Ryan Culver on Playing a Live-Action Nathan Drake: “I Would Be Very Excited to Wear the Jeans and Henley Again”
PlayStation 3 has gotten praise for its live-action commercials both last holiday season and this holiday season—with good reason. They show and demonstrate the shared love for games that many of the people buying their products also feel.
One of the latest is a commercial for their newest game, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, where fans can see real live actors (and a few CGI ones) battle each other. Ryan Culver plays Nathan Drake from the Uncharted franchise. If you’re unfamiliar, Nathan and those games are easily one of the most beloved characters and games available on the PlayStation. The commercial is embedded below:
I recently spoke with Ryan via email about playing Nathan, if he’s getting recognized on the street now , if he might put on the henley again and more.
How did you wind up getting cast in the commercial?
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! (haha)
Are you a gamer? Had you played any of the Uncharted games before?
I am really terrible at playing the games (haha). It gives me great respect for the gamers and how easy they make it look. While I don't play much myself, I have friends and family who are big gamers, and 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 on how to approach the character.
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 flushed out that there's not much need to try and change it.
How are you similar to Nathan Drake?
Hmm let’s see: well I never get into trouble, I always follow the rules… (haha)
No really, Drake is a world-traveling adventure-seeker 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 going on a lot of adventures where I’m landing in all sorts of interesting and remote places all over the world and seeing amazing sights and people. So I’m constantly out exploring and thrill-seeking and that’s what I understand Drake to be.
And it’s funny—before I became part of this project and got to know Nathan Drake, I’m someone who would naturally respond to the crazy things that happen to me by saying something like “Aw, crap.” I laughed the first time I saw the game at how much he uses that phrase.
In the fight scene... any punches get accidentally thrown? How hard was it to learn the choreography? Did you have a stunt double?
Yeah, by me (haha).
No, 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.
I love doing my own stunts. I will 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 the 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 very conscious of that as well.
How hard was it to interact with a character and effects that weren't actually there?
Well the production team did a great job of creating situations where we could interact live as much as possible with the other characters during the action. And when that wasn't available, they had detailed storyboards for us to look at, so we knew exactly what was happening and how to respond to it.
Of course sometimes you’re left looking at a big dot on the end of a stick, or a piece of tape or even nothing at all. But hey, that's what your imagination is for. And it's a lot of fun to try and visualize it in your head. And hey, when you screw it up, you just go back for another take. (haha)
Was it hard playing a character that never speaks during the commercial?
It was a challenge.
I spent 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 tap into that heavily for a spot like this that was all about the action so it was clear to the audience. There are actually a number of small, subtle actions that gamers would have noticed from the games that didn't make it in to the final cut.
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 body language and facial expressions down. I really wanted to get it right and the wonderful support and comments I’ve received from fans since it came out has definitely made me feel like the work paid off.
Are you hoping to play Nathan Drake again in the future?
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. If there was any character I was born to play, it would probably be someone like Drake.
And I have been very humbled by the overwhelming fan support for me since the commercial came out. If there are other projects in the future, I would be very excited to wear the jeans and henley again.
Do you ever get recognized on the street now since it was such a popular commercial?
I have been stopped a few times on the street and people who know the game seem to recognize me from the commercial. I also get a lot of people doing double takes, like "Hey, you look just like the guy from..." That's always a lot of fun for me.
Anything else you'd like to tell me?
I would like to thank the fans for all their amazing support. They have such passion and opinion for the games they love and all I ever wanted to do was stay true to the character that they all know and that has been the response I've received, so I couldn't be happier about that.
And I'd like to thank Starpulse for having me on. It's been a pleasure talking with you. I wish everyone a Happy Holiday!