Desmond Chiam is an actor from Melbourne, Australia, known for his roles in Reef Break and The Shannara Chronicles. More recently, you can see him as Dovich in Marvel's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS). Believe it or not, though, there was a time in his life where he thought that creatives (actors, directors, etc.) probably do this whole film business as a hobby next to their normal job. That may have been why he delayed starting his acting career until his mid-20s. But he is proving that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. I sat down with him to chat about games, movies and, of course, TFATWS!
Since we are talking for Retro Replay, I have to ask: Are you a gamer by any chance?
Yes. Firmly. I built my PC during this pandemic, put it together. I didn't do a Henry Cavill style video, unfortunately.
You should have. Come on!
I know, a fool am I! Huge into Xbox and PlayStation. I have on my Instagram profile "Xbox > PS," but I'm not trying to start fights. Get them all if you can afford it. I play cross-platform.
I'm a huge gamer, man, since I was youuung--er. Gaming is what I have done mostly during this pandemic. It helped me keep in touch with a lot of friends and do something instead of just Zoom meetings. Zoom is nice, and you can hang out and have drinks with people, I’ve been doing that, too. Doing something, though, is, I think, an integral part of what we’ve lost in 2020. I think if you are a gamer, you've got to retain that to some degree. I'm just up on Apex Legends with my friends who I would have seen shooting shows and films. I’m playing It Takes Two right now with my wife. It's an amazing co-op game. It's taking up so much of my time.
What is your favourite game then? Do you have one?
Pretty hard to say. There are a lot of really good ones. Obviously Final Fantasy VII, I think the remake did a pretty good job recently. There is another game I played really recently that is FANTASTIC and hasn't gotten a lot of notice called 13 sentinels: Aegis Rim (PlayStation 4 and 5). It's like a tactical-RPG-mixed visual marvel. It's got a really convoluted time-travelly-twisty-wisty story that it actually handles really well. I was surprised because there are so many threads and it's a non-linear narrative. So, out of 13 characters, you can play any of them at any time in order to go through the story, and it all comes together neatly in a bundle in the end. Thirteen different strands of story. It's a really cool exercise. So check that out if you haven't!
I didn’t even hear about it, so I am now very intrigued to play with this, too.
It's a bit fanservice-y at some points, too. The guys who made it are the same people who made Dragon's Crown. There's some solid stuff there.
Would you say that you are more into the RPG kind of games?
Yeah, but I’m a big shooter fan as well. I played a lot of COD (Call of Duty) growing up, and that was with all my actor mates, we all played it. Then we moved on to Halo, then went back to COD again, and then we went to play Fortnite for a second. Now, we are all on Apex, which is like hours out of our day. I also played some League of Legends. I won’t even pretend that the fanbase and community can not be incredibly toxic, and that’s what drove me away from League: the toxicity. When we were shooting TFATWS, I jumped back into a game of it with my stunt double because he plays League. Our first game out of the gate was so toxic, they were just… [he shook his head]
So I was like, "I remember why I left now." So I went to play Heroes of the Storm and that one is much less toxic. And it is easier, quicker and a little more casual.
If you would get the chance to be a voice in a video game, would you do that?
Absolutely. Yeah, wink, wink. I would, in a heartbeat. Voice acting is a whole other barrel of fish, but it's fun because you can do stuff that's outside yourself, you know. Like, I have a particular timbre in my voice, I know that, and it lends itself to certain things on screen. But sometimes, you just "want to be the wacky gnome" [spoken in a wacky gnome voice]. And we get those auditions sometimes through my VO people where I’m just like, "I'm gonna swing for the fences 'cause I don't get to do this any other time." Oh he’s an underwater imp who resurfaces once every six years as a troublemaker? Oh yeah, we can do some crazy voice for this. So much fun.
Any favorite voice actors out there?
Troy Baker was one of the entries into the world of VO, the idea of being able to do it. He is a dedicated VO artist. Him and Nolan North were the two VO artists whose careers I was like: "Oh look, check that out." Far Cry 4 and all that. Shout out to them, really!
Let's talk about your most recent high-profile acting role for a bit. How did you get the role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Did you know what you were auditioning for? You do such a fantastic job there.
Thank you, I appreciate that. Not gonna lie, it's not a big part, but it's important to do the work: there are no small scenes, there are only small actors. Marvel brings a certain quality, and that requires even the smaller parts to really do the work. Having led a series before, there's no less work that goes into this type of part than being number 2 or number 1 on the call sheet. You have to bring it every time.
