Exclusive Interview with Nolan North and Troy Baker!
This is our last part of the 2018 Supanova coverage, but it’s a good one! We saved this until last because it’s so good (also took much longer than usual to type out…it’s a HUGE interview!). If you’re in any way attached to the video game industry you’ll have encountered these two performers. Troy Baker is known for lending his voice, movements and sometimes face to Joel from The Last of Us, Booker DeWitt from Bioshock Infinite, The Joker in Arkham Origins, Revolver Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid V and Pagan Min in Far Cry 4 among many others. Nolan North’s career is equally impressive and includes Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, Ghost in the Destiny games, Penguin in the Arkham series and Desmond Miles in Assassin’s Creed among many others.
These are talented guys and we were ready to geek out in out 5 minutes interview…which lasted 25 minutes. These guys are literally professional talkers and bounce off each other so quickly we strongly suggest using the audio clip below. If you forgot your headphones, scroll down further for a full transcript. Enjoy!
G-Funk: This is the House of Geekery and we’re at Perth Supanova, 2018, and we’re…
Troy Baker: Twenty-what?
Nolan North: Oh no…
TB: How long have I been asleep?
GF: Well, I last saw you in Perth…2016?
TB: Who’s the President?
NN: Don’t ask.
GF: That’s not an answer you want to hear from me. Now…we’re sitting here with two very talented men, would you like to introduce yourselves?
Nolan North: I am Troy Baker.
Troy Baker: And I am The Nolan North.
GF: I’m going to get that so mixed up when it comes to transcribing this.
NN: Sorry, I am Nolan North. That is ‘The’ Troy Baker.
GF: And what do the people, the fine geeks out here lining up for autographs, how do they know you?
NN: Uh, no idea.
TB: Give him a straight answer, come on…
NN: I think people out here, they’re big fans of Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Desmond Miles from Assassin’s Creed, Destiny – the Ghost, it’s a number of things…
TB: Unfortunately he hasn’t done any of those.
NN: Yeah, I haven’t done any of those.
GF: Then I don’t know how we got in here.
NN: They let me in, so I’m just going to keep doing it.
GF: They let anyone in now.
TB: I also got to be in the last Uncharted with him (North), I’ve been The Last of Us as well, I play Joel.
GF: And we have a sequel.
TB: I have Booker DeWitt from Bioshock Infinite…we do a lot of games. There’s a bunch of video games out there.
NN: I did a bunch for Blaze and the Monster Machines…there’s some animation in there, stuff for kids. Lots of fun stuff. We’re the jacks of all trades, master of none.
TB: I’m the master, he’s jack.
GF: That’s fair. You both seem to be heavily associated with your game characters. Was that ever intentional on your behalf?
NN: No, I think it’s something you always fall into. Especially for gaming. No-one sets out to…”I’m going to be a voice over for games!”…
TB: Well NOW they are.
NN: Not when we were starting. I think the big shift into motion capture, performance capture in games like Uncharted and The Last of Us really set the bar a little higher. It’s more like digital theatre, so to speak. Andy Serkis, my favourite quote of his, is that motion capture is acting like everything else but he wears digital make-up. Then the writing got better and the fans got more sophisticated, it’s not just kids down in the basement playing games, it’s this big sophisticated world where people of all ages, of different economic backgrounds…I know people who are heart surgeons who are massively into gaming.
GF: We grow up on it now.
NN: I think the ‘geeks’, as you refer to it, are a huge…um…
TB: Say ‘cornucopia’.
NN: …cornucopia of different folks.
TB: A veritable buffet.
NN: It is a buffet of geekery…
GF: I should change the name of the site.
NN: …that allows us to travel and meet people.
GF: Let’s talk about the motion capture, that’s been a recent development in gaming and you’ve both lent your faces as well as your voices to your most significant characters.
NN: Not just faces, it’s full body. It’s just like doing theatre or on camera work like Avatar. They shot on the same stage as some of these games. I was thinking about it, it’s not as recent as people think. We were doing it over twelve years ago when Uncharted started.
