Shawn Ashmore Wants Non-Gamers to Take a Risk with ‘Quantum Break’

The Toronto native talks the art of motion capture, the future of ‘Iceman,’ and what sets Xbox’s newest creation apart from other games.

Shawn Ashmore‘s latest career move satisfies his 10-year old self’s dreams. As if embodying a beloved Marvel comic book character wasn’t enough, the Canadian actor has shifted into gaming as he takes on the lead role (both physical and digital) for Xbox One’s Quantum Break. This futuristic time travel game tells the origin story of Ashmore’s character, Jack Joyce, as a science experiment gone awry gifts him with extraordinary abilities. 

The immersive storyline of Quantum Break, accompanied by the ideas and motion capture technology from creative company Remedy Entertainment, morphed the 36-year-old actor into a completely different type of superhero. 

Shawn spoke with Maxim about Quantum Break‘s development, comparing Jack Joyce to Bobby Drake, and what’s next. 

What appealed to you the most about Quantum Break?
First and foremost was the story and the character. I loved this complex, time-travel science fiction action adventure story they had set up. Certainly, the other thing that made me excited about this was the technology. I had never done a motion capture performance before, so it was a little scary, it was a bit of the unknown. I just wasn’t sure what that process was going to be like. That was definitely the other thing that made me excited about it.

Were you an avid gamer growing up or is the world of video games completely new to you?
I grew up playing games, that’s another reason it was sort of exciting. The way that stories are told in games I was very familiar with, and then what’s sort of ground-breaking with Quantum Break is not only is it this hard-hitting amazing action adventure game, but there is a live-action portion. There’s an in-game live action show. I thought, “Wow, if we could combine the best of storytelling in video games along with the separate medium of live action and intertwine those two things, that could be very powerful. That could be an extra level of immersion in the storytelling.” So that was very cool. 

How would you describe Quantum Break for anyone just learning about the game?
On a broad scale, it’s a science fiction action adventure game, but when you really get into it, and what really pulled me in from a performance perspective, is it’s sort of a story about these two guys who were best friends, and because of this event, they sort of become worst enemies. To me, there’s a lot of drama there, and a lot of interest. These two guys who have been best friends are pitted against each other, and it’s not because some small thing happens, it’s really the way they look at life and the way they look at this problem. They have these diametrically opposed views on how to solve this issue, and it sort of spirals out of control and the chasm between their friendship grows. And they just become enemies throughout the game. 

What words of wisdom would you say to convince a non-gamer to play Quantum Break?
Even if you’re not a gamer, the story is what will pull you in. It is an incredibly dramatic and fun action-adventure. If you’re into that kind of stuff, great, you’ll love that. You’ll get pulled into the science fiction elements of it. You’ll get pulled into the action-adventure. If you want a character drama, there’s nothing more intense than a rift between family with huge character arcs and great drama. When you put those together, I think you get an incredible entertainment experience, it’s worth people checking out. Take the risk, jump into an incredible new story, and I think it will be worth your time.

Are there any roles you’ve tackled in the past that you can compare to Jack?
I think in a few ways it’s similar to Bobby Drake in the X-Men series, because Jack is like a normal guy who’s given extraordinary abilities, so I think there’s that sort of comparison. There’s also an origin story, like Jack is given almost superhero abilities, so there are some similarities from the X-Men point of view, in the sense that this is a man who becomes incredibly powerful. That said, I never have played a character quite like Jack. That’s what I look for in a role; something I haven’t necessarily done before.

How much faith did you put into Remedy and Microsoft when doing something like motion capture?
I didn’t really see the polished, finished game until about a month ago, and I’ve been working on the game for about two years, which is the longest I’ve ever spent on one single project. There’s a sense of having to give your trust over to the team that’s making the game, but again, I trusted Remedy, and I trusted Xbox and Microsoft. I know the games they make, and I know the level they make them. At a certain point, you’re dressed up in a spandex suit with a helmet cam attached to you kind of going, “What am I doing? This feels silly” but you get over that very quickly, especially when you have a lot of other actors doing the exact same thing. The script was so good, the character was so interesting, and what they were trying to do with ‘Quantum Break,’ making this sort of revolutionary storytelling thing where it’s not only a great video game, but also a great live action show, that dissuaded all of my fears as soon as we started talking about the story. 

And how intense is the actual process? It doesn’t seem like an easy task.
In one way, it’s very freeing because it’s just you in a room with other actors. There’s no giant crew around you, there’s no big breaks for lighting, and there’s very few distractions which is awesome. And you can play a scene all the way through. What’s challenging about it is that there’s nothing there. The props aren’t there, the lighting’s not there, the curb you have to step down is just marked on the floor with a piece of tape, so it requires you to use a lot of imagination. But it’s also interesting because it’s a whole new level of detail that you have to create. The other day someone mentioned Ellen Page and her work on the video game ‘Beyond Two Souls,’ and when I was working with her on Days of the Future Past, that video game was about to come out and she was talking about her experience in motion capture and how much she really enjoyed it. When the opportunity came up for me, it was the combination of the great story, Remedy, and remembering what Ellen said about her experience doing motion capture. It is challenging, but in a good way.

Speaking of Days of Future Past, how does this compare to when you had to turn full ice as Iceman?
For the X-Men stuff, where I did the ice slide and was badass several times in the movie, we just shot that stuff normally, and then they put tracking marks on your face, and then essentially you shoot it like would anything else on set with everybody. Then it just goes to the animators in post-production. Technically, it’s motion capture because they’re filming it, but it’s not the same process. It’s not the spandex suits and all that kind of stuff. 

With the X-Men storylines changing so drastically as of late, maybe there’s a possibility of Iceman returning.
What’s actually interesting is in the comic books, I come out as gay. So there’s so many possibilities and changes, so I’ve been asked “Would that be a great storyline?” and I feel like that’s the most interesting thing that could happen to Bobby. It’s just hard to say. I also think that we’ve established him as having a love interest with Rogue and potentially Kitty, so it would be a big flip to take the story in that direction. It would have to be well-written, and it would have to be believable as something where we understood that and we could see that nuance change. I’ve been playing that character since I was like 18 years old, so I really feel strongly about those films and about that character, so I would love to get the chance to do it again. Time will tell.