There’s something about London-native Joseph Gatt, appearing in the highly-anticipated Star Trek: Into Darkness, that sets you at ease. Despite his history of playing the bad guy and his incredibly defining and intimidating looks, within five minutes of talking to Joe you’ll feel like you’re catching up with an old friend. This all comes down to the fact that, even with his impressive resume, he’s still just a geek like the rest of us.
In this interview, Joe talks with us about his experience working in motion capture gaming, what it was like walking onto the bridge of the Enterprise every day, and why being Superman for a day seems pretty cool.
The Daily Quirk: When I talk with other actors, they all recall different experiences about getting into acting, but something they have in common is remembering a moment where they knew acting was what they wanted to do. Can you remember having a moment like that?
Joseph Gatt: I guess I kind of did have a specific moment. There was a time when I had to make a choice between going to drama school and joining the British Marines full time or continuing on to become a professional football (soccer) player And all of these things had been happening in my life, so acting was actually probably, at the time, the one that was the least high up in my hierarchy. And that was simply because where I grew up, acting never seemed like a reality to me. Acting was one of those things that was always a dream. You watch movies and you have your heroes in those movies, whether they’re actors or characters, and it just seems so far away. So impossible that it doesn’t even seem worth considering as a reality. But then I kind of had to make these choices. I had a drama teacher in college and I was studying law and economics, but I was also taking one, one-hour acting class during the week and I was enjoying this process. And she said to me ‘You should really consider doing this professionally, because you’re really good at this.’ And that was the first time I ever really thought ‘This is something I could actually do for a living.’ And I had to make a decision between the Army, playing professional football or acting, which is what she wanted me to do. So I went backwards and forwards about what I should do and I kind of figured that acting was the only one of those three things that I had a true passion for. I knew that every time I went into acting class I was happy and having a great time. I knew I had a great passion for movies and television. I was also a huge sci-fi geek, and I figured that the only way I was going to be able to fly the Millennium Falcon or be Top Gun or save the world or do any of these incredible things was to become an actor. And I know that sounds really stupid, but every since I was a little kid and even knew what acting was, I wanted to be Han Solo. And I’m sure millions of young boys, and maybe some girls, around the world wanted to be Han Solo. Or maybe Captain Kirk or Tom Cruise or whatever. We all have these people, or these characters, that we just connect with. And I saw an opportunity where I could maybe be in these shoes by doing this magical thing called acting, and I didn’t even think about the fact that I could be working in movies. I was only thinking about working on stage in London, but I thought that I had to give this a try and see what happened because I’m just one of those people who jump into things head first. If I want something, I go for it and I had nothing to lose at that point in my life. There was a lot of stuff going on, a lot of it not very good, and this opportunity arose and I just jumped in. And I think that was one of the big, defining moments into why I decided to go down this road and see what would happen.
TDQ: You said you never expected to get into movies, but rather just the stage. However you’ve done a lot of video game work. Was that ever considered as a possibility?
JG: Oh, no. That was a complete accident as well. You have to understand, I grew up in a place called Ladbroke Grove in London. It’s very close to Notting Hill and most American people have heard of Notting Hill because of the movie. But it’s a very mixed area in the sense that it’s not a rich, well-to-do area. It’s a very low-middle class, poor area. Ironically, the movie Notting Hill really doesn’t portray what the area is really like. It’s only very recently, in the last 10 or 15 years, become a really trendy place to live. So a lot of celebrities started moving into the area and buying multi-million dollar houses. So now you have an area which basically has drug dealers living right next door to Madonna and other people like this. It’s a very strange area. But I grew up in this area and when you grow up in a part of London like this it doesn’t allow you to consider the possibility that you could be living and working in Hollywood in movies. It doesn’t cross your mind. It’s not even something you dream about because you don’t think about it because it’s just not a reality at all. So when I graduated from drama school and started booking theater work, that was about as far as I expected to go. I didn’t even expect to do television work in the UK. And then video games were one of those weird things because the process of doing motion capture work was brand new at the time. I was lucky enough to step in right on the bottom rung of the motion capture ladder. I started working with a company called Centroid based just outside of London. A friend who had already started working on a different video game with them introduced me to them and they called me in and he asked me to come and work because they needed two people to work with them. It was called Driver 2, and I’d heard of the game because I’d played video games as a kid and I had no idea what this whole motion capture weirdness was. I showed up and we rehearsed the whole game just like it was a theater production. Then we went into the motion capture studio in London, and we put on the motion capture suits, and I was learning about this new thing and I had a great time doing it because it’s such a fun experience. And they asked me to come back again and again and again because of my military experience and my physical abilities along with being a trained actor. I embodied all the things they needed from a motion capture actor. I can’t remember how many games I worked on for them in the UK before I even moved to Los Angeles and began working on the God of War games. But just through sheer luck I got in on the bottom rung of motion capture and it’s been a fantastic experience. I love being a part of that world and I’ve watched the technology change over the years. It’s funny how people are only now just starting to realize what motion capture is here, and I’m sitting here thinking ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years.’
