“In a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I think Wrench is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of Watch_Dogs 2.”
Characterisation in video games is consistently improving and there’s no better representation of that than with Ubisoft’s sequel to Watch_Dogs. With Watch_Dogs 2, we’ve received a great cast of characters, with equally talented actors playing them. Though they are all standouts in their own way, the reception to the character of Wrench, an endearing and humorous character that manages to eschew stereotypes and subvert many expectations, has been nothing but positive. We managed to wrench away Shawn Baichoo, who plays the character, from holding off his adoring fans for just long enough to ask him some questions.
Shawn has done voice and motion capture work for numerous games and has been involved in several Ubisoft projects, including every single mainline Assassin’s Creed game (that’s a lot of games). He also motion captured all of Adam Jensen’s (lead protagonist) takedown moves in the very well received Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016), and is the voice behind the lead characters in both Outlast (2013) and the upcoming Outlast 2 (2017).
How did you first get involved in the competitive industry of voice acting and motion capture for games?
I started off with theatre studies here in Montreal, intending to make a career of theatre, film and television, with hopefully some voice work (original voice for animation, ideally) thrown in. But I gravitated towards MoCap kind of naturally, as an extension of voice work for video games, as well as my stunt fighting and movement background. And after a rather fortunate encounter with a guy who was in charge of the MoCap for AC2 [Assassins Creed 2] (at the time), Ubisoft gave me a shot a few weeks later, it went very well, and I started working for them since then on various projects. It’s a relatively small community here in Montreal, so once you start working and people get to know what you can do, it can often lead to other opportunities within the industry, which is great.
A good deal of game companies are infatuated with getting big-named actors to play leading roles. How important is it for the industry to give more opportunities to fresh talent?
Well, as a relatively unknown actor, I’d say that it’s very important to give opportunities to fresh talent. MoCap is a pretty new field, and as such it presents a lot of opportunity for people who are willing to explore it. There’s a lot of diverse talent out there with a lot to offer, so having an eye out for fresh talent is is not only good for us actors, but also good for the companies, as look and recognizability tend to play a smaller role in games than they do in movies, for example. So someone who doesn’t have a ‘star’ factor can still be given a shot and compete, if you will, with bigger actors on relatively equal footing (without the price tag that usually comes with stars). That being said, I totally understand the desire some companies have to add some ‘prestige’ to their game by casting names, but Ubisoft, who made Watch_Dogs 2, always seems to cast according to the needs of their games, not based on star power necessarily. After all, a good game is what sells, not how many stars are in it.
The game contains great chemistry between the characters. Were the recording sessions done individually, or were the other cast members in the studio together?
All of the cinematic scenes were shot in the studio with the cast and a terrific director (Jean-Francois Rivard), which was essential for group cohesion and chemistry. We all got along great, too, which helped a lot. A lot of the team-speak was done together in studio, while on occasion we had to do a few pickups together while in different cities, so those sessions would be connected over Skype.
The first game was notorious for having somewhat forgettable characters. Was there a noticeable effort from the cast to rectify this for the sequel?
Not from the cast, really, but definitely from the writers. After all, it falls to them to craft the characters and the stories they tell. That being said, we were all very focused on the relationships between our various characters and how to keep things both natural but also entertaining and fun. I think we succeeded! The writers didn’t play into stereotypes, and there’s a wonderful, organic kind of diversity to the cast that makes them all super relatable, without it falling to pandering or tokenism.
The cast of Watch_Dogs 2 is quite diverse. Is character diversity an issue the industry still needs to improve upon?
Absolutely. And I think Watch_Dogs 2 is a great step in that direction. But they handled it without being preachy or in-your-face about it, which I think it the way to go. Marcus being black certainly affects his story and his relationships with the world, but it’s never the point or the driving force of the story. I think it’s a nice balance.
I think people like DEDSEC so much because they’re easy to identify with in many ways. There are so many stories to tell out there, from so many interesting perspectives, that I really think the more we embrace that in all our media, the more we’ll all benefit.
Were there any disagreements about the decision to show Wrench’s face, or any other decisions regarding the character?
The initial concept for Wrench, I believe, was more of a tough-guy, ass-kicking kind of character, but the man who hired me (Lars Bonde) saw him differently, and thought that combining my unique comedic stylings and energy with such a look could be really interesting. He wasn’t wrong! I think Wrench is so popular, in part, because he’s not what you’d expect. He’s a real person with real passions and fan-boy and geek-out moments, as opposed to some tough, dour, flawless, effortlessly cool and detached (read: boring) kind of person that, frankly, we’ve seen before. I think it was always planned to show his face, however, so no disagreements there. I personally love the idea.
