Actor Robert Kazinsky says World of Warcraft saved his life

In the film, Robert Kazinsky plays an orc warrior named Orgrim Doomhammer.
In the film, Robert Kazinsky plays an orc warrior named Orgrim Doomhammer.PHOTO: REUTERS

Robert Kazinsky, who stars in the movie adaptation of World Of Warcraft, in which he was once a top player, says interacting with other gamers helped him through a tough patch

Looking at Robert Kazinsky, you would have a hard time believing he was once an overweight World Of Warcraft addict who got dumped by his girlfriend for spending too much time on the fantasy game.

But the 32-year-old British actor, who, at one point, gained 23kg because he was playing online 18 hours a day, says it was all worth it because it got him through a dark time in his life.

Once ranked one of the top players in the world, he also believes his experience with the game helped him land a role in the movie adaptation, Warcraft, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Still a hardcore fan, he says he "would've swept the floors" on the set of the film by director Duncan Jones (Source Code, 2011) - an origin story for one of the game's key conflicts, the war between humans and a race of creatures known as orcs.

"I would've killed many puppies to be a part of this film and I'd have done any part in it. I think I literally offered to pay the studio to have a role in it," he quips.

"For me, this game has been my life for 12 years, so it feels like a full circle for me to be in the movie. And there was nothing - not rain, not sleet, not an armoured ogre - that could stand in the way of my being in it."

  • What is World Of Warcraft?

  • More than 100 million people have played World Of Warcraft, a series of video games that has become one of the most popular MMORPGs, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, since its launch 12 years ago.

    At the height of its popularity in the late 2000s, more than 12 million registered users were paying US$15 (S$20) a month to access the subscription-based game, in which vast numbers of players interact in a virtual world full of monsters and magic underpinned by a detailed mythology.

    Each player selects a character or avatar within one of the warring factions, then competes or cooperates with other players to go on adventures, raids and quests, collecting rewards and in-game items such as gold as they do.

    The first version of the game released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004, Warcraft: Orcs And Humans, set up the conflict between orcs and humans that is explored in the new film, Warcraft.

    Today, World Of Warcraft has an estimated six to seven million subscribers.

    Half of them are in China, where enthusiasm for the game has not been deterred by government censorship and attempts to combat gaming addiction, and where the movie is expected to be a hit.

    Alison de Souza

Alongside co-stars Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton and Toby Kebbell, Kazinsky plays an orc warrior named Orgrim Doomhammer, his face and body transformed into the creature using motion capture-aided computer-generated imagery.

After spending a few minutes with him, you realise he might be dead serious about doing anything for the role. This was especially true "back in 2009 and 2010, when I was playing this game an awful lot", he tells The Straits Times in an interview in Los Angeles.

Kazinsky was already a well-known actor in his native England then, having played a villainous character on British soap opera EastEnders between 2006 and 2009.

However, it resulted in abuse from fans, some of whom would drunkenly approach the actor and insult or throw punches at him, which turned him into an agoraphobe who became afraid to leave the house.

"It was really bad. I was broke, this was all I had, so I just threw myself into this game. I was definitely playing it too much to be in a relationship and my girlfriend at the time said to me, 'It's me or the game'.

"I said, 'Well, I'm always going to be a gamer, so this is just something you have to get used to'. And she left me, which was completely right for her to do."

"But," he adds with a grin, "Now I'm doing this movie, so who's laughing?

"Because when you've put about 600 days into a game, it's depressing if you're not making a movie about it.

This has made it okay," he says, before hastily adding that while few other World Of Warcraft players can say the same, he is "making this movie for all of them too".

The star - who appeared on fantasy TV show True Blood (2009) and the robots-versus-monsters movie, Pacific Rim (2013) - also ventures a bold guess about how Warcraft will do at the box office, although he concedes that most movies based on video games have not done well.

The idea of a "video-game-movie curse" is "well-earned", he says.

"Because you can't take 100 hours of gameplay and put it into 90 minutes of film. It just doesn't work."

"I don't think there's been a good one," he adds, although this was before the film based on the Angry Birds video game was released last month and became a hit.

"I mean, there have been shades of bad. The Super Mario Bros. movie is at the bottom," he says of the 1993 box-office bomb. "And 2014's Need For Speed is okay."

But games such as World Of Warcraft and action-adventure title Assassin's Creed, which has been turned into a Michael Fassbender film to be released later this year, are different because "they're filmic in their delivery and quality".

"So these are great stories that are as ready to be turned into a film as any book ever was," he says.

"And World Of Warcraft was the first iteration of that kind of game - one that had a living, breathing lore and a history to it.

"I was worried because there is that fear about video-game movies. But that curse doesn't worry me any more because I've seen the movie and I know it will break that and be the first film to herald in a golden era of computer-game adaptations."

Early box-office forecasts suggest his confidence might not be misplaced. Despite mixed reviews and relatively modest earnings predictions for the United States, Warcraft is on track to becoming a huge international hit, thanks to China, a major market for the game that is witnessing new records for advanced movie ticket sales this week.

But you get the feeling that even a moderate commercial success would satisfy a gamer like Kazinsky, who still plays regularly even though he is no longer "scheduling auditions around my World of Of Warcraft raid times".

"Gaming is an incredibly social thing" because of the relationships formed with other players online, he adds, adding that this is something critics of gaming culture tend to overlook.

The star has a girlfriend who understands and enjoys it as much as he does.

"When I was filming a TV show in Canada last year, I would finish and go home and my girlfriend would finish work at home here in Los Angeles and we'd play Borderlands together every single night," he says .

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Saved by the video game'. Print Edition | Subscribe