The evolution of Nathan Drake is one for the books. Released in November 2007, exclusively for the PlayStation 3, Uncharted follows the adventures of Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter who’s not afraid of getting in over his head. Gamers and non-gamers alike soon fell in love with the Indiana Jones like character as the series offered a relatable character with a heart and not jus some muscle bound soldier thats stereotypically offered in many games. While much credit goes to the team at Naughty Dog who developed the game and helped make Nathan Drake an iconic characters, fans would soon flock to Nolan North, the man behind the scenes who not only provided his voice for Drake, but also performed the motion capture which has been widely credited for making the game life-like. By their third outing in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Nolan North and Nathan Drake would become inseparable.
Come late 2012, Nathan Drake is once again front and center in the game world, thanks to PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. The beat ‘em up fighter features many of the iconic characters from the PlayStation titles, including though not limited to Kratos (God of War), Cole MacGrath (inFAMOUS), Sackboy (LittleBigPlanet) and of course, Nathan Drake. To help kick off the game, Sony created a live action ad (seen after the jump) which features the characters fighting one another. Soon after the ad aired, gamers began to ask, “Who is the actor portraying Nathan Drake?”
That daunting undertaking belonged to none other than Ryan Culver who was tasked with bringing a character that so many already knew. Translating a video game to live action has already proven a difficult task. Thanks to the power of the PS3 and developers like Naughty Dog who’ve created such a rich world in Uncharted, the task of portraying such an icon characters amplifies that much more as gamers are presented with a life like character who has established emotions, habits, and a style unique to himself. After the jump, we talk with Ryan Culver about how he brought Nathan Drake to life and the PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale commercial.
Hi Ryan, I want to first and foremost thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. On behalf of PlayStation fans, I also wanted to thank you for getting Nathan Drake right!
Hey Sohrab, thanks for having me, and thank you for the nice words. It means a lot. It was most important for me to work at getting it right for all the fans of the game.
How did you get started as an actor?
I started out on stage when I was 11 and started working in TV, film and commercials around 2000. I really like the live theatre medium, but the great amount of collaboration in filmmaking is what I’ve always been drawn to.
When it comes to acting and the type of roles available, what genre do you most consider yourself to be in?
I’d have to guess that action/adventure most closely resembles my everyday life, so I’m naturally most comfortable there. It’s always a fun challenge to stretch outside of those type-cast boundaries whenever you can, but I appreciate that most people see me in that way, and hey, I can think of a lot of jobs that are less fun than making an action film (haha)
Before taking on the role, did you have any knowledge of Uncharted and Nathan Drake?
I knew nothing, which is crazy because I now feel so closely linked to him. Even in the casting process, with the producers and director, I hadn’t seen the game yet, so all of my choices during those meetings were my own. Funny enough, it turns out my actions and words were very similar to Drake.
What’s it like to adapt and become a character that people already know as opposed to creating an entirely new character?
It’s an incredible challenge, especially for someone like Drake, who is such a worldwide gaming icon. The people who know him, know him very intimately, so trying to absorb that personality to properly portray it onscreen presents some real land mines to clear.
New characters are wide open, unscripted, and they have no boundaries because they’re not predefined. The work with those is in creating everything from scratch. With a character like Drake, you can’t really make a single false move without someone picking up on it, and I appreciate how passionate and opinionated gamers are about these worlds and the characters in them. So you learn as much as you can, and try to inhabit Drake’s world naturally.
Did you have to study the games (Uncharted) at all or see some of the work done by Nolan North in order to play the role?
I did. A lot. I underwent an intense study process to learn about Drake and immerse myself into his world. I spent many hours watching the online “movies” of all three games, and questioned all the gamers I knew, to get their advice so I made sure I was headed in the right direction. I then called production and people at PlayStation to get their input. People really stepped in to help out when they saw how serious I was about getting it right.
The most important thing to me was to stay true the fans. To take this incredible character and this amazing storyline and just try and become a part of that. It is already so well flushed out that there’s not much need to try and change it.
How did you put in a bit more depth into a character so well known for his witty remarks without being given a chance to speak?
It’s a pretty intimidating process to start with. After realizing how important Nathan Drake is to fans around the world, I felt a great responsibility to live up to that vision that I knew people would have about what Drake should be like. So when you take away his voice, you’re suddenly in danger of loosing his sense of humor, which is one of his greatest qualities. Understanding that, it became even more important to absorb as much as I could and get lost in his world.
So after I was cast, it became a process of spending a lot of hours watching and studying the game to see how Drake moved and the way he responded to things when they happened. From humored, to frustrated, to curious, to angry – he’s got a great range of emotion in the game, and I tried to tap into that heavily for a spot like this, with so much action, so it was clear to the audience.
Drake was also the guy you were gonna follow through the “story” of the spot, so that made it even more important to get his facial expressions down. I really wanted to get it right, and the wonderful support I’ve received from fans since it came out has definitely made me feel like the work paid off.
When it comes to stunt work, we’ve heard that you do your own. Why is that and what is the biggest stunt you’ve done to date?
I love doing my own stunts. I always try to do as much as I can on a job. The professional stunt men and women who I work with are fantastic; I have a great respect for what they do, and we collaborate closely to be sure I’m doing things within my capability. I do tend to push my limits a lot in real life, and I like to carry that onto set, but I understand that if I were to get seriously hurt trying something I wasn’t ready for, then it could stop the whole production, so I’m very conscious of that as well.