TB: Even Resident Evil goes back to…2001? 2002? They were using some form of motion capture. We just watched it evolve to what it is now. A lot of it is that games themselves have become this…what used to be 2-3 hours experience has become a 40, 60, 80, 100 hours of continuous experience and with that the narrative has had to grow and because the narrative has had to grow it’s become, as you said, more like digital theatre or stage on film and we’re producing two and a half to three hour movies that become cutscenes inside of that, which requires really, really good actors, it requires really, really good writers but it also requires the systems we use to get that information into the game to evolve as well. I was literally just watching something from Death Stranding, which has been putting out stuff. The technology that they’re using made me go, “that looks like a real person”, it’s looks…the articulation they have…and the reason why, when you look at the technology they have as to how they’re using that. More than anything we’re slowly lifting that layer of…I can’t put my finger on it but that something that took me out of the game. Now it’s more immersive and that’s the unilateral thing…everything from the gameplay to the story to the performances to the world to the mechanics…all of it is designed to be as immersive as possible. When someone spends $60-$80 on a game…
GF: More in Australia. $100-$120 a game.
TB: …I want something they can lose themselves into for hours and hours and hours. When the economy in the States was down it saw…we were reading an article about how movie goers had pulled back. They’d save their…it’s expensive to take a family out to a movie, but gaming never really slowed down. People said they could save $60 and everyone can play for hours and hours.
GF: Maybe not your games, maybe not Death Stranding and The Last of Us. But some of them. Actually, you are involved in Death Stranding, can you tell us anything? We have no idea what to expect.
TB: No, I’m not.
GF: You’re not involved?
GF: Oh, far out. I was hoping for a big scoop.
NN: I wish I was too but it’s…is it Mads Mikkelson and Norman Reedus?
TB: Reedus…and Kojima.
GF: I do feel that Hollywood celebrity figures do get a lot of good voice roles. Not a great example because it’s an Adam Sandler film, but Hotel Transylvania is populated with Keven James…in my opinion, quite a bland performance. Do you ever feel that…well, I feel like voice actors aren’t getting full recognition for their work. Do you ever feel like that?
NN: I don’t know if it’s the full recognition, but what I feel is there’s a perception that this person somehow translates to this. I remember watching Michael Jordan goes to play Triple A Farm League, or Triple A Minor League baseball, right?
GF: Yeah. I hear that’s big in the States.
TB: This is the preeminent name – ‘I want to be like Mike – the guy who could slam it from the top of the key, he is the key person you think about when you think basketball. Michael Jordan. Strikes out first time up to bat. It’s just not his thing. It’s still sports, it’s still an athletic activity, still involves a ball. He plays baseball…when you’re competing at that level…this is what I do. You do that and you do it incredibly well, but this is what I do. Sometimes that’s what I feel, whether it’s strictly a voice role or involving something more of a performance capture thing, it’s a completely different tool kit. If you’ve never used that tool in your tool kit you cannot expect to be as adept as someone who, every day, that’s what they do.
NN: In my opinion it’s not really about that for the movie makers. It’s putting a name who…it doesn’t matter…putting a celebrity name on your poster, they’re going to on the Jimmy Kimmel show, or The Tonight Show or The Graham Norton Show, they’ll be travelling and saying, “oh, you’re also in this.”
TB: It’s PR.
NN: It’s a PR move.
TB: No kid is going on Rotten Tomatoes and thinking, “Kevin James…maybe I’ll give this a look.”
NN: It’s not to do with their performance. Their performance is, quite frankly, never going to be so bad that it ruins the movie. It’s just that are people who might be better, certainly there are people who might be better in certain roles. They don’t care, it’s a PR move, it’s the business. I’m not one of those people, I don’t think Troy is…I KNOW Troy isn’t one of those people who begrudges…
TB: No, not at all.
NN: …movies. I would go and enjoy Madagascar with Chris Rock and everything. I don’t care that it’s Chris Rock, but it’s fun. Go watch your movies. A good buddy of mine is Alan Tudyk whose done a bunch of stuff. He’s a really good actor. But he goes into these…well, they call him, they want him. John Ratzenberger: he became this guy who does all the work for Pixar.
GF: He’s like an Easter Egg. You try and find out who John Ratzenberger is.
TB: Yeah, who’s John Ratzenberger and who’s going to in the next one.
NN: I just don’t want to ever get into this idea that the on camera face people are taking voice over jobs, because they’re not.
TB: Acting is acting is acting.
NN: I’m not going to be up for the lead role in the next Pixar movie. It’s not about how good you are, it’s about what kind of name you have. It’s like when people always say, “oh, you should be Nathan Drake in an Uncharted movie”. That’s never going to happen.
TB: You’ve done four of them.
NN: Yeah, I’ve done four of them, they’re not going to do it better than I did it. But let them try. They like movie stars, get the name. That’s OK.
