Christopher Judge is on a winning streak, after taking home the top performer prizes at The Game Awards in LA (gaming’s equivalent of the Oscars) in December and the best lead performer at the BAFTA Games Awards in London this week. But his success hasn’t been easily won.
Speaking to Sky News on the BAFTA red carpet, the God Of War and Stargate SG-1 star admits: “I grew up looking in the mirror and society told me I was ugly, told me I was too big, too black.”
He says the day that changed, was the day he got the role of vengeful demigod Kratos in PlayStation action epic God Of War, the highest-rated PlayStation 4 game for the majority of 2018.
Based loosely on Norse mythology, the second era of God Of War has been the big winner at both The Game Awards and the BAFTA Games Awards, dominating each ceremony.
Judge says it’s a role he never expected to get: “I’ll be 60 next year and to get this when I thought my career would be winding down, it’s a dream come true. I waited 35 years for this part and it almost seems unfair that I’m getting gifts because I got a gift of this part.”
A college football player, he moved from sport to showbiz after graduating, winning early roles in shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 21 Jump Street and MacGyver.
He also starred in Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and as regular character Teal’c of Chulak in military science fiction TV series Stargate SG-1.
But after 10 years and over 200 episodes, Stargate was cancelled in 2007. Judge found himself once again searching for work. And with the sci-fi and fantasy genres not known for their proliferation of black leading characters, it was an uphill struggle.
But after finding success in God Of War, it’s a struggle Judge is determined to lessen for future generations of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) performers.
Last year, Judge hosted a panel titled Elevating Black Voices in Sci-Fi, speaking to a multi-generational group of African-American creatives about the fight for representation in the genre.
He explains: “Change always happens slower than we want it to, but I think it’s so important to always call it out, to stay the course and to give young people [opportunities]. Like, we’re taking you to the door to finally make these changes. So, hopefully, we have set the stage, if it’s not done in our careers, they can continue the journey through.”
He credits Santa Monica Studio – the video game developers behind the God Of War series – with being part of that change: “I have to say the leader of our studio is an Asian woman [PlayStation dev Yumi Yang]. And we do have producers that are of colour and our diversity as far as women and the LGBTQ+ community… I would like to say is probably unrivalled and we are all so proud of that. But it’s still a meritocracy. We hire the people that deserve to be there.”
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Referring to a small but vocal negative fan reaction to the casting of his God Of War Ragnarok co-star Laya DeLeon Hayes, he said: “Our producers… they took a lot of s**t for hiring Laya to play Angrboda [known as the “mother of monsters” in Norse mythology], but they never wavered.
“They never once thought, ‘Well, maybe we should do…’ No, she was the best person for the job and she got it. And that’s who Sony Santa Monica is from top to bottom. And I’m so proud to be a part of that.”
In addition to impressing her colleagues, DeLeon Hayes has swiftly proved her detractors wrong by adding to God Of War’s BAFTA haul, and taking home best performer in a supporting role.
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But despite leading the charge for change, Judge admits he’s only recently felt confident enough as a performer to speak out.
“Still in my mind, I waited too long,” he says. “So, I’m paddling upstream, I’m trying to make up for lost ground for all the years that I had success and didn’t say s**t, I was afraid of losing my position.
“But that’s the insidious thing about this ceiling – you live in fear of losing what you’ve achieved. And now that I live without fear, I have no excuse to not be a leading voice in it.”
A family man (Judge has a son, Cameron, who is a Canadian football linebacker in the Canadian Football League), Kratos’s story in the most recent game has deepened from two-dimensional to a touching depiction of fatherhood, as well as being a son.
Judge says in some ways the role has helped him get more in touch with himself and look past previous traumas to appreciate just how much he has achieved: “The difference with Ragnarok 2018 was more about my kids and from within me. This one was truly my story.
“I grew up looking in the mirror and society told me I was ugly, told me I was too big, too black, too whatever. So, I felt that I didn’t deserve love, which made me incapable of loving others.
“I literally got this job right after the first time I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I love you’. And it’s truly been just blessings ever since.”
So, now he’s at the top of his career, and receiving accolades and awards to prove it, where does he put all his trophies?
It’s a question Judge already thought about: “I’m actually redesigning my office… I’m having a little case made for this incredible run [of award wins],” adding with a smile, “so it will be prominently displayed at all my Zooms now.”
The BAFTA Games Awards is part of the London Games Festival, which runs until Saturday 8 April.