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Nolan North: The Actor You've Heard But Never Heard Of

Nolan North: The Actor You've Heard But Never Heard Of

Nolan North: The Actor You've Heard But Never Heard Of
25 September 2015

Played a video game in the last ten years? A good one, with a story that consisted of more than "shoot the bad guys"? 

Then you've almost certainly been entertained by the dulcet tones of one Nolan North. 

His vocal talents and motion-captured performances have featured in the likes of (deep breath) Call of DutyHaloFinal FantasyUnreal TournamentMetal Gear SolidGears of WarAssassin's Creed, Batman: Arkham KnightThe Last of Us, Destiny and - perhaps most famously - Uncharted

As far as video game CVs go, it's up there.

Fresh from voicing Naughty Dog's hugely-anticipated Uncharted 4 (it's been delayed until mid-2016 to make sure they absolutely nail it), we spoke to the actor you've heard but haven't heard of about life as a voice-over artist, replacing Peter Dinklage, gaming rumours and Nathan Drake's latest adventure.

It was 2007 when you first voiced Nathan Drake for Naughty Dog. You'd already worked on Halo 3 and Saints Row - did you have any notion that Drake or Uncharted was going to be so successful?

At first, to be perfectly honest, it was just another job. It was one of the first 'cinematic' games, in my opinion, that used performance capture technology - more like any of the on-camera jobs I'd done, but a bit more fun. It was also the first 'lead character' I'd ever been able to play - I'd never headed up a franchise before. But then, I didn't even consider it could be a franchise; you have no idea whenever you enter anything that it can blow up like this.

If my memory serves me correctly, the first one wasn't a huge success, it was really the second one that saw things vault astronomically. It won so many awards, the sales of the first Uncharted went up as a result after the second one came out. Somewhere in the middle of two we knew something special was going on, just from the collaborative spirit we had created. We were very proud of it, but we weren't certain the rest of the world would feel the same way.

Did your agent or acting contemporaries think gaming was a bad move?

It's funny - I never really considered myself an 'on-camera actor going into video games'. As an actor, quite frankly you're just happy to work: I had my wife to consider, my second son had just been born, my last on-camera show had been cancelled, so I was just looking for work.

Some people were like "You've done some good voices, why don't you go into voice-over work?" My poor wife had told me for years to get into it and I'd ignored it, but now under necessity I thought 'let's give it a shot'. 

Gaming was kind of entry level at that point, not many people were doing it, but they were offering money that would pay my bills and take care of my family! That was the impetus to do any voice over work. I was just very fortunate to get in at the right time. Never underestimate the power of luck in the entertainment business.

I had bounced around doing some episodic series... Port Charles was a soap opera spin-off of a more famous show General Hospital. That was my first series-regular role. I had a five-year contract for a character.

When that show went off the air I ran into one of my old co-stars. At this point we had already done the first two Uncharteds. I hadn't seen him in about five years - he asked me how I'd been doing. I hadn't been doing a lot of TV as I'd been so busy with performance capture and animation at this point. He hadn't been working. I told him I had got into voice-over work; "Ooh, I always thought you should get into that" he said. I told him about the video games. At the end of the conversation he just patted me on the shoulder and said "Listen, you're a talented guy. You hang in there. Things will turn around for you." I remember saying "Yeah... thanks, I appreciate it" knowing that at that point I was already tripling what I had made on the soap opera. 

Are you bothered by big names like Kevin Spacey or Gary Oldman getting into voice-over work?

I don't begrudge anyone, I don't feel threatened at all. I think the high profile actors like Oldman and Spacey helps legitimise gaming to the masses.

Am I threatened I'm going to lose work? I don't think so. I'm always going to be less expensive than they are, and I'm also in a very fortunate position that I've been in an opportunity to prove myself over the years - they would hire me 'as well', thanks to the versatility. You're not going to hire Kevin Spacey to 'do a voice' or do something silly - you want him, whereas I get to play different characters. I think it's a good thing that these big guys get into it. If they get into it, it might raise the purses for everyone. 

You've recently taken on the role of the Ghost companion in Bungie's Destiny - a role originally recorded by Peter Dinklage. Was it strange re-recording a part already played by another actor?

I was interested to know about Destiny because my 12-year-old was a big fan, I had worked with Bungie on Halo titles years ago, so I knew the company and thought they did a great job. I was doing a paid audition session, four hours long, and we kind of worked with these voices. They wanted my thoughts on it; I had talked to my 12-year-old about it and asked him what he thought of the part. He wasn't a fan of the Ghost, saying "It's just sort of there...".  Bungie wanted it to have a bit more life, or enthusiasm. 

I'll say this - there are a few of the original lines that could have been made better or scrapped altogether. It wasn't an easy task. Once I got the job, we recorded The Taken King first, because that was the next thing to come out. It was written really well. After we took care of that they told me they wanted to go back and re-record, which scared me. I didn't know you could do that! I had better be on my toes in the future because they can just cut you out and put someone else in! 

I didn't listen to anything that Peter had done before; I just wanted it to be words on a page and let it be my thing, as if I had got it from day one. It's the same as making a remake of a movie: an actor is going to go in and do their version, not to repeat or out-do someone else. 

North in action as Drake in a motion-capture set up

What can we expect from Uncharted 4? Has Drake changed at all? What's the tone of the new game?

I think it's a slightly different tone... like if Mark Twain did a Dickens novel, it would be different even if you told the same story. 

The character is the same person, but the situation is different. There haven't been any changes to the character of Drake, but the tone might be a bit more... serious? I haven't seen the final game, I've just read the lines. Until it's all animated you don't know how it's going to play out. All I can say is that it'll be different - because it has to be, because it's been written by someone else, you know?

There was talk going round that you'd signed with Warner Bros. to voice a character that might endure for 10 years? Any details on which series it might be linked to?

Here's the scoop - there is no 10-year Warner Brothers character. It was a misunderstanding.

I was in an interview about to head to Warner Brothers to work on something. In the course of that discussion, I said something to the journalist along the lines of "you never know what it could turn into, this could be the next ten year thing like Drake, I didn't know it at the time with Uncharted so every time I go somewhere new it could happen."

My point got lost in translation, he thought I meant that I was going to do a Warner Brothers job that was set to last ten years. I had some people from Warner Brothers call me and ask "So... what are we doing for ten years?"

We've all had a laugh at that. I'm hoping Destiny runs for a long while, but I'm never sure what the next job will bring. Uncharted was just a game, "we're doing mo-cap, that's kind of cool" and then it just caught fire.

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is out 7 October

To see Nolan North acting 'in the flesh', check out the upcoming web series Con Man, starring Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion, hitting Vimeo on 30 September