Interview with Camilla Luddington

Camilla Luddington has done it all, from princess to surgical intern via Faerie and naughty nanny. But now she takes on the world, in her new role as Lara Croft in Crystal Dynamics reboot of the classic gaming franchise, Tomb Raider. I managed to catch up with the lovely Miss Luddington to talk Lara, video games and big screen reboots.

Camilla 1Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the casting process for Tomb Raider? I believe you thought you were auditioning for something else.

CAMILLA: The casting was much like any normal audition that you would do for TV or film, but the code name was Cryptids, and it just said ‘Interactive Media’, which admittedly, I didn’t even know what that was.

It was so vague in the breakdown that we weren’t really sure what it was exactly, but I loved the character. They called her Sarah, so I didn’t know that she was Lara Croft, but just from the breakdown I felt that it sounded a little Lara Croft inspired, so I went to my audition in boots and shorts, thinking, “Well, this is the kind of vibe that I’m going to go for,” and that was the first audition. The second audition was supposed to happen on a weekend, but I got concussion, and said, “I can’t do the audition,” so the casting director called my agent and said, “I’ll drive her to the audition if I have too,” to which I thought, “Well, clearly this is going quite well if someone wants to drive me there.” I showed up and there were three girls that they had gotten it down to, and that audition was the same as the first. We had scenes that we had to do, which are in the game, like video diaries. Then they wanted to see us run, jump and act like we were all drunk and stumbling everywhere, and I was really quite clueless as to why. Then a week later, I heard that I had got it. They said, “By the way, you’re Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider game,” and I thought “Excellent, my brothers might finally respect me after all these years (laughs).”

Q: You said that you came to the audition for the part dressed as Lara Croft. Have you ever dressed like her for conventions or anything else?

CAMILLA: You know what? I’m banned from dressing like Lara Croft now. I’m not allowed, even on Halloween. I’m not allowed to be seen in anything that resembles her. I don’t know if I can really even do Katniss [Everdeen] now. What they told me is that they used to have girls that modelled as Lara come and they would do all sorts of gymnastic things and I’m the first actress to do both Lara’s vocal work and performance capture. They said that they want me to be seen as the actress, but as Lara’s so much more human in this game, rather than having a model for her they want Lara in the game to be the human version of the character.

Q: Did you ever play the original Tomb Raider games?

CAMILLA: My brother had the original, so when I could steal it off him I played, and I was rubbish. I’m terrible at my game too. I’m only about 30% of the way through and I’ve already killed myself numerous times.

Q: The original is quite fluffy and friendly, whereas this one is a bit more brutal with some of the stuff you as Lara go through. When you were acting it out, were you pretending to be stabbed and such while you were in the vocal booth?

CAMILLA: It would depend on what the scene was. There were definitely certain scenes that I acted out and did the motion capture for, and there was a day spent in the ADR booth where they capture just your voice, and I just died for a day in every way possible that I could be killed; it was so bizarre. One time they said to me, “Okay, now drown.” I said, “Okay, but I have never experienced drowning before.” They handed me some water and I had to act as if I were choking. 

Q: Do you have a favourite death scream to perform?

CAMILLA: There’s this one where I think I get a pole right through my neck, that’s a really good one. Actually, there’s another scene where I have a cut in my side and I have to go (holds side in pain) “Euuugh.” There was lots of fun stuff like that in the game.

Q: Did you do any research on the character’s previous appearances in games or films before tackling the role yourself?

CAMILLA: I’d watched the films already and she’s not really like that in this game. There was this scene in the first film where she walks into a room, kicks her feet up on the table and acts very ‘too cool for school’ about everything. That’s not this Lara, so that knowledge didn’t really help me that way. It was helpful to know of her and what she becomes; she’s iconic, but that’s not the same character. Also in the earlier games, she’s a different character there too. There’s definitely aspects of that Lara in this game, but she still has this self-doubt in this game that she never really had before. It felt like a clean slate.

Q: Is there a script that you are given beforehand, or do you just wing it while you’re there?Camilla 2

CAMILLA: No, it’s very, very detailed. First off, it was a three year process in total and I would go on my days off from Californication, or whatever I was working on, and I couldn’t even tell anyone until last summer. Everything would be scripted out and they would show me pictures and drawings of how it would look. I had never done motion capture before so I had no idea how it worked. What was interesting to me was, when you go into the volume, which is the big stage where they film Tomb Raider, they would have a box and they would say, “This is fire (points to imaginary box), this is a wall,” and they would have a pole or something for a tree, then they would bring it up on a flat screen. When I was synced into Lara I could walk around the level and would be able to see on the flat screen what it really looked like, that made it realistic to me. But everything was very planned out, there was no improvisation.

Q: What’s it like watching your performance back once it’s finished and in the game?

CAMILLA: It’s very interesting actually. I had an opportunity to go to San Francisco once the game was done and watch someone play the game the entire way through for two days straight, who was extremely good at the game clearly, and when I die [they would] record my face going (winces away) “Ooohhh.” They would capture that and put it back into the game. It was kind of an interesting process that even my reactions to her being hurt ended up being used in the game. It’s tough to watch it though, it was three years of my life and it was pretty much every single day so it was pretty tough to watch.

Q: Was it disturbing to see a likeness of yourself repeatedly killed in quite gruesome ways?

CAMILLA: Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a brutal game that I remember thinking “Oh my God, I’m Lara Croft, it’s going to be easy I’m not going get any cuts or bruises, she just goes in and double guns everybody,” but the reboot is just so completely different. She’s in agony and it was really tough to play her at times. There were times where I said, “I just need ten minutes before we jump to the next scene because she just got stabbed,” and to get into that headspace, I feel like you can tell, especially in games, when something almost doesn’t sound real. It was so important to make sure that everything was really authentic, to me as an actress to have the constant communication with the director, who was there. It is similar to an extent to TV, but you almost have free range of where you get to go because you’re not concentrating on where a camera is. So yeah, it was tough, tough to play, and tough to watch.

Q: Was there any kind of method acting involved? Did you get any experience other than the concussion of course?

CAMILLA: (laughs) Yeah, I stabbed myself! The closest I got was when I went to Center Parks when I was 13 (laughs)… no, there was no experience involved. 

Q: Lara Croft is a character with a huge existing heritage and the reboot is so different in the way in which it approaches the character. Were there any challenges for you as an actor to maintain the character that already exists?

CAMILLA: Yeah, I think it would have almost been harder if they had made her exactly the same, I would have felt as though I was stepping into somebody else’s boots, but I had almost complete artistic license with her, to make her real to me. She is only 21, she has that sense of adventure and she doubts herself and all those interesting aspects of her character that make for that journey, but no, I didn’t find it as intimidating as I would have if I had to come off someone else’s performance. It was so different that she felt new to me. 

Q: Would you like to play Lara again?

CAMILLA: Yes! Absolutely.

Q: Is there any hint of that happening?

CAMILLA: Erm… hum… What can I say? I would imagine that there is another game coming, because it’s supposed to. It’s written in that way for her to continue that journey.

Q: Would you also be interested in portraying Lara on the big screen?

CAMILLA: Yes, GK Films is making a film. They are in the very early stages; they are still in the middle of writing the script. They know I’m interested (laughs).

Camilla 3Q: Did you ever imagine when you got into acting that you’d end up playing one of the most iconic characters of an entire entertainment genre?

CAMILLA: You know, I’d never done a video game before and I really didn’t understand all the work that went into it behind the scenes, all the work that it took. I’ve never really thought about doing a game before and now I’m kind of obsessed with the process. Doing motion capture is incredible and fun and you feel free, like you