TDQ: Have you ever found motion capture work more challenging?
JG: To me, acting is acting. There is no difference in the actually acting, only how it’s captured, whether it’s on television or in movies or through motion capture. Obviously, there are some technical differences. When you’re doing motion capture you’re not wearing a costume or proper wardrobe, you don’t have to worry about your hair or getting makeup that morning, so in that sense it’s easier. The only thing that makes motion capture more difficult is that most of the work I’ve done has been very physical involving a lot of stunt work, but not all motion capture is like that. A lot of it is just acting scenes, whether it’s in video games or in movies like you’re seeing with movies like Avatar and that kind of thing. So it just really depends on the type of work you’re doing. But overall, I’d say it’s easier because you’re not worried about your physical appearance because you’re not actually on camera, so that makes life a little bit easier.
TDQ: You’ve become a fan favorite on the show Banshee for your role as “The Albino.” Could you tell us a little about the show and your character?
JG: It’s a great, fun new show about a character named Lucas Hood and it’s set in a mythological town called Banshee in Pennsylvania. I don’t actually think there’s a town called Banshee in Pennsylvania. That would be worrying if there was, I think. But basically, this town is full of very bad people and I…I don’t know how much I should share, because I know it’s aired but it’s airing for the first time in the UK and I’m not sure how much I should give away, but I’m a very, very bad person who has been employed by an ex-boss of Lucas Hood to keep Lucas in his place while he’s in jail. And I do that in a very bad way. I don’t know how to say this other than I’m an evil person. It was a lot of fun, but it was an incredibly challenging role to play. By far the most challenging role I’ve ever played on television and film, but it was incredibly rewarding. The Banshee cast and crew were amazing. Incredibly hard working and incredibly dedicated. There was a great stunt team who really helped us out and made us look good because we had some very, very brutal fights to do, but it was incredible fun.
TDQ: Pretty soon, fans will be able to catch you in Star Trek: Into Darkness as “Science Officer 0718.” I’m no Trekkie, so can you tell me a little about your character and why he doesn’t have a name?
JG: Well, Science Officer 0718 is a name. Basically, my character is a humanoid-cyborg. I’m basically a human character with cybernetic implants which kind of turned me into an artificially Spock. And I work with Commander Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise. What else can I say about this character that doesn’t give away any of the plot? Well, I wear a blue shirt, so I’m a science officer and I work on the bridge of the Enterprise. I guess the reason I don’t have a specific human name is because my humanity was taken away from me when I was implanted and turned into a cyborg character. I’m a little bit like a data character. I work closely with the ship’s systems and the ship’s engineering and Captain Kirk always comes to me first in regards to the ship because I have a direct link via my implant to the ship’s computer. I know exactly what’s going on with the ship itself. Other than that I don’t know what I can give away without spoiling parts of the plot. I only just saw the movie myself last night and I am so overly excited about how good the movie is. I always knew the movie was going to be a really good movie, but the cast and crew saw a movie yesterday evening at Paramount Studios and it completely blew me away. It just surpassed all of my expectations about this movie and I’m so proud to have worked on it. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it had me sweating with tension in moments. It’s an incredible movie and it’s so visually stunning. I can’t wait for millions of people to start watching this movie.
