Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V was one of this year's most highly anticipated video games. But can you imagine actually being a part of the phenomenon? That's what happened to actress Michal Sinnott, who's the woman behind GTA5 character Tracey De Santa. BFTV recently chatted with Michal about the process of playing Tracey, and what effect the Grand Theft Auto franchise has had on her career since the game's release.
You might be surprised to know that Michal wasn't initially aware of what she was working on, even though she spent years on the project. "I obviously knew it was for Rockstar and so I knew that it had potential to be really big," she said. "I don't think anything prepared me for how big. Because I feel like this has been the biggest installment. Since I don't play video games and I didn't know [them] that well, it was another audition."
She told us that lack of information "absolutely" impacted her process. "I'm a big researcher. I like to know as much as I can going into a project. We only were getting our portion of the scripts," she explained. "But I'd also done that before; I had a recurring [role] on a soap for a while, [and] that's the same sort of thing. So I think the main thing is just you focus on your character. As long as you can find the truth of that character, it'll take you through the journey."
"It was not like every day," she added. "Basically every three months or so, or every couple of months, there'd be a new installment. The writing team were basically writing it as they go - like any sort of TV show where the story's progressing while you're shooting."
So what was it like for this outgoing, down-to-earth actress to play a rebellious, promiscuous, drug-using teenager? "It was so much fun," Michal reflected. "I don't know if there was a particular memory [that stands out], but it was a fun thing to grow with. It was certainly the longest process I've worked with. As I learned more, kind of expanding and growing the character as I went, I guess there was a quality of working on a TV show.
"She's so awful, she's such an awful person; they all kind of are," she laughed, "but I love acting because it gives me the opportunity to be someone that I'm not in real life. It's this way of accessing someone else's psyche. So to find the truth of someone that's that needy and that self-involved and somehow kind of make her likable, if that's possible, that's a fun challenge."
You can check out the trailer for Grand Theft Auto V with this article.
So when did Michal realize just what she was a part of? "I didn't officially know what I was working on until some of the producers sent me a trailer about a year ago. They were like 'Thought you'd be interested in seeing this.' And there I am yelling at my dad," she told us. "And I was like 'Oh my God, this is going to be so big.' I had to keep it a secret for a whole other year. I was keeping this whole thing a secret for three years. People knew I was working on a video game, but beyond that, I wasn't allowed to talk about the process at all."
Now that the game's out, we asked her if any gamers have figured out that she's the woman behind Tracey De Santa. As it turns out, not so much, unless you're part of the fan following she's developed in Japan. "People don't recognize me," said Michal. "I'm a part of something so big, but I walk around and it's like nothing's changed."
"It's performance capture, so the characters all do look like the actors. They're basically taking our performances and it's like a cartoon version of what we do on that soundstage," she continued. "But I think the thing about it is that most of the fans, they really think we're voice actors. I don't think that they even think to look. They imagine that the tech department created these faces, when in fact they used us as the models. Tracey doesn't look exactly like me, but if you hold up screenshots next to my picture, you see the great resemblance."
For Michal, whose other credits include Days of Our Lives and three separate guest appearances on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and who's currently associate producing a biopic of singer Rick James, being part of GTA5 is a unique experience that's another part of her story in progress. "Life is a constant daily surprise," she reflected. "It's so different from anything I could imagine. It's such a gift. I'm so very lucky to be doing what I love.
"I grew up acting, actually, and I never wanted to do it for a living. I very much early on knew the reality of being an actor. But when I finally decided to do it, the fact that I am doing it is such a wonderful surprise and such a wonderful gift. You never know what you're going to be working on next. You kind of get to live all these different lives as an actor. And that's really magical. I think for me it's really opened up my heart to different types of people. And that's really the beauty of it for me."