Jasmin Savoy Brown Interview – Voice of Phin Mason aka The Tinkerer in Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Jasmin Savoy Brown is an actor, activist, writer and singer. You might know her from her role as Evie Murphy in the Leftovers or Allison Adams in the Shondaland legal procedural, For the People. However, most of our readers will know her best from her roles in two of the largest games of the past few years. In 2019 she played Abby ‘Super Spesh’ Walker in the game Wolfenstein: Youngblood and most recently she played Phin Mason aka The Tinkerer in the PS5 launch title Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
This weekend I got to sit down with her to chat about her experiences working on the game, how she made the character her own and her plans for the future.
Can you tell us about your character, Phin Mason?
So, Phin and Miles were best friends growing up, they went to the same schools, spent a lot of time together, their families were pretty close, and they are both really smart. I think Phin is smarter [laughs] and I’m right. But they are both really smart.
When they were going to high school there was a lottery system for who got in and unfortunately Phin wasn’t picked, and Miles was and so they went their separate ways. I feel like that’s just the classic middle school to high school journey, I have those friends that I just lost touch with in high school.
Then they went through their own sets of tragedies and growth and came back together at a very specific time in both of their lives. Miles didn’t know everything that Phin had gone through [Spoilers] with the loss of her brother. They both processed those tragedies very differently and Phin, I mean listen, I look at her from a very specific perspective. From my point of view, she is doing the right thing.
I like to think of her as an activist, of course she wanted to avenge her brother’s death and, y’know, heal that part of her, maybe not in the best way. But she is an activist, she wanted to protect other people and keep other people safe from the people that were doing wrong. Through those desires she became The Tinkerer. Using her incredible intelligence to try and protect other people and Miles/Spider-Man saw it differently.
In the comics, the character has traditionally been an older white man, how did you approach this character change?
Yeah, I didn’t think about it at all. I didn’t think about it at all because I am not an old straight white man, I am a young queer black woman and so I only know the perspective I know. I think that perspective, not particularly mine, but anything that’s different from the binaries we are usually presented need to be explored a lot more. It’s not only exciting, but very important. So, I literally didn’t think about it once, it was just like, of course this is how it should be and thank you for trusting me to play this character.
I feel like I understand those questions about approaching things differently, they feel similar to asking “How to approach a queer character vs a straight character” when they are just another person. I understand the importance and the relevance and the value but it’s not on me to think about, that’s on the people who think it’s a big deal that I played this role as opposed to an old white man.
It looks like your portrayal of Phin has really resonated with a lot of fans, why do you think that this new approach to an old character has become so popular?
I think a big reason that my playing of Phin has resonated with people is because there are a lot of people, a lot of gamers who are female identifying. There are a lot of people out there who are people of colour. I am a queer person so every character that I play, unless it is specified otherwise in the script, I am going to portray as queer and there was no talk, no mention, no lines in the script about Phin’s sexuality so I decided for myself that she was queer.
That’s up to each individual playing to decide for themselves what they think but that’s how I see her. So, I think a big reason my portrayal of her resonated with so many people is that so many people saw themselves in Phin. People who don’t get to see themselves in those roles in video games that often. At least, not as often in a positive light. We’re getting more female characters who aren’t just sexualised, and we are getting more characters of colour who aren’t just one dimensional or just a bad guy and that’s really exciting. We still have a ways to go.
I also think my approach is maybe resonating with people because the story, me aside, is one of love and it’s all about love of family. Miles and Rio, their love literally is blood, Miles and Phin, they are not blood but they are family. Those stories always resonate with us as people because love is the most important thing, but this year especially. When we have been kept apart from those we love so much, and we aren’t seeing them. A lot of us are choosing not to see them or we are seeing them and not hugging them or wearing masks to keep them safe.
So, this intense juxtaposition, at least for me, has heartache. I haven’t hugged my Mom in months but also feel pride and love to know that I’m keeping her safe. This game obviously would have resonated no matter when it was released but the impact this year I think is exceptionally relevant because of that. Add on top of that, everything happening with police brutality. We are actually talking about that as masses. I’ve been having these discussions for ever but on a larger scale everyone is having these conversations and I feel like that’s going on in the game. There’s so much going on that is relevant and I think all of those feed into why me as Phin has had such an impact on people.I’m so deeply honoured that that’s the case.
You’ve done some voice acting work in the past as well as now appearing in two recent games Spiderman: Miles Morales and Wolfenstein Youngblood, are there any challenges to this sort of work?
It is so much fun and part of why it’s so fun for me is because it’s so challenging. I’m sure you’ve seen behind the scenes of the making of these games with all the dots and in this huge room with thousands of cameras and there’s no set.
It’s so terrifying and when you are shooting a TV show or a movie, let’s say you are halfway through a scene and you flub line, that’s ok you can just go back a line or half a line and reset myself and keep going. In video games we have to start over completely, there’s no resetting. So that’s really scary if it’s a seven-page scene and you get to page six and mess up a line and we have to start over.
There is so much pressure. So, that is terrifying and then what started out as a challenge ended up becoming really fun to me and that was not having a set and not having many props. Like, we’d have a prop but say my prop was a cell phone, it was really just like a cardboard rectangle that I’m pretending is a phone. Or all of Phin’s stuff that comes out of her arms. I would just put my arm out and imagine it’s there or someone would then set something in my hand, and I have to take it but not know that someone set it there. All this technical stuff and wanting breath-taking performances [laughs], it’s a lot. But I would do it every day, it’s so much fun.
Film and TV production has been hit hard by the pandemic; did it impact the voice or performance capture work on Spiderman?
Yeah, we were recording up until I would say July, maybe even August. So fortunately, my roommate at the time built me a little recording studio in the closet. It’s truly just the foam topper from a bed folded into half a circle shape and stapled to the wall. But it worked and we did a lot of recording and remote sessions of just VO stuff.
Actually, you know what? They did send me a camera, a head mounted camera. So, there was a day that these important looking people dropped three huge suitcases on my front porch. There were just wires and equipment in my apartment. The ethernet ran from this room to that room, there were cords everywhere. I had the head mounted camera, the pack and all of this gear and I did this all in this tiny little closet.
It was hot, it was sweaty, and I had to tell my neighbours that I will be screaming a lot and I’m OK, I’m just acting. It worked out! You can’t tell the difference.
Do you have any history with gaming or esports?
I’m newer to this whole world. I didn’t play many video games until shooting Wolfenstein: Youngblood, then I was like, “You know? This is really cool. I’m going to start to venture into this.” So, it’s only in recent years that I’ve started playing games and just a few, the ones that everyone loves and knows. But yeah, I’m new to this whole thing and it’s really exciting.
What’s next for you?
I have some exciting stuff coming in 2021. It’s that classic, “I can’t tell you yet, watch my Instagram.” But, January of 2022, I am so fortunate to be in the new Scream movie. We just wrapped that like three weeks ago. So, watch out for that.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is out now for the PS4 and PS5, pick it up if you want to check out some awesome gameplay and fantastic voice acting.