New Perspectives On Nolan North, Video Gaming's 'It' Voice Actor

Any way you slice it, it's been a good year for Nolan North. At this time last year, the ever-present voice actor had become something of a go-to joke — people had cottoned to the fact that his voice was featured in 50 per cent of the video games that had been released that year (slight exaggeration), and had started to give him some good-natured jibes.

This year, he's turned up in four of the biggest games of the year — in addition to his recurring roles as Nathan Drake in Uncharted 3 and Desmond in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, he played the role of The Penguin in Batman: Arkham City and voiced several of the funnier turrets in Portal 2. Both of those last two roles demonstrated North's versatility — many comments have been made about how so many of his characters sound alike, the sort of "bashful everyman" personified by Drake, Desmond, and North's take on The Prince from 2008's Prince of Persia. But to hear him play up Penguin's menacing Cockney accent or the broken Portal turrets' bewildered bravado disproves those assertions.

Today we have a couple of fresh looks at North and his process. First up is a fun, short audio clip from an interview that Sarah Elmaleh did with North for the new issue of Kill Screen. In it, North talks about how he listens for various accents, and what kind of information is important for him to assume a new role. I enjoy hearing him talk in his actual speaking voice, since it becomes clear how different it really is from that of Nathan Drake.

The second, more in-depth piece, is a large interview that ran today at Grantland. In the interview, Tom Bissell asks North about his work, the process at Naughty Dog, and what gamers look for in their cutscenes. "Gamers have become savvier," North says. "They're more sophisticated and they want good performances. When you don't do performance capture alongside voice capture, there's always going to be this disconnect."

North also talks about one of my favourite bits of the game — the part where Charlie's claustrophobia kicks in. He describes how that character-note emerged organically from a bit of ad-libbed dialogue:

Graham McTavish plays Charlie Cutter, a pal of Drake's, a tough guy. During one of the first days we were shooting, we had this alley scene, and he said, "Wouldn't it be kind of funny if Charlie was claustrophobic?" Amy started laughing and said, "Do that. What would that look like? Let's try it." Well, in the game, Drake and Charlie are running down a London alleyway. Drake is like, "Charlie, come on. What are you doing?" He's like, "All right. I'm coming, I'm coming," but he goes through the alley saying, "It'll all be over soon, it'll all be over soon, it'll all be over soon." That was completely made up. We all thought it was funny.

North also talks about taking the Penguin, and why he took the role:

I'm sure you've heard people say that I only do one voice. Desmond Miles is my voice but a little darker. Nate is another little side of a personality. But they're not the same person. Penguin wasn't my way of saying, "See? I can do other things!" But I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind. You know, I do six different animated shows. I'm doing one of my animated shows on Monday, and in it I'm doing five voices. Three of them talk to one another and you won't know from one to the next that they're all me.

I'm proud of the versatility I've had since I was in high school, getting in trouble for all these voices. What happened was that there were so many of these big heroes I played - in Dark Void, Assassin's Creed, Shadow Complex, Uncharted, and Prince of Persia - and they all showed up at about the same time. It got a little ridiculous. When Portal came out, and I was listed in the credits, people were asking me, "Were you really in that?" Yeah! I did three spheres and some turrets.

It's a fun interview, and covers a lot of ground, including the other roles he played in Uncharted 3, how his oldest son dressed up as Drake for Halloween, and how he got his start as a… journalist, of all things. Hmm. Might have to consider getting into voice-acting.

On second thought, maybe not.

Uncharted 3: Who Is That Man? [Grantland] Nolan North Interview Excerpt [Kill Screen]


Comments

    I think his opposite has to be Jennifer Hale. I swear she's done voice work in all my favourite games, usually with very different accents and tones.

    Now If Only Steve Blumm could put on different voices without sounding exactly the same. :P

    I find her voice to be kinda samey in some of her big female roles (FemShep/Sheeva (Tales of Symphonia)/Naomi Hunter (MGS)) She's great for the medium with her voice, I just wish they'd throw her a role like Penguin. North's preformance as Penguin in Arkham City blew me away.

    Anyone else not like his Penguin voice? I rushed through that part of the game because I was sick of hearing it.

      Played it through on hard mode, had the timing of a white guy so I never mastered fighting until the end.

      Nothing like hearing North call me a tool every time I got sucker punched in the back of the head. Because its great fun the first three times, but every other time its like nails on a chalk board.

      At first I was put off, cos I was expecting a whiny voice like the Penguin from 1960's Batman. When I finally reminded myself that I wasn't playing 1960's Batman I thought he sounded great. Never realised it was North until I read this article!

    I always thought he was unfairly criticised. I had no idea he was Desmond until someone told me. It was discernable afterwards, but not identifical to Drake.

    And seriously, as compared to film? Most voice acting isn't done by professionals anymore, but recognisable actors. Really reduces the quality in my opinion.

      The only time the similarity ever bothered me was in Prince of Persia, which sounded EXACTLY like Drake and came out very soon after. Generally I think his work is fabulous, and the performances, imo, are what elevate the Drake games. The gaming sections are okay, but if they weren't held together by such strong performances it would all feel a bit perfunctory.

        In an interview with North, he mentioned that exact problem, and how he had asked the producers of Prince if they wanted him to try something a little different, put a bit of an accent on it, whatever. Nope, they just wanted that voice, which North was a bit dissapointed with, but hey, they're paying the money so whatever.

        I think I didn't notice Prince 2008 so much because I played it before I came to Uncharted. It was kind of obvious in hindsight though.

    Worst choice for a voice actor I've ever seen has to go to Black Ops, casting Sam Worthington as an American, even though he can't seem to do an American accent just baffles me.

    See also Avatar, where he plays an inexplicably Australian sounding American in space, or Terminator: Salvation, where he plays an inexplicably Australian sounding Californian.

      Sam Worthington most certainly CAN do an American accent. He just can't sustain it for an entire sentence :P

      The Boston accent sounds Australian-ish, so you could argue that the character came from that part of the USA. No excuse for Terminator: Salvation, though.

      Wait till you see his most recent film... where he plays a Mossad agent.

    Its getting to the point Nolan North is almost becoming the video game version of the wilhelm scream. Hes everywhere in everything.

    Lest we forget Nolan's greatest moments, he is also the voice of Dr Edward Richtofen. "Tint pieces in the wine" etc.

    Perhaps he'll go the way of Andy Serkis and start directing/producing too.

      Tint as in Tiny...

        <3 Richtofen - I had NO idea he was responsible for that one. Such an amazingly psychotic voice/persona, and the lines were great too.

        'VISSOUT AMMO I'LL HAVE TO RESORT TO...... SHTAAAAABBBBBING!'

    You know what's a fun game? Sitting down with a bottle of your favourite spirits, put in the Skyrim disc, and take a shot every time you hear Jim Cummings. Smashed in half an hour. Guaranteed.

    Nolan North so sounds like a porn star name.

    Nolan North was Penguin? Holy shit, he is now officially my favourite voice actor ever. Seriously, that interpretation of The Penguin was my favourite character in the whole game. Gave Joker a run for his money on that one.

    He also played officer Girard in SWAT 4 and that is a very very different voice.

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