TDQ: Because this film has J.J. Abrams at the helm once again and is filled with this amazing cast, everyone is on the edge of their seats waiting for its release. What has the journey been like from the time you were cast leading up to the premiere of this highly anticipated movie?
JG: I never knew what to expect. I’m just an actor doing a job, and I’m just incredibly blessed to be offered these roles on these incredible projects like Thor and Banshee and now Star Trek. But the difficultly with me is I’m not just an actor. I am an actor, but I’m also a geek. And this is where the problem comes in because separating my geek-ness from my professionalism as an actor can be difficult at times. I remember the first day when I walked onto the bridge of the Enterprise, I really had to sit there and keep myself under control and think to myself ‘Joe, you are a professional actor. This is not the first set you’ve walked onto.’ But then the other person inside of me is saying ‘This is the bridge of the Enterprise! Are you kidding me!’ And then the other side if saying ‘But Joe, you are a professional actor. You auditioned for this role. There’s J.J. Abrams and Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto and you are all professionals working on this together.’ And the other voice is still thinking ‘This is the bridge of the Enterprise! What are you doing here?!’ So there was that whole experience which, which luckily I wasn’t the only one feeling like this. From J.J. all the way down, everyone was so energized and so excited to be working on parts of this movie. It was perfectly summed up at the screening, because J.J. recorded a little private message for the cast and crew and it kind of summed up the whole experience. He sat there thanking everybody for being part of this experience and how without the love and energy and professionalism of everyone involved, the movie could not have been made. This piece of magic that people are going to go and watch could not have been created without the hard work of every single person on that set. And it was true. This was one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been on. Definitely the most energized, filled with people, both in front of the camera and behind, who absolutely loved what they do for a living. It just filled my heart with warmth every day I walked onto that set. I woke up every morning with a smile on my face thinking about how I was going to work on the bridge of the Enterprise with a bunch of incredibly people. And since then, every time I’d go back to do ADR or I read a report on a fansite talking about the movie it would bring back all of those memories and the excitement of seeing the screening. It’s just been an amazing rollercoaster ride and I just don’t want it to end.
TDQ: Now that Star Trek is winding down, what other projects will you be stepping into?
JG: I’ve been sent a few scripts which I’ve been reading over the last few weeks. The irony is because of the way I look, I have a very strong, very particular look, I tend to get involved in the kind of productions that always become top secret. So I end up not being able to say anything about any thing until the actual thing has been released. I couldn’t talk about my character on Banshee or Thor. Half the video games I’ve worked on have been top secret. I certainly couldn’t, and still can’t, say anything about Star Trek until it comes out here in the US. Which is very strange because a lot of my friends back in England and a lot of my press friends had all seen the movie before me and were posting all over Facebook and I’m sitting here thinking ‘I haven’t even seen it yet.’ So it seems like my whole career is shrouded in secrecy until the final moments, but there is a lot going on and I’m excited about two or three really big prospects that I wish I could talk about, but unfortunately can’t at the moment.
TDQ: We like to end our interviews with a fun question, and because I read that you’re a pretty big comic book fan, I was wondering what comic book hero (or villain, if you prefer) you would love to be for a day?
JG: Well my favorite comic books when I was a kid were Thor, Wolverine or The X-Men and Batman. They were my three favorite comic books. But if I had to choose, it would be Superman. I can’t help myself. I didn’t used to like the comic books, but he is the greatest superhero and I would love to be Superman, the Man of Steel, for one day. I would literally save the world in one day and have so much fun doing it. I’m so jealous, because I would have loved to have been in Man of Steel. I’m really excited for that movie, but yes, Superman. I want to be Superman for a day. How many people have told you that one?
TDQ: You’d be surprised how many people go with Batman. It’s good to here some love for Superman right now.
JG: You know, see I like Batman but he’s a really unhappy chap. He’s not a happy person. You’d end up being very miserable for the day and that’s not a very good thing, is it? Superman seems much happier and much more at ease with himself with his cape and his underpants. So I think I’d be much happier being Superman for the day.
A big thanks to Joseph Gatt for talking with us, and for teaching a Star Trek-newbie a thing or two! Check out Star Trek: Into Darkness in theaters now. To find out more about Joe, you can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.