TB: But even on Broadway or London’s West End you’re seeing this happen. The star of this show is the star of this movie and they’re doing a play. They may not be the best. Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job with his, and Martin Freeman did a great job as Richard III, but a lot of times it’s like…I like watching you on TV, I don’t want to see you…
NN: But that’s the other thing, we can sit here and say we’ve done animation and video games. Are we upset that movie stars take the roles in those films? It’s the same when a movie star says they want to do a play and that guy who has studied Shakespeare and done all these brilliant plays and the movie star takes his job. “But, wait…I was supposed to play Cassio in ‘Othello’. “No! We have Joseph Fiennes!” Whose a very good actor…actually that’s a terrible example…
GF: No, I think he’s Shakespeare trained.
NN: “We have Adam Sandler and he wants to do it!” And you know what?
TB: He’d sell out the show for three weeks.
NN: Exactly. There’s an economic advantage to doing it.
TB: People are going to buy ice-cream and watch it like, “this’ll be terrible”.
NN: I don’t begrudge that. That’s the business of entertainment.
TB: It’s the business of show.
NN: The business of show! Really! But it’s true, that’s the business part. You just have to accept that. I don’t think it’s something you fight. I don’t care. I’m doing fine.
TB: I bet you didn’t expect this question to get this exhausted.
NN: I did not expect to talk about it for this long.
TB: This is not a good interview because I’m getting punchy! LET ME TELL YOU ANOTHER! AND SPEAKING OF GUN CONTROL LAW, WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT!
NN: OK, quiet. And…edit point. (Claps loudly) Go.
TB: Next scene.
GF: Jules, my patient photographer, wanted me to ask this question.
GF: It’s a good question.
TB: I think he just threw you under the bus.
GF: No, it’s a good question!
GF: Do you play your own games?
NN: That is a good question. No.
NN: Not yet. I have children for that. They would both play and I would watch them. Often times they get in trouble if they kill Daddy too much. But no, I was not very adept at the whole thing and I’ve watched them a lot. He’s played them.
TB: I was a fan of Uncharted before I got the chance to be in it. So I came at it from a completely different perspective. I’ve grown up being a gamer my entire life. So this is like the perfect opportunity for me to monetise a passion and be able to turn a recreation into a vocation.
NN: That’s good.
TB: You like that?
NN: That’s really good. Turn a recreation into a vocation. I don’t know what ‘vocation’ means, but that sounds really good.
TB: It’s a good word. What’s cool now, because he (North) has seen me light up and talk about games, I want to go through, now that he’s done with Uncharted, to go through and start with the basics. That’s why we started doing our ‘Retro Replay’ show. We go back and you need to understand where we first come from. We’ve gone waaaaay back. We’ve just done Space Invaders.
NN: We went back, on our most recent show, to games that I did play. We go back and remember this, and now he’s introducing me to other games and in the process of doing that we’re filming it and just laughing at how bad we are. We’re just having fun with it…and we learn about each other as well, don’t we?
TB: Yeah, like what was your first date? What was your first car? It’s what we would normally be doing regardless, there just happens to be cameras capturing it.
GF: Sounds like a fun show. And I don’t know it, so I’m going to go and look it up. It was ‘Retro Replay’?
NN: ‘Retro Replay’, it’s on youtube. We’ve got about seven episodes, we just did it live here, for the second time ever, in Supanova Perth. We did it at Supanova Sydney. People thought, originally when it was first coming through, Nolan and Troy are doing a play through.
TB: It’s like the worst Let’s Play.
NN: ‘Let’s Play’, not ‘play through’.
TB: You don’t even know the term!
NN: People thought it was a Let’s Play and it’s not, because we barely get through Level 1, if we do.
TB: It’s fun.
GF: We’ll link it up to the interview.
NN: Yeah, please do. We’re having fun. It’s fun, and it’s something we created and we own. And people seem to like it.
GF: I think I’m going to like, sounds like my jam.
NN: I think you will. You get inside access to our lives and what it’s like just to hang out with us…which, saying out loud you think it’s not going to be that interesting, but we always have a good time. We always end up making each other laugh or have an interesting story, learning about it other through our friendship as well.
TB: It’s how you can get inside of us. That sounds so…
GF: Wait, what channel is it on?
