Ladies and gentlemen I have recently had the pleasure of interviewing the talented and kind actor (Earl Baylon) who brought Jonah to life in the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider and again in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Earl has brought Jonah into our hearts and shown him to be a strong, loyal friend to Lara, who would follow her anywhere. I would say he is the epitome of a faithful soul. As fans, we see the game as a dazzling spectacle that takes us through its ancient beauty and puts Lara to the test. We have become familiar with Lara and some feel she is an old friend. The same feelings emerged with other recent characters that found their way into our hearts. One such character is Jonah. He has a gentle, genuine quality about him that you feel you can trust. You can feel his concern for his adventurous friend Lara. His “Little Bird”
However, ever wonder who the man behind the character is? Let’s find out and meet Earl Baylon.
Before we begin, I must thank the kind folks over at Crystal Dynamics for authorising this interview and to Earl for agreeing to give it! I am your grateful friend and fan! Now on with the interview!
Emma: as a huge Tomb Raider fan, I have watched the development of the cast of Tomb Raider 2013 and the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider. How did you get into the character to flesh him out the way you did for Rise?
I had the benefit of having all the back story from the first game, as well as the comics penned by Rhianna Pratchett and Gail Simone, which I definitely followed along with as they came out. They started releasing the comics soon after we started working on ROTTR, so it was fun to look at the exploits of Lara and the crew between TR2013 and ROTTR and work some of that back story in. I basically took what I felt to be Jonah’s emotional core: Loyalty, and threw it up against all the trials and tribulations that you see in the comics, as well the previous game – and that’s the headspace I tried to live in while working on Rise.
Emma: Were you a fan of the gaming series before you worked on TR 2013? If so, do you like the classic game series more or less than the reboot?
I have to admit, I wasn’t a total die-hard fan before working on TR2013. I’ve been a gamer all my life, but I play mostly RPGs, Adventure, and Strategy games (both turn-based and RTS). I played third-person action stuff here and there, but it’s not my usual poison. Of course, I touched a lot of the landmark titles, like Metal Gear Solid, God of War, Shadows of the Colossus, and the original Tomb Raider. I definitely had an appreciation for Lara Croft though. She’s been a part of video game and popular culture for a long time. And even though the classical interpretation of Lara was a very sexualized one, she was still one of the few strong female video game protagonists back in the day… like her, and Samus Aran – and I respected the heck out of that. Hell, I watched both of the movies – in the theatre!
And I have to say, even if I hadn’t worked on TR2013, I’d be a fan. I enjoyed that game a lot. I played it to 100%, and I almost never do that with action titles.
Emma: I for one enjoy playing Tomb Raider because of the element of ancient history throughout. What attracts you to the game series?
I’m actually really into that stuff as well. Besides biology, ancient history was my favorite subject in high school. I was obsessed with things like Greek mythology, the historicity of Arthurian Legend, and the search for artifacts in folklore. Pre-Tomb Raider, much of that came from things like the Indiana Jones films. In fact, for a time, I flip-flopped between wanting to be an archaeologist and a paleontologist as a child, haha. What really draws me now, though, is that the games are just plain fun. I haven’t had a chance to play ROTTR yet, but like I mentioned earlier, TR2013 was awesome. I thought it was a beautifully polished game. In particular, I loved the cover/shooting and traversal mechanics, as well as the environment and level design.
Emma: Do you find Lara’s adventures inspiring and make you wish to travel to faraway lands yourself?
I definitely think her adventures are inspiring! I mean, she explores places I have never been, unearths things I never even knew existed, and beats up baddies that would probably wipe the floor with me. Also, the games are a great reminder that there’s a lot of natural beauty in the world around us. Although the environments in the game only exist in the digital world, they do have real-life analogs.
Emma: Over the years I have heard that some fans pursue archaeology as a career because of the interest Tomb Raider generated in them. Does the exploratory element of Tombs and ancient places ignite an interest in you to explore a remote place?
