This holiday season, gamers set their favorite video game heroes against one another in Sony’s over-the-top fighting game PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. The game’s live-action trailer was nearly as much fun as the game itself and featured the likes of Kratos, Fat Princess and Sack Boy going mano-a-mano. What really made people take note however, (especially the ladies) was the handsome guy playing rakish adventurer Nathan Drake.
It’s not easy to step into the dusty boots of the biggest tomb raider since Lara Croft but actor Ryan Culver made it look easy. Not only is Ryan known for his film TV work (you might have seen him on NCIS, Spin City or Charmed), he’s also a real-life adventurer, sky-diver, stunt driver, marksman and aviator. This month we spoke to Ryan about what it’s like to be Nathan Drake’s doppelganger, and he had some interesting things to say about the process of bringing a video game icon to life.
Examiner: First, let me congratulate you on your great portrayal of such an iconic character. Gamers are known to disembowel anyone who screws with their heroes and after your performance, I’m pretty sure you’re safe.
Ryan Culver: Well thanks for that. I was very aware of the importance of getting it right for the gamers going in, so that means a lot, thank you.
Examiner: Your work is primarily in film, stage and television – how’d you get involved in the video game business?
Ryan Culver: This is actually my first foray into the gaming industry, so it’s been a huge learning experience for me. I’ve got some family and friends who are gamers, but I haven’t played much since I was younger. I’m really bad at it (haha). It was a big learning curve, but I had a great time doing it.
Examiner: In addition to the live action trailer for Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, what other video game work have you done? (if any)
Ryan Culver: Again, not much up to that point, but now, having spent so much time getting to know Drake, and talking with people at Sony, people involved in the production, and gamers that I know, I feel very connected to the industry. It’s a wild and crazy place with a lot of diversity, and great fun to be a part of.
Examiner: Have you done voice-over previously? What for you is the biggest challenge of that kind of work?
Ryan Culver: A very small amount, and nothing that involved video game characters. Voice-over is a great challenge, because while you have so many freedoms, you still have to find a way to inhabit and express a character’s personality with nothing but that voice of yours. It’s a real interesting test of your imagination.
This spot actually provided an opposite challenge, that of not being able to use voice at all. One of Drake’s greatest and most recognizable traits is his sense of humor, and without the ability to speak, it became a game of figuring out how to get his thoughts across without being able to use his voice.
Examiner: Before taking the job, did you know who Nathan Drake was?
Ryan Culver: Not a thing. In fact, most of what I did during the casting process with the producers and director, was just a lot of who I am, which worked out I guess, because apparently Drake and I are a lot alike (haha).
It was after that when I entered an intense process of studying Drake. I started by watching 10 hours of game-play movies of the “Uncharted” series, and then went back and studied his movements and facial expressions reacting to different situations, with humor, anger, sarcasm, frustration, etc.
I knew how big a deal Drake is to the gaming community world-wide, and I took that to heart when approaching this job. It’s all for the fans, and I never want to lose sight of that.
Examiner: How is a fight scene like the one in the trailer choreographed? When your opponents are as varied as Kratos and Sack Boy?
Ryan Culver: It was very well choreographed, 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 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 our own stunts and wire work on the job which is great fun.
Kratos obviously is this massive demi-god, so we had to do a little camera magic to arrange that fight sequence, but the crew did a great job of using as much “practical” props for me to react to as possible, and when it worked, the actor playing Kratos would step in to offer some more visual cues.
I love doing my own stunts. I always choose to do as much as I can on a job. I have a great respect for the professional stunt men and women who I work with, 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 conscious of that as well.
Examiner: How have gamers reacted to you as Nathan Drake?
Ryan Culver: I have been overwhelmed by the huge, positive reaction from the gaming community. It’s a very humbling experience. I really went into the project with a strong desire to stay true to the character that everyone knows so well and has come to love over the years. I know it’s easy to misstep, or try to go your own way, but Drake and his storyline are already so well flushed out, that I feel all you really need to do is figure out how to just inhabit his world…which is a hell of a place.
All of the great comments I received have really made me feel like I was doing something right, which means a lot.
Examiner: When you’re walking down the street now, do people shout, “Hey! It’s Nathan Drake!” If so, what do you do?
Ryan Culver: I turn around too and start looking for him (haha)! No, it’s been a fun experience. Sometimes people will say something, sometimes they will just do a double-take, but I get a kick out of it. He’s such a fun character, I don’t mind being associated with him at all.
Examiner: What do you find appealing about the Nathan Drake character? Or…not?
Ryan Culver: Oh man, where do I start. Drake is such a complex character, which, as an actor, is always the most desirable kind. He’s got this great, affable personality, a great sense of humor and an amazingly adventurous spirit. Then on top of that, he’s got this dark, lonely, intense inner side that he tries hard not to let the world see. He’s got a lot of cool layers, which makes playing someone like that so much fun.
Examiner: What video game characters do you identify with?
Ryan Culver: Honestly, if I was born to play a video game character, I think it would have to be Drake. I’ve been a thrill-seeking, adventurer my entire life. I’ve been an extreme-sport athlete for many years (skydiving, rock climbing, etc.) and am constantly pushing my limits.
I am also a pilot, and have a company that delivers aircraft around the world, so when I’m not working, I fly these great small planes to amazing, remote places all over the world and meet some really interesting people.
I love to explore, learn new things and see the world, and that’s a lot of who I think Drake is as well, and I would be honored to step into those dusty boots again if another project came along.
Examiner: You or Nathan Drake – quien es mas macho?
RyanCulver: (Haha) Oh man, that’s funny. Well it would be hard to be cooler or more macho than someone like Nathan Drake. He does have that softer side that he keeps to himself, and I guess I’ve been accused of that myself by a few people (though I’m sure I would deny it if asked, haha). But it’s a good chance for me to step up my macho game when getting to play a character like that, so I welcome it (haha).
Thanks to the fans for all their support. I love connecting with you on Facebook and Twitter @ Ryan_Culver. And thanks to The Examiner for having me. You guys were great!
For more information about Ryan Culver, visit his official website or his profile page on IMDB.