Marvel’s Spider-Man blew fans away when it was released in 2018, featuring a slew of beloved villains and a story that wove them all together in the perfect tale for the web-slinging hero. One of the most outstanding foes players butted heads with is Mr. Negative.
Many fans may not know who this villain is outside of the game because, let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, he’s a minor character. A footnote in the path Peter Parker carves. However, he’s much more of a focal point for Miles Morales, and that’s where things will get interesting as we move into Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
I won’t spoil any story details for those who haven’t touched Marvel’s Spider-Man or the excellent Miles Morales follow-up. All you need to know is that Mr. Negative is returning in the sequel Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and will play a pivotal role in what I expect to be an intensely emotional journey for our Spider-Men.
Ahead of the game’s release, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Negative’s voice actor, Stephen Oyoung. While Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is his most recent role, he’s been in everything and is someone you’ll know the voice or face of as soon as you take a look at his IMDB.
Stephen Oyoung appeared in Mortal Kombat 1, Starfield, Remnant II, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Cyberpunk 2077, and so many more, and that’s just his video game credits. He’s acted in TV and movies alongside Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, and Adam Driver. He even choreographed fights and did a number of his own stunts, a career to aspire to.
While chatting before I bombarded him with interview questions, Oyoung actually told me, “I always say I want to be like the Samuel L. Jackson of Asian American actors. Little parts in everything.” I love that even though he’s so successful, he’s still aiming high and achieving his goals left, right, and center.
I asked him how he got started in his career. He’s done a lot and seems to have followed a less straightforward path than other actors. “I started out in the business, always trying to be an actor, but I didn’t know how to become an actor. But I did know martial arts. So people turned me onto stunt work, so I was doing those for many years and working my way up doing that. Then I did choreography for a few big movies like The Equalizer. I got to work with some incredible people like Keanu Reeves and Adam Driver, and that went well.”
“Then I fully transitioned into just acting full-time, and that’s where I’m at now.” So Oyoung, to me, is the perfect example of using something you learn when you’re younger to build a career you want. My best friend always did Karate but now works in a bank; I can’t help but wonder if he ever dreamed of using his skills in a similar way.
Since Marvel’s Spider-Man is five years old now, I wanted to know from Oyoung what it was like returning to the role of Mr. Negative and to the series. “It was like a reunion. A very happy reunion on my part. I thought Mr. Negative was done in the first game. Sony and Insomniac Games send out business emails, y’know, saying this is your rate if this character returns. I was like, okay, cool, and that was months before I knew what the story was or that I would even be brought in.”
“So when I did get the news that I was actually coming back onto the set, doing performance capture, and seeing the gang again, I was ecstatic. The first game was very bittersweet because I loved the team and wanted to work with them forever, and then I did. Everybody had grown, kind of like in Friends with the cast in the first season and then how they look in the final season. Everybody looks like movie stars, and that’s what it felt like. I just kept wondering who are all these good-looking people and enjoying myself.”
Characters are funny things. As creators, we want to see them grow, but we also need to know who they are and the limits to their personalities and abilities. I asked Oyoung if, returning to Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, he wanted to do anything in particular with Mr. Negative.
“Selfishly, as an actor, the biggest thing is you always want to put something new and more onto it. I just want to make Mr. Negative look super cool. So that was really my thing coming back. I wanted to try to make this guy look the coolest he possibly can, and then y’know, the animators already did half the job for me with the cool long hair and facial hair.”
“For me, it was very simple to kind of slip back into the character, and the writing is amazing. I can’t really spoil anything, but everybody’s in for some surprises. Some things they didn’t expect, some things they did. Obviously, the confrontation between Miles and Mr. Negative is huge, so fans are gonna get something out of that for sure.”
Oyoung is so excited about this character, and it’s infectious. I grew up reading Spider-Man comics and watching the 90s TV shows, and I always loved the variation in all these villains. I wanted to know from Oyoung why he said yes to what is a fairly minor antagonist in the grand scheme of Spider-Man.
“At first, we didn’t even know what we were auditioning for. We just knew it was a big project for Sony. Once it was revealed it was the Spider-Man franchise, there was no way I was gonna say no. I would have served coffee or lunch on the set to get onto it. As far as Mr. Negative, I distinctly recall when the character was announced at San Diego Comic-Con.”
“They were introducing most of the cast, and they introduced me first, and the character had already kind of been revealed at that point. But nobody really knew who Mr. Negative was. So I remember coming out and being announced, and nobody knew who this villain was, nobody knew who I was, and now, six years after that, Mr. Negative is a household name for Spider-Man villains off the back of the game.”
