Freddie Prinze Jr. is more than a Hollywood icon. The actor is also a passionate DC Comics fan, and a lover of RPG tabletop games. Thanks to DC Universe All Star Games, Prinze is now sharing his love of both things with the entire world, in a one-of-a-kind unscripted show. We recently had a chance to sit down with Prinze, who talked about his childhood gaming experiences, his friendship with his co-stars, his favorite DC stories, and his dream DC movie pitch.
It’s great that your passion comes through in DC Universe All Star Games. Was the show's RPG -- the classic DC Heroes -- the first such game you played as a kid?
Yes, this was my introduction, and this was the game that actually linked me into Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn’t the other way around, even though D&D existed before this. I only cared about superheroes. If you weren’t Batman, then I was like, "Whatever, man." It didn’t matter to me. I loved comics as a kid, and Batman was the best. He covered all his bases all the time, and then they would just punish him because of his perfect plan, and they were always perfect. Every once in a while it would go wrong, and it would just be so tragic that it would break you as a fan. I always connected to those books. I even played the video games, Injustice and Injustice 2. So I’ve always loved the games, the characters, the storylines, and all that stuff.
What was your experience like as a new gamer?
It was a very easy world for me to jump into and be willing to learn something new. When you’re a kid, that’s kind of weird and awkward, but we literally played it the same way this show is scripted/unscripted, which was in detention. A bunch of kids who didn’t know each other, and this kid busted it out because the teacher wasn’t in there, and we started the game. We couldn’t finish. We only had about 45 minutes, and so we all ended up going to this dude’s house, even though we weren’t friends. I didn’t even like him! He was kind of a jerk to me as a kid, and we finished the game with our characters and finished the whole story.
What gave you the idea to center an unscripted show around the game?
Years later, my partner from GEGGHEAD, which is our game channel, called me from Vancouver and he was like, "Dude, I just found the DC Heroes game." I was like, "The 88 one?" He goes, "No, bro. That’s just what you played. 85!" I was like "Buy it. I’ll pay for it. Buy it." So he gets on a plane, and... I had a mutual friend of [our producer] Paul [Malmont], who also happened to work for Warner Bros. I said "I’ve got a weird idea with an IP that you guys own. Can I pitch it? It’s not going to be something you’ve ever done. It’s going to feel foreign and weird, but you’ve just got to trust me." He told me to pitch it to Paul. And so, I talked to Paul and Veronica [Baker], and I gave them the pitch, and they were quiet, which either means it’s the worst pitch ever or you’ve got a shot. And they kind of exchanged a look that indicated they understood what the look meant, but I wouldn’t. But I kind of knew, because I’ve been in this game a while too. I knew it was not a no. They said, "We want to try to make this work." And then Paul talked to me because, again, this isn’t something any network or streaming service has ever done. These only exist on YouTube and Twitch, and there’s a proven business model for it, which is an easier yes for executives, but it’s still never been done here.
I was like, "Trust us. We can do this. We know how to shoot this, and I have the best gamemaster in the business. His name is Sam Witwer, and he’s just going to crush this." And they liked the '80s vibe that we put together to wrap around it. So it’s not just a game that was made in the '80s, but the storyline is also incredibly '80s-centric, and pays tribute to all my favorite '80s movies from John Hughes. They took a huge chance on us. This was such a passion project for me, and I’m so proud of how it turned out, and I’m so proud of everybody involved. I just can’t say thanks enough to Paul and Veronica for taking a chance on us, because I don’t think anybody else would have. This team just jumped all over it, and embraced it.
You even have a butler!
Yes, a butler with a British accent, who’s really from Minnesota, and he was so cool. [Laughs.] They included Michael Keaton’s Batsuit. We got Michael Keaton’s Batcave computer. It was so '80s out, and we were all just sitting there at one point like, "This is crazy. I can’t believe they’re letting us do this." It was a ton of fun. And I’m telling you, the best gamemasters are storytellers, and the story he wrapped around this, he makes us earn everything. My best power at the beginning of this show is my annoyance skill. Okay? I have to earn everything that could potentially be considered super, as does everyone else. But my annoyance skill comes into play early on, and I’m a highly effective dice roller, which you will see when you watch this show. My rolls are usually nice. We’re all working together. So we’re praying for each other’s success.
Speaking of working together, you have great chemistry with the rest of the cast. You’ve worked with some of them before...
Casting the game is the hardest thing to do. There’s a lot of groups that don’t click. There’s a lot of groups that don’t vibe. That’s the biggest challenge in doing this, it really is. Everything else is completely doable because they’ve built stages before, they’ve painted props before, and Sam [Witwer] has told stories before. The hardest thing is putting together the cast and the group. Vanessa Marshall and I had met on Star Wars: Rebels, and we did another RPG from Edge of the Empire, which is a company called Asmodee. We called it GEGG WARS, and it was D&D but in Star Wars, and she was one of the players on that. She and I were sitting right next to each other when we did all those episodes, and Sam was the gamemaster. So I already had a strong sense of how Vanessa played, and she brings an innocence and a purity that I think represents a big portion of television watchers. She really is morally sound. She gets taken advantage of because she’s so nice sometimes, and I’m the one like, "Vanessa, you’ve got to be mean sometimes. You’ve got to be tough." And she tells me, "Freddie, you’ve got to be nicer." We have a cool relationship like that, and that’s a good dynamic, because I’m the opposite.