NN: I don’t know what he’s talking about. But it’s cool, it’s been a lot of fun and it’s one of those things…I remember the last time we went done to record some of those episodes I was just so excited. We have our jobs we have to get to, but this is something that’s ours. There’s something about that enthusiasm to get there…and we have nothing scripted, we have no idea what’s going to happen and off we go.
GF: It’s time to wrap up, and I’ve got a question I always finish with. You’ve both got characters who you’re very well known for: Booker DeWitt and Nathan Drake. Are there characters or is there work you wish we were more aware of? Something new or something old school…
TB: There’s a lot of fan love, I feel that it’s the Firefly of video games, for Tales of the Borderlands from Telltale.
TB: Yes. That game was super fun and incredibly well written and I love those characters but a lot of people don’t know about it. I don’t know if we’ll ever do another season of it. That would be the one that I would love to bring back or for more people to know about it and play because it was SO good.
NN: I’ll say that I was in that as well but I want to pick another Telltale game, quite frankly, which is Guardians of the Galaxy where I do Rocket Racoon. So I’m Rocket Raccoon in that.
GF: I didn’t even know that. And I’ve played it.
NN: It was, again…and this goes out to the Telltale people, a big shout out to them…because the writing was so phenomenal. I had some scenes in that that moved me. I joke around a lot but it sincerely moved me. My reaction and what I was doing surprised me. It was really, really cool and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with them and I second him (Baker) to do another Tales of the Borderlands because I met a lot of people and I loved that. It was a great ensemble cast of characters. I’m going with those two.
GF: Was your performance as Rocket informed by Bradley Cooper’s version from the film, which came out first?
NN: No. Everybody has a certain thing…we’ve had this conversation with each about The Joker.
NN: You have to put you own little spin. You’ve gotta do you own…I’m not going to do an impression of him – Rocket has a bio. You just read that bio and come out with it.
TB: Inherently there’ll be differences, you might as well own it and be done.
NN: Yeah. I don’t want to try. They could get in a Bradley Cooper soundalike if they want to do that, but I didn’t even think about it. (Switches to Rocket’s voice) I’m from the East Coast and I sound like it. (Normal voice) When he says, (as Rocket) “Whattaya talking about, Quill!”, he’s just…if you played that game it’s amazing. They went to his backstory about why he became so angry and upset. And it’s really touching and it’s really something else. I really appreciate…I say it all the time, I really appreciate what they did with that and allowed me to do it. It’s one of my favourite things that a lot of people don’t know about.
GF: That’s cool. You (Baker) must’ve been in the same situation, picking up from Mark Hamill to play The Joker. He’s been doing that role forever.
TB: Twenty-five years.
GF: Yeah. How did you put your own spin on that?
TB: I don’t know, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it was naturally what came out. Mark is The Joker to me, his performance is…that’s the best one. Everyone should come back to that. Anyone who says, “I’m really aware of what he did”, you should. What he did has moved that role, that character forward in more ways than anyone else. Heath Ledger included. When I grew up, that’s what I heard, I just heard Mark Hamill. So when I got the opportunity to do it, fortunately, it had to live in the same universe so it needed to point towards a younger version of what Mark did. So it was easier for me to do that. If they’d asked me to come up with, “do your own Joker”, that would’ve far more daunting task.
GF: Do you think you could?
TB: I don’t know…
GF: This is your audition.
TB: (Laughs) I don’t know. It’ll be different, I guess.
NN: I did Atomic Joker one time, just a head in a jar, but everybody…
TB: Everybody’s different.
NN: But it seems to me that there’s always…I think we do it subconsciously, or consciously, always a slight nod to Mark. You have to, because he’s what we grew up hearing. You don’t do it on purpose and he’s also super generous. You told me about your conversations with him before.
TB: Yeah, yeah. It was awkward and he was really great.
NN: He’s such a great guy. I don’t know, I remember doing that…(Switches to Joker and mutters incoherently)…I don’t remember what I did to be honest with you, but I remember there had to be some little (Joker voice) taste of that. It’s out of respect, it’s just a little iota of…for you. I don’t want to sound like you. People don’t understand, they say that you sound like him. Mark’s version transcended the sound…
TB: He got the character mentality.
NN: The character! It’s just great, what he’s done. We’re fanboying over Mark a little bit. We do that a lot.
GF: That’s fair, it was amazing. Look, guys, you’ve given us a huge, huge amount of your time today. Thank you so much, I could ask questions all day. I grew up as a gamer so I’ve seen…heard your work in everything. Thank you for this.