A Chat With The Live-Action Nathan Drake

Ryan Culver, the actor who embodied Nathan Drake for Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, speaks up about playing the part.

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Editorial Feature Industry Interview

Playing video games gives us the chance to take on the role of a hero. We escape into these digital worlds where bullets don’t hurt, demigods dole out justice and ordinary people are granted extraordinary powers.

Ryan Culver knows what it’s like to be Nathan Drake. No, I mean literally. Unlike everyone else who has to pick up a controller to take on the persona of Uncharted’s wise-cracking, death-defying adventurer, Culver got to actually fill the boots of one of the PlayStation 3’s most recognizable personalities.

Nathan Drake—Along with the likes of God of War’s Kratos, inFamous’ Cole MacGrath and LittleBigPlanet’s Sackboy—recently made an appearance in Sony’s mascot-infused brawler, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale; giving some of the publisher’s most beloved characters (as well as a few third party favorites) the chance to duke it out in grand fashion.

To promote PlayStation All-Stars, Sony concocted a live-action trailer that sees the characters mentioned above going toe-to-toe in the Prague back alley. Culver played the part of Nathan Drake and, though he never said a word, he managed to capture the cocky, charming swagger of the high-flying thief with more lives than a suburban full of felines.

We’ll begin with the question I think is on pretty much all of our minds: Is Sackboy really as difficult to work with as everyone says he is?

Man, I’ll tell ya, between takes the kid just sat there. Didn’t look around, didn’t talk to anyone. In fact, he didn’t even move. Between you and me, it was like he had a stick up his butt or something. Weird guy. Laughs. But he’s a true professional because he really came to life when the cameras were rolling. And he always had a smile on his face. Still have no idea how he doesn’t burn his legs with that jetpack.

So, how does one land a gig playing Nathan Drake? Did you know about the character before getting to fill his shoes?

Sony had put a search out to find the live-action version of Nathan Drake. I went in and met the producers and director of the spot, and we did some improvisation through some of the action and dialogue.

At the time I didn’t know much about Drake, so a lot of what I gave them in that meeting was how I would have responded to those situations myself and what I would have said. As it turned out, my actions, words and responses were already very much like Drake.

They [Sony] were very particular about this casting process, and really took their time to find exactly who they wanted for this, so it became quite a waiting game towards the end of the process. But well worth the wait!

So after I was cast, 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 the three games, and questioned all the gamers I knew to get their advice so I made sure I was headed in the right direction.

The most important thing to me was to stay true to 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 fleshed out that there’s not much need to try and change it.

I understand you and Drake have a few things in common. Could you fill us in on those details?

Let’s see…We’re both quiet and reserved, we’re home-bodies, we never get into trouble…laughs.

No, really, Drake travels the world constantly seeking adventure 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 taking off on a lot of adventures, 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 who I feel Drake is as well.

We apparently even talk the same. During the casting process, we would improvise and I would use phrases like “Aw, crap” a lot. This is before I really knew anything about Drake. Then I saw the whole series and laughed at how many times he uses those words.

You managed to pull off the attitude of Drake without ever saying a word. What’s the process like for that sort of a role?

Thank you, I’ve received that same comment from the fans as well and it means a lot.

It’s a pretty intimidating process to start with. After realizing how important Nathan Drake is to fans around the world, I instantly 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 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 curious, to frustrated, to humored, to angry – he’s got a great range of emotion in the game, and I tried to pinpoint that so, with so much action, 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. Getting it right was so important to me, and the wonderful support I’ve received from fans since it came out has definitely made me feel like the work paid off.

Did you ever feel pressured by Kratos to do the duck-lips face? He seemed awful fond of that particular facial expression.

Laughs. Yeah, I noticed a lot of the fans commenting on that. Not sure where that came from. Oh wait, maybe it was because we were standing behind the scenes making duck faces at him while he was on camera. Nah, I’m sure that didn’t have anything to do with it.

Seriously, I have no idea, but Kratos took his job very seriously, so the last thing I wanted to do was steal his spotlight, laughsduck-lips or not.

What was the shoot like? I imagine this was a bit different from the roles you’re used to playing, what with a nine-foot-tall Greek god and a superhero who can shoot lightning out of his hands.

The shoot was fantastic. We shot over several nights in Prague and the whole production team was great. Sometimes shooting nights can throw you off, especially when you’re doing action scenes and the energy has to be really high, but this group made it a lot of fun, and that makes all the difference in the world. There may be a few behind-the-scene shots floating around, if you can find them.

And we had an amazing stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, and stunt team. We worked for a day on the sequence for the whole fight, then pieced it together over the many different shot angles. We did have stunt guys ready to step in and help if necessary, but it was really important to the authenticity of the characters and the scene that we were seen on camera doing everything for real. So we did all of our own stunts and wire work on the job, which is great fun. I love the stunt work, and will always do as much as I can myself.

Yes, there’s nothing like reading a script/storyboard and seeing “…Drake dodges massive sword on chain from 9 foot tall blue demi-god…” and “…he freezes in pain as he’s struck by bolts of lightning from the hands of…” When you’re an actor and you read those lines of action, you just know you’re in for a good time. And that’s why it was so important to understand Drake before going in because once you start that pace of shooting you just have to be there, living in that “world of Drake.” And by the way, it’s a kick-ass world.

There have been talks of an Uncharted movie being made one day. Is Nathan Drake a role you would want to pursue again?

I can’t think of anything cooler. I would be incredibly honored to have the opportunity to step into his boots again. He’s a character that is very similar to me in many ways. I guess if there was any character I was born to play, it would probably be someone like Drake.

I have been very humbled by the overwhelming fan support since the commercial came out. They have a very powerful collective voice, and can influence a lot of decisions when they get behind certain people or projects. It’s a crazy, exciting, awesome universe of gamers, and I’m stoked to be a part of it.

If there are other projects in the future, I would be very excited to wear the jeans and henley again.

What about the character interests you?

Holy crap, how much time do you have? Man, he’s such a rich character on so many levels. The humor and wit are his tools to survive in the world. And he’s really smart. You can see that there are always wheels turning upstairs, but he plays that down, which makes it even cooler. I also dig the fact that he’s not a “super hero.” No powers, no suits, just a guy with a hunch and a whole lotta guts.

Then of course, he’s got this great deep and quiet side; this lost and orphaned little boy inside that he hides from the world. He’s so complex, so humanizing, and so relatable, and I think that’s the mark of any true and long-lasting iconic character.

Finally, we all saw you make sure your gun was loaded before heading into that back alley, so I have to ask: Why didn’t you just shoot everybody and be done with it?

Ah yes, great question, and I’m glad I get to answer this for many of the fans who have been asking. We talked on set during the choreography about how to get Drake’s gun away from him. We actually shot that scene so Drake dives away from Kratos, pulls out his gun, and as he raises it he gets zapped by the lightning, which forces the gun to fly out of his hands. Part of that got cut out for time, so the audience missed seeing it. When I’m hit with the lightning, the gun is flying out of my hand, it just didn’t make it into the final cut. But that was a great catch by the fans and I hope that helps solve the mystery.

Thanks to all the fans for your comments and amazing support. I love connecting with you through Facebook and Twitter @Ryan_Culver. And thank you to Bit Creature for having me on. You guys were great. I wish everyone a Happy Holiday!

Filed Under: Editorial Feature Industry Interview

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

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