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.