You know him, you love him, and come November 1st—you'll get to play as one of his most legendary characters—Nathan Drake in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Ladies and germs, allow us to proudly present Nolan North to you as our Halloween interview subject! It's very unsual to have a conversation with someone you feel like you already know, but for years now, Nolan has been an intergral part of the gaming industry's most impressive triple-A titles.
After attending the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Nolan worked as a reporter for almost a year before moving to New York to pursue a career in stand-up comedy and acting. Soon enough the City of Lost Angels called his name and he was then inspired by the beautiful Jill Murray (Port Charles) actress to get into voice acting... and marry her.
Fast forward, and we have the pleasure to chat with the man known as Mr. Video Game Voice Over. It is no secret that he's a bit of a talker, but if you're not currently waiting in line to get your hands on what could possibly be 2011's GOTY—sit back and enjoy these interesting insights.
Interview by Kevin L. Clark (@DLYDJ)
Complex: First things first, Mr. North… How does a trained journalist such as yourself become one of the most beloved voice actors in the gaming industry?
Nolan North: Wow! Thanks for the compliment, Kev! I studied journalism at The University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill. I did my graduate work at Emerson in Boston and I was actually a reporter for a year in New York and New Jersey. It donned on me that I wasn't cut out for that line of work. I mean… there's a certain thing that really good reports have that I just didn't. Some of my stories were just mired in stuff that wasn't my cup of tea. I covered a teen shooting victim in Newark, a house fire in Jersey City, and all around they were just some really grizzly stories—didn't like the vibe. Much like the Nathan Drake character in Uncharted, I kind of fell back on my sense of humor to keep my sanity. Maybe it's truly my defense mechanism, but y'know I just wanted out of it—I wanted to do something different. I considered going with ESPN or doing The Daily Show, but it just came to a points where I didn't see that happening.
I've always loved to make people laugh, I've always liked to entertain people, and now I can do just that.
I eventually became an actor, starting with doing stand-up comedy in New York and then theater wherever they would let me. Finally, I moved out here to Los Angeles and got on a show. Through doing that for a few years I met somebody who introduced me to my current agent—I have to give my wife some credit in that! For so long she put up with all my silly voices and accents and she kept hammering at me saying, "You got to get into voice over!" She was a pretty good actor herself, too, I must say. But when I was introduced to Pat Brady, my first agent who is still my agent to this day, she plucked me out of obscurity and said, "You can do this!" So out of all of these experiences I have to say that it is nice to be able to make a nice living doing what teachers gave me detention for in school [laughs].
Complex: So, when you started to put your foot forward and work in the voice acting community, who were some of your influences going into the biz?
NN: I grew up in Rhode Island and New England. My mom always gets on me about that [laughs]. [Mimics mother's voice] "Somebody put it out there that you're from Connecticut… you let 'em know that you're from Connecticut—you were born there. So, for my mother's sake, let everyone know that I was raised in Rhode Island, will ya, Kevin? [Laughs] Growing up in the East Coast, you don't really see the business as something that you could do. Television, acting, and cartoons was another world away. Y'know you're just a kid watching a life that you wish to be apart of. Seeing Johnny Carson and all those people on television made it seem like that was a world that wasn't legitimately attainable. As I got older, I never really wanted to be an actor, y'know? I went to college on a baseball scholarship and that's what I wanted to do. If that failed then I thought I'll punt at that point, so I guess this is now my version of punting. I've always loved to make people laugh, I've always liked to entertain people, and now I can do just that.
The Penguin from Batman: Arkham City is a real departure from what I'm most known for. People actually didn't realize it was me. That's the one thing about doing voice over work that people don't realize, and you can interview anybody in this industry—you have to be a good actor as well as having a good voice.
