To some, the voice of Nolan North is synonymous with heroism, but he's been enjoying the art of redeeming the big bad in his video game roles of late. Notably, he stars as lead antagonist, but not quite bad guy Bruno Durand in Dirt 5, releasing November 6.
Though he's had roles of all types in games, TV, and film over a career spanning more than two decades, North's iconic portrayal of protagonist Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series made the actor's natural speaking voice famous. But Uncharted is over (for now), and North is all about moving forward. "I saved the day a lot for all the Uncharteds for over a decade and it was great, but there's something really fun about being the antagonist," he told me during a recent video chat.
"Like David, in The Last of Us, was a great role to play. And people say 'he's so horrible ... He ate people'. I'm like, 'it's an apocalyptic world, who knows if there's enough food for people, and they had to make due and make the hard decisions?'" North muses. "I mean if you walked down the street today, you'd lock 'em up and throw away the key, but…"
Of course, North is not saying it's OK to eat people depending on the circumstances. He goes on to explain that seeing the world from a character's perspective is crucial to his performance.
"People are like, 'how can you justify him?' Because that's what I have to do as an actor. Take that guy, put him in that world, and the rules of society are gone. So I just always look at [David], like, there's a bunch of people here that look to me for leadership and I have to take care of them. I have to clothe them, I have to feed them, I have to keep them safe. And how do I do that? So, in terms of the story, that's where I put my headspace."
In Dirt 5, North plays a character that's a lot easier to redeem than people-eating David. Though he's definitely the main adversary to the player character, Nolan insists that Bruno "is the antagonist of the story, but not the bad guy-slash-villain. He's misunderstood."
With a character like David from The Last of Us, North can only hope to play a convincing villain that terrifies and incites rage, but with Bruno, the actor sees a chance to subvert player expectations. "You meet Bruno, you want to beat Bruno, but over the arc of his story is him being able to... my goal is like, I want you to love to hate him, and then hate that you love him by the end."
At this stage in North's career, he's enjoying the challenge of playing the bad guy while finding ways to make players second-guess their feelings about the character. "I always try to find a way to try to redeem my character no matter what they're doing, and with a hero you don't have to do that… there's just more to do [playing the bad guy] ... Like Bruno, I always want the next challenge. I've never been the person that's content with, 'OK, I'll just do this every day'."
Dirt 5 launches on November 6 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC; on November 10 for Xbox Series X; and on November 13 for PS5.