You might have seen his digitized face, scowling menacingly, murdering biker gang members, or offering earnest life advice to his best friend’s daughter, in one of the biggest video games of the year. Steven Ogg is the Canadian-born actor who became the face and voice of Trevor Philips, a psychotic meth dealer in the blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto 5 who will likely do terrible, terrible things to you if you so much as suggest you know he’s secretly a Canuck.
An accomplished actor away from the consoles, having appeared in shows like Law & Order, Person of Interest and Broad City, as well as films including last year’s He Never Died.
Tonight, he appears in Murdoch Mysteries, the popular CBC program set in Toronto at around the turn of the century, which stars Yannick Bisson as Inspector William Murdoch.
In this week’s episode, Glory Days, Ogg plays Bat Masterson, on the search for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
We spoke with Ogg to talk about Murdoch Mysteries, his now-famous role as Trevor in Grand Theft Auto 5, and what it’s like to have fans continually ask, “Can you yell at me to go fuck myself?”.
What can you tell us about Bat Masterson? The episode summary says he’s a legendary lawman.
Steven Ogg: What’s interesting about Bat as well is that he was actually born in Canada. So we have this brash American guy, but there’s one scene where there’s a reporter that says, “Is it true you were born in Canada?” And he quickly brushes him aside and says, “Oh yeah yeah yeah, that’s true. But I am as American as they come.” And then he just struts down the hallway.
Which for me, couldn’t be more opposite. I’m this sort of ultra-proud Canadian, you know, wearing it upon my sleeve. CBC is my home page on my computer. Jian Ghomeshi is my favourite interviewer. It’s all Canada for me, and the irony of that was not lost upon me, that’s for sure.
Oh my god, when I did Jian’s show, Q. You know how some people say Letterman, or whatever their dream is to be on a talk show…none of that has mattered to me. I’m not about that. Well, Jimmy Fallon I do love. But oh my god, to be on Jian’s Ghomeshi’s Q? That was a huge thing for me. I was very excited to meet him. I just think he is probably one of the best interviewers out there. And I just brag about meeting him wherever. That was just a great experience to have.
What did you talk about when you were on Q?
SO: I shot a film here in Toronto (He Never Died) with Henry Rollins, so it was sort of obviously based around being around the time of the release of GTA, so they wanted to discuss the Grand Theft Auto phenomenon, since it had made a billion dollars in three days. It’s certainly socially relevant to discuss, and other things as well.
I have this picture of you as Bat, with the main cast of Murdoch Mysteries, and I don’t know what you’re saying but Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) is staring at you with this “Oh my god, who is this guy?” look on his face. Is it fair to say Bat shakes up the more straight-laced cast on the show this episode?
SO: We certainly, I think, tried to push the envelope as much as we could. Yannick directs that episode, and it was just a love fest. Everyone, including Thomas [Craig, who played Inspector Brackenreid] and Yannick, they’re just absolutely wonderful, delightful people. It was just, you know. If they said “You know, we need Bat around as a fourth wheel,” I would go, “Yep. Bags are packed. I’ll stay here.”
I did want him to sort of be the big, brash American eagle coming into Canada with his gun, and going, “Hey.” What that show is, and the way that they solve these mysteries, it was such a beautiful juxtaposition with “the American way” of doing things.
I became a big fan of Murdoch Mysteries and the writing in it. They’ve put in, be it religion, crime, politics, they put it in, in a lovely, subtle way. And I was like; let’s show the difference between America and Canada. So many people come up to me and say, “There is no difference between Canadians and Americans.” Well, I disagree.
And, actually, it goes full circle to Jian Ghomeshi, as I told him, he reflects the cultural differences between Canada and America, in that his talk show covers such a wide range of topics, and everything is so well researched. And to me, that is very reflective of the cultural differences. There seems to be a broader spectrum in Canada, whereas I think sometimes in America it becomes very Clydesdale Horse. The blinders go on and it’s straight ahead.
We played it pretty straight-laced, but I remember there’s one particular scene, with Thomas and I where we’re in a brothel. Because the search is quite extensive for Butch and Sundance, and Bat decides that that’s a good place to start, perhaps both professionally and maybe for some pleasure. At one point…I did something that Thomas certainly was amused by. He laughed, and I could hear Yannick laughing looking at his monitor, and I could hear others chuckling, but then of course Yannick came up to me and said, “Okay. I like it, but. This is CBC, not HBO.” It was a little too lewd, so we brought that in.
So…what did you do?
SO: Bat is sitting there, and he certainly has quite an impressive, uh, piece, that he carries around. And Bat is not at all that shy to show everyone his piece.
