By Corey Protin, Matt Peckham, and Harry Swartout
September 5, 2014

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is Kevin Spacey’s first video game, though not the first time he’s played an imperious political-minded villain with designs on power that radically impact American democracy (as far as we can tell from the game’s trailers, anyway).

Spacey’s involvement with the game wasn’t an afterthought: Sledgehammer Games co-founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey had him in mind for the role of private military company lead Jonathan Irons before he’d so much as heard of the project.

In the game, Irons leads Atlas, the world’s most powerful PMC by the mid-21st-century. After a global terrorist attack cripples the world’s nations, Irons sours on the U.S.’s ability to promulgate democracy, and, Caesar-like, takes matters into his own hands. You play as Jack Mitchell, an ex-Marine working for Atlas, eventually (we’re assuming) having to grapple with the implications of Irons’ turn toward despotism.

In TIME’s video interview with Sledgehammers’ Schofield and Condrey (above), the studio heads explain how Spacey became much more than just their dream pick to play Irons, and how he helped them retool the character to “really [elevate] the story.”

Write to Corey Protin at corey.protin@time.com and Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com.

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