Born and raised in Montreal, Peter Shinkoda studied civil engineering at the University of Western Ontario and post production for film and television at UCLA. In the 90’s, Shinkoda decided to focus on his acting and put his then job as an assistant film editor on hold.
Since then, he has consistently acted in a number of high-profile projects, including I,Robot, John Woo’s Paycheck, and most recently, WAR. Shinkoda will also be featured in director Joe Dante’s highly anticipated next feature, The Hole in 3-D. He’ll also star star as “Sektor” in Warner Bros’ “Mortal Kombat:Legacy” web-series with director Kevin Tancheroen at the helm.
In Steven Spielberg’s “Falling Skies,” Shinkoda joins Noah Wyle and the rest of the survival team as weapons and tactics expert, Dai. In this one-on-one interview, Shinkoda reveals what drew him to the role and its many challenges.
I recently saw an episode where you fired a LAWs rocket at this huge alien tower. Lots of pyrotechnics in that one. Do you have a favorite episode or two?
Peter Shinkoda: I’m just happy when they emphasize my story line. In that episode, I had the (LAWs) tube, but there was no rocket in it. The camera was shooting at me so you can actually see through the tube. The rocket was added using CGI. I had to slide down this hill with all this gear and the rocket, but fortunately, it was a light weapon—about as heavy as a poster tube. Everything about it was disposable.
What attracted you to the role of Dai? You were on a civil engineering career track.
PS: Let’s see, which seemed more attractive: civil engineer or action actor—I’ll think I’ll take actor. I’d already been doing the Hollywood grind trying to break in.
What do you find most enjoyable about the role?
PS: It’s basically all the things you want to do when you were a child. It’s the acting, it’s physical, you get to use all these masculine toys. Then there’s the pyrotechnics. The attraction of the job speaks for itself.
What do you find most challenging about the role? What presents the biggest obstacle?
PS: Besides the physical demands—shooting outdoors all night in Canadian winters—there’s the challenge of concentrating on the timing of my lines. The ensemble cast—sometimes as many as 10 characters—will be in a scene and they’ll be carrying on a back-and-forth conversation. I’ll be in the scene, but my lines will be minimal, so I have to make sure my attention doesn’t drift away, that I’m ready to deliver that one line just at the right time. My lines are short and they don’t organically fall into the conversation. Sometimes, I’ll have to deliver a very bizarre line. I have to always remain focused and alert during those scenes. My character has a lot of analytical qualities. He’s always listening to what’s being said around him and deciding whether or not to go along with it.
There’s obviously a lot of post-production that goes into the show. Can you go into that a little bit. Is there an effect or technique that sets “Falling Skies” apart from other sci-fi shows on TV?
PS: The level of special effects is very high. We raised the bar in the second season with a little more budget. The writers are being more aggressive, putting in more action-packed scenes. As far as production and post production, the show employs every kind of technique and device that’s available, including animatronics and CGI. Our use of green screen is negligible because the effects are so advanced now that we shoot it and put it right in there. We may have sets with windows and we use green screens behind those, but we have no permanent sets. We’re always out there on location. The special effects geniuses simply drop in these alien characters.
How closely is Steven Spielberg involved? Is he on the set? Or mostly in post?
PS: Last year, he was spread pretty thin with all his Dreamworks efforts—Warhorse and Tin-Tin. So in the second season, he didn’t make any personal appearances on the set. In the first season, he came a couple of times. But we feel his presence on the set—through texting, Skype and phone calls. We’ll get the message that Steven wants this scene to be like this or that.
What do you think draws fans to the show week after week?
PS: The show encompasses pretty much everything. It’s got action, character drama, a serial story, and attractive people. Exceptional actors, too. It’s also a morally driven show, infused with family values. And although it’s dark, with a growing threat of alien invasion, it’s still optimistic.
Most actors look for their characters to evolve over time. How will your character change in this next season? Will there be some lighter moments for Dai? Perhaps some soul searching?
PS: After watching seven hours of the second season, I can tell you that there are specific parameters for Dai’s character. He serves a specific purpose, he’s their secret weapon. There have been many occasions where he’s put his life on the line. That’s the core of the character. He’s not that developed in the sense that he doesn’t interact with many characters. He’s off by himself. Some people think that it was just writer’s neglect, but Steven Speilberg and writer Robert Rodat made it very clear that Dai would remain mysterious, by himself, a loner–but he would always be there to help. The character is based on the silent samurai character in the film the Seven Samurai. He’s quiet, doesn’t say much, he just gets the job done. So my character was never meant to be explored. He’s there so that people will always wonder about him. He’s the enigma of the show. We had a meeting with the writers to discuss the various characters and they said, “We’re not going to tell them anything about you.”
So how do you feel about that? Do you wish they’d go into Dai’s background a little more? PS: A lot of fans do. And maybe in the first season, I felt that way. But in the second season, they explained it with great resolve—I was to be kept in the shadows. But they made up for that by giving me some of the biggest action scenes in the series.
Can you give us a hint about any big surprises coming up this season?
PS: I really can’t say. Just stay tuned. This season’s finale will outdo last season’s. It will be epic.
You used to ride a motorcycle and handle guns in other shows. Did you get any additional training for “Falling Skies”?
PS: We got a couple weeks of training when we were shooting the pilot. We spent two hours every day in a couple of stages in Toronto where some military guys came in and trained us intensely. I was hoping we’d train in the Philippine jungles with guys like Captain Dale Dye. That said, we learned all our weapons in Toronto, and at the start of season 2, we went through another week of weapons handling.
Do you have a stunt double on the show?
PS: I don’t have a permanent one, but there have been three or four times in season one and two where they brought in specific stunt men. I always try to tell them that I can do everything. I took martial arts and I’m very athletic. My dad was a hunter and I’d go hunting with him. I want to do it all, but on those few occasions, they told me to go back to my trailer and just let the stunt guys do it.
Are you working on anything else?
PS: No, not right now. Aside from season three, which will be coming up in a couple of months.
Do you like sci-fi? Or would you like to mix it up a bit with other genres?
PS: I would love to mix it up. I’d love to do a broken lizard type of comedy. I’ll probably never be in A Room with a View or Dangerous Liaisons. Most of the time, I’m playing contemporary roles or something in the future. There’s a lot of room in sci-fi.
Season two of “Falling Skies” is currently airing on TNT.