during a turbulent period of her life—her father was killed in a car accident, her best friend Max has left for Seattle, her mom is dating an unemployed ex-military douchebag, and she's dangerously close to being kicked out of Blackwell Academy.
Chloe at age 16 is utterly alone—until Rachel Amber crashes into her life.
In the original Life is Strange, Rachel was the enigma that drove the storyline, the missing girl whose absence stirred up the town of Arcadia Bay and brought its secrets to light. But in Before the Storm she's not a plot point. Voiced by Kylie Brown, Rachel's unabashed confidence, dubious motives, and intense relationship with Chloe provide the game’s heart.
With the third and final installment 'Hell is Empty' due on December 20, we caught up with Kylie Brown to talk about the experience of recording Before the Storm, what she would like to see happen to Chloe and Rachel, and how the game has changed her life.
PC Gamer: I just watched the new trailer for Episode 3. How are you feeling given that this is the last time Life is Strange fans will ever see Rachel Amber?
Kylie Brown: It’s kind of a bittersweet thing because this is kinda the last time there will be the hype for an episode. So I’m so excited to see it, but it’s sad! It’s coming to an end, and we all know what Rachel’s fate is. It’s so sad, but it’s been a journey.
How did you get involved with Life is Strange: Before the Storm initially?
Initially, oh God! It’s been a few months, I think the process started in February, and I didn’t even know what I was auditioning for. It had a codename. I can’t remember what it was but I’ve called it Mike before, Project Mike—it was filled with codenames. My character wasn’t even Rachel, it was like Rebecca, I believe.
When I first went in to the audition I walked into the room and there’s just a microphone. I’m not used to that! It was just Phil [Bache, voice-over director] and a mic, and I didn’t know the protocol for this but it was cool, I could literally just read the lines off the page. So I did that but I wasn’t prepared... I walked in, he gave me a few moments to go over the lines and I did it and thought, "I’m not getting this, that was horrible and I had no preparation." It was all over the place. And then I got a call back.
How do you find the process of voice acting different from traditional acting. Is it more challenging?
I feel like they’re both challenging in their own ways, but they are completely different. When I go to set to film on-screen, you have a call time to be there for hair, wardrobe, makeup, mics—it’s a process until you actually get to set. With voice acting, which caught me completely off guard, I just have to have clothes on [laughs]. It’s such a free experience and I’m so grateful I got to take part. It’s a lot faster as they have a quota of how many lines they want you read per hour, so voice acting they have an A and a B, where you say your lines two different ways and then you move on.
Did you know anything about Life is Strange before taking on the role?
I had never heard of it before now, but Life is Strange has literally changed my life, and I’ve told other people that I’m so thankful that is has come into my life. I get messages from people saying how much strength it’s given them in their life and their sexuality, and that’s such an amazing thing. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity where young girls or young guys that are just like, 'hey, this means a lot to me.' Just because of everything that’s happened, I absolutely love this game. I mean it’s my first big thing, and I’m glad that this thing has an impact on people’s lives in a positive way.
How did you find Rachel’s voice? Did Deck Nine give you much direction or were you free to explore the character for yourself?
Her voice is my voice [laughs]. No, but I didn’t have to do much to find her voice, it was mostly just connecting with the material or being in the emotion. A lot of the time Phil had me in a very sultry voice, so that’s where she lived mostly. A lot of the time he would look at me and I knew something mischievous was going to be coming, and he would say, 'Do that thing that you don’t like to do, but I like you to do because you’re good at it and it works,' and I’m like, goddammit, cause that means being sultry. Bring on the sexy voice!
What were your first thoughts of Rachel from your research and play through of the first game?
When I started doing that research and finding out who she was and how much of an enigma she is and how amazing she is, that’s when the pressure came. I started freaking out cause my main concern was like, 'The fans are not going to like me.'
Rachel is such a polarizing character, people don’t know whether to trust her or not.
I know! I don’t know how to answer that, I just—I love Rachel! I’m biased, I trust her, I love her. She’s a hurt person who’s going through something that none of us wanna go through. Like, you’re in high school and you might have found the love of your life, and you’re finding out that your dad’s been cheating on your mom with your real mom... so her entire life has been a lie. So she’s hurt, and people say she’s a traitor or she cheats or she’s not trustworthy.
