Nolan North just doesn’t stop. He arrived in the UK around lunchtime on Friday 21st October, and within hours was in a basement bar in Soho giving a Q&A session which lasted well over an hour. Without a break, he spent another half an hour or so giving press interviews, and another half hour, maybe even more, meeting every single person who had come out to see him that evening. I was knackered, but was not going to complain as long as Nolan was on his feet.
“I never take breaks,” he tells me. “Unless I need to pee really badly, I don’t want to stop. If I stop, I can’t get back up. That’s how I am.”
Honestly, I have been hoping to interview Nolan for a long time. As long as I have been writing and publishing words. As long as I have known and loved Nathan Drake. But this feels as far from an ‘interview’ as you could get. He begins with a long apology for mixing things up and not meeting with me when initially arranged. “I feel like a shit,” he tells me. “Don’t worry; I didn’t think you were a shit.” “But this isn’t about you, Bryony. I felt like a shit.”
Apologising is important to Nolan, although there isn’t really anything to apologise for. Mistakes happen and anyway, we are chatting now. We talk first of his inability to slow down. However, despite it, Nolan managed to find time for himself during his stay in London. “I’d never been to the Churchill War Rooms, and I did it this time. I stood in line, got my ticket and spent a couple of hours in there.” I asked him if he’d ever taken the opportunity to visit the replica Golden Hinde in London. “Absolutely I have. I did visit it with my oldest son, who is a lifelong Uncharted fan. We had an opportunity to come here with the family a year and half ago, and we went on it and did the tour. And it was pretty interesting, after living with the story and all the history. And what some people maybe don’t know is that although it is a replica, it actually did circumnavigate the globe, following Sir Francis Drake’s journey. A group of sailors went all the way around, and they must have been crazy because, my god, I don’t care what kind of modern day equipment you put on that boat – it’s TINY, and the ocean is really big.”
It is comforting to know that, given that Nathan Drake is Nolan’s greatest role to date, Nolan is interested in the background, as well. Obviously that makes things more interesting for him while researching for the role, but it also feels important for fans to know that he cares beyond the paycheck and the fame that comes with it. “Some people think it is just a game, but, when you live the character for this long, you want to read books about the character, about Drake, and about the different places we had gone. Just for my own edification and fun. I am a history buff.” None of this is affected. Nolan isn’t telling me what he thinks I want to hear. I have interviewed people in the past, and you get a feel for those who are saying what their PR have told them to say. Nolan is not that guy.
“Amy Hennig has stacks and stacks of research that she does, and she would always recommend books. I think I may actually still have her copy of Lawrence of Arabia. I still have that in my house, so I unfortunately need to return that to her.” “If she hasn’t asked for it back, I am sure she hasn’t missed it,” I try to reassure Nolan. “Oh, she has.” Nolan is very sure of that. And now I am imagining Amy Hennig getting more and more annoyed the longer it is before being reunited with that book. Although it is hard to imagine a world in which Amy Hennig and Nolan North could fall out, least of all over a book.
“It’s something I like telling people; Amy ‘birthed’ Nathan Drake, and she let me raise him.” In the Natter With Nolan event on that Friday evening Nolan told how Amy had gotten so good at knowing Nathan through Nolan’s portrayal of him, that she began to write for that ‘voice’. And Nolan, and the other cast members, would watch playthroughs of the game, and ad lib. It is how some of the best moments were formed – my personal favourite being the little skit in which Nathan (really Nolan in piss take mode) asks who the hell MacDuff is, and Graham McTavish hurling an insult about his ignorance. Amy once told me that this isn’t Charlie Cutter sneering at Nathan Drake, but rather Graham insulting Nolan. (Probably) in jest.
Nathan is Nolan’s career defining role; one that he has spent the last 10 years getting to enjoy. On the one hand, you might expect him to be itching to move on, and perhaps he would be if Uncharted had been stretched to breaking point. I feel an interesting and genuinely unexpected connection between us, because both of us (and all the other fans) have had to process the fact that there will be no more, for better or for worse. Naughty Dog (Neil Druckmann in particular) made it excruciatingly clear that there weren’t any plans, and neither would there be, for more Uncharted games.
“I’m not really sure I am through processing it,” Nolan tells me. “Fans will grieve that there isn’t going to be a new adventure. If you miss Drake, you just pop [the game] back in, and you play it again, and you have good times. What I grieve is the process of making the game; the auditions, and then putting on the suit, and seeing the geniuses behind the scenes making it happen.” He continues; “it’s like if you get together with a lot of friends to make a cake, and it’s the best cake, and ‘it’s too pretty to eat!’ you say. And then you slice into it and everyone eats it, and then it’s gone. And you get together and make another cake, until someone says ‘you know what? No more cake’. ‘Oh really? I really like the cake.’ So it’s… I don’t know. If you look up ‘bittersweet’ in the dictionary, there should be a picture of me in a mocap suit.”
And suddenly I am sad.
