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Striving Towards Diverse, Authentic Representation in Games: Meet Gayle McFarlane, Casting Specialist

February 14, 2024
6 minutes read
Matt West Web Banner

Games are telling ever more diverse stories both in terms of cultures and experiences, and Gayle McFarlane knows the positive impact that authentic portrayals can have on audiences who are often underrepresented. A veteran in the casting and entertainment industry, she shares her unique career journey and what goes into ensuring diverse and authentic representation in games at Ubisoft.

Hey Gayle! Could you tell us a little more about what you do as a Casting Specialist? And what’s your favourite aspect about your role? 

As a Casting Specialist, I am a bridge between the production and talent representatives such as agents and managers. In a nutshell, we provide talent casting for Ubisoft’s performance capture, voice-over and scanning shoots and sessions.  

We process auditions and provide production teams with top notch global talent recommendations based on their needs and budget. After the talent has been approved, we offer, negotiate, and book the performers and process any paperwork required.  

It also helps to be organized and meticulous as we also provide talent coordination. That includes juggling performers’ availability, organizing shoot schedules and arranging travel and accommodations for out-of-town talent.  

My favourite thing about this role is getting to work with such talented performers on a regular basis. Getting to see and create impact behind-the-scenes is really fulfilling. I have always appreciated the talent, skill and determination of actors. It takes a lot to go out there, put yourself on the line and be judged every day with every audition. Witnessing an actor bring a game’s characters and narratives to life is a great feeling.

Gayle 5

Casting authentically and driving representation

What’s your process when casting characters, especially BIPOC characters, in games? How do you and the team ensure authentic representation? 

Authentic representation is a key factor when casting BIPOC characters in our games. We begin with research on the origins of the characters and cast with respect to important details such as family lineage, regional location, descent, or heritage.  

Additionally, Ubisoft searches across Canada to reflect the ethnicity, experience, community, and background of the role being cast. If we can’t find sufficient representation within ACTRA‘s (The Canadian Actors’ Union) membership and diversity catalogue, or the Canadian talent pool, a casting search will be taken abroad.  

We also often work with dialect coaches and cultural consultants to ensure accuracy and proper representation of the characters in our worlds.  

What was your favourite or proudest project you’ve worked on? 

I think I would have to say Far Cry 6. Casting work on that game was challenging and exciting at the same time. There was a lot of diversity in that cast and the characters were unique. Casting assisted in engaging Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz (a Cuban performer) as a writing/cultural consultant on the project to ensure there was an authentic reflection of the Afro-Caribbean roots that were the inspiration for the location and people in the game. 

Additionally, casting characters like Paolo de la Vega, a transgender Libertad rebel, and Rosa Mel Paquete, a drag queen and spymaster of La Moral – the latter of which I had the pleasure of specifically casting were fantastic representations of the 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Our whole team is thrilled by the final outcome. Everything about that game is amazing! 

Paolo-de-la-Vega-Rosa-Mel-Paquete

Why is diversity and representation in games and media important to you? 

While the video game and entertainment industry at large has come a long way with regards to casting authentically, we still have a long way to go. There is nothing like being a BIPOC and seeing a reflection of yourself, your story and your community represented in a positive manner. Everyone should be able to experience that moment when they are inspired by someone or something that showed them they had value and they could do and be anything they wanted to without barriers. It’s important to see those images and characters reflected in games and media.

Career development and life at Ubi 

What did you do before working at Ubisoft? How did you break into the video game industry? 

My path to Casting was not a straight line. Before working at Ubisoft, I was a Junior Voice Over Agent, and then I began my own voice over casting company which I ran for many years. Initially I was hired as a contractor to cast voice over roles for Ubisoft Toronto on Splinter Cell: Blacklist which was released in 2013. 

Being a part of that project was eye opening because I was exposed to the world of storytelling within video games and the development of characters – which you don’t necessarily get to see in casting for commercials. It left an indelible impression on me, so when the opportunity arose for me to join the Ubisoft family, I couldn’t resist! 

In late 2018 I was hired on as a full-time employee. For me, the timing was perfect since I had grown tired of working on my own and wanted to join an exciting and creative team. 

Gayle 8

Late 2018? That means, you recently celebrated five years at Ubisoft! Congratulations on the milestone! What’s the main reason you were drawn to Ubisoft and have remained a part of the team all this time? 

I was drawn to Ubisoft because I wanted to be a part of a larger community where we could all work together to achieve a singular goal — make great video games. 

My first memory of joining Ubisoft Toronto was the energy and the hustle and bustle of the studio. At that time, Watch Dogs: Legion was in full force. It was amazing to see the creative collaboration between departments and all the hard work everyone was putting into that game! It was also my first time being on the MOCAP floor and it was like walking into a dream — a big, scary, amazing, shiny, and exciting dream! 

Community and belonging are also important to me. I’m happily a member of the Black Employees at Ubisoft (BEAU) ERG! I like being in the loop about events and what’s happening in our community. It’s a safe space that provides updates and where I feel a sense of belonging. 

Going back to my earlier point of seeing a reflection of yourself, it’s wonderful to connect with so many faces like mine working at Ubisoft in so many different capacities. It’s very exciting to see! The people in this group have an unspoken bond. 

Any tips for someone hoping to land a similar role to yours? 

My advice would be to gain experience working with talented actors in any capacity. My career journey was not a straight line and I grew professionally within the entertainment industry with the continued passion of working with talented actors and creatives in many different ways, as an agent, a voice casting company owner, and now a Casting Specialist. 

Find a mentor, keep an open mind and apply! At any given time, we could be looking to add to our amazing team. 

What about people interested in being cast in games? Any advice for aspiring actors to stand out to casting teams? 

Ideally as an actor you would have an Agent that we would already have a relationship with. That said, due to the often-detailed nature and specs for our casting we often look far and wide for the perfect fit for each role. Look out for workshops where you can be exposed to the gaming world. Keep an open mind and be willing to take risks.  

If you’re given an opportunity to audition for us, dig into the role and imagine yourself as the character we’ve described even if it’s a giant green alien (I don’t think we’ve cast for that one yet!) I can assure you we review every single audition that is put forth in front of us. 

People of Ubisoft Toronto is a series featuring studio members from a variety of projects and backgrounds as they share their experiences at our studio, perspective of the video game industry and, perhaps, even a sneak peek of what they’re working on! 😉

Our studio values diversity and believes in embracing differences to build stronger and more creative teams. We welcome people who would like to join us and redefine the future of games. Visit our careers page for more information on open roles and how to apply.  To know more about our studio members and culture, click here.   

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