What does the rest of the cast bring to the table?
Clare Grant is one of the most competitive gamers that I know. She hates losing. She’ll play dirty, and she’s super creative in RPGs with how she wants to create chaos. In a D&D game, she’d be called the chaotic neutral. She wants to start some trash, and then see what happens, and see how the guys react to it. And that’s very different than Vanessa. I thought that was a good dynamic, and both of those women have strong personalities, but are on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as game personalities go. And then Xavier is Xavier, alright? He’s Xavier Woods from WWE, and he created his channel Up Up Down Down a few years ago. They have like 4 million subscribers. They play RPGs, and he and I play together. We hang out, we talk, we go to indie wrestling shows together since he blew his Achilles. He can’t wrestle right now, and he was in rehab when we did this. His foot was still in a boot. I was like "Dude, you’re hurt, come play games." And I know the energy that he brings. He’ll commit to any kind of circumstance and just roll with it, and you need people like that, right? So I bring him in, and that brings different eyeballs to it, which they get excited about. I’m just excited that I get to play a game with my friend, who I know is money.
How would you describe your role in the game's story?
I play a dork and a nerd, not a hero in this, and that’s really fun for me to kind of commit to and get to play with. Sam created very different characters, and I kind of cast the people that I thought would work best for that. So the whole cast is super different. We’ve all worked together before in one way, shape or form. And that’s why that vibe is good, and that’s why casting famous people that don’t play games is never going to work as far as getting a game sold honestly to an audience from a network, and that’s usually the speed bump you run into. Because not all gamers are famous. We could do a different show called Freddie Teaches Famous People How to Play Games, but that’s not this show. So I’d run into that speed bump a lot, and DC was adamant that they have to be legit gamers. They have to be people with a genuine passion for this and for the DC product.
Clare and I cosplayed as DC characters on our social media years before. I have a whole series where I play Deathstroke and it’s called ‘Bleep Deadpool,’ because that guy stole my career, and I do this whole thing -- he’s basically on a couch, and he’s talking to a shrink, and the shrink happens to be Deadpool. It’s an impressionist that I know who does a sick Ryan Reynolds. And he asks, "Why do you hate him?" And I answer, "What do you mean?! He stole my life! He stole my career!" So we already had a passion for DC characters, and that was visible. This is just our love for the brand, so let us play this game here. So they knew we were authentic to what we were selling them and we weren’t just trying to sell them something. And that’s why the cast vibes the way they do.
What are your favorite DC stories?
That’s easy. I have two favorite Batman stories. One is The Long Halloween, which everybody knows. But I didn’t experience it until it was in a trade paperback. So it was made even more special. I didn’t even know that it was out at that point in time. I was doing movie after movie after movie, and I had finally stopped. I went to this comic shop. I don’t even know if it’s there anymore, it was called Universal Comics. This Polish dude named Cat was the guy who owned it, and he gave me The Long Halloween. I must’ve read that story a thousand times if I read it once, and then there was this random Batman comic, "Venom," where he basically gets addicted to steroids. It was brutal -- it just broke my heart, and he literally goes to Alfred in withdrawals asking for help, and I was just like, "What has this writer gone through? What has this writer seen in their life? What is it that they’ve experienced?" It just ripped me apart, and it was also where he started feeling more super, and he was all of a sudden doing things beyond his normal abilities, and he was feeling great about it, and then when he had to stop taking it. That was another one that just really grabbed hold of me.
The Injustice storyline with Superman to this date is still my favorite Superman storyline that’s ever been told. They gave him so much baggage to deal with, and they gave him such horrible consequences to the choices he felt compelled to make, while staying true to that character. And it was the first time I ever really had sympathy for that guy, and he was being a bad guy. Spoiler, the game’s been out for years. He ends up being a bad guy in this, and I kind of clicked with it. Sometimes you can’t be super. It was a really great story that appealed to me a lot. So I always clicked with that.
Who are your favorite DC characters?
My thing with DC, I’ve always wanted them to focus on horror, because I feel their catalogue of villains is so rich, so much richer than their competitors, and they could just play in that, and instead of using them as fodder for a hero to get over, you could establish them in their own film. You could do a Solomon Grundy horror film, and just make it Friday the 13th, only it’s Solomon Grundy going off in the Slaughter Swamp killing a bunch of pretty people that we’re supposed to believe have more problems than us. And then when he kills them, we’re almost glad. Then in the next movie, you beat him up. But in this one, he gets away. Or a standalone Scarecrow movie. I would love to see a psychological thriller where this guy’s just wreaking havoc and gets away with it. The villains in DC have always been something that kind of captivated me much more than any other publisher has ever put out. We have a ton of bad guys in the show. I even got an education on a couple characters that I didn’t know existed in the DC Universe. We play with a lot of the villains, and we reveal them in a unique way that other shows don’t, which I think is super smart, and my favorite villain of all time in the game. I can’t say who it is, because it’s a reveal, but he’s a master of disguise. We’ll leave it at that. And Ron Perlman did a great job as him in the animated series. [Laughs.]
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