Earlier this year, Borderlands fans were devastated to learn that actor Troy Baker would not be reprising his role as Rhys in Borderlands 3. At the time, publisher Gearbox’s co-founder Randy Pitchford said Baker “turned it down,” but a recent interview with Baker makes things sound more complicated.
Baker is a beloved voice actor who’s voiced dozens of video game characters including Booker DeWitt from BioShock Infinite, Samuel Drake from Uncharted 4, and Snow in Final Fantasy XIII. Baker is also a member of SAG-AFTRA, the union representing voice actors. In an interview with VG247, Baker says that’s what prevented him from joining the cast for Borderlands 3.
“It was simply a matter of they wouldn’t go union,” Baker told VG247 of Gearbox. He continued:
“I can’t do a non-union gig. And without getting too deep into the weeds of that, we had long conversations about this. We always knew going into it, that this was going to be the thing. They were going to take these characters, and put them from the Tales from the Borderlands series from Telltale, into Borderlands proper. I’ve been waiting for this call. They were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ They never, because they would never move from that position. I’m not mad. It’s invariably a completely different character, but it still stings.”
Baker had previously voiced his desire to reprise the Borderlands role in at least two public instances, VG247 reports. Once, at a Supernova Melbourne panel, Baker said that if Gearbox brought back characters from Telltale’s Borderlands, “It should be the people who originated the characters. They shouldn’t just recast willy-nilly, because as a fan that matters to me.”
Later, in an OnlySP interview, Baker said that he’d “love to come back” and added, “I think it’s interesting that Randy Pitchford tweeted out that I turned it down, and then he said he heard that I turned it down. I would fact-check before I tweeted out to the internet.”
(Pitchford also noted in his April tweet that “With how Rhys appears in the game, I don’t think it actually matters at all. You’ll see for yourself when the game comes out and you may disagree with me on that or not.”)
To remain in solidarity with their union members, SAG-AFTRA members can’t accept work on a production that hasn’t also signed a contract with SAG-AFTRA. SAG-AFTRA voice actors enjoy labour protections like guaranteed minimum rates that boost the labour standards for the industry. A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson had this to say about discussions with Gearbox:
“We applaud any member who stands up for workplace fairness and the integrity of their creative work. It is a courageous decision to act in the best interests of one’s fellow SAG-AFTRA members and this honours all working people.
The misguided decision by Gearbox to deny their performers the opportunity to have fair union wages, a safe workplace and the possibility of health care coverage for their families, is unfortunate.
We attempted to sign Gearbox to a union agreement. They refused and disengaged from those talks.
We look forward to hearing from any Gearbox performer who is interested in the many protections a union agreement offers actors.”
Gearbox provided Kotaku with the following statement:
Troy is an exceptional talent and we were disappointed that he declined to partner on Borderlands 3 after being offered the part. We wish him the best and hope he knows the offer to collaborate with him still stands. Gearbox is a Texas company and is bound by Texas law – which means that a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labour union or other labour organisation.
As a talent-owned and talent-led organisation, Gearbox enthusiastically works to ensure our pay and working conditions meet or exceed union standards. We also believe strongly in hiring local voice actors whenever we can which is why we’re thrilled Troy’s career really took off after working with us.
In response to Gearbox’s statement and questions about why other union actors are voicing Borderlands 3 characters, a SAG-AFTRA representative sent this over:
Gearbox’s reference to Texas law is a non-sequitur. SAG-AFTRA’s contract does not require Gearbox to deny anyone employment based on their union status. In fact, SAG-AFTRA’s contract does not require employers in any state to deny anyone employment based on union status.
We are fully aware of the anti-labour, right-to-work-for-less laws that help explain why Texas has more minimum-wage workers than any state in the Union. Employers in Texas and other right-to-work-for-less states nevertheless routinely work under SAG-AFTRA agreements with no legal obstacle at all. To the extent that Gearbox’s statement reflects legitimate ignorance, Gearbox could easily have asked that question during their discussions with SAG-AFTRA, which they did not.
If indeed Gearbox meets or exceeds our contract standards in their treatment of performers, which we highly doubt, it would have cost them nothing to sign the union’s agreement and retain the original cast of their game. While SAG-AFTRA does not comment on member discipline matters, we observe that SAG-AFTRA members who work for certain non-union employers not only deprive themselves of the benefits of a union agreement, they lower the standards for all their peers and facilitate the abuse and exploitation of performers.
This story has been updated to include comments from SAG-AFTRA and Gearbox.