Tristan D. Lalla
Shawn Baichoo is one of the videogame industry’s hardest-working performers. He has worked in more than 70 games, including many of the Assassin’s Creed franchise games and WatchDogs 2. Shawn has a natural energy that is hard to match with his performances being both believable and truthful. With a “Jim Carrey-like” knack to be really big and really small at the same time, over his 20-year professional acting career Shawn has developed the ability to easefully switch this back and forth. In addition to being a TV, film and MoCap performer, he is a fight choreographer, stunt performer, chameleon and modern day Renaissance man. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him.
Tristan D. Lalla: Shawn, thanks for doing this interview. For those who might not know you, how long have you been acting?
Shawn Baichoo: Since I graduated in ‘97 from Dawson College’s Professional Theatre program, so 22 years now.
T: How many years until there was an undeniable moment when you felt you could officially call yourself a full-time actor?
S: About 10 years. Like many actors, I also worked at four or five restaurants. It came down to a choice between taking a role in a play or my restaurant job. I chose the play, so the restaurant fired me.
T: You’ve worked in tons of TV shows, feature films and commercials. When videogame work came into your life, were you surprised?
S: Yes, but no. I was... ecstatic.
T: Because you’ve been a gamer your whole life?
S: Huge gamer and nerd. Proud of it.
My parents never wanted to buy me games. So now, whenever I’m talking to my folks, I always say, “I can’t talk. I gotta go to that lucrative videogame job!”
T: What was your favourite childhood videogame?
S: My favourite arcade game as a kid was Double Dragon. It’s ironic because the first console I ever owned was the GameCube, sorry no, Nintendo 64, which I bought with my own money. My parents never wanted to buy me games. So now, whenever I’m talking to my folks, I always say, “I can’t talk. I gotta go to that lucrative videogame job!”
T: What was your first videogame acting job?
S: The first Assassin’s Creed. I played the guy who gave you those “Go fetch my flags” missions. Super annoying missions (haha). Shaun White Snowboarding was also one of my early games.
T: You’re now kind of a legend in the gaming/MoCap world. Do you know how many games you’ve worked on?
S: (Humbly) The last time I counted it was over 60 games.
T: That’s incredible!
S: Yeah. That includes voices, MoCap and or full-performance capture. So it ranges from playing Wrench, who is a main character in Watchdogs 2, to the lead character in Outlast, to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag where I played three different soldiers. There were also emergency days when I replaced someone who was sick. Actually, it’s probably nearing 70, because I added three or four new titles this year.
Watch Dogs 2 Trailer
I think you have a very distinct movement style. When I see games, I can tell… “Oh, that’s Shawn. Fighting Shawn, climbing Shawn, dying Shawn...”
T: I think you have a very distinct movement style. When I see games, I can tell… “Oh, that’s Shawn. Fighting Shawn, climbing Shawn, dying Shawn...”
S: I’ve been killed by myself a few times.
T: Let’s talk Watchdogs 2. You worked on the first Watchdogs. So, when Ubisoft auditioned for the sequel, how did that process and character design come to you? Even though he doesn’t have all of your likeness, he’s very much you.
S: Yeah. He is in a lot of ways. In the first Watchdogs, I played a few small spoken characters. But when we did the DLC (downloadable content), Norwegian videogame director Lars Bond was in charge of it. He got to know my style, energy and adaptability as an actor. Sometime later, I received an email from my agents saying Ubisoft wanted me to do some shooting for a demo. When Lars received the character breakdown, Wrench was going to be this tough, gritty, sledgehammer-wielding tough guy – the muscle of the group who kicked ass. He thought that was a boring and cliché idea because it’s visually what you’d expect from Wrench, with the spikes, the mask and the whole anarchist vibe. Lars wanted to take a risk, so his idea was to use the visual of Wrench and combine it with my personality, sense of humour, energy and irreverence. I assumed they were going to cast “a name”, but I was happily mistaken. And Wrench was born.
T: You’ve seen the evolution of so many areas of our videogame industry. The first time you did MoCap, what were the helmets like?
