Better known to most Warhammer fans as “James Workshop,” Steve Conlin is also a prolific Black Library voice actor – if you’ve listened to an audio drama or watched one of the animated shorts on Warhammer+, you’ve likely heard his voice in one role or another. When Steve recently announced his availability for interviews on Twitter, we jumped at the opportunity to speak with him about Warhammer, James Workshop, and his upcoming career as a professional wrestler.
Steve, bluntly, rules. He’s an affable guy, and took us about as seriously as we deserve.
Rob: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Black Library. You are a prolific Black library audio drama actor. How did that start? Were you interested in the background before you started working with Black library?
Yes. I mean I was familiar with the IP. I was into it when I was a kid and a teenager and then, like a lot of people, I kind of dropped off but carried on playing the computer games. So the IP has been a constant thing. But yeah, completely unrelated. I answered a casting call because they wanted someone who could do “shouty monster” type voices and I was like, “sure, whatever”. And then a very talented man by the name of Matt Renshaw plucked me out of the group and went, “Oh, your shouting and screaming is very good”, and I was like, “cool, thanks”. When I applied for the job I had no idea it was Games Workshop. I just didn’t know what Black Library was.
So I was like, “Oh, it’s Games Workshop. Alright, okay, cool, that would be fun”. And then it was a lot of fun and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Rob: Is the wrestling more like a hobby or a passion, or was it something you were pursuing realistically? Because I’ve seen the occasional lament over Ring of Honor going away and I sympathize completely, so I was interested in the level of joke vs realism in that “actor/wrestler” bio.
Ah. Well, unfortunately I have not been brave enough at this point to step into the ring. I was supposed to debut before Christmas, but my wrist is currently broken. I’m waiting to get the results of the CT scan to make sure that I can waggle my fingers effectively and then I debut and I start beating people up for real.
Greg: What’s your wrestling like? I don’t know a lot about British wrestling.
It’s huge over here. The last thing I saw was that AEW has more British fans than American fans. Wrestling is big over here. The British wrestling scene is…there’s a reason that quite a lot of the people who are on WWE and AEW have British accents. It’s big, but very under the radar. It’s one of those things, it’s not that dissimilar to how Warhammer used to be before nerd culture kind of came out the closet, where you’d be talking to someone and you’d be like “was that…did you just say…are we friends?” and suddenly you discover that someone was living a double life as a fan of something. But I’ve been into it for a long time. I was a lapsed WWE fan, I guess that’s what you’d call it. Then WCW brought me back in. Those guys, what they were doing was just really exciting and after that I was following the British wrestling scene, and then obviously AEW happened. Big fan there.
Greg: How would you describe your wrestling style? Are you more of a rudos, or a technicos?
I mean to put it very bluntly, I just stand in the middle of the ring and hit people.
Greg: Uh, are you sure you’re not a boxer?
No, because I do also enjoy the occasional headbutt. If you were to put an extra foot on top of Eddie Kingston and make him even more sluggish, that’s what you’ve got. I’m bringing back that style, that’s what I’m doing.
Greg: That’s awesome.
Rob: Okay. we do actually have to ask you about Warhammer or the editors are going to get upset. In terms of screaming, you have voiced a ton of different types of characters, from Space Marines, to Necrons, to Ghazghkull Thraka himself. Do you have a favorite character, or a type of character, to do voices for?
Orks are the best. Orks are easily the most fun to do. Ghazghkull obviously was a career highlight. There was just something particularly fun about coming out with fake Latin high Gothic as Ghazghkull in Orky voice, and it’s always a challenge. I always try and like…what’s the swearing policy?
Rob: Oh boy. Yeah Black Library doesn’t seem to allow…
Greg: …wait, are you asking about our swearing policy?
Greg: It is weapons-free here. You can say cuss words in an Ork voice.
Excellent. Right, well let’s light it up then. Fuck!
What was I talking about? Oh, I always try and fuck with the audio engineers because, of all the people that they’ve seen do Orks, I am the closest. I can just about get to where they need no extra FX on it to deepen it. I think I’m the only person that I’ve seen pull that off.
Ghazghkull obviously has to go even lower so even with me they’re dropping a couple of octaves, but it’s always a challenge to see if I can break the condenser on the mic. Because I’m the shouty screaming guy, you know? If someone is possessed by a Daemon and then explodes halfway through the audio drama, that’s my job. If someone grows an extra larynx and has to sound as if they’re starting a motorcycle engine every time they open their mouth, that’s my job.
The poor audio engineer has a folder of Steve Screaming. Just endless screaming, and it was her dream that eventually, one day, they would not need to bring me in. She could be like, “oh no, I have that”, and grab it from the file, just so that she wouldn’t have to spend three or four hours just holding the earphones away from her head as I roared at her through the glass.
Greg: So, we read an interview where you described yourself as “sexy mustard”. I thought it was actually a really charming way to describe it…
Did I? Like the quality of my voice? That does sound like something I would say. Yes, sexy mustard, yeah.
Greg: It was about the different roles between writers and actors, basically what the interpretation brings to the story versus the writing of it. So the idea was that the acting was like a condiment, and you’re working together. But you specifically used the phrase “sexy mustard”, and my question is: what the fuck?
I’m glad that it traumatized you, because that’s kind of why I’m here. I’ve become significantly more arrogant, I think, since I did that interview. I’m no longer the condiment. I’m now the steak. Everything else is the sides now, that’s where I’m at. Yeah, my ego is bursting.
Rob: So, on the topic of confidence, we have to talk about James Workshop. How did that whole thing come about?
I think I was in HQ in Nottingham doing YouTube, like advert voiceover, and they came in and said “we had an idea, and we think you’d be good for it”. I was like sure, you know, you’re very welcome to give me work and then when he explained what it was I was like “oh hell yeah”, and then it just went from there.
It’s weird, because it feels like we’ve been doing it for quite a long time now, but we haven’t put that many videos out. It’s an annual Christmas thing, but we’ve had James Workshop for a few years now, and he feels different to how he initially started.
Initially we were just kind of messing around in the room that has a green screen in it, and I started trying out different stupid voices and they were like “that one, that’s the one”, and that was pretty much the extent of the preparation that went into it. Now it’s a different process altogether, there’s a team of people who are all in the room throwing ideas around, and I’m there just spouting rubbish, and if it makes everyone laugh, it stays in the script. We all kind of roughly know who he is now, so we can play with it more.
So, a peek behind the curtain: we get a script, but we’re not obliged to stick to it. Obviously if it’s about something, we can’t just make it about something else, we usually do have to include the call to action, but if we don’t like something, we take it out. If we think something could be better, we throw it in. We usually end up shooting twice as much as we need. So yeah, lots of freedom. I’m very lucky, like I say, the team is there to make sure it’s funny and to make sure I don’t end up putting anything in the final product that gets me fired. I would if they weren’t there, I’m not very well behaved.
Rob: Yeah, we saw the Votann thing. How’d that go?
I wouldn’t call it a fun conversation. I got a very panicked email from someone who had effectively been told to fix it. They were planning on doing something else, and then at the last minute they were like “we need to bring in the big guns”. So that’s what they did. We got in there and again, we messed around.
I will say that the original script was a lot more apologetic and I just couldn’t stomach it. I was like, no, no, that’s not what they’re getting. So we made an executive decision to be a lot more rude.
Greg: That’s a key part of the James Workshop Cinematic universe. So are there more plans for James Workshop or should we only expect one the next time the design studio really messes up?
As far as I know, there are Christmas plans, but that’s it. Having said that though, I don’t think I’m speaking out, but every time I ask or every time someone talks to me about it, there always seems to be an idea for some sort of James Workshop Warhammer+ thing, that they end up changing, or deciding they’re going to do something else, or they stick on the back burner. So there’s always the threat of that, but so far they’ve not found something that really clicks with them. We’ll see. I think they’re concerned about playing out the joke, which is fair because it could get stale if we did it too much. It would absolutely ruin it.
Rob: How involved are you in the hobby outside of your work?
I play a bit of WarCry, and I did have a Kill team around here somewhere, but I think it’s in a box. I like the small scale skirmish games. The last person that interviewed me, we just spent an hour talking about Mordheim because we both missed it dearly. That’s where my heart is. I’m the person that preferred Dawn of War II to the first Dawn of War because it was more individual squad-based and it was smaller scale, and that is absolute blasphemy.
Rob: So, in terms of future projects, we should mostly expect to see more wrestling and audio?
Well, I am currently talking to someone about a feature film this year. That would be cool. I don’t have very much info about that, even if I could talk about it. I was talking to a studio that contracts video game audio, like voiceover, so that’s a big maybe. But yeah, probably it’s gonna be wrestling and audio stuff and some more James Workshop, probably. I mean the minute I can get this thing [ED: he’s wearing a cast] off my hand and get back in the ring, you’re gonna be hearing a lot hopefully from that stuff.
Rob: Can you tell us a little about how your wrestling is going?
You know what? Actually, I think no. Because I’m thinking about it now, it would be like explaining the joke before you tell it, I think, does that make sense?