Wrench is portrayed as having a social disorder that is helped by the covering of his face, and he acts noticeably different when the mask is removed. Was this challenging to convey?
Sure, but I was very lucky to have such a great director guide me through some of Wrench’s most vulnerable moments. So while it was challenging, it was also very rewarding. There’s also the fact that I can totally relate to why Wrench wears the mask, as I’m someone who often is filled with self-doubt and can feel socially awkward (I hide it well, though), and I battle insecurity like everyone else. Being able to hide behind something and not let the world see/judge you for who you really are (especially if you don’t like yourself) can be a powerful thing. But sometimes that mask has to fall so we can take stock of what’s really important.
Did you have any input into the dialogue of Wrench, or any ad-libbing?
Oh, yeah, tons. The writers were really great with that, they were totally flexible and encouraged us to make the dialogue our own, which I did with fervor. In my case, it also helped that the writers got to know me throughout the process, so they adjusted Wrench’s dialogue to fit my personality a bit better. Also a great idea, I thought.
Wrench is playable for a small section at the end of the game. Can we expect to see more of Wrench in the upcoming DLC?
I certainly hope so! I love playing him. Unfortunately I can’t talk about any upcoming projects (if any), for if I did I would be beset upon by the Ninjas of the Non-Disclosure Agreement and never seen again.
Do you share any personality traits with the character of Wrench?
Oh yeah, definitely. His sense of humour, his love of movies, games, science-fictions, pop culture (I’m a huge geek), his loyalty, his passion for things, those are all very much me. Where we differ is in his technical savvy, his disregard for the law and his tendency to blow things up. But those are all things that are perhaps easier to enjoy in the power fantasy that is a video game, so that’s fine by me (I like not being in jail)!
If you could add any emoticons to the repertoire of Wrench’s mask, what would they be?
Hypnotic swirls, sound waves that match his voice, some kind of middle finger emojis… oh, and the smiling poop emoji. So many uses for that one. Perhaps with Wrench mask 2.0?
People seem quite taken with the character of Wrench. Why do you think this is?
I think people connect to him partially because the guy playing him (me!) has a lot in common with the fans, and the team behind Watch_Dogs 2 managed to convey that in a really effective and entertaining manner. There’s also the fact that his mask and look give him anonymity… so anyone, really, could be Wrench, which is a fun idea. When I was a kid I loved Iron Man for that very reason. I could be the one in the suit! I also think (in all humility here) that he’s a fun, entertaining and downright funny character, and people love that kind of thing. In a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I think Wrench is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of Watch_Dogs 2 in many ways.
If you can, can you tell us a bit about the character you play in the upcoming horror sequel, Outlast 2?
I play Blake Langermann, a news camera man, who find himself (as well as his reporter wife, Lynne) in an increasingly terrible and terrifying situation after his helicopter crashes in a remote location. You can guess the rest… or actually, you probably can’t. I can’t talk about the story but I know firsthand that it’s going to be pretty intense, and very disturbing. I had a bit of trouble with a few bits, that’s for sure. I also think it’s going to top the first one in terms of atmosphere, game quality, and the number of times you’ll have to change your pants.
And lastly, this is somewhat self indulgent, but Wrench seems to have some kinky interests. Do you view him as sorely on the straight side of the sexuality scale?
To be honest I don’t think anyone is solely on the straight (or queer) side of the scale. I think we’re all queer to some degree (even if it’s minor), it’s just a question of how much we embrace it or hide it away. While I played Wrench as a fairly straightforward hetero cis-male (that’s who I am, after all), I allowed him to have the same degree of comfort and familiarity with his more ‘feminine’ side that I do. Which is to say, Wrench isn’t macho, or sexist, or at all afraid to express behaviour that could make other more ‘rigid’ men uncomfortable. Part of why Wrench does it IS to make Marcus a bit uncomfortable (it’s his way of playing), but the other (probably larger) part is that he’s not afraid to express just how much he loves Marcus and thinks he’s cool. It doesn’t have to be a romantic love, but something I love about fiction (whether it be movies, games, books, animation, whatever) is that fans can read whatever the hell they want into it. I’ve received fan art, [erotic] fan-fiction, etc for Wrench with Marcus, and I’m totally fine with that. The point of all this is for people to escape into whatever worlds they want to, so if that includes one where Wrench is queer, or kinky, or whatever, I say more power to them!
If you want to read more about Shawn you can see the full list of projects he’s been involved in on his website: http://www.shawnbaichoo.com/bio/. Or you can find him at @ShawnBaichoo on Twitter.