by Kathya Alexander
When Drew Hobson got the opportunity to audition for a video game in 2012, he was thrilled. A self-described comic nerd, he was working with a children’s touring company when the theater’s director heard a video game company was having a hard time finding an African American voice for the lead character in a new game. The director immediately thought of Hobson. So Hobson recorded the audition on his home equipment and sent it in.
“And I got the lead role. And it was amazing ’cause the lead role, where you start out at the first part of the game, and you can play all the way through the game, is African American.”
The game was State of Decay, an open-world zombie survival game, where Hobson’s character is named Marcus Campbell. He said he fell in love with the people at Undead Labs who created the game. “And they’ve been kind enough to put me in pretty much every incarnation.” When the gamemakers came out with State of Decay 2, for instance, though they couldn’t make Hobson the main character again, they still kept him as a background character.
Both games have been very popular around the world, including in Australia, South America, Brazil, and several countries in East Asia. Hobson estimates that, combined, State of Decay and State of Decay 2 have probably sold upwards of 10 or 15 million copies. “Knowing that my voice is floating around in several different places around the world makes me smile,” Hobson said.
Born and raised in the Central District, Hobson considers himself, first and foremost, an artist of color. “My dad’s Black and Native, and my mom is white. And I came out on the lighter side. Both my brother and my sister are about three shades darker than I am.” He said people from areas that are more ethnically diverse know right away that he’s mixed. But white people, when they see him, “They just see a white person.” And because he works in an industry where most casting directors are white, Drew has lost roles because people don’t know he’s Black. “They’ll look at my picture and say, ‘Oh, he’s not Black, no. So I’ll just go with this other guy.’ So that sucks. Because I know that’s happened at least a few times.”
It doesn’t just happen in voice-over work, but in his film work as well. Hobson used State of Decay as a launching pad to get an agent. He’s had guest roles on three different TV shows, Grimm, The Librarians, and Z Nation. He said he is most often cast as a bodyguard or thug because of his size — 6-foot-2 or 3, and between 250 and 280 lbs. And the kind of thug he’s played most often is Russian.
“So both on Grimm and The Librarians, I played Russians. And that always tickled me. Black Russian,” Hobson laughed. While getting the guest roles was a dream come true, Hobson said it’s still frustrating trying to make it known that he is Black and Native and not getting that recognition.
Hobson has wanted to act since he was 7, when he went to see the movie The Goonies. He just knew he wanted to be part of what was happening on screen. So he started taking acting classes and getting into school plays. “I went to Summit K12, and then went on to Franklin High School to the famed theater department there,” Hobson said. Then, after graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in theater, he moved back home to Seattle.
“I sat down and had a conversation with my mom and I told her I wanted to be a professional actor. So I was preparing to starve, to live off of Top Ramen, and basically just struggle. And she stopped me dead in my tracks in the conversation and she said, ‘Don’t ever ever say that. Cause you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to know what they want to do and what they love to do, then you simply just find a way to make it work.’ And that was a really profound moment in my life because I was like, ‘Yeah, she’s right.’”
Hobson’s conversation with his mother provided direction for the rest of his life. Since he used to DJ at college dorm dances, he found work with a DJ company. And because he loved doing karaoke, he became a karaoke host a few years later. He also started acting, first with Theatre Babylon in A Streetcar Named Desire, then doing Shakespeare in the Park with GreenStage. After that, Hobson began acting with a company called Last Leaf Productions, a touring children’s theater group that he’s still with 15 years later. Last Leaf takes theater to small towns outside of Seattle that don’t have much local theater. They turn folktales from around the world into short plays. So not only do they bring theater to smaller communities, they also bring international culture.
“A lot of times we’ll be the first theatrical production that the parents have ever seen, which is really kind of amazing. I don’t make a lot of money off of that, but it’s something I’m very passionate about. And I just want to continue doing that for a while.”
Hobson considers some of his most rewarding work to be with kids. Other rewarding work has been the times when he’s been recognized and has gotten to do stage and screen acting (not just do voice acting) as a Person of Color. Two of those major opportunities were through Tyrone Brown and Brownbox Theatre.
“Tyrone got me involved with two projects. One was Hoodies Up where we did short plays that was related to or around the issue of the death of Trayvon Martin and the stand your ground horribleness. And then Tyrone ended up casting me in Zooman and the Sign where I got to play an African American father whose daughter was killed from gun violence … Having the opportunity to be in an African American production was definitely a dream come true for me. It was incredibly rewarding. And the subject matter was so potent at the time. It was so emotionally challenging and rough. But beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” Hobson said.
It’s when he talked about his previous and current work with young people, though, that Hobson became the most animated. In addition to Last Leaf Productions, between 2005 and 2011, Hobson taught theater and playwriting to youth. His work with Open Door Theater, a touring group that teaches kids safety rules to prevent sexual abuse, started him teaching as a substitute instructional assistant in Seattle Public Schools. He also taught theater and playwriting to youth through several different organizations, including the former Rainier Valley Youth Theater, Southeast Effective Development (SEED), and several schools, including Cleveland, South Shore, and Franklin — his old alma mater. And teaching with Red Eagle Soaring, a Native American youth drama troupe that is still active today, connected him with his Indigenous Mattaponi and Pamunkey descendant roots.
Over the last few years, Hobson had attended the Emerald City Comic Con and a video game con called PAX, where he did some voice-over panels and public appearances. “So the first couple of PAXes that I went to, people didn’t necessarily know who I was. But when they heard my voice, they were like ‘Marcus!’”
Of course, the cons closed due to the pandemic in 2020. In addition, “I lost all of my jobs at the beginning of the pandemic. DJing and children’s theater, karaoke hosting and teaching,” Hobson said.
But Hobson tries to stay positive. He has been lucky to do some voice-over recording at home for a few commercials, and he did a video game last year. “And my career is on a really interesting precipice right now. ’Cause I just filmed a commercial that might go very large. We’re waiting to see.”
In the meantime, Drew can also be seen in the short films Color TV, No Vacancy, and Closing Time. His voice can be heard in other video games, including Golem (PS4 VR), Guild Wars 2 (PC), BattleTech (PC), Fire Emblem Heroes (Nintendo Mobile), Chaldea (YouTube), as well as several video and radio commercials. Here’s the link for his latest commercial.
Kathya Alexander is a writer, actor, storyteller, and teaching artist. Her writing has appeared in various publications like ColorsNW Magazine and Arkana Magazine. She has won multiple awards including the Jack Straw Artist Support Program Award. Her collection of short stories, Angel In The Outhouse, is available on Amazon.
📸 Featured Image: Drew Hobson, a DJ, screen actor, and voice-over artist, who considers his most rewarding work to be teaching theater and playwriting to youth. (Photo: John Ulman, courtesy of Drew Hobson)
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