Marvel’s Avengers Behind the Performance - Usman Ally / MODOKMachine Organism Designed Only for… conversation - we talk to the actor who brought Marvel’s Avengers most dangerous villain to life.
In Marvel’s Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are up against the evil organization AIM. The head of which is the sinister MODOK and we mean that… literally.
Once a mild-mannered scientist called George Tarleton, MODOK is determined to ‘save’ the world from Inhumans - super powered people created after the A-Day tragedy in San Francisco and he’s willing to go to any lengths to do so.
The character has been brought to life by actor Usman Ally, who provides both the voice and performance capture for the villain. We spoke to him about the role, his experiences on the game and why nobody is truly evil.
Hi Usman. Let’s start with a question about the character you play…
Well, who I play is actually a complicated question. It depends on whether you’re talking about George Tarleton or MODOK.
Okay, let’s start with George. Who is George Tarleton to you?
George is somebody who believes in science. He sees it as being the way forward - a way to better humanity and later, he genuinely believes in science as a way to save the world from inhumanity.
I think in that respect, he’s genuinely a good person, but at times, a person’s desire to do something right can be tempered by their ego, and in the case of George, he’s unable to put his ego aside for his aims of what he really wants.
Like most people he has his flaws, but essentially he believes that what he's doing and what he wants to do in this world is right - and for the betterment of humanity.
So how about MODOK?
You know, when somebody’s belief system becomes the loudest thing that they can hear… that’s what MODOK is. He’s basically this exaggerated version of George. He is so hell bent on doing what he thinks is right that he refuses to let anything get in his way.
I think that is oftentimes what you find in villainous characters. They have a belief system that they believe to their core and they cannot understand why somebody else would not see things that way.
How familiar were you with the character before you took on the role?
I wasn’t familiar with MODOK at all. I mean, I knew that there was this character that existed somewhere that was like a giant brain, but I didn’t know the name. I’m sure there have been similar characters to MODOK in other cartoons and stuff like that as well, but that’s about the level of familiarity I had with the character.
So did you have to do research before you started filming?
Yeah, Marvel was really great about giving us access to all of the comics, especially the origin stories. I actually started reading some of the comics from way back in the day where MODOK first appears, which helped me understand who this character is.
You know, it was really interesting seeing the genesis of MODOK and how he’s developed over the years.
I also looked at how different voice actors tackled the character. That tended to be very different to what (Creative Director) Shaun Escayg and I discussed, and what I ended up doing with the character.
It was just fascinating to see MODOK’s journey - how he’s developed, changed, disappeared for a while, and then make a resurgence. Yeah. It’s been great.
George goes into quite a dramatic transformation over the course of the game. How did you reflect that in your performance?
There’s obviously an element of obvious physical change that happens with George as he becomes MODOK. When I started with George, he's up on his feet. He's walking around, he interacts with the people around him. Then after the accident, he is strapped into his chair at all times.
There’s a lot that happens to your performance when suddenly you're asked to just sit down the whole time. You have to find the same levels of connectivity with the other characters, with the story, with the character’s wants and needs - it changes everything, particularly if you’re paying attention to it as an actor.
Was it difficult to find that connection?
Yes, but it was helpful for me to have a visual idea of who I am as a character. The whole thing about doing motion capture for a role like this is that we’re just in this large room imagining everything.
We’re wearing these tight suits that are not particularly flattering - on me anyway! - so it’s helpful to have a visual idea of what the character will end up looking like.
Shaun was always good about sharing those visual representations with us. Just having that and understanding that this person is getting physically frail, but mentally stronger, meant that while his journey was difficult to do, it was there to be had.
I think one of the fascinating things about MODOK in the game, is that even as he becomes more twisted, he still feels like a real human…
Look, I played a lot of villains in my career. Whether it's on television, film or video games, I can never approach a villain thinking that they are just a bad guy. As an actor, I feel that you're starting in the wrong place if I step into the role like that.
I have to understand the logic of this character, and I have to make sure that his logic and his truth are clear to me.
Then it's my job to make my audience at the very most empathize or sympathize with him. If they can't do that, at least walk away saying ‘I don't agree with this guy, but I see where he's coming from.’
So what was the key to that with MODOK?
A lot of that was drawing on the backstory that we created for George. Even in the trailer, you see where he talks about finding a creature as a child and what impact that had on him. Then seeing his father deal with that creature…
It’s about taking those moments of real human experience that he’s had, how they color his perspective in the present, and what will happen in the future of the storyline.
I approach every character with that in mind and when you think about it, this guy is not bad. He’s not a villain. He has a clear perspective on why things should be the way they are, and it’s my job to make you understand that.
Is there a scene or moment that stands out as a particular favorite?
There are a few. (Thinks) One that stands out in my mind as we speak is a scene between MODOK and Monica Rappaccini, where he discovers that she might not have been completely honest with him.
It’s quite an emotionally heart-breaking scene for George and a key moment really. Having such a meaningful, well-written scene was great, and I know that both Jolene (Anderson) and I really enjoyed it.
What was the most memorable things about playing MODOK?
Working with Marvel has been great - it’s a really enjoyable world to play in. MODOK himself is a fascinating character. He goes through this amazing journey and you get to see it happening physically and emotionally in front of you. That’s a great thing to grapple with as a performer.
I'd be remiss if I didn't say that it's very important for me to be given a chance to play a character like this. 10 years ago or maybe even less, people who look like me would not be given the opportunities to play these sorts of roles.
I think it is important that Marvel has been very inclusive. For example, very rarely have I worked with directors of color, and having worked with Shaun twice now, I think he’s exceptionally talented. And again, it’s important that these opportunities are provided.
It’s also important that we have a game that has a Super Hero of color who’s Muslim and South Asian, and that’s very meaningful to me as a Muslim South Asian who never saw that kind of representation growing up. Ever. I think that’s genuinely great.
You can experience Usman Ally’s compelling performance as MODOK in Marvel’s Avengers, out now for PS4, Xbox One, Stadia and Steam.
Many thanks to Usman for taking the time to talk about the character with us. To stay up to date with his many roles and current projects follow him on social media:
And for more news, updates and information about Marvel’s Avengers, follow the team too: