Why Mark Wahlberg Will Make a Bad Nathan Drake


(This is another edition of “</RANT>,” a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more).

Last week, Mark Wahlberg confirmed that he was taking on the role of Nathan Drake in a movie based on PS3 blockbuster Uncharted. As always, this inspired a litany of comments from fans and bloggers alike, arguing whether or not Wahlberg would make a good Nathan Drake. We had a similar issue a few years ago as we debated the pros and cons of Christian Bale stepping into a sneaking suit and grunting his way through a Metal Gear Solid film. Now, I’m going to argue that Mark Wahlberg will not make a good Nathan Drake, but it won’t be due to what I think of his acting ability.

He’ll make a poor Nathan Drake simply because we already have a perfect Nathan Drake. In fact, we have the definitive Nathan Drake, and ignorance of this fact is nothing but a show of disrespect towards games as a valid entertainment medium.

Here’s the thing — a massive part of what has made Nathan Drake such a well known character is the performance of his voice actor, Nolan North. Say what you will about North and is over-exposure of late, his voice is intrinsically linked to the character that first saw him rise to prominence. If I hear North in another game, I think of Nathan Drake, and when I think of Nathan Drake, I can’t help but hear Nolan North’s voice. Uncharted’s protagonist is a decently written character and his dialog is quite charming, but without North’s performance, I don’t believe he’d ever have taken off quite so much as he has. There’s a reason many tip him as the male equivalent of Lara Croft, and it’s not because he has a massive dong (that we know of). It’s all in that voice.

This is why any discussion of Mark Wahlberg making a good Nathan Drake smacks of discredit toward videogames. By implying that such an iconic performance (and it is iconic) can be easily replaced by a “real” actor states that videogame voice actors, by the very virtue of their job, are doomed to inhabit a lower caste in the great acting hierarchy. Whether or not Wahlberg is a good actor is irrelevant. Whether he could do a decent “videogame action hero character” doesn’t really matter. The fact is, he’s not Nolan North. Ergo, he will not make a good Nathan Drake.

I realize that by arguing this, some of you will write me off as a purist fanboy. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I’m not even a fan of the Uncharted series. I am, however, a fan of good voice actors, and a man who believes that videogames should be treated as a valid form of narrative art. The very existence of a game movie is an implication that films simply “do it better” than games (which couldn’t be less true these days), and shipping in Hollywood actors to replace voice actors hammers that statement home.

This is the same argument for Metal Gear Solid. How many of you can divorce David Hayter’s voice from Solid Snake? Not many, I’d wager. Hayter’s performance made Solid Snake, at least in the West. Without that gruff, deadpan performance, Solid Snake is only a fraction of his full character. It’s more than just having a gravelly voice, however. We all know Christian Bale can growl, but to simply say “Aw yeah, Christian Bale can make his voice go all husky, that’s good enough for Snake,” serves to completely discredit all the work David Hayter put into not just acting like Snake, but thoroughly owning the role.

This is something fans of movies should already understand. There are some characters that will forever be linked to their actors. In my opinion, replacing North with Wahlberg or Hayter with Bale is akin to having Kevin Bacon play Han Solo instead of Harrison Ford. Or telling Anthony Hopkins not to bother getting out of bed because Patrick Stewart’s going to have a crack at being Lecter. To replace an iconic performance with your own should rightly be seen as an act of arrogance. When videogames are concerned, however, not even fans of the games themselves seem to care about the importance of a character’s voice actor.

I don’t expect Hollywood to give a damn. Looking at some of the shite remakes that have been churned out seems to indicate that Hollywood doesn’t even respect itself anymore, let alone any other medium. I think we as game lovers, however, should give more credit to voice actors. There are some amazing ones out there — Nolan North, David Hayter, Yuri Lowenthal, Liam O’ Brien to name but a few. They never get the recognition they deserve. It’s all about the “real” actors with “real” celebrity status. Just look at the Spike Video Game Awards … are any of the “best performance” nominations for real voice actors? Hardly. If you’re not Hollywood, you don’t matter. And these are nominations coming from games journalists.

You can argue that some voice actors just aren’t photogenic enough to play a live-action version of the character, but then, who is asking for this live-action version in the first place? We already have the perfect Nathan Drake, do we really need a real human pretending to be him? That’s the thing — we believe live-action film will make something more authentic, but when it comes to game adaptations, it just makes things more fake, and less authentic than ever before. Wahlberg won’t automatically make a better Drake just because he’s a living, breathing actor. He won’t even make an adequate Drake. We have a Nathan Drake already who looks and sounds exactly like Nathan Drake, because he is Nathan Drake. He is a composite of Naughty Dog’s visual design and Nolan North’s performance. That is Nathan Drake.

This is why Mark Wahlberg will make a bad Nathan Drake. Because he’s not Nathan Drake.

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14 Comments on Why Mark Wahlberg Will Make a Bad Nathan Drake

Bob

On December 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Hmmm…. Could Nathan Fillion be Nathan Drake?

Ross Lincoln

On December 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I, too, am shocked by the fact that nathan Fillion’s utter perfectness for the role wasn’t mentioned. BROWNCOATS ASSEMBLE.

But seriously, Nathan Fillion. He’s the only human alive who could play Drake, sans North of course.

Nick

On December 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm

How do you not mention Nathan Fillion, he looks, acts, and sounds just like Nathan Drake.

Taerdin

On December 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Nathan Fillion IS Nathan Drake

http://www.gametrailers.com/video/uncharted-2-hawp/59110

R.S. Hunter

On December 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I don’t know what Nolan North looks like, so maybe according to Hollywood he’s “too ugly” for a role like Drake. Not cool or fair, but that could be it. His voice definitely made the character for me.

That said, I think Nathan Fillion could pull off Nathan Drake. I think he’d do a good job. Plus it’d be a Nathan playing a Nathan. Not a Mark playing a Nathan.

Peter

On December 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Great article.

The Spike VGA awards are about as meaningful as an MTV video music award. I wouldn’t sweat not being nominated by that turd of an organisation if I was a voice actor.

Raphael Essoo-Snowdon

On December 1, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Anyone else think Eddie Cibrian would make a perfect Drake? Don’t get me wrong though, Nathan Fillion is like the next best thing.

Josh

On December 2, 2010 at 12:05 pm

It’s a great idea, really it is. I’d love to see Nolan North in an Uncharted movie but the reason he’d never be up for the part has nothing to do with his looks.

This article and every other one like it tends to ignore one simple fact (although this one does come closest): NO Hollywood studio will bankroll an important film with franchise potential with a relative unknown in the lead role. The script for this gets written, the film gets funding and the studio demands a big name actor to put people in the seats.

Imagine the big budget trailer with action and beautiful locales “Uncharted – Coming July 2011 – Starring… Nolan North?” Most of America will see that and pretty quickly dismiss it. It’s a sad fact because to gamers, North IS Drake. To the rest of America, the movie buying public, they don’t know North, they don’t know Drake, but they do know Wahlberg, and that’s enough for at least a big opening weekend. Which sadly is enough for most Hollywood studios.

Josh

On December 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Oh and I forgot, Nathan Fillion doesn’t fit the bill either. I’m a Firefly nut, but Hollywood doesn’t see Fillion as someone who fills the seats either. His track record in films is enough to keep him way out of the running, fanboy wishes aside.

Sarah

On December 2, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Sorry Josh, but you’re blowing smoke out your ass on that one. You’re quoting the mindset that Hollywood currently has, yes: they *think* the American public will not bother with a movie without celebrities, but that’s just not true. James Cameron’s Avatar had a few stars featured, yes. But really? Sam Worthington had been in hardly anything prior to Avatar, sans from a few TV appearances and that terrible Terminator: Salvation movie. Movies like Avatar and Slumdog Millionare proved that you don’t need to have giant names in leading roles to attract a huge audience. The American public is not so mindless that it needs stars in it to make people think that it’s “good”. A movie just needs good marketing and a lot of buzz.

And unfortunately, that Hollywood mentality is also starting to infect games now, too. Cast lists are starting to be dominated by celebrities and pushing amazing voice actors (like the ones mentioned) down to incidental, one-liner status, which makes it even *more* difficult for any new talent to muscle their way in. It’s a shame that most of the time, the voice cast in a videogame is probably the very last thing on a gamer’s mind. Do I love Nolan North? Hell yeah! Will that make me go out and buy the 2008 Prince of Persia? Hell no!

Josh

On December 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Yes Sarah, that’s my point. I’m not saying I agree with it and I’m not saying it’s right, but it is the mentality of Hollywood when it comes to casting big budget movies with franchise potential.

The two examples you give don’t really reflect that as Avatar is James Cameron and with his track record, he can pretty much override anyone when it comes to casting his own films. A billion and counting on Titanic alone earns you that right. The other, Slumdog Millionaire, was a (relatively) small budget 15 Million Dollar film from Celador Films, Film4, and Pathe Films International… certainly not big Hollywood studios. Slumdog Millionaire did show that with a good script, director and actors (known or not) you can reach an American audience. Unfortunately, for better or worse (worse mostly) those are exceptions to the rule that big budget summer blockbusters require Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg and whoever else had a hundred million dollar movie in the past year or two. Right or wrong, it’s the business of making movies.

dgc

On December 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Nolan North sounds too much like a pornstar’s name.

Doucheratops

On December 3, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Normally I agree with Sterling, but on this I think he’s got completely the wrong mentality.

Nobody is taking away the original Nathan Drake, and definitely nobody is taking away the Uncharted video games.

