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.