I wish I had a great answer for how all this happened and the origin of it all, but it just sort of happened. I don't know if I would have been blessed with success so early would I have stayed put. There's a part of me that would have been happy being a professional bartender somewhere down in Key West or the Bahamas living on a boat enjoying life. It turns out that the entertainment industry just became my lot in life, and as I actually started working in it I've compounded my love of the artistry with a great respect for the people who do voice over work. I always marveled at it! The anonymity of it all is key to anyone who still loves to be a character or a cut-up. Wearing no make-up, working great hours, and being yourself is truly an art in itself. One of my biggest influences is Frank Welker—to me he is the Godfather of Voice Over. He's done everything from Freddy to Scooby Doo to Curious George. You look at his list of credits and they're longer than traffic on the 405. Rob Paulsen, Maurice Lamarche, Jim Cummings are just a few others.
In fact, one of the first people who I met in this business, who actually did my first and only demo tape was Bill Farmer. He's the voice of Goofy for Disney. These are all literally heroes of mine and now I've had the pleasure of working with all of them and I consider them all friends. My wife, my family and I just moved a few months ago and now I live directly across the street from…
NN: [Laughs] No. Frank Welker. I'm not stalking him. I want to be very clear that I'm not stalking him. The day we moved in I was like, "Yay! Okay, Welker's right there, I'm here, I think I've made it!" Scatman Crothers was another one. He's awesome. Remember him in The Shining?
Complex: Yeah, yeah! He was great. You could always sneak him in a movie and get a good vibe from him. I enjoyed his small part in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest personally.
NN: Right, right! Y'know that's the thing—it's funny I love doing different voices and accents. The Penguin from Batman: Arkham City is a real departure from what I'm most known for. People actually didn't realize it was me. That's the one thing about doing voice over work that people don't realize, and you can interview anybody in this industry—you have to be a good actor as well as having a good voice. You have a really good voice over the phone, Kev, but does that mean you can act? I don't know. You might be able to, but a lot of people don't realize that that's the other side of the coin. Here's a stunner for you: I'm not really crazy about my voice. I don't think a lot of people like their own voice anyway, but as long as other people are, and are willing to cut me a check for it, I'm more than happy to show up.
Complex: Well since you have become Mr. Video Game Voice Over—what has been the best perk that you've experienced?
NN: It's funny that people say that I'm "Mr. Video Game Voice Over," but listen there are a lot of guys out there. Guys like Steve Bloom, Fred Tatasciore—those are dear, dear friends of mine. We all got to do the Call of Duty: Zombies game together, so in the studio is Fred, as Nikolai, Steve as Dempsey, Tom Kane as Takeo, and I'm Dr. Richtofen. What's great is that Activision and TreyArch will get us together and let us record at the same time, and it's an absolute blast! I don't know if it's the fact that there's hundreds of dollars on the line in salaries or fame or just the fact that it's anonymous, but I'd say anonymity is the best perk. I can't tell you how many jobs I've gotten over friends of mine who are genuinely happy that I got the job 'cause they got something else that I didn't get. Voice over artistry is a real strong group, a real tight-knit community of people who genuinely root for each other. There's none of that petty jealousy at all. We all may work on the same project one time, but I might be the lead, and the next time they may be the lead and I'm just coming in as one of the ancillary characters. It's a nice feeling to be able to enjoy the people you work with.
If you're asking me what perk personally I have enjoyed, then I'd have to say that it's the freedom. With success you make a better living, but money can't buy happiness. The one thing itcan buy in this industry, and I don't make millions by any means, is freedom. You can really take a role and make it your own because you know there's a lack of desperation. Another perk is the ability to say no to projects. I don't have to feel like I need to do this job because I got to make ends meet. The one thing Hollywood can smell is desperation! The perks of my success has created more success and more opportunities and I'm just trying to make the most of them!
But if I had to go with someone to win a royal rumble then I gotta go with my man Drake! I think at the end of the day it would be pretty evenly matched, though.
Complex: One of those opportunities you've cultivated is the upcoming Drake's Journal yearbook. What would you consider your best moments from your freshman, sophomore, and now junior year of Uncharted?