This is simply an ADAPTATION.

Hollywood likes to use already established IPs when it makes films. It makes sense to bring in a pre-built audience and characters/story/setting that are proven successful. This is one of the reasons why so many films are adaptations of books, TV, games and old/foreign films. Guess what else brings in an audience, yes, an actor who people have heard of.

I don’t recall anyone saying that they’re hiring Mark Wahlberg because Nolan North is JUST a voice actor. To me, this sounds like your own insecurities about the video games as a medium, and voice actors. I can’t speak for North, but if it were me you were talking about I’d be pretty offended that you say things like this: “By implying that such an iconic performance (and it is iconic) can be easily replaced by a “real” actor states that videogame voice actors, by the very virtue of their job, are doomed to inhabit a lower caste in the great acting hierarchy.”

That is actual bull. As I said earlier, this is simply an adaptation. It’s not ing replacing anything.

By your logic, every time someone performs Shakespeare, they’re ting on everyone else who ever played Hamlet.

Voice actors do voice acting. I’m sure a few of them would love to break in to film acting, but it’s plain offensive to assume that they’re a lower caste, especially just because the mainstream don’t recognise their talent. I mean, , look at what the mainstream DO recognise. Justin. ing. Bieber.

commander shepard

On December 4, 2010 at 3:10 am

JOSH: “NO Hollywood studio will bankroll an important film with franchise potential with a relative unknown in the lead role.”

Wrong. Sure, it seems to happen often enough, but it’s not a fact that it doesn’t happen. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Brandon Routh as Superman. Eric Bana as Hulk. Just a few examples. I know those are comic and not game movies, but comic movies have had the same rep until recently. Bana and Jackman blew up huge after those roles. Bana was in a couple things before hulk, but not a lot and he wasn’t a household name. Jackman was pretty much completely unknown in the U.S. and Routh… has done some other stuff.

Point is, it does happen. Otherwise we’d have trouble getting new stars ever. Usually, they just get surrounded with well-known names in supporting roles. This is just a case of a director picking someone he’s friends with instead of someone that fits the bill. Not really an important point but… whatever.

Sterling: Your whole argument is fundamentally flawed. You apparently don’t care to have an Uncharted movie, so I don’t know why you’re even bothering to make an argument (other than that the article should be called “why they shouldn’t make an Uncharted movie at all”), but the fact is that they are two different mediums. What works for one may not work for another. One area that works (theoretically) for both is a good story. I don’t care if they do a different adventure in Drake’s life as long as it keeps with the spirit and fits within the established universe or a very similar one. Especially if it’s already a good one. Sounds like that’s not quite happening. Part of what’s great about the game is the story and characters. It’s not just some beat ‘em up that has some established aspects but includes tons of room to be defined.

What has a very high probability of not working is using the voice actor as the physical actor. I’m not saying it can’t work, but it’s not likely to work because they are completely different jobs. If the voice actor is a good physical actor as well and looks the part, I’m all for giving them a try if they want it. Nolan’s a pretty good looking guy. Doesn’t quite look like Drake but looks more like him than Marky Mark. He knows how to use his voice as is evidenced by this and many other games, but does he know how to use his facial expressions and body to act? I have no idea. Arguably, the same can be asked of Marky Mark and we have seen his performances. Have you seen the guy that regularly voices Wolverine in cartoons? He does a fine job, but no way in hell would I want him to act the role on camera.

You may not care to see a live action Uncharted movie and say that you’re not really even a fan of the games, but it’s apparent that many fans would like to see one if it were done right.

Basically, saying “Wahlberg won’t automatically make a better Drake just because he’s a living, breathing actor” makes anything else you have to say on the topic a moot point. They’re not making live action freaking ratchet and clank here. It’s a live action movie about humans. Believe it or not, they’re going to use a living, breathing actor.

I’m a fan of voice actors and think they deserve more recognition, too, but not at the expense of the franchise’s future potential. If Nolan North dies tomorrow, I hope they find someone equally good and similar sounding to replace him.

Regarding the paragraph that starts off with speculating that people will write off your opinion as being fanboyish and asking who asked for a movie, I’ll have to raise my hand. It’s the whole reason why there are ever sequels of anything. With exceptions, it’s because people like them. Sometimes a story feels enclosed and there’s no need for more but it gets made anyway. Maybe that’s how you feel about this. In this case, I welcome further adventures. And why just in gaming? a good story is a good story. Assuming they keep with the same themes and characters, I’ll play games, watch movies, read books and whatever else comes along about Nathan Drake. Do you want a sequel to a game? Then why wouldn’t you want the story that game is based around to continue in another medium as long as it doesn’t interfere with a game sequel being made at the same or greater presumably high quality?

As for my opinions, Nathan Fillion FTW! But only if Uncharted is written to be Uncharted. Otherwise, cast Nathan Lane for all I care.