Shawn Baichoo is the pop-culture enthusiast that the masked anarchist ‘Wrench’ was practically made for as we recently had the chance to interview Shawn about his widely popular character from the highly acclaimed Watch Dogs 2 (and occasionally nerd out to games).
Known for a lot of his voice and motion capture work with Ubisoft in various games such as Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009), Watch Dogs (2014), and Tom Clancy’s The Division (2016), Shawn was also the motion capture take-down artist in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016) for Adam Jensen and also voiced the lead protagonist in Outlast (2013) and the second installment Outlast 2 (2017).
What was it that guided you in the direction of voice and motion capture work as a career?
When I was in theatre school, an actor came down to do a talk with us and he told us this great mantra that I really try to live my life by, especially in my career which is, “luck is merely preparedness meets opportunity.” The preparedness for me is learn your craft, be professional, be on time, be a good person to work with and pursue your passions. I tell people and actors who want to get into this line of work – whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, keeping loving it because one day your opportunity will come and you’ll be ready for it. Now, voice acting is not the main state of what I do but it’s part of my craft as a bigger picture. I tend to diversify a lot as an actor and do as much as I can. I have been involved in theatre, television, film, voice and motion capture work. Voice and Motion capture work was never really a goal of mine when I graduated from theatre school and when I imagined my career. So, when I thought about doing original voice work for animation, I thought it was something that I would love to do and wanted to work towards. Ubisoft, Eidos Montreal, Warner Brothers and a bunch of other bigger and smaller companies too like Red Barrel for example had offered me quite a lot of work in video games. Eventually I landed Niccolo Machiavelli from Assassins Creed 2. I was the take down choreographer in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided where I designed all the take-downs and I was the main character in Outlast. From thereon I started to do all sorts of different projects which all lead up to my role as Wrench.
Shawn Baichoo & Wrench Credit Jeremy Bobrow
What was the process that eventually led to landing your role as Wrench?
I had actually worked on the first Watch Dogs – I helped with their casting of that game and I was also a reader helping cast Clara. I played a whole bunch of secondary roles in the baseball stadium and quite a few living world characters. When Watch Dogs 2 came around, Lars Bonde who was directing and in charge of the project asked me to play Wrench in a demo of the game called a vertical slice to demonstrate the gameplay, character and setting. So I did Wrench for that with the assumption I wouldn’t play the character. But to my great surprise I got a call two weeks later and was told they were keeping me on as Wrench because they really liked how I did with him. For me it’s really cool to think that the biggest part of my career arguably is one that came to me through a long series of interconnected events. I’m just happy to work. Most of the work I do for Ubisoft is living world or secondary characters and I love doing that but it’s nice to come out of that and do something bigger.
How much do you feel like you were able to inject your sensibilities into Wrench? Was there freedom to improvise?
Oh absolutely, they were very open to what I brought. In theatre school I was always the funny guy – comedy for me is something that comes quite easily. When it finally came to Wrench, it gave me the opportunity to not only be funny, but be as funny as I wanted to be. Wrench is very much a large percentage of me so the whole character aspect about who Wrench is and what he wants, his interactions with people and finding moments to show his humanity or approachability, it was both very liberating to play him but also very challenging because I had to focus a lot of that into these moments. The writers deserve a huge amount of credit because we got along well as a group and it shows in the game and even though some of the dialogue was improvised and re-purposed by the actors to give it our own twist, that was because the writers were encouraging us that it was just scaffolding tape and they wanted us to make it our own.
There was a scene where Marcus was talking to Sitara where Wrench sort of meanders over and in the script it says “The car is ready, it’s this way” and I could have just walked over and said “Hey Marcus the car is this way” but to me that’s not fun or faithful, so when we shot it I strolled up and put on this weird British accent and said “Sir! Your carriage awaits!” and did a bow with a après vou (after you) with my hand. Ruffin was terrific with improvising and reacting organically with all the weird things I threw at him in the heat of the moment, always keeping him on his toes. So when he saw me do that he bowed and put on a British accent and said “Why, thank you very much” and it made it into the game because that was so much more natural. I know one of the writers adjusted his writing style to fit more of who I was as an actor and as a person because he knew it would just fit better. He saw how much I was into pop-culture, and how geeky and expressive I was so instead of trying to work around that, he embraced that and gave me some cool material to work with.
I remember sitting at home reading my script and I would just be laughing out loud continuously just reading Wrench’s lines because they were so comical. I got excited like, “Oh, there’s an Arnold line, I can say that as Arnold!” and I love doing voices and impersonations and I’m also a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan – he was an action hero growing up, I love that guy. So we all kind of grew up in the same kind of pop-culture and when things like that would come up I would be so thrilled that I would get to play with this stuff.
Was it difficult to showcase emotion whilst doing the motion capture work for a character that wears a mask?