Yes, I’d say so. I think that in addition to witnessing Lara’s exploits, I’ve had the chance to interact with a few of the for reals archaeologists in the TR community via twitter and seeing what they do definitely re-sparks that interest in me. I would definitely be unable to traverse tomb walls Ninja Warrior style like Lara, though. You would have to hoist me around in a crane.
Emma: If you could pick an exotic far away land to travel to and explore where would you go?
Tough question. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, primarily to sample all the world’s delicious and diverse cuisines. If it came down to it, think I’d start somewhere in Asia – Mongolia perhaps. You know, the burial place of Genghis Khan has always been a mystery. Some say he went to great lengths to hide it, including diverting a river over the tomb and planting a forest over it. So one knows where it is really, because he had everyone involved in his burial executed. But… would be cool to explore some of the possible sites. Then I’d totally stop by Kitezh on the way home and pick up a Divine Source or two.
Emma: I know making the scenes used in the game must be tedious at best. How long does it take for a typical filming day for Rise of the Tomb Raider?
Haha, I wouldn’t call it tedious, especially in comparison to film/TV. Because we do Motion Capture, the process is actually a lot quicker. We’ll usually do about 8 hour days in the Volume, which is the large empty space filled with lights and cameras all along the walls that capture our body movements by tracking all those little reflective balls on the MoCap suits. And, because they’re capturing the motion and performance in 3 dimensions, they’re literally capturing a scene from every possible angle at one time. That eliminates the need to do coverage shots like in Film or TV. Also, lighting tends to stay the same. MoCap studios don’t have to light each scene differently, unlike Film. So, for us actors I wouldn’t really say it’s tedious.
For all the awesome folks in post-production that have to take that raw data and turn it into the beautiful cinematics you see in the game’s final release, that’s probably way tedious-er. More tedious.
Emma: I know this is a question I often think of. How did you end up playing a character from Tomb Raider? Was it something you planned to do, or a happy accident?
You know, I’m going to lean more towards the side of “happy accident.” Like a lot of things in the entertainment industry, booking this game was a lot of being in the right place at the right time and having the experience to capitalize on that. It’s a mixture of luck, skill, and work.
I had been acting professionally for 3 years when I got a chance to audition for the role, and that entire time I was hustling. I’m not the most talented or organized, but I was really driven. I was doing improv shows, and writing and performing in sketch shows, as well as auditioning and working on student/indie projects. An agent happened to be at one of my sketch comedy shows. They contacted me afterwards and offered me representation. I said, “Hell yeah.” After being with them about a year, they submitted me for this project, which had a codename at the time, so I didn’t know what it was. I went in to audition, went to a callback, still didn’t have any idea what it was. That changed when they sent over the non-disclosure agreement and saw I the words “Crystal Dynamics,” and “Square-Enix” in the letterhead. Being a lifelong gamer, I had a mild panic attack because I knew it had to be something big.
When I actually got the news from my agent, I was backstage at an improv show. I remember reading the email seeing the title of the project: “Tomb Raider.” I seriously wanted to scream. Scream for joy, scream in excitement, in nervousness, in apprehension, in disbelief… all that. But I had to keep it bottled up because I couldn’t tell anyone, and I was backstage at a show so I had to be quiet. But seriously, mind blown.
Fast forward 4 years, and here we are. Fun, huh?
Well, absolutely fun! I am very happy to have gotten to know Earl Baylon and I hope you all are more informed about the real man behind that lovable teddy bear Jonah. This experience has been a blast and I appreciated the grand opportunity. It also makes being a long time fan of Tomb Raider and especially playing the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider all the more special to me.
This is Emma’s Quill signing off. Until we meet again!
My interview was translated into Chinese and shared on Tomb Raider China and you can find it here. If you are a site admin and would like to share my interview, you can contact me for permission and add a credit link that tracks back to the original here. Thank you all for viewing!