It’s his gun.
So one can imagine what one wants to do when you have a really nice and shiny piece by your side that you want to impress the ladies with. I think that explains it enough, right?
You brought up something I was about to ask. How does your research into the historical figure, and of the time period that Murdoch Mysteries takes place in, inform your performance?
SO: There were a lot of people playing Bat as a real ladies man – a real charmer. Whereas, from my experience in researching Bat, I certainly didn’t picture him as that. I was approaching it as a man who used to be someone great – he used to be this amazing lawman, but now he’s in Canada writing about sports. There’s a frustration there. He used to be someone great, and now he’s not.
I was incredibly blown away and impressed with Murdoch’s writing team. I mean, they research everything. And they’ve had historical figures on there before, and everything is based in reality. It’s obviously fiction, but it is well researched, and it is legitimate.
At the end of the day, you have to be on the set and do your job. But you hope that [your research] informs it. And I certainly feel that it helped with my performance, and my research, seeing the type of man he was, and the fact that he killed, it was twenty-something men. That’s a lot of people to kill! So that kind of tells you the kind of person he was, and his values certainly informed the performance. And again, the wonderful cast and crew, and having Yannick at the helm of the ship, they are there to guide you. “Hey, this works, this doesn’t, try that.”
What’s it like to become well-known for being a character in a Grand Theft Auto game?
SO: I recently did a comic-con in Chile, and there were 10,000 people and I had security around me. It was nuts! I was chased around everywhere, and followed everywhere. And then I spent time signing autographs, and doing Q&As. And I would, if it was an hour, or an hour-and-a-half to sign, and there were still a hundred people in line (it happened in Toronto, actually, for the Fan Expo), I’ll stay.
I mean, of course I’ll meet people and sign autographs. And if someone’s like, aren’t you getting tired of sitting here all day? I mean, I guess I would be if people were throwing tomatoes at me. If people didn’t like me. But when it’s coming from people who enjoy what you’ve done, and they’re interested in you, that’s all about the love, right? So I feel very lucky and blessed to have that opportunity. It’s all good, being recognized for it.
I’m proud of the performance. If it was something I was embarrassed by, or it was something that I did and I was like, “Oh, I hope this doesn’t get released, because I don’t believe in it,” then it would be tough. Because then you’re always fighting that feeling. “Yeah. Yeah, yeah, no. Thank you. *Sigh*” But I’m proud of it. It was a performance, just one that was animated.
I read in an interview that you worked at making Trevor more than just a psychotic man. What was the character like on paper, and what did you do to impart something through your performance?
SO: Well certainly, Trevor was there on the page, without a doubt. I didn’t have to go, “how am I going to get my head around this character?” It was all there. There’s the sense that Trevor’s very loyal. He’s got a loyalty factor, so that allowed you to play a lot of different realities, when regardless of his state of mind, or the mental duress that this fella has, he’s still loyal.
As an actor, you can tell when someone’s behind the words, or on top of the words.. And what happens is the audience might not understand or know why they believe a person, but it generally comes down to the actor not being behind the words; they’re on top of them. Especially in the theatre.
So I found with Trevor, a lot of the nuance and what people comment on, is the fact that I got behind the words he said. It grounded Trevor. You don’t just want a screaming lunatic. It’s boring to watch, it’s boring to perform. That was a very exciting challenge: how do you take this guy, who just stomped on someone’s skull, and try to make him not necessarily lovable, but like all of us, human.
Personally, some of the nicest things I’ve heard are emails I’ve received from the gay and lesbian organizations. I actually got one from a transgender association, saying, “thank you for portraying someone whose sexuality can be a little ambiguous at times. You didn’t make fun of that, or comment on that. You just did what you did.” And those things mean a lot, because it means that they were getting these other colours and shades.
When you were at Comic Con, someone from the audience asked you to walk up to him and yell profanities at him. Do people ask that of you now?
SO: Yeah, the downside of that one was, it was purely a spur of the moment thing. People came here to see Trevor, so you give them a little bit of Trevor. But then yeah, that sort of plagued me. Everyone at every convention wants me to say “Go F yourself,” or asks, “Can you strangle me?” or, “Can you look angry?” I’m not going to say no, but I’m going to repeat the same thing every time. It’s kind of boring! I’ll give you something else. How about a hug? How about some love? So it’s very interesting.
There were days, certainly, at the conventions, where I’m just like, “Wow. What’s up? Everyone just wants me to scream obscenities and be mean.” It’s strange. Why would you want that?
Murdoch Mysteries airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC television.