I’ve done some fun stunts in the past too. I’ve hung from a couple small bolts with no rope on a 2,000- foot rock face before; been pushed out of an airplane, blindfolded, with an unfastened rig; and almost been run over by a car during a bicycle-in-traffic shot on a job…you know, normal everyday stuff (haha). Of course the biggest stunt I’ve done is trying to keep my gun from flying out of its holster while diving out of the way of a giant sword as Nathan Drake (ha).
We’ve heard you might have a thing or two in common with Nathan Drake. Care to expand on that?
Ah let’s see…well we both like to curl up in our Snuggies with a good book and a glass of… (haha)
Seriously, Drake is a world-traveling adventure-seeker and that’s kind of how I’ve grown up. I’ve been an adventurer and extreme-sports athlete my whole life (rock-climbing, skydiving, etc.).
I’m also a pilot; I have a company that delivers small aircraft to people all over the world. So when I’m not acting, I end up going on a lot of adventures where I’m landing in all sorts of interesting and remote places all over the world, seeing amazing sights and people. I’m constantly out exploring and thrill-seeking, and that’s a lot of what I see in Drake.
And Drake has that quiet, serious side that he doesn’t let out very much, and while I’ve been accused of that before, I may not admit to it (haha).
Given that video games are generally regarded as being created behind a computer by programmers, are you surprised to see the level of involvement by actors and how much they bring to a game like Uncharted?
It’s amazing to me to see how rich the worlds are becoming in the video games. And I think that anyone who says that games are created by programmers who only sit in front of computer screens in dark rooms, hasn’t seen these games. Yes, there are some long hours spent writing code, but these worlds are built by people with intense imaginations and a great observation of their outside environment.
It has become a natural place for an actor to be. Having a computer-generated figure allows for the unpredictable choices of the gamer, but those human reactions and interactions of the character have to be influenced by a human person. After all, the gamer is a human being (despite what some of their friends might say (haha) and we all respond to those human qualities we see in these games. That’s what makes this new generation of game such an immersive experience.
I personally welcome any opportunity to continue to work as an actor in any facet of the process; live action, MoCap, Voiceover, etc. It’s such a great place to stretch your imagination and try new things.
As you know, the two mediums continue to blur with more movies being based on video games all while games become more like movies. As an actor, does this give you some more freedom and opportunities to pursue your passion?
Absolutely. These worlds are so completely unlimited, and I think it gives both mediums a great chance to learn from each other. Games are pulling shots and story-telling tips from film, and films are tapping the gaming industry for new, creative story lines, new camera moves, identifiable and proven characters, and the opportunity to live inside previously unvisioned worlds.
I think about my time learning about, getting to know, and playing Drake, and know that I would be incredibly honored to have an opportunity to put those jeans and henley on again and jump back into that kick-ass “world of Drake.”
We also have to ask, what’s your favorite movie and video game?
Haha, boy you really want to stir the “opinion pot” don’t you? Okay, well I’ll talk about a movie that really affected me when I was young.
I remember going to see “Dances With Wolves” with my family when I was 15. I sat in the theatre for that 3+ hour film and when it was over, it felt like it had been maybe 30 minutes. I was so drawn into that world, and felt like that movie did a great job of making you forget you were in the 20th Century for those three hours. It wasn’t necessarily the acting in particular, it was the characters, the idea, and the world. I remember thinking to myself that, as an actor, that’s where I always wanted to be, in a place where you could exist fully in the world you were supposed to inhabit for the story.
As far as games, man, I am so terrible at playing them, I respect the real gamers who make that look easy, cause I’m all over the place (haha). I do have some family and friends who are big gamers and I like to learn about the games and watch them play. As a favorite, honestly it would be hard for me to beat “Uncharted”, and its amazing characters and incredibly fun storyline.
I did grow up playing stuff like Mario Bros. and Punch Out, but that was about as far as I got. I still remember the day I found a Commodore 64 in a neighbor’s trash as a kid. It had one game on it – Pong – there were no cartridges – you got to play that one game and that was it. And I remember being totally amazed by it, by being able to actually control something that I was watching on my TV. I am so amazed at how incredible the visual worlds are in games these days. I can’t wait to see where gaming takes us in the future, and I welcome any opportunity to be a part of that world.
One last thing; What’s one thing you would want those who are not familiar with you and your work to know about you?
Haha, well you’ll just have to get connected and stay tuned.
I would like to thank all the fans for their amazing support and great comments. I do like to connect with them as much as I can through Facebook and Twitter @Ryan_Culver.
Thanks again Ryan and I look forward to seeing more of your work.
Hey thanks Sohrab. It was great talking with you. I really appreciate the support. Thanks to SonyRumors and Happy Holidays to everyone.
PS: When I mentioned to my girlfriend (Allegra) that I would have an opportunity to interview you, she said “Nathan Drake is dreamy, and he resembles him very much.”
Haha, nice. Sounds to me like you’ve got a great girl there!
(End of interview)
A big thanks to Ryan Culver for taking the time to talk with us about his adventures as Nathan Drake.
Do you think Ryan Culver could be up to the task of playing Nathan Drake in the planned Uncharted film?