Greg: Can you tell us where you’ll be wrestling? Because we do have a number of UK members and I want to make them go to a wrestling show.
Initially it’s going to be around Nottingham, because that’s where I’m based, but I’m thankfully a quarter famous. It gives me a leg up, so it won’t be quite as brutal trying to break in.
So I should be all over the place, hopefully. I’m already talking to a couple of people about where I’ll actually be debuting.
Rob: What’s your finisher?
So it’s called the Shotgun Lariat, not to be confused with the Buckshot Lariat. It’s just a dumbed-down version of the Rainmaker, right? What’s it called? The word’s completely abandoned me… not “Tug Job”…
Greg: No, but that would be a hell of a finishing move.
Ripcord. There we go. Yeah, it’s like a Rainmaker, but without the Ripcord, I just grab him and hit him. I’m not a complicated fighter. There’s a lot of hitting involved in any of my stuff.
Rob: How’d you get into becoming a wrestler?
I had the absolute pleasure of being taught how to chop by Gabriel Kidd, who is an absolute technical beast. He put me through my paces and taught me how to hit people and I just fell in love with hitting people. You can do lots of things – I like a good spine buster, like a good suplex, especially like a nice capture suplex – but nothing, nothing, beats that catharsis of someone looking at you wrong so you pick him up off the mat and hit him again.
I guess the honest answer, really, is boredom. When Coronavirus hit and lockdown came into place, at the time I was kind of having my career stuff split between voiceover and theater. Coronavirus, at least in this country, just killed theater dead. Even after lockdown lifted, no one was interested in sitting in a big room with a bunch of other people. So there was just nothing. Half of my income evaporated. So I was kind of looking around for something else to diversify my professional portfolio. And someone said, “why don’t you beat people up for a living”? And I was like, “actually, yeah”.
Greg: Interesting. So not the usual “backyard wrestling to jugglalo” pipeline, you came at it through a professional theater background.
Greg: I mean that’s what it is right? It’s just muscle theater.
I grew up on Christian Cage and TNA. That’s my jam. I’d never considered it as something to do myself until I got into weightlifting and I was like, “oh, this isn’t so bad, this moving around thing”. Then someone was like, “you’re big enough to be a wrestler”, and I was like “I am, actually. Yes, that’s true, I’m massive”.
It was very spur of the moment at the time, and I genuinely thought it would be something I would try, and then realize I couldn’t hack it and be like, “well at least I tried”. The exact opposite happened, I was like, “I love getting hit in the face, I’m gonna do this forever now”.
Rob: Do you have a favorite play you’ve been in?
I don’t have a favorite play that I’ve really been in. I’ve definitely got favorite roles because when you’re in it that’s what you’re concentrating on. I don’t really give a shit when anyone else is doing. I like the bad guys – Caliban, Iago, all of the real heels – which might give you an insight into what I’m going to be like in the ring. I’m talking to someone about potentially starting a tag team with and he’s very small. He’s the Spike Dudley to my Kane, I guess, in terms of the size comparison. So my favorite thing to do at the moment is to pick him up and throw him at the opponent like a javelin. That’s my favorite thing at the moment.
Rob: Actually, we never asked. How tall are you?
I’m 6 foot 5. I’m actually huge. So yeah, it was kind of a no brainer when someone suggested that. “Yeah, of course. Why haven’t I?”
I have been lobbying for a shirtless James Workshop video for a while, and they are really not keen on the idea. I cannot stress enough how not happy they are with that.
Greg: I mean, we could. You could call it June…June Workshop…Hammer.
Greg: You know, like J-oon Hammer.
Rob: Greg, what are you talking about?
Greg: I’m saying I can tell you who WOULD be okay with the shirtless James Workshop video. We just might have to change the name to June Hammer. I’m saying if they’re not gonna run it, we would.
Oh, I got you. Yes. June, James, Joonhammer. Yes, I get it.
Greg: Yeah I should have workshopped that one more. I’m gonna edit this out.
Oh no, no, no. Leave it. Play the ball where it lands.
Rob: Are you excited for the Warhammer TV show at Amazon? Like you see people freaking out about Henry Cavill…
He can be involved if he wants, he can do his little project. That’s fine. I mean he does, I don’t know if he reads your thing in particular, but I know that he ingests quite a lot of content around his favorite hobby.
Greg: He’s not going to read this, you can talk wild trash if you want. [ED: Henry Cavill, if you are reading this: hello]
I’m excited to see what they come up with, because it’s either gonna be really good or it’s gonna be hilariously bad and either way I’m gonna be very happy. So yeah, Henry can do whatever he likes. He’s a little angel as far as I’m concerned.
