Host of two national TV shows on video gaming in Australia, Steven ‘Bajo’ O’Donnell is one of the hardest working people in television. From hosting Good Game, a show for gamers by gamers, to acting in films, Bajo has spent his life around the camera. Bajo made time this week to talk to me about the highs and lows of following your dream.
GL: You grew up on a farm in Queensland, when did the acting bug hit? Were there ever any expectations from your family that you should make a life in farming?
Bajo: Well our farm was more of a hobby farm, we didn’t really generate revenue from it, but I get the feeling my Dad always wanted to keep me around animals and have that farm he never got to have back in New Zealand, where we came from. I enjoyed drama at school, and started having an interest in film and TV in grade 9 but it wasn’t until I worked on a feature called Scratched that I got the bug. I played a Nerd and I was a bit rubbish but it worked for the character I think.
GL: After high school did you feel you got pushed into university because of the expectation teachers and parents put on teenagers to follow the path. How long did you last at Uni before you thought it wasn’t for you?
Bajo: I went into uni because everyone else was, and it seemed like the logical step. I wish I’d taken a year off though to work out what I really wanted. I studied IT, then deferred and then never went back. On one hand I wish I had finished the degree, because I really struggled financially and creatively for the first few years working in this industry. I learned absolutely NOTHING in my first year of uni, because our school’s information technology course was so good, and also I was a massive nerd and liked going a bit above and beyond the nerd requirement of the school.
GL: You did a few jobs early on, can you tell us about working at Warner Brothers Movie World. Is it true you were fired?
Bajo: I worked a bunch of computer related jobs, mainly in hardware repairs and sales but I wasn’t happy, it was always a stop gap. I learned how to talk though with sales, and I do love computers so that all kind of worked OK. I wasn’t fired from Movie World really, it was seasonal work so only for a few months. They didn’t ask me back though, I think I took playing the butler in the bat cave a little too seriously.
GL: What was the catalyst for moving to Sydney?
Bajo: More acting opportunities and I really wanted a change in my life. A whole bunch of personal things happened at once and I felt the need to just pick up and start again.
GL: In Sydney you worked in a Cinema while trying to start your acting career. Is it surreal working your day job and filming movies, especially when you have to do a scene with Geoffrey Rush?
Bajo: Working in a cinema sounds more glamorous than it is. Really, it’s stacking shelves, tearing tickets, dealing with the public who often got very upset if their popcorn isn’t ready. It gave me an insight into the human psyche.
GL: Is it hard to stay focused on the acting dream when your working on small, unpaid projects? We’re there any times you thought about giving up?
Bajo: It’s terribly hard! I did free stuff for 7 years while working a casual job and there are much better ways to go about it. You just HAVE to have a backup plan – it’s too small an industry not to. If I had had some sort of ‘work my own hours’ job, it would have been MUCH better.
GL: In 2006 you hosted Midnight Zoo, a late night game show, for Network 7. How was it working for 7?
Bajo: It was my first job in TV, so I was just super excited to be on it really. I didn’t really have any contact with channel 7.
GL Was there any rivalry between you and Hotdogs from The Up-Late Game Show?
Bajo: I have no idea, I never met the guy! I dare say with 3 of the shows on the TV at once, there was probably quite a lot of stress on the producers (and the up late audiences).
G: How did it feel when the show was axed after only a few months?
Bajo: I was only contracted for a certain amount of time, so while it was sad to end the show, I knew it would happen eventually. I miss the crew, such hard working fun people, who have all moved on to bigger things now. I still see them about the tracks.
GL: Have you auditioned for Neighbours or Home and Away? Have you ever thought about working on a show like that?
Bajo: No I haven’t, I reckon it would be exciting to work on a soapy, to have a character to build and work on over a long period of time. I was almost a power ranger once, that would have been amazing but I think I was getting a bit old for it heh.
GL: You signed on to Good Game for season 2. How much did it mean to you to get that full time presenting roll?
Bajo: Easily a dream come true. It felt perfect for me. It had all my interests in one little basket, creative control in a collaborative team and also I was getting to the point of giving up. The timing was perfect and unbelievably lucky.
GL: Did you spend much time gaming before Good Game?
Bajo: Gaming was about 50% of my life, mainly PC gaming but I grew up with all the consoles. I think I’d just kicked my WOW habbit (something like 1300 hours) when I joined the GG team. Working on the show has really opened up more genres to me that I never got into as much.
GL: Is there a story behind the origin of the name Bajo?
Bajo: It’s really dull – I walked into my flatmates room and said “Hey – we gotta get a Bajo. I mean Banjo” and it just stuck.
GL: A lot of the success of Good Game is from your own style, sense of humour and presentation. At the 2008 IT Journalism awards Good Game won 2 awards including the Gold Lizzie for best title of 2007. How important are those awards to you?
Bajo: Why thank you for the compliment, it’s such a team effort though it would be unprofessional and incorrect to take too much of that kudos. The awards made us feel wonderful of course, I think we’re our own worst and best critics though. We know if something worked or if it didn’t so we’re always trying new things.
GL: What was it like to go from unemployed actor to presenter of an award winning show on national TV in under 2 years?
Bajo: Rewarding, fantastic, exciting and relieving
GL: The formula of Good Game has been tweaked a few time since Stephanie Bendixsen joined the show. How important is it to keep the show fresh and moving forward?
Bajo: We haven’t changed anything in particular since Hex joined us- the feel of the show is obviously quite different with a new host but we’ve always mixed up segments and tried different ideas on a regular basis to keep things fresh. This year we’ve had much more time to review games than before, and more of the team are getting involved in other segments and trying their skills at different jobs which is wonderful to see.
GL: Are there any new Good Game segments in the works to look out for in 2011 yet?
Bajo: Always! We’re still thinking about 2010 though, and often segment ideas are pretty spontaneous.
GL: You play Mike in the web series Sharehouse Zombie Apocalypse where you spent most of the first season trying to get into the sharehouse. Is there any news on season 2? What happened to Skyler?
Bajo: I’m not sure when they’re going to release it. The people behind it are a great bunch of guys, and I wish I didn’t have such a busy schedule so I could spend more time working on projects like that.
GL: You are now hosting two shows on the ABC, Good Game and Good Game SP. Is there anytime left for anything else?
Bajo: Not really, we’re busier than ever, but we’ve got things done to a pretty tight production schedule now.
GL: And finally, do Zombies have feelings?
Bajo: Nah, they just like flesh and brains. I guess that’s a feeling?