I did know I was auditioning for Marvel, but we didn’t know what it was for. There were code names for the project and the roles. We had no idea what we were in for. There was a really real feeling to it all. I had an inkling of the sides being so real, and every day I'm thinking, "Surely, this must be the most human corner of the Marvel Universe, which is Cap's corner of the universe." Based on that feeling, I was very excited.
Jason Stamey and Sarah Finn were the casting directors. I worked with Jason through it, and he provided a very open, very lovely room. They let you do your work, they don't pressure you. I don't like working with casting directors who are cynical about actors and the whole process. Their job is to find the best performance from the best actor, and a lot of them justify what they’re doing with "Oh, we just need to see if they can perform under pressure." No, no. Those people are just cynical at that point and they're not trying to help. Jason is the opposite of that. He lets you do your work and it’s effortless. You’re feeling the nerves walking in, but you don’t feel them walking out.
So we did that, and then we just waited for a few weeks. It sort of fell out of my head, and then suddenly, I got a call at the gym, out of all places. I was there with my wife and I hadn’t told her that I was out for anything, let alone Marvel.
My manager was like, "Hey, we have an offer. It's for Marvel. And it's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."
I was like, "I KNOW WHAT THAT IS! YOU DON'T NEED TO TELL ME!"
And she’s like, "Ok, hang on, I have to talk to casting real quick but I'll be back with you in a sec."
We hung up and I was like, "Marvel called, Marvel called!"
I am sitting there, freaking out, and my wife asks, "What are you talking about? Marvel called? You have Marvel on speed dial? They're just gonna call you? Yeah, sure man, sure." So then she starts freaking out, too.
And I'm there in the gym, on the floor, almost dying. I remember this so distinctively: these three gym bros, 6-foot Hemsworth bodies, they come over and they are like, "Dude, are you ok? You need to sit up, you gotta get your blood going, you can't lie down! Make sure you're alright." They’re giving me water.
I tell them, "You guys are so lovely. I haven't injured myself, I'm good, I'm good.” It was a really nice moment with my wife being there and shoving it to toxic masculinity. Big gym bros can be lovely, lovely people, too.
That is so awesome! Can you share a favorite The Falcon and the Winter Soldier memory for the Replayers?
You know what? I will share an exciting one, and then I share a really fun one.
The exciting one was—and I don’t think that made it into the final cut—there’s a scene, in episode 2 with the trucks that we were fighting on. There's actually a scene before that where we steal them. It's me and Matias. We break into this place, we pull this chain link fence apart with just our bare hands, and then we get under the trucks and lift them. And they did that practically. They set everything up on hydraulics and stuff and had us do the lifting. These were massive semi trailers. That was a moment where it just felt powerful. I knew that it was hydraulics doing it, but if you are ever feeling down about your physical ability, just have Marvel rig you up a couple of special effects trucks. You'll be like, "Yeah, I'm really strong." You're gonna feel good about yourself for the rest of the day.
The other one was, honestly, hanging out with the Flag Smashers. We did film somewhere in Europe, and we just wandered the city for like a whole day. Just hanging out and having fun, chilling in the park. It was so nice to be with friends in a cool, fun place. I will treasure that. That's not something you get on every set.
Thanks so much for taking time with us, Desmond! Now grab that controller, Apex is waiting!
Desmond and I talked a little more after wrapping up the interview, and I can honestly say that he's a shining example of "if you work for your dream, there’s nothing that can stop you, no matter when you start or you get in the game." He is a true geek at heart who enjoys the process of film making just as much as sitting down and watching a good movie or TV show or playing some cool video games. He wants to play a Space Cowboy and has a serious obsession with Firefly, and I completely understand both. It was an absolute honour to chat with Desmond, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. I am sure that he will do even more great things.
Follow @deschiam on Twitter and Instagram, and don't miss his performance in Reef Break, where he plays a lead role. The Shannara Chronicles is my personal favorite performance from him, and his character, Riga, was created for the series (he wasn’t in the books)! If you share the Replayer love for Con Man, go back and rewatch Desmond as one of the auditioners in Season 2, Episode 6 "Gum Drop." And, of course, definitely check him out in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier if you haven't already.
What are your favorite performances from Desmond Chiam, and what would you like to see him do next? Let's chat in the comments.