“When people think of Spider-Man, they know his rogue gallery, and now Mr. Negative is very prominently featured, and that’s all because of that game. For me, it’s super surreal that Insomniac was able to take this character, who people weren’t as familiar with as Spider-Man’s main villains like the original Sinister Six, and turn him into this mainstream villain that people recognize.”
Oyoung then brings out my favorite gaming-related anecdote anyone has ever told me. “I get recognized on movie sets for being Mr. Negative! You don’t understand how different that was.” I just love the idea of someone playing Marvel’s Spider-Man and heading to work on a TV show and then losing their minds when Mr. Negative comes up to ask them where he needs to go or if they’re having a good day.
“When we initially started the process of molding this character and who he was, because he was very rarely seen in other forms of media, Insomniac had a blank slate almost. They had free run to play with who he was and how he would act. The iteration in the game is not what we started with; he was so different, even a different look. They animated one sequence that way, which no one will ever see, but trust me. This Mr. Negative is so different from where we began.”
“I think what they were trying to do with the final form is to lean into that duality that most characters in this universe have. The two sides of good and evil, and that comes across much better in the final form.”
It shows how invested in this series Oyoung is that he knows all the different forms of his character. As a stunt actor and choreographer, he’s also done some motion capture for Mr. Negative. He told me he did about the same across both games.
“That was a great thing with the way Insomniac shoots is they get all actors to do all things, so it’s their face, their movement, and their voice. It’s like riding a bicycle; you never forget.” But Oyoung has experience of doing acting and stuntwork, so I asked how it differs being on a motion capture set, where most of the action has to be in your head.
“It’s very much in your head. All your sets are usually ramps or a giant metal truss with directions. A helicopter, for example, is just a bunch of boxes you’re standing on, and you jump off them. I love to use my imagination, and it’s a culmination of doing stunt work and acting; I’ve had no problem with it. Honestly, it seems very intimidating, but if you get there on the day, it just becomes like playing in a sandbox with your friends. It’s so freeing.
“With film and TV, not that I’m complaining, the difference is that the camera is king. You’re playing basically everything to the camera or with an understanding of where it is. With motion capture, you’re playing with 360 degrees of freedom. You can do whatever you would want to do if the scenarios were real.”
With a game, especially in photo modes, we can zoom right into a character’s face at any time, so actors have both the ability to really play to that and bring characters to life, but also need to be mindful that players are always looking.
“With a film or TV setup, you often have to do so many takes. You’ve got to get coverage from two sides, different lenses, and lots of stuff. With motion capture, the camera is on your face, so they’ve got everything they need. As far as doing reverse coverage, there’s no need to because it’s 360 degrees of data capture. That’s something I love about motion capture. You can get so many setups and so many scenes done. It’s a beautiful system, really awesome.”
All this talk of motion capture and acting had me thinking, and I couldn’t resist asking Oyoung what his favorite scene to act in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was if he could tell me without getting in a lot of trouble.
“What I can say is, the sequence where Miles and Martin Li meet, which you saw in the trailer, was the first thing I shot for the sequel. It was a big sequence, a huge sequence, and it was awesome. It was a little nerve-wracking because it had been six years or so since I’d picked up this character, so to go from nothing to right into it is a testament to Insomniac for trusting me. Some of the other actors had already been filming for a while, so it had to be this way. It was a big day, and it was super fun to be there.”
For Mr. Negative, I also wondered if there was a process Oyoung went through to get back into character. He explained, “As an actor, it’s about just harnessing your imagination and trying to put yourself into that situation. Sure, there’s a little bit of fooling yourself; you kind of have to, in a way, hallucinate. You need to be in your own imagination and tell yourself you’re here.”
“Specifically for that sequence, I really just had to feel like I was there. You have to tune out all the noise around you, focus on the other actor, whatever your props are around you, and whatever your surroundings are. You really have to believe that you’re here in this world, and that’s the only way that I think you can get realistic responses.”
“It can be a little distracting when you have all the gear, the camera, all that stuff, but that’s just acting in general. Again, it’s just a high level of make-believe. You just have to go there in your brain and believe you’re there. It’s also a skill that every human being on this planet possesses because, when we were kids, that’s what we all used to do, right? You have your little Lego sets and whatever, and you put yourself there; it’s the same thing.”
As a dad, I can see this because my daughter reminds me of imagination play and how powerful it is daily. She disappears for hours to play with the same Lego I played with at her age, and it takes me right back to the games of make-believe I’d play.