NN: Let me tell you first that that is a great question! Drake's Journal came about while sitting on my couch. I've been interviewed so many different times about the game, how it's made, and how it's done. I realized that I knew very little about the process behind it all, but I met all these incredible people who were behind the game. The one difference between Uncharted to all the others games I do is that I am wholly involved. From the casting right through till the end, I'm there, and I love the experiences. When we were doing the last sessions for the game, I had to fill in little dialogue here, put in some quips, y'know the little things that make the game more real for the player. The book is an opportunity, as I said before, and I get a chance to give credit where its due and really highlight a lot of these young men and women that work at Naughty Dog who put all this together.
Drake's Journal is very visual. I was a journalism major, so I'm going to sneak in some writing, but the other thing are the notes. These are the things that we've done, what we've experienced, coupled with some really funny things that happened during the 18 months we were all together. There's some interesting stories in the book such as the time when we flew in Graham McTavish from New Zealand, while he's on the set of The Hobbit, to come in and shoot some scenes. He's a good friend of mine now. I likened Drake's Journal to a yearbook because you have your most humorous, you have your most popular, your most likely to burn down the building, or become president—all in front of you. You got all these people and hopefully everybody at the development office will have a chance to sign it as well.
Getting back to your question, Kev, the best moments from freshman and sophomore year, hmm… Freshman year: We didn't really know Drake's Fortune at all. The best part of that year for me was being cast—obviously. Going in, I had no idea what the audition was about; I showed up and did my thing, and then it just turned into this absolute rollercoaster ride. We went in and did the second title and just had a ball. Now, the chemistry between the crew and the actors was dynamic. We carefully chose folks because we didn't want to upset the momentum we had going in with Drake's Fortune. Sophomore year: The best part was seeing the success of the game explode. We didn't expect this thing to blow up the way it did and become the absolute flagship franchise for Sony and the PlayStation 3. Quite frankly, it's become some what of the benchmark for other games, too. What is the best moment for me for Junior year? For me it's just the excitement that is on the faces of everyone anticipation Drake's Deception.
Voice over artistry is a real strong group, a real tight-knit community of people who genuinely root for each other. There's none of that petty jealousy at all.
Complex: Awhile back word broke that Amy Hennig had a different idea for Elena, correct? Do you think that Uncharted would be a totally different experience if Elena Fisher was Elena Vargas?
NN: Man, you're good at this interviewing stuff, Kevin… That's a good question. I don't know [laughs]. Nate might be in more trouble that way, you know those Spanish ladies can be really fiery. I think that was back at Comic-Con when she said originally Elena was just a different sketch and people kind of ran with that. There's all different kind of concepts that are thrown around in the beginning. There's even a poster or something where Elena is shown as a brunette! She has dark hair, looks like Elena, but is not a blond.
Complex: So with the game out in stores tomorrow and the anticipation at a fevered pitch, we all want to know—who would win in a royal rumble fight between Desmond, Drake, and Chester Cobblepot?
NN: [Laughs] Nice! Desmond's dangerous, y'know? Drake is tough, but I'd want to say that Desmond would probably win the fight between them two. Drake would be able to take it and he would never go down, so those two would be pretty evenly matched. But Cobblepot [laughs]… he would probably do something dirty and kill them both. In a fair fight, Penguin can't stand a chance, and he knows that. He's just too round and weak. But if I had to go with someone to win a royal rumble then I gotta go with my man Drake! I think at the end of the day it would be pretty evenly matched, though. Desmond is a darker character who is trying to get away from what he is deep down, but have you seen anyone with the kind of upper body strength of Nathan Drake? Drake all the way! He's got freakish upper body strength. I've actually gone rock climbing now with my kids and I've gotten into it. They love to do it, but it is hard, really hard to do if you're not in shape. You don't know what's going on when you're climbing and everything is shaking. You begin to think I'm going to fall now [laughs].
Interview by Kevin L. Clark (@DLYDJ)