The original Watch Dogs was received with very mixed opinions when it released. Many found its lead character to be stale, it’s open world formulaic and its gameplay pretty standard. It’s safe to say, then, that Watch Dogs 2 was a pleasant surprise, getting a considerably more positive reaction from fans and critics alike.
This week I got the pleasure of getting to ask one of the game’s stars a few questions. Jonathan Dubsky is still relatively new to the acting scene and especially to acting in videogames, but he’s quite the interesting guy.
Baden: So, first of all tell us a bit about yourself.
Jonathan Dubsky: For starters, I’m an Aquarius, although I don’t quite know what that means. I’m from Montreal and now live in Toronto with my girlfriend and two of the most beautiful pets on the planet, my Husky dog Chester and my Snow Shoe cat named Moka. I love cooking, writing and making films. I ride my bike everywhere and I definitely spend way too much time playing video games. I discovered acting at a young age when I found out my brother’s childhood best friend, Kenny Vadas, was the star of a few TV shows and films that shot in Montreal. I began seriously considering the craft as a career when I found out the Lord of the Rings was being made into films. Other than that, I’m pretty simple. I’m definitely the kind of person who prefers small gatherings rather than large parties.
You play Josh Sauchak, also known as Hawt Sauce, in Watch Dogs 2. Tell us a bit about the character and what makes him tick.
Josh is an incredible character and the writers did an amazing job creating him on page. Josh is a member of a hacktivist group called Dedsec and is the computer genius of the group. He’s the kind of mind that is always two steps ahead and can foresee a result before anyone else has a chance to think. Although quiet and reserved, Josh has no problems speaking out when there is something important to address. What makes him tick? Well, Josh isn’t a big fan of physical contact and prefers dealing with logical, predictable machines and code rather than unpredictable people.
Josh knows his way around computers, but is socially awkward at times. You’ve revealed in prior interviews that he has Aspergers, something many players suspected and that hinted at in the game. What did you do to prepare for the in order to convey that more accurately, and do you feel like you and Ubisoft managed to do a difficult illness justice?
It’s interesting you say Illness. I think the stigma people associate with Autism and Asperger’s is something that will dissolve over time once we are better educated on the condition. What little we do know is that Autism is a massive, massive scale and you can’t paint it with the same stroke. In some instances, Autism can lead to individuals living in their own world, completely disconnected with the people and environment around them. In other instances, it can be an incredible gift, allowing minds to understand and conceive ideas and concepts the average person could never fathom.
In terms of preparing for playing Josh, I had spent a few years as a camp counselor where I dealt with children who had ADDHD, Asperger’s and Autism. I remember particular behaviors, how people and things affected them. I also read an incredible memoir called, “Look me in the Eyes”, written by John Elder Robison, where he tries to make sense of his past after only being diagnosed with Asperger’s in his 40’s. In the book he describes how he felt under certain conditions, his triggers, what made sense to him and his mannerisms. So Josh was really a culmination of many things, and of course there was a part of me in there.
One of the writers also has a son that has Asperger’s and he would frequently tell me little stories and anecdotes as to what he did that day in school or at home. And you know what? As a team we did a great job. Based on the reaction from fans and the Asperger’s community, they feel they were well represented in the game and proud of it. It’s the greatest compliment one can receive and I’m incredibly grateful to have been given such a tremendous opportunity.
Josh might be a genius hacker, but how adept are you with computers? Tech whizz?
I hate computers. I don’t know what the deal is, but I’ve managed to break bits and pieces of every computer I’ve ever owned. This is really a terrible thing when you’re a filmmaker who relies on these machines for everything you do. They are the bane of my existence. Maybe one day the curse will be lifted.
To the best of my knowledge Josh is the first time you’ve acted in a videogame. Not only did you provide the voice for Josh you also provided his movement through motion capture. What was your experience like, and did you find it more challenging than acting in movies or TV?
At first, putting on the tight black suit, getting stuck full of dots and wearing a giant helmet equipped with a microphone and camera was bizarre. But it didn’t take long to get the hang of it and forget it’s there. One of the major differences is you have an enormous sense of freedom. You don’t have to hit specific marks, the cameras, although they do film us as we perform, are also virtually anywhere at anytime. So you are acting in a wide shot and a close up all at once.
There are quite a few similarities between theatre and performance capture in the sense that there is no need to stop a scene to change lighting or camera setups. You are free, like in theatre, to do a scene from beginning to end in one take. This is wonderful for an actor and makes our job quite a bit easier. Oh, and because you are in a virtual environment, there are no need for night shoots. It’s always 9 to 5, which is fantastic.
Were you given freedom to really create the character and ad-lib lines, or did Ubisoft already have their vision clearly marked out from the start?
The writers gave us some amazing material to work with but they were incredibly open to us bringing our own ideas into the scenes, so long as they were appropriate. That’s one of the great things I love about Ubisoft. They cast these incredible actors, we all genuinely got along, developed quite close relationships and we got to bring that into the chemistry between the characters. And like any character, you’re always learning new things about them. I remember during our first meeting and table read, there were moments where I questioned certain choices Josh was making in the script based on what I had learned about Asperger’s, and most of the time those suggestions were implemented.