But Nolan isn’t about to let the exit from “it all” spoil the decade of happy memories being Nathan Drake gave him. This is good advice for all of us. Nathan, however, gave Nolan far more than a lot of great memories. “[Uncharted is] the thing that has set me up for so many things. Like – not only career things, but in other aspects of your life; the parts that matter. It freed me up to be a better actor, and that confidence from work carries over to the rest of your life. It eases some financial stress, and takes away tensions as a husband and a father. I have been afforded to travel places at someone else’s expense for publicity. Jordan, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Britain, Spain… I’ve been everywhere. It is the role that has changed me for the better.”
I don’t think any of us believe that Nolan will struggle to find work, but Nolan is Nolan; we aren’t. It was immense talent, and not just ‘luck’ that got Nolan the job that launched him, but Nolan is very aware that these sorts of roles are few and far between. Many actors will never have the privilege that he has had. “Harrison Ford got two [such roles] – Indiana Jones and Han Solo. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another character like that, that I am so known for. I’m sure I’ll play great characters in the future, and get to give them truth and life, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get one this special again, because it so rare that it ever happens. I just want to be grateful for what I have.”
There is sincerity in his voice as Nolan tells me he doesn’t think anything could be better. “I don’t say onward and upward, because that means anything I do from here could be better, and I don’t think it could be, so it is just ‘onward’. Because upward is seemingly impossible.” It does seem inconceivable that anything could surpass Uncharted, but again Nolan and I are coming at it from opposite angles. I tell him that, on this, the eve of his 46th birthday, there is still time. “Graham McTavish got his role in The Hobbit in his fifties,” he concedes. “I have 4 more years to work on that. But I think I pulled a leg muscle sleeping. Kicking the covers off.”
It seems time to steer this away from the slight melancholy over the end of Uncharted, so I ask, because I almost have to, about the film. It is something of a swearword amongst the Uncharted fan community; with some exceptions, few are really enthralled at the prospect of bringing Nathan and chums to the big screen. It is clearly something Nolan has been asked about many times, perhaps too many times in interviews. “The success of Assassin’s Creed will be very telling,” he muses. Nolan goes on talk about showbusiness (“it’s not showfriendship” he reminds me), and that people don’t understand the realities. “I appreciate people saying I could be Drake but the realities are you need a bona fide film star. Actors are actors are actors, but they want someone who has that value. They want a Chris Pine, or a Chris Pratt, or a Mark Wahlberg, even, because of the name. They want to secure their profit before the film is even made. But if there were a good role, which would be a nod to the fans; something that I think could be fun, or interesting, then there is the possibility of [me] doing something.”
Unexpectedly, at this point, Nolan talks about a different idea for the future of Uncharted; “I would like to look into the possibility of them securing the rights to an animated series, and having us do that. Continuing the stories, like Clone Wars. That would continue what people have come to know and love. Would that happen? I have no idea, but I think it is worth the conversation.”
By now, we are running out of time. I am conscious of the fact that Nolan has a full day of Comic Con ahead of him, and I am taking his time. But I’m sorry I really have to know about Pretty Little Liars. “Peter Hastings will be back. I can confirm that. I don’t know if I should confirm that, though.” This is all I expect, but Nolan follows with some heartfelt admiration for the show’s leads. “I watched those four girls – they are great talents, but also it is a great testament to their friendship that it has survived all these years in this business. I look forward to seeing what each of them do. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be on that show.” I feel like by now we must have run out of time. But I didn’t even get around to asking about Con Man; the series and mobile game that he is really in London to promote.
Nolan wants to talk about Con Man, though, and I am not about to cut him off. “And the big thing you should be looking forward to over here is Con Man, series 2. By the way, I started in comedy, but I’ve only done one sitcom, and I played the straight guy. But this thing came about because of Uncharted. Alan [Tudyk] was involved, and he saw this character I created just messing around having fun with everyone, and wanted it in his show. So he gave it a home, and now people love this character. Again, it is so rewarding that something I created… People loved it.”
Eventually we start to wrap up our chat; but the last thing we talk about is his eldest son, Cooper. His pride in his son is touching. Earlier in our conversation Nolan had expressed jealousy at me being able to spend the rest of my Sunday with my family; clearly Nolan is missing his. Anyway, apparently Cooper is entering the acting business, and, in his father’s words is “painfully handsome, with big shoulders, and is as tall as me. But he is a sweetheart.” Just before we finish, Nolan mentions that he hopes to work together on a project with Cooper soon. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Nolan is whisked off to the Con; (which he tells me is incredibly well organised and well run), leaving me to my thoughts, and with the hope that the interview recorded successfully. I doubt I ever imagined, when my husband and I brought our first PlayStation home, that I would at one point be talking with one of the medium’s biggest stars about life, family, jetlag, and work. Like I said; I’ve wanted to chat with Nolan like this for a long time, and doing so now has brought all my love for Uncharted, for Nathan Drake, and for this community full circle. Nolan and I will talk again in future, I know that. But this? This was perfect.