There are few superheroes more well known than Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. It’s fitting that one of the world’s most famous voice actors voices him in Marvel’s Avengers – Nolan North.
North has played several memorable characters, including Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, but Tony Stark was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Nathan Drake was my Indiana Jones,” North said. “Iron Man feels like my Han Solo. I didn’t know if I was going to get another iconic character to play. I’m a big Robert Downey Jr. fan, but I had to make this Iron Man mine. What would I be like if I had Jarvis? How do I play Tony Stark?”
As North worked to put his own spin on the character, he found a way to recognize what came before him, without falling into trying to copy it.
“I realized I can’t concern myself with being compared to RDJ,” North said. “He’s my Iron Man. I love him. There are certain phrasings and ways of saying things that I did as a little homage to him without it being an impression. That was important to give a little hint of that. As long as I stayed true to myself, that took a lot of the pressure off.”
North is part of an ensemble cast that also includes Troy Baker, Lauren Bailey, Travis Willingham and Sandra Saad. And while Tony Stark may appear confident on the surface, North said there’s a more complex side to him.
“The funny thing is, when you take that suit off, he can bleed,” North said. “His super power is really his brain. He’s an everyman character wrapped up in this suit.”
North’s career almost took a very different turn. After playing baseball at the University of North Carolina, North received a broadcast journalism degree from Emerson College and spent a year as a TV reporter in New York.
“My first job was covering a bear stuck in a tree,” North said. “I remember I went down to interview Al Gore and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development with a camera on my shoulder and my mic out. It was just embarrassing.”
He soon found himself covering stories that wore him down emotionally.
“It was just depressing,” North said. “If it bleeds, it leads. You saw a side of life that was just not good.”
A visit to see his brother in Florida to clear his head changed everything.
“He goes, ‘What would you want to do if everyone was dead and you didn’t have anyone you thought you had to do things for?’ The next day, I started running and just ran all day. I had to go into a pizza place and call my brother. We sat down and I said, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I want to be an actor. I said the success is in the doing.”
His brother then gave him a piece of advice that changed the course of his career forever.
“He told me, if anyone in this family can make it, it’s you,” North said. “There’s no failure as long as you give yourself the opportunity to succeed. It was like being reborn at 24-years-old.”
North called his TV station to resign. There was just one issue. His boss was about to offer him a promotion. North declined.
“My mother lost her mind,” he said. “But I would rather be broke and happy than broke and miserable.”
North began doing standup and theater in New York. It was far from glamorous.
“My buddy bought me a mattress, I was that broke,” North said. “We put it in his two-room apartment and had to stand it up every day against the door so he could walk to the kitchen. We did that for almost a year when he and I were drunk and he said, you should go to California.”
North decided to go all in on the idea and bought a one-way ticket. Six months later, he landed a five-year deal on the TV show Port Charles. It was a fellow actor from that show, John Lindstrom that told North something that would further alter his career.
“He said, ‘You might be able to make a couple bucks doing voiceovers,’” North said.
From there, North’s career has taken off, including landing the role of Nathan Drake.
“I think what was great is he had a sense of humor but he also had a huge amount of vulnerability,” North said. “He’s an everyman. There was something about the character that spoke to me that I saw a lot of me in him. It helped me learn a very important lesson as an actor, that I’m enough. If I just play me as the character, that differentiates me from everyone else. That’s the most natural and real and genuine thing you can present to them. Naughty Dog isn’t afraid to push boundaries. That was the best 10 years of my life. I miss it so much.”
Since then, he’s also started his own YouTube channel (Retro Replay), had parts in blockbuster movies (Star Trek: Into Darkness) and games, including Destiny, and will appear in the upcoming game Dirt 5.
But with Marvel’s Avengers officially releasing today, North hopes that fans love what they see and that he can spend more time with Tony.
“The thing that blows me away is the gameplay is some of the best I’ve ever seen,” North said. “Visually, it’s stunning. I hope this does well and we can make more. I had so much fun doing it.”