Backstage at this year's DICE Awards, you wouldn't guess that just through the largely vacant room's doors the biggest names in gaming of 2019 were being honored throughout the night. Among the first honorees of the evening was Stargate SG-1 star Christopher Judge, the actor behind God of War's Kratos, who was awarded for Outstanding Achievement in Character for his portrayal. On stage he was joined by director Cory Barlog and co-star Sunny Suljic (who portrays his son Atreus, and was also nominated for the award).
Judge's acceptance speech was long and earnest, with no hum of music to cue him off stage—not that anyone wanted him to. Backstage, I caught up briefly with the winning trio to chat about the most memorable moments of embodying Kratos and Atreus in God of War.
"Probably the deer scene," Suljic tells me after some thought. "It was the hardest one, but there was so much build up and so much just, like, emotion and that's when it really just... I felt completely comfortable after that. Where I just really break the barrier."
In the early game scene, Kratos takes his son Atreus out to hunt. The two are newly alone; with Atreus' mother having passed away in the opening moments of the game. We get the feeling that Kratos hasn't really been around much, so learning how to be a father again is new to him. In the scene, Atreus is gestured to shoot a beautiful deer by his dad, and when they find the still-alive deer overlooking a cliff, he is taught to kill it with his hands to end its misery. Atreus hesitates, before Kratos puts his own gigantic hands over the boy's, forcing the blade down into the deer as it squeals. It's a harrowing scene, culminating in Kratos hesitating too: only his hesitation is putting his hand on his son's shoulder.
For Barlog, the scene has always carried a particular weight, because it left him feeling guilty of his direction style behind the scenes. "The first time we shot that scene, he wasn't getting there emotionally, and I couldn't figure out what to say to try to figure out how to get him there," Barlog says. "He was a vegetarian at the time, and I talked to him about the deer that he was going to kill was somebody's family member. And like, I almost started crying when I was telling them that. I guess I was affected and I walked away and I'm like, 'I'm the worst human being on the planet.' But he absolutely got there, I got that moment. That next take was brilliant."
Suljic paused and turned to Barlog, as the three were seated in a row with the impeccably dressed Judge in the middle. (If there were a fashion nod for best dressed at the DICE Awards, Judge would easily win that too.) "I never got to say it, but I actually thank you for that scene," Suljic says. "If you were to try teach me something, I couldn't learn like in a kid way. I couldn't learn in like a nice way because that's just not the way I was raised. [...] I'd rather just have it straightforward. That's what sets apart a good director from like... a director. You know what I mean?"
Barlog was noticeably taken aback—to the point where I felt foolish waving a recorder in the trio's faces—thanking the young actor. "That is amazing. I've been carrying that weight around for years, so I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Suljic was cast in God of War before Judge, and the two's chemistry was integral to Judge landing the role as the gruff but loving father. When the two were auditioning, fake character names and a fake name were used for the project. They weren't even told it was a video game, due to fears of leaks (and that they'd say no), with it only being noted as a project under Sony. Even with all that secrecy, filming went smoothly. As Suljic tells me, it was stretched for a longer period of time than the movies he's worked on. ("We were very accommodating for it when he was at Cannes Film Festival with Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell," Barlog adds with a laugh, referencing his role in 2017's Killing of a Sacred Deer. Most recently, Suljic starred in Jonah Hill's directorial debut Mid90s.)
As for Judge's award-winning role, he doesn't hesitate in talking about its significance to him. On stage at the DICE Awards while accepting the award, he even said that playing Kratos "changed" him. So for Judge, it's no simple task to pick a favorite scene.
"You know, I can tell you my least favorite," Judge says with a laugh. "Now I'm curious!" Barlog interjects. "That damn boat." They all laugh, with Barlog noting that they did film many, many hours in that probably uncomfortable boat.
"You know, it's like which apple made the apple pie the best. You know it was all good," says Judge. "Like I've never had a job that there wasn't a single day where I woke up and said "Fuck, I got to go work." I literally could not wait for the next day, every day."
With God of War's critical and commercial success in the past year (and its cliffhanger ending), it wouldn't be a surprise if Judge and Suljic get to revisit their now-iconic roles. That excitement to go to work every day again for Judge and company may be just around the corner.