“As an adult, the thing is being free enough to access that freedom. We’re programmed to take away this imaginative power so we can be real-life adults in the world and do jobs. But that’s why I love to act because you really can get back into this childlike state where you just play. So it’s always been fun for me.”
I am a big believer that if you genuinely enjoy something like a job or a project you’re working on, it shows in the result. If you don’t like writing, acting, painting, or just going for a run, it shows in whatever you make or how you are. People can see your enthusiasm for something even when you’re not present, and because of this, I know Mr. Negative, regardless of how good or bad I think the result of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is, will be incredible.
Something I’m always desperate to know about projects like this is how invested actors, game designers, and everyone else is in their source material. So I asked Oyoung if he liked Spider-Man before working on it and was blown away by his incredibly niche but very relatable answer.
“Oh, every actor always says they were a big fan growing up, right? But I’m telling you, when I was about five years old, we had this thing in the States that were comic books with records. You’d play these records, real analog records, and they’d be the vocal performance of the comic book story. The first and only one I owned was a werewolf edition. It was like a story of a werewolf versus Spider-Man.”
Oyoung insisted you can find this thing on eBay and he’s not wrong.
“I was obsessed with it! I used to draw it, I’d read it every day, and the werewolf was Jay Jonah Jameson’s son. He had a supernatural pendant. It must have been something like a Halloween one-off special. But that was my initial exposure to Spider-Man, and I always wanted to be a comic book artist after that.”
“All through high school and college, Jim Lee was my biggest influence, and I loved all the X-Men and, of course, Spider-Man. So, being in the video game is super surreal, especially because it’s fighting Spider-Man. The subway fight in the first game was one of the first things I ever shot for this series. I remember standing there and feeling this as a culmination of my entire life. I always loved Spider-Man, I always did stunts, I wanted to be an actor, and now here it was.”
We’d talked a lot about fighting Spider-Man at this point, and I was curious as to how that works for motion capture. I think you don’t want to damage any equipment, but I have no idea how it works, so I asked Oyoung to explain it a bit.
“It’s just like any other production, right? You have stunt doubles, some of the best hired by Sony; the doubles for Spider-Man and Miles are amazing. You also have doubles who will double any random character that needs whatever. As for me, I was fortunate to be able to do pretty much all of my stuff. I was even able to do some in-game stuff, like the Kingpin fight. I did the cinematics as well as some in-game maneuvers. But that was years ago; now I’m old and broken.”
“I always jump at the chance to do that kind of stuff; it’s fun for me. I trained for a good part of my young adult life to be able to do this. Again, I can’t say anything, but there’s some stuff. There are some action sequences!”
Oyoung had answered all my questions at this point and given me a fantastic insight into him as a professional, his passion for Spider-Man, and gotten me so excited about Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Before he went, I wanted to know where he thought the series should go, even if I was also being cheeky and trying to get spoilers for my own knowledge.
“As far as where I would like it to go personally as an actor, it is just to give me some more work! With the past two games, they’ve just peaked and peaked again; they keep getting better. With number 2, it’s another level when you have Venom involved. When you wonder how they’re gonna top this with number 3, I’ll say this: when you see it years from now, it’ll all make sense. I do think number 3 will be a worthy follow-up. I hope it never stops, and I’m not saying that just because I want another job; I really think it’s incredible as a franchise. You guys are in for a treat with 3.”
As we were saying goodbye, Oyoung mentioned the elephant in the room: the SAG-AFTRA strikes. At the time, those in the games industry had been approved to be involved by members. He wanted to tell people to support the strike. He explained how people think actors are super rich, which I know I’ve believed in the past.
“Even if we were, which most of us are not, these companies are making gazillions of dollars, so somebody’s making money off of everybody’s work.” I want to echo this because it’s so true. There is so much money involved in these industries, yet it’s CEOs raking it in with bonuses instead of real people getting paid enough to cover their rent.
The very last thing Oyoung told me was very wholesome. “Every actor wants to do a role they feel like they could be remembered for, and I feel like Mr. Negative is that for me right now. Whatever happens, I think I came out okay, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to work on the games.”
As I’ve said, I love Spider-Man, but it’s the characters that are played the best that I remember. I remember Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, the incredible rendition of Dr. Octopus by Alfred Molina, and Toby Maguire’s version of the webslinger that made me fall in love with the Marvel cinematic universe.
Stephen Oyoung has already made a memorable villain in Marvel’s Spider-Man, and I’ve no doubt that his reappearance in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will cement Mr. Negative in history as one of the greatest superhero villains. Players recognize passion, and Oyoung has more than enough of it that Mr. Negative can’t be anything less than spectacular.