Everything leading up to her finding out about her father, she’s been nothing but googly-eyes towards Chloe. Yeah, she likes to play games, but she is a drama queen! Then after she finds out about her dad, wouldn’t it tear you up? Wouldn’t that tear you up to pieces where you’re not thinking clearly? I don’t see her as not trustworthy, I just see her as broken. The same as Chloe.
When you played through the original Life is Strange, in the infamous Bae vs. Bay decision, did you choose to save Chloe or Arcadia Bay?
I got so much hate for this! I chose B-A-Y, because I just think very logically like, if I kill her I get to save all these families and children. There’s this one phrase from that movie The Wanted with Angelina Jolie that I apply to all my videogames now, and it’s "Kill one, save a thousand," and that’s what I thought about—but people still hated me for it!
What aspects of Rachel’s character or personality did you connect with the most?
I mentioned this recently while doing a Twitch stream with Katy [Bentz, Steph in Before the Storm] and some of the other voice actors that I had really bad anger issues as a kid. It’s something I still have but I have learned to keep inside, and it’s seldom now, but when I was a kid a lot could set me off. So, sad to say I guess that’s a part of Rachel I connect with. I mean I didn’t get physical, I didn’t throw any salad bowls. I didn’t start any fires!
The development of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship has quite obviously meant a lot to the Life is Strange fanbase and LGBTQ gamers. What have you found the fan response to be like so far? Is it what you expected?
Oh my gosh, the fan response has been incredible. Everybody is so nice, I have not gotten a single hate message, which I was almost expecting! But it’s like a family, and I have never seen a fandom like that, so I’m honored that they have accepted me as their Rachel and I know I say that a lot but it’s true, I am. It was nothing like I thought it would be, or that it would be so big… because I didn’t know what it was!
At what point did you know what it was?
Literally the second day of recording, and it wasn’t even [Deck Nine], it was Rhianna that told me! She like pulled it up on her phone and showed me everything and I was like, 'Oh man.' What I mean is that I obviously played Life is Strange and researched Rachel before recording so I knew what it was, but I didn’t know what it was, how big it was, until Rhianna showed me this fandom page she was on and I only then realized what I was getting into—and it kept getting bigger and bigger. I thought it was big right off bat, then suddenly the trailer’s out, and it’s produced by Square Enix, then it’s worldwide, then we might be going on panels to talk about this thing. Next thing I know I’m nominated for an award [Best Performance Golden Joystick] out in the UK. I mean, what?
If you could choose how Rachel’s story ends, what would you like to see happen?
You know what I just thought of, I think it would be so cool if Deck Nine did dual storylines. Like you play as Chloe, depending on if you’ve played with Chloe and Max or Chloe and Rachel, now you have to decide if you want to go to LA with Rachel or stay with Max, and then whatever you decide you can get to go on adventures and whatnot, with different obstacles they have to overcome. I think that would be super cool if they did that! And then I don’t die!
Do you know how [Before the Storm] ends?
I actually don’t know how it ends. I mean, I know what occurs with my storyline. They only give us our script for our lines, after that I don’t know what happens. Nothing else. It’s very top secret.
What has been your favorite scene from Before the Storm so far?
I love the witty comebacks Chloe has, but for Rachel my favorite scene has to be the one under the lamppost. Well, I guess that might be everyone’s favorite scene [laughs].
Personally, mine was The Tempest scene.
Oh my god, that was a challenge for me. I’m familiar with Shakespeare, I’m familiar with iambic pentameter, but I hadn’t done it in a really long time. I thought the scene was just going to be your typical drama club version of The Tempest, and Webb [Pickersgill, co-game director] was like 'Yeah so we need this in iambic.' So I told him I would brutally attempt this because it’s not gonna go well.
You did a fantastic job.
Thank you. That was a challenge to do, but it was a great scene and a lot of fun, but the one on the street, right before they kiss, has to be my favorite so far in the series because it’s so grounded and so real. They’re at their most vulnerable in that moment, because they’re first giving in to their feelings for each other. I think that’s the moment when Chloe and Rachel become 'Amberprice', because everyone is rooting for it and now Chloe and Rachel have accepted it and are moving forward with it.
I know you can’t give away anything, but can you sum up what we can expect from Episode 3 'Hell is Empty' in three words?
I have to think about it, because as I said I only know my half of it, but honestly I’ll say 'things get crazy'. Because they really do!
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3 will be out on December 20.