What about the rest of the cast and crew, was it a friendly atmosphere?
One of the most difficult things about this project was finishing it. I still remember the tears I shed on my last day in the volume (motion capture set). When you get to come to work and see faces of people you genuinely love and admire, it really doesn’t feel like work. I have made friends I will keep for the rest of my life and I pray I get the chance to work with these talented individuals again.
Now that you’ve broken into the videogame market through Ubisoft, are you hoping to appear in a few more titles down the line? Anything lined up we should know about?
I’ve always been an avid gamer and video games have been a big part of my life. Now that I’ve tasted the sweet, sweet juice of performance capture, I’m a little hooked. I mean, to be able to do an acting job where your looks don’t matter? When does that happen? This medium is a godsend to any actor who dreams of playing parts that would be denied to them based on their physical appearance. Virtual Reality is coming up in a big way and I’m sure video game production is going to ramp up quite quickly. If I’m lucky enough to continue to work in this industry then I will definitely keep you posted.
I believe you’re a bit of a gamer yourself, and a Nintendo fan specifically. Give us a glimpse into your gaming history, and what you’re playing now.
It’s funny, I consider myself a Nintendo fan, but when I think about it, I’ve only been a fan of Nintendo for three games; Mario, Zelda and Metroid. When Nintendo comes out with any of those new games on a platform I don’t own, I still get it. I play a lot of games online with friends I met online and whom I’ve been playing with for years now. Hundreds of hours have been spent playing a game called Tribes Ascend, which is a game in a series I started playing in the late 90’s. I also try to get a few hours of Rocket League in every week. I’m still dozens of hours away from getting 100 percent on Watch Dogs 2, so that will keep me busy for the next little while. And finally, I have been doing a Zelda marathon in anticipation of their newest release coming in a few weeks time. Exciting!
Have you actually played Watch Dogs 2, or did the idea of seeing yourself running seem strange?
Of course! One of the things I was most excited about when I found out which game I was going to be acting in was the thought of being able to play my own game. The only strange thing was wondering how this performance capture was going to translate into a character that talks and moves like me but doesn’t look like I do. It turns out it wasn’t strange at all and I enjoy seeing the work we did.
Jumping off of games for a while, you’ve written, produce and directed a number of short films, indicating a strong desire to be on both sides of the camera. Do you hope to follow in the footsteps of many famous actors and balance both worlds? And tell us about some of your movies.
If I may be so fortunate to have a career where I’m able to support myself and my family doing two of the things I love most, acting and filmmaking, then as far as I’m concerned that would be living the dream. I’m currently finishing up a short film about the relationship between a neglectful father and his sociopath daughter. I’ve shot a comedy web series called “Cub3d” pronounced “cubed” about three friends who struggle to maintain any type of work. I also filmed this fun little short about a pregnant super hero, which we shot with a crew of two or three people and was arguably the most fun I’ve had directing. When you’re limited in resources and you’re forced to think of creative solutions, it’s an incredibly rewarding challenge.
Going forward what are your goals for the next few years? Are you planning some more short films, or do you have any roles coming up your looking forward to?
I’m not really sure what’s to come. I’m continuing to write and develop television shows with my partner in Montreal. If we’re lucky we’ll get something picked up. If not, we keep on writing. I may be shooting a short or two in the near future, but that’s up in the air at the moment. We will see if the right story comes along. Pilot season is also a busy time, so hopefully an interesting opportunity will come knocking. But otherwise I’ll be grinding with the rest of them.
And to start wrapping this interview up there’s a couple of obvious questions that have to be asked: Which director would you absolutely love to work with?
That’s so difficult to answer. I’d pick different directors for different types of projects. I’m kind of tied to Peter Jackson and blame him for the reason I so deeply wanted to be a part of this industry, so he’s definitely someone I’d like to work with. He has an incredible sense of play and imagination that would be fantastic to experience. I also love Martin Scorsese because of how he creates life on screen. His use of long takes and in camera editing creates an atmosphere that is so alive, I become completely absorbed in the story telling.
And aside from the obvious answer of Watch Dogs 3, is there any game franchise you really want to lend your talents to?
Watch Dogs 3 would be amazing. I’ve always been a big fan of the Final Fantasy series and I especially loved Kingdom Hearts. I’ve always found that I have a “younger” sounding voice that may cater well to the types of character we see in those games. Would love to get involved with The Zelda franchise also, if ever given the opportunity. That would blow my mind.
Favorite movies and why?
Lord of the Rings, because of how it changed my life.
Favorite games and why?
Tribes because it’s capture the flag with jet packs. Rocket league because it’s soccer with cars. Watch Dogs 2 because Josh is kinda cute. Zelda, because it’s Zelda.
If there is one film everybody should watch, what would it be and why?
The Elephant Man (1980), because sometimes certain things are said in films that resonate and haunt you for the rest of your life, in the best way possible. Beautiful storytelling.
Finally, if you had the hacking talent of Josh, what would you do with it?
I like to believe that I’d be doing a lot of the same things Josh is doing, using his talents to help better the world. But I may sneak a head shot and demo into the right people’s inboxes as well. Does that make me a monster?