Plus, Phelps talks about life after Rio and whether he'll come out of retirement

By Nick Romano
Updated October 25, 2016 at 05:12 PM EDT
  • Video Games

Michael Phelps answered the call — the Call of Duty.

Shortly after the Olympic Games in Rio, where he capped his swimming career by pushing his total gold medal count to 28, he heard about an opportunity to star in a new, live-action trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. “My agent had mentioned it to me and I think it was a pretty quick, ‘Yes, I would love to and it would be an honor,'” he told EW over the phone in September.

In the trailer, titled “Screw It, Let’s Go to Space,” Phelps brings his game face during a heated battle inside a power plant with actor Danny McBride (HBO’s Vice Principals), who made it hard for Phelps to keep “a straight face.” The athlete filmed his scenes on a Saturday in Long Beach, California, under the direction of Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon), who previously helmed 2014’s ad for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare with Taylor Kitsch. In one take, captured in the image below, he brings his infamous Phelps Face after McBride steals a kill.

“We had met before and being able to work with him today was something that was a lot of fun,” Phelps said of Berg. “He’s somebody who obviously is an amazing director and he’s directed all these kinds of things. So, it was cool, once he saw we got [the shot] we did something else, and then we could kind of do improv, back and forth with one another. He works very fast and it was definitely an honor to be able to shoot with him.”

Tim Ellis, Activision’s chief marketing officer, called Phelps “a great sport” for “taking a lot of trash talk from Danny.” He said, “The fact that Phelps is such a revered and decorated athlete, that just added to the humor of the scene. We had a ton of fun shooting those scenes, and Michael was able to dish back to McBride in his own style too.”

This kind of marriage seems perfect for Phelps, who’s love for Call of Duty has essentially made him an unofficial spokesman for the franchise. In addition to talking up the games in various interviews, he played them during Olympic training, and was even invited to a special gaming event, the C.O.D. XP Fan Festival.

“I do love the game and I have spent a bunch of hours playing it, especially during training camps and whenever we travel,” he added. “So, there’s definitely a good, little friendly competition between the teammates and it definitely takes our mind off competing when we’re traveling and it helps us relax a lot.”

Phelps was still looking for those moments to relax in September after the Games. While he reunited with his family, he had to go back on the road to tour across America before heading overseas. He explained, “When we are home, we’re trying to get the house in order and then get ready to get back out on the road. A newborn is challenging, but if I have a chance to hop on — if [fiancée] Nicole [Johnson] and [son] Boomer are both taking a nap at the same time, it’s always nice to be able to sneak in a game here and there.”

Despite rumors and cryptic statements from teammate Ryan Lochte that he might emerge from retirement for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Phelps insists he’s out of the game. “The words that I was potentially gonna swim in 2020 never came out of my mouth, so if that has been written or quoted, it is misquoted,” he said. “Those words never came out of my mouth. I couldn’t be happier with how everything finished, but being able to go out how I want to… on my terms I think is what I always dreamt of, and I think I can say that now, and I think 20 years down the road when I have an opportunity to look back and just smile or think about my career, I know that I’ll be satisfied with how everything went.”

Phelps may never follow Lochte’s footsteps on Dancing with the Stars, but he sees his “new road” as an opportunity “for some cool new things,” like filming the Call of Duty trailer.

“Nicole and I are getting married soon, and being able to continue to grow our family is something I’m looking forward to,” he said.

Call of Duty

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