Wrench hides, he spends his whole time hiding behind a mask – it looks cool but really, why is he wearing it? So because he hides behind it he doesn’t have to deal with people, you don’t see his eyes and you can’t see how he is really feeling. Wrench puts up a filter by wearing a mask and also keeps him from getting facially recognized by any technology. The animators did a really good job making an expressionless character and I always thought that was a huge challenge in film, but not impossible. Darth Vader for example is supper expressive in the Star Wars franchise which is crazy because he has no moving parts on his helmet – but the body positioning of the actor, his underlying body language, even stillness is a great method to tell a story. Wrench has emoticons on his eyes which helped but I didn’t have any face covering when I was doing the motion-capture work so they used a camera to see what my expressions were to better fine tune my performance to translate to emoticons. I made a point of looking at people with my head as opposed to with my eyes, so I would turn my head when I spoke to people I had to keep in mind that I couldn’t play on any kind of subtlety. However, because I’m such a physical actor that to me wasn’t too bad of a challenge but it was something I had to be reminded of.
Watch Dogs 2 Wrench & Marcus Credit Ubisoft
Watch Dogs 1 is very dark, gritty and serious while Watch Dogs 2 is very far from that – so why do you think they decided to change directions?
My point of view is that Ubisoft from what I could tell, both as someone who works for them and also someone who consumes their products, I find that they’re really good at listening to the community, hearing feedback from the fans on what works and what doesn’t work and addressing those things. Watch Dogs 2 is a sign that the concept of Watch Dogs is really original and it didn’t quite live up to its potential. The concept of Watch Dogs 1, if you boil it down, it’s kind of a silly concept, so Watch Dogs 2 really embraces that silliness – everything is colourful and vibrant and everyone is an exaggeration, commenting on society and the zeitgeists of the moment that we live in. So with the first in the series they tried to bury the premise of the game instead of celebrating it. What I find is a lot of people compare Watch Dogs 2 to Assassin’s Creed 2. The first Assassin’s Creed had a brilliant concept, great design and setting but ultimately some repetitive gameplay and some aspects that weren’t very fleshed out and they fell short like the first Watch Dogs game. Then Assassin’s Creed 2 came out where they tweaked the right amount of things and gave the game its full potential. So I feel like Watch Dogs 2 had the same kind of journey – the first one was almost like a proof of concept.
Watch Dogs 1 Aiden Pearce (Left) Watch Dogs 2 Marcus Holloway Credit Ubisoft
Do you feel like Watch Dogs 2’s character representation was a step in the right direction on the diversity front in the video game industry?
The first Watch Dogs suffered a bit from predictability, especially with the lead a lot of people say he was very flat. There are so many straight, white male protagonists and there is nothing wrong with that but there is nothing wrong with getting something new for once. It’s not like that trope exists because it’s the best possible way to tell a story – it’s one way to tell a story. Diversity is very key for me, so I love the fact that Marcus is a black man, but he’s not a trope nor is it tokenism. It never pushes that to the forefront and makes it what the game is about but it does address it which is important. Josh is on the spectrum as he has Asperger’s, but he isn’t a caricature on Asperger’s. Jonathan Dubsky (Voice & Motion Captured Josh) did a tonne of research, he is really committed to his craft and didn’t turn it up to 11 because he wanted an award; he treated the role with respect.
There were so many dynamic relationships in the game between the Dedsec crew. Were they the same off screen?
Yes, but to a certain degree the relationships on screen were not necessary the same off screen only because we all got along better as people than the actual tensions that existed within the (Dedsec) group. Everyone I worked with had a terrific sense of play which is a willingness to offer up choices, be vulnerable and even take direction or suggestion from other actors. There were some tensions between Josh and Wrench, which Jonathan and I worked out while filming that Josh doesn’t like to be touched and Wrench knows this so he touches Josh at every given opportunity to bug him. There’s a scene where we’re on the rooftop and I bring in a bunch of beers to people and you can see my right hand slowly going up to Josh’s face and he pulls away and slaps my hand away. When we delve into deeper reasons and motivations I worked out that Wrench feels a bit threatened by Josh.
Wrench doesn’t have Sitara’s PR outlook or Marcus’s athletic ability or savvy in the field. Wrench thinks maybe he is not as indispensible as he thinks. I mean it’s not true because Dedsec loves him but Wrench is human and everybody has their insecurities. Characters for me aren’t interesting if they’re not flawed – if someone is a perfect hero that can do no wrong, that’s boring to me and ultimately no one can relate to that.
Shawn Baichoo (Wrench), Ruffin Prentiss (Marcus), Jonathan Dubsky (Josh), Tasya Teles (Sitara), John Tench (T-Bone) Credit Shawn Baichoo
John Tench (Raymond Kenney) and I automatically got along because we worked on the first Watch Dogs together and did a scene together in the Bad Blood DLC. T-Bone and Wrench also had a really big animosity between each other because Wrench felt like he was invading his space, but once Wrench figures out who T-Bone is as a person they do get along and they have a great friendship. In real life all of us were super tight; we had a lot of good times. Jonathan Dubsky just loves to laugh, Ruffin and I played up a sexual tension to a point where a lot of fans were shipping them together which is a reflection of how comfortable Ruffin and I are with each other. From Tasya Teles (Sitara) to Michael Xavier (Horatio) who were all amazing, all these dynamics were forged by the time I had spent with all the actors and because it was encouraged in the game.
If you want to learn more about Shawn and the project’s he has been involved in then head on over to his website http://www.shawnbaichoo.com. Be sure to follow him at @ShawnBaichoo on Twitter.