Local man is star of Red Dead Redemption video game series (Part 1)

By Justin Whitaker | Indiana University

For millions of gamers worldwide, Rob Wiethoff’s distinctive, familiar growl is instantly recognizable.

The Indiana University alumnus is responsible for the voice and motion capture of John Marston, the beloved protagonist of the Red Dead Redemption video game series that has sold nearly 50 million copies.

With a gruff, hoarse voice that feels native to the western-themed, cowboy-filled time period of the games, Wiethoff is a seamless fit for the iconic outlaw set at the turn of the 20th century. A change of attitude is the only audible difference Wiethoff uses to separate between the two.

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Wiethoff has been described as “a nice guy and happy” on set and would have to be reminded about Marston’s grumpiness. Marston is a principled and honorable man who sternly communicates and could be quick to anger. The 44-year-old Wiethoff has a genuinely friendly and inviting personality that is both sincerely warm and humble.

“Thank God I did not have to change the way I sound. It would have been way too much to think about,” Wiethoff said with a laugh.

His superb work as Marston has earned him critical recognition and a passionate fan base. He has won video game awards, has more than 115,000 Instagram followers and keeps busy on Cameo recording messages to enthusiastic fans across the globe.

Back home in Indiana

Bloomington is filled with special memories for Wiethoff and his family.

Rob’s grandfather, the late Clifford A. Wiethoff, played on the Hoosiers’ first NCAA Championship team in 1940. He laid the foundation for generations of future Hoosiers, as more than 20 family members graduated from IU.

For Rob, it was a given. He had considered a career in aviation, but the pull of Bloomington was supreme.

“I should’ve gone to Purdue, but there was no way I was going to do that. So I guess I won’t be a pilot,” he said, laughing.

With deep family ties and a familiarity with campus from visiting his sister and cousins while he was in high school, he fondly remembers coming to campus as a student.

“When I walked to my first class, I was so proud,” he said. “I walked there with the biggest, nerdiest smile on my face. I was there, and it was real. It meant so much to me.”

That love for campus did not dissipate after he graduated in 1999 with a degree in general studies. Although he spent almost a decade in Los Angeles, he eventually returned to his hometown of Seymour.

When he and his wife, Tayler, welcomed twins in 2012, they frequently found themselves driving 45 minutes from Seymour with a double stroller to take in campus’ beauty. When the Wiethoffs have visitors, they take their guests to Nick’s English Pub or Yogi’s and show off the college town.

Cliff — or “Poppy,” as his family called him — was the one to instill a love of IU and Bloomington for the Wiethoffs. Cliff was mainly a reserve player in the championship year, but a game against Michigan left an impact. He scored six points in the win but also suffered a broken jaw and spent the remainder of the season with it wired shut.

After two seasons, legendary coach Branch McCracken told Cliff he was in line for more playing time in his junior year. But Cliff’s father wanted him to make a decision: Be a basketball player or focus on becoming a doctor. Cliff picked medicine, a choice he jokingly admitted regretting while watching IU games from his reserved seat and leading the family discussion.

In the late 1980s, the 1939-40 championship team was honored at halftime of a game against Illinois. The family had T-shirts made that read, “I’m Cliff Wiethoff’s grandson,” “I’m Cliff Wiethoff’s daughter,” etc., and he received a plaque that was always proudly displayed.

Shortly before he passed away in 2010, Cliff spoke with then-coach Tom Crean at an alumni event. When Crean discovered Cliff was on IU’s first championship team, Crean wanted to have Cliff sit on the bench for a game as an honorary coach. Unfortunately, Cliff’s health deteriorated before he was able to do so, but he and the family were honored by the gesture.

Cheering on the Hoosiers continues to be a cornerstone of the Wiethoffs’ lives. They love tailgating before football games and watching games together.

“Our whole family has jumped in on loving IU sports and being there at games and partying and celebrating,” Wiethoff said.

Heading west

As a student, Wiethoff enjoyed the diversity of his classmates. While he loves his hometown of Seymour and the people there, at IU, Wiethoff interacted with people from across the country and world. He relished the opportunity to find similarities and differences in people from diverse backgrounds.

After he graduated with a degree in general studies, Wiethoff was unsure of what to do next. Having visited Los Angeles on vacation and curious about the possibilities, the frigid gray Indiana winter helped push him to make the leap from Seymour to Hollywood. The exposure at IU of diversity opened his eyes to life outside of southern Indiana.

“I don’t know if I would’ve had the guts to move out to LA if it weren’t for IU,” he said. “I learned so much about myself and about life from going there.”

Unsure of what he wanted to do, Wiethoff decided to give acting a shot and landed a commercial agent. Enjoying a life of being young and single, he was bartending at night and doing commercials during the day.

In what can be a ruthless town for careers, Wiethoff said he was fortunate to have jobs as well as money in his pocket. But after nearly 10 years in Los Angeles, an audition for an “untitled video game project” arranged by his agent would change Wiethoff’s life.

In the one acting class he took in Los Angeles, he learned that when in an audition, give it everything. If they want you to be mad, be as mad as you can be.

“Don’t leave the putt short,” he described.

Wiethoff landed the role. But he was unaware of the world he was about to enter.

Justin Whitaker is a communications specialist at Indiana University. This story originally was posted online at news.iu.edu/stories/features/2021-red-dead-redemption-rob-wiethoff/index.html. This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Send comments to [email protected].

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