An evening with Nolan North

If there’s one thing in this world we’re particularly partial to, it’s a good chinwag with Nolan North (especially if it includes how he was thrown about by a stuntman during the making of Uncharted 3). We’ve already In a previous issue of Official PlayStation Magazine, the voice of Nathan Drake, Desmond, Penguin and countless others sat down with Team OPM to discuss everything from working with Troy Baker again on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End to getting roles on TV thanks to his gaming credentials.

OPM: It’s clear that some of the most emotional moments throughout the series have been improv-ed. Was that always the working practice, back in the first Uncharted, or something that developed as you trusted each other more as actors?
I think the key to this becoming such a fan success is – I say this a lot – this collaborative spirit that everybody brought to the table. Egos were left at the door and it became like a real family. Yeah, that’s a good word, ‘trust’, as you deal with people. You have this kind of bond with everyone. It was written beautifully, and when you have a good strong script and a writer who’s willing to say, ‘Yeah, try that, now let’s try it this way,’ – and we’ve always had that – it’s easy to improv from there. And when we say ‘improv’ – it may be a word here or there, it’s very subtle.

For the most part, the cinematic scenes are scripted. We may go in on a rehearsal day and change little things here and there. Most of the improv came during gameplay. We would often do something called ‘chasing picture’ where some of the developers at Naughty Dog and animators and artists would do a playthrough. They would tape the playthrough of a whole level, running around and looking at things and they purposely would go and look at things – they’d go over here and jump here and do things, and I would literally sit in a booth, watching that and just react. Even if it was just, say, a jump. That would kind of be like, ‘Huuhhh-ayeeeh’! Then landing: ‘Ugh’ [panting and grunting]. That’s exactly what we’d do. Whatever came to my mind, they would let me just riff. I used to call it ‘panning for gold’ because most of it was junk, and they’d find one nugget that they’d leave in.

I remember voicing the Château level, having coffee, just going, “Huh, a popcorn machine!” It wasn’t anything you had to pay attention to, you don’t have to interact and it has nothing to do with the game… it just stuck me as funny, and they left it in.I think that’s kind of what made Drake a fan favourite because he acts like we’d all act. He was one of the first videogame heroes to punch someone and then grab his hand because it really hurts, and if you’ve ever hit someone – it really hurts! He hits the ground and he doesn’t just pop-up right away, he just… “Urgh…” then gets up. He became vulnerable, he became like us. And I think one of those things is also the fact that he would just make little comments, like so many of us do, and that’s where so much of myself comes in; I drive my wife crazy because I comment on anything and everything that I see.

OPM: So ultimately you’d say that there’s a lot of Nolan North going into Nathan Drake?NN: Just personality-wise. I wish I could take credit for his ability to climb things with his fingers, but I can’t do that. There’s a lot of the wise-ass portion of him is kind of me, I guess. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it’s the truth.

OPM: Do you have any techniques or methods for pepping yourself up for the combat scenes to make them sound authentic? NN: No I don’t. I wish I did, I wish I had something that I could tell you that was really cool, like an actor lesson. I’ve said it so many times before, but it’s like watching a bunch of ten-year-olds play pirates. ‘Let me ask you something… what is your motivation when you’re swinging that sword against Billy? Do you see that he’s the bad guy…?’ ‘No, we’re just playing.’I think if there’s any talent, it’s the ability to go, ‘Let’s just play! I might look “IT’S FUN TO HAVE TROY AROUND. WHEN WE GET RIFFING, IT’S A GOOD TIME.” like a fool, you know, but just jump in!’ It’s the ability to let go and not try and over-think it. If I’ve ever tried to over-think things, it’s when it’s gone bad. I like to play golf, and if you really think about how the swing works, you’re never going to hit it straight. But if you just look at your target and you just let it go back and hit it – nine times out of ten, that’s always going to be better than the ones where you’re thinking it. It’s like… analysis leads to paralysis.

OPM: That’s a good saying.NN: Yeah – it’s not mine! I’d love to take credit for that but no… I’m not smart enough to over-think things [laughs] so I don’t even try!

OPM: You and Emily Rose both starred in Canadian TV show Haven – how was that, with your characters having such a different dynamic to Nate and Elena?NN: [There were] a bunch of Uncharted fans in the writers on that show, and they saw a great opportunity just to have us do something. It’s such a quirky show, so much fun you know? It was great to go all the way to Nova Scotia and to shoot that and to be on location and be with her.There is a certain comfort that you have with certain people, so when I walked on set with her, there was a lot of people on the crew that didn’t know that we kind of know each other’s patterns of speech, we know what works. They were possibly among my favourite on-camera moments. “IT’S FUN TO HAVE TROY AROUND. WHEN WE GET RIFFING, IT’S A GOOD TIME.”The weather was beautiful too, they say it usually rains in Nova Scotia but it was great.

The latest issue of Official PlayStation Magazine, with Horizon: Zero Dawn on the cover, is out now. Download it here or subscribe (opens in new tab) to future issue.

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