S: The first time I ever did MoCap was in Assassin’s Creed 2 and there were these very heavy helmets resembling a bowling ball sliced in half, whereas most helmets today weigh only a few ounces. It’s amazing how fast technology changes. When it came to graphics, facial expressions were basic. It’s like when CGI movies first came out; we were blown away because there was nothing else to compare them to at the time. For every new game, we thought, “Oh my god, it’s unbelievably real!”
Shawn as Antonio Maffei in Assassin’s Creed II. Photo: Ubisoft
Sometimes it’s the choices you are consciously making and sometimes you are just being truthful – the new technology is sensitive to it.
S: In my performance work, I was playing characters in a certain way because I was limited to the MoCap technology at that point in time. As technology evolved, I had to trust my directors knew more than I did when they would tell me, “Less gesturing, more internalizing...” I would watch the end result and think, “Oh, wow, that is really powerful.” Little things with the eyes, nuances here and there, it’s so intimate. Sometimes it’s the choices you are consciously making and sometimes you are just being truthful -- the new technology is sensitive to it.
T: Your work as Wrench has brought you to various ComicCons. What’s it like for you to interact with fans?
S: When we were younger, if you wanted to let an actor like Arnold Schwarzenegger know you loved his work, you either wrote a letter or attended some kind of event – such as a Con or a premiere – and you’d yell their name hoping they’d wave or make eye contact. Now, you can follow celebrities on social media and send them your fan art. I find it refreshing to know, in my own small way, I can make someone’s day by thanking them for it. So, performers who you assume are super busy (jet-setting and hanging with celebrities!) may, in reality, be in their pj’s playing PlayStation or checking Twitter.
Everything’s an app, everything’s online, and mom ‘n’ pop stores are disappearing. Online is where everything will be at.
T: Twenty years from now, what do you think the videogame industry will look like, how do you think it will evolve?
S: Twenty years... we’re approaching the singularity my friend. Technology and humanity will probably meet. I believe Ray Kurzweil (I’m a big fan) said it’ll happen by 2040, which is 20 years from now. I see TV, film and gaming all heading towards being the same medium. Everything’s an app, everything’s online, and mom ‘n’ pop stores are disappearing. Online is where everything will be at.
I’m a huge fan of the concept of the “complete actor.” Performers who can sing, act, dance, tap dance, swordfight, horseback ride and fire a gun.
T: What type of role would be your dream role?
S: I would love to play a villain. A main or supporting villain in a videogame. I also wouldn’t mind playing a villain in a film. I’m a huge fan of the concept of the “complete actor” – performers who can sing, act, dance, tap dance, swordfight, horseback ride and fire a gun. The actors who trained themselves to do all these different things. The first movie actors were Renaissance men and women… it’s what I try to emulate.
Tristan D. Lalla plays Damien Sanders on the new Global TV series Nurses and co-stars on The Moodys Christmas Fox series with Jay Baruchel. His film credits include the comedy Long Shot, with Seth Rogan, and the Billie Holiday biopic. Tristan’s videogame work includes playing the lead character Adéwalé in Ubisof’’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - Freedom Cry for which he was nominated for Best New Character at the 2014 Canadian Videogame Awards and Outstanding Performance in a Videogame 2015 at the ACTRA Awards in Montreal. He has performed in over 50 theatrical plays and musicals across Canada. Tristan currently serves as an ACTRA Montreal Councillor and ACTRA National Councillor. Twitter & Instagram: @tdlalla
Shawn Baichoo’s videogame work includes playing Wrench in Ubisoft’s WatchDogs 2, which earned him a nomination for a 2017 ACTRA Award in Montreal. He played Lion in Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege and the lead characters in Red Barrel’s Outlast, Outlast: Whistleblower and Outlast II, the latter for which he was nominated for a 2019 ACTRA Award in Montreal. Shawn has voiced multiple characters in both the Ubisoft videogame For Honor and the Assassin’s Creed videogame franchise. In addition to performing in numerous theatre productions and commercials (in both English and French), Shawn is also a fight choreographer and stunt performer. His television series credits include the new CTV series Transplant, The Bold Type and Real Detective. Shawn is the voice of multiple characters in 2 Nuts and a Richard for which he was nominated for a 2017 ACTRA Award in Montreal. Twitter: @ShawnBaichoo; Instagram: @choobai