Rob: Is there a dream project for you, besides being in the nude calendar, if they were to give you carte blanche.
Yes, I would like to do a Conrad von Karnstein biopic where I play Conrad and you see his descent into Vampiric Madness. I want to see just how much blood we can show in a single 110 minute span. I mean vampires, man, vampires are the coolest thing, but especially Warhammer Fantasy vampires. Obviously I’d be open to a Night Lords thing as well, that’d be cool. But yeah, Vlad, Manfred, Conrad, I’d even play Isabella if the role was going, that’s my jam. It might just be because they have not yet allowed me to be a vampire in anything and it’s now the one thing that I am desperate to do that they haven’t given me yet. Just let me do the accent and bite people goddammit. They just keep casting other people as vampires and it’s driving me up the wall. Eh, what’re you gonna do?
Greg: It sounds like you’re much more interested in the fantasy side of Games Workshop than the 40K side.
I was originally, definitely. I was there playing Baldur’s Gate and Warcraft and stuff like that when I was a kid. So the fantasy thing was where my head was at when I was collecting and stuff. But not particularly now, I think the fantasy stuff has much bigger nostalgia vibes for me. There’s some very cool 40k stuff, but yeah, I like all of it, which is the boring answer. Except Eldar. No. I would take some Dark Elves, in both fantasy and 40K. Dark Elves are awesome, but like Elder and High Elves? Just boring, man. They suck.
Greg: I’ve been saying for a long time that the reason that Titanicus is the best game GW makes is because there are no elves in it.
It does really feel like they were based on the kid at school that you just were incapable of getting on with. My recollection of the Tolkien Elves, they were just kind of hot. They were just very good-looking. I was very much seeing it through Gimli’s eyes throughout that film, you know? These people are shiny and pretty, I wasn’t really listening to what they were saying.
Rob: Stupid sexy Legolas.
Greg: That’s their whole deal. They used to be cool, and then they decided that it didn’t go so well. “We can’t be cool anymore. We have to be a bunch of nerds”. I could sit here and just hate on Elves for a while.
I wish I knew more about wrestling. I dropped out back when it was still called the WWF, like the attitude era back in like the 90s, that’s when I was paying attention to it. I don’t even know who most of the guys are now, except occasionally they’ll trot out somebody who I remember and it just seems sad. It’s like my man is 55 years old now, let the Undertaker retire.
I like Jericho, he’s always seemed like a classic at the age.
Rob: Maybe Jericho.
Jericho can still go, man. I mean he shouldn’t, he shouldn’t be able to do what he’s doing at his age but while he can, he’s one of the few people right now where I’m like, well I mean he can go so let him go. It’s not like they’re trotting out Hulk Hogan who can’t walk anymore.
Rob: Yeah, but I mean Hogan never wrestled that well.
I disagree pretty hard on that one. If you go back to his stuff in Japan, when he’s first coming on to the scene, he goes, and he was actually wrestling in those matches. I don’t know what it was about, I think maybe they just found a formula that worked and then didn’t let go of it, which, you know, fine. Then obviously his back went and his legs went and his hips went and his mind went.
But yeah, there was a moment where hulk Hogan was good in the ring, but I think only ever in Japan. It’s not like Roman Reigns where he’s just completely useless.
Greg: Yeah, he kept coasting well into the early 2000s. Nobody wanted him to get over, I don’t know why, that was sort of the tail end of when I was into it, but I remember Roman Reigns.
Oh he’s still there. And they have finally found a way to kind of disguise his failings, but he doesn’t really have a positive. It’s just a big plank of wood. They realized that the trick with him is to just surround him with very charismatic people who can do all his talking for him. I mean fine, whatever, if you really want to put that much effort into getting over a guy who ultimately brings nothing to the table, then fine I guess. But like it’s a lot easier if you go with someone who can actually do the job.
I’m sorry if it’s just been like twittering about stuff that isn’t really…oh nice, is that an entire shelf of D&D Books behind you?
Rob: Oh, no, those are my 40k Codexes.
Oh right, of course. Nice. Well, we can definitely cut the bit where I mistake our IP and products for a different company’s products. We can definitely cut that bit.
Greg: Also leave out the part where I got clowned on. No one will know, it’ll be fine.
Rob: No, we are absolutely leaving that part in, if I have to leave in that rancid bit about “Joon Hammer Workshop” or whatever
He was trying so hard though. Bless him.
Greg: Fortunately neither of you have a huge platform where you could put me on blast.
Huge thanks to Steve for taking the time talk to us. He was great, and if it wasn’t weird as hell we’d schedule these as a recurring thing and just bullshit around for a while, probably not even worry about recording it.
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