'Ghost of Tsushima': Patrick Gallagher on the "Bureaucratic" Motivations of Khotun Khan

Courtesy of Sony
Khotun Khan

The actor would channel the memory of the 45-pound armor costume he wore during 'The Night at the Museum' while performing in a motion capture suit for the Sucker Punch action-adventure game.

When Patrick Gallagher auditioned for the role of Khotun Khan in Sucker Punch Productions’ Ghost of Tsushima, he figured he was a shoo-in. “To be honest, when I saw [the audition], I looked at it as, ‘This is mine to lose,’” he says. But during his audition, after game director Nate Fox and casting director Ivy Isenberg asked him to do some movements, he fell on a mat and pulled his hamstring. “I thought to myself, ‘Just get up and walk out and don’t limp until you’re out the door,’” Gallagher, 52, recalls with a chuckle. “I did it, but [my hamstring] hurt for about six months.”

In spite of the fall, he still got the part. 

Khotun Khan is the general of the Mongol Empire in Ghost of Tsushima, the Japan-set action-adventure game released by Sony on July 17. The Khan has taken everything from protagonist Jin Sakai, capturing his uncle, Lord Shimura, and leaving him as the only samurai left to stand against the Mongol invasion. Ghost of Tsushima focuses on Jin’s journey as he reclaims his homeland while he struggles internally between being Jin, the samurai, and Jin, the ghost.

Khotun does not undergo the same kind of changes as Jin, but Gallagher believes that the game’s main antagonist is much more interesting once you understand his motivations. “His journey was trying to figure out how to achieve [an invasion] without having to resort to the baser instincts of humanity. There was a sort of bureaucratic aspect to what he was trying to do,” he says. In the game, Khotun tries to get Shimura to just simply surrender. He doesn’t necessarily want bloodshed.

Gallagher — a veteran actor known for his roles in Night at the Museum and Glee — says he’d always been interested in Genghis Khan. He drew from his experience playing another ruthless leader, Attila the Hun, in the Night at the Museum film series to get into character as Genghis Khan's fictional grandson. Though he played a comedic version of Attila, Gallagher says that there was some truth to the man, especially his anger and rage. 

“It was really fun to play the ‘bad guy,’ to play [Khotun Khan] with humanity and subtleness and figure out that he’s not only just a monster,” Gallagher says. He references The Godfather, explaining that it helped him to connect with the Khan, who had to achieve his goal of conquering Tsushima no matter the cost, lest he face the wrath of his superiors. “I’m not going to go back to Don Corleone and say, ‘I fucked up.’” 

Gallagher’s work on Tsushima began in the spring of 2017, and he soon realized how important wardrobe can be to helping him get into the mindset of the characters he plays. But his performance as Khotun required him to wear a motion-capture suit, so he didn’t have access to a wardrobe. Instead, Gallagher channeled his memory of the 45-pound leather and armor costume he wore as Attila the Hun. “When I was standing there with just the [motion capture] suit on, I was able to recall what the costume was like to have that much weight,” he says. “I drew on that to stand like Khotun, how to walk like Khotun. It’s hard to get a sense of huge shoulder pads and heavy armor while having just a plastic suit on.” 

Gallagher has worked on other video games, including Halo: Reach and Red Dead Redemption 2, but only in a voice capacity. It wasn’t until last year’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint that he got to fully embody a role through motion capture. Canada-born Gallagher, who holds dual American citizenship, is Chinese and Irish — he refers to himself a “Chirish” — but his Ghost Recon Breakpoint character, Mads Schulz, was white. 

He says his mixed heritage has helped him in his film and television career because he can play both Asian and non-Asian characters. “It is really freeing for ethnic actors to get more opportunities to play roles that aren’t necessarily in our ethnicity, but it also gives us the chance to play parts within our ethnicity,” he says. 

Gallagher felt he had more responsibility on Ghost of Tsushima than on Ghost Recon Breakpoint because he knew that Khotun would have his likeness. Though he wasn’t completely immersed in Chinese culture as a child, he says he was still able to tap into his Asian heritage to play the Khan and immerse himself in Ghost of Tsushima’s world. “I think I just drew on that. It wasn’t anything necessarily conscious, but there was just some unspoken understanding of what this world was that helped me.”

Production on Ghost of Tsushima continued periodically until the beginning of this year. Gallagher says Sucker Punch was committed to the authenticity of the game and that there was never a time that the team couldn’t answer questions that he or Daisuke Tsuji, who voices Jin, had. “There was a lot of freedom and a lot of great collaboration and guidance from Nate and [animation lead Billy Harper] and everybody,” he says.

For Gallagher, Ghost of Tsushima was a very enjoyable job. “There was a sense of how immense this was in a really great way. Everybody was going to get there and that we were all part of the team moving towards this great thing. That made it really fun.” Perks — like the snacks on set — were an added bonus: “I like any set that has any really small pieces of chocolate because then I can pretend I’m not eating that much of it!”