HomeTech Returning to Senua: Hellblade’s Melina Juergens on Reprising a Role She Never Thought She’d Play

Returning to Senua: Hellblade’s Melina Juergens on Reprising a Role She Never Thought She’d Play

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Returning to Senua: Hellblade's Melina Juergens on Reprising a Role She Never Thought She'd Play

‘YO I hope people can relate to Senua,” says actress Melina Juergens, who plays the title character in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, the newest game from British developer Ninja Theory. “I hope people play it and feel what someone who suffers from mental health issues, particularly psychosis, goes through on a daily basis. (They) come out understanding it and being able to empathize more with people.”

Juergens did not expect to play this role a second time. In fact, he never expected to play it the first time. She was a video editor at the indie game studio when the first Hellblade game, Senua’s Sacrifice, was in development in 2012. “They were looking for an actress, but in the meantime they asked me to step in to help with (performance capture). technological experiments,” she tells me. “At some point they asked me to do a scene. The director really liked it and he offered me the role.”

She did not accept immediately; Furthermore, at first she didn’t really like acting. “I took a few days to think about it. I didn’t really want to be in front of the camera as I’ve always been behind it,” she adds. “I thought it was a great opportunity that I shouldn’t miss because I was scared. So I went out of my comfort zone to do it. “I faced my fears.”

Moving up the scale… a screenshot from Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. Photography: Microsoft

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was released to critical acclaim in 2017, selling one million copies in its first 10 months, and the following year the first-time actress won a Bafta for her performance. You can see why: the game was defined by her haunting performance. The protagonist Senua suffers from psychosis, something that affects approximately three in every 100 people, according to the Center for Addictions and Mental Health – and must deal with the constant voices in his head and the hallucinations that accompany them. As a player, we see all of this from her perspective. The sequel, out this week, is set in 10th-century Iceland and features the Celtic warrior seeking revenge against northern raiders who killed her lover.

Developer Ninja Theory was acquired by Microsoft for $117 million in 2018 and its new studio is in Cambridge city centre. Designed by a boutique hotel specialist, the office has its own motion capture stage in the basement and an adjoining pub called The Bird or Worm? – a reference to Heavenly Sword, one of their previous games. This represents a big change from how the first game was made, says studio head Dominic Matthews.

“It didn’t look like a game studio, it looked like a call center,” he says. “We had an old-fashioned meeting room, which was right next to our kitchen, where we had a coffee machine and also made all our moves. “We had to make sure people didn’t get in there (while we were recording).” Twenty people worked on the original Hellblade; This time, it was four times as many. Naturally, expectations are higher, but the studio continues to operate as usual.

“Hellblade is not a Hollywood blockbuster,” says Matthews. “This game is a quality independent film.” Screenwriter Lara Derham echoes this sentiment: “We have the resources to do a little more than we could before, but we’re not a huge team. “We’re smaller than most triple-A games. I think that independent spirit runs through us.”

Ninja Theory spent 70 days motion capturing Hellblade II’s combat, compared to two days for the first. One of those days, the professional stunt team Lucky 13 Action was recruited for some scenes. “They hung a giant ship from the ceiling of the mo-cap stage. I was able to perform on the boat as it rocked while people pushed it back and forth,” says Juergens. “Another scene was with a gyroscope, when I was able to hang from the ceiling of the mo-cap and do spins and swim and stuff like that. “It’s a lot harder than you would expect.”

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While Hellblade II moves up the scale, more will undoubtedly be made of the raw emotion of its lead performance and its handling of Senua’s mental health. “(Senua) is less afraid of voices and visions. She hasn’t overcome them or cured them, she just has more control,” Juergens says of the character’s evolution. “She meets new people along the way. Some appreciate her unique perspective, others reject it. There could be some conflict there.”

And what about Juergens? Are there still conflicts there? “I still have performance anxiety,” he admits. “But I think I’m more confident now because I can handle it a little better.

“It’s not about overcoming fear. I still have that fear. It’s about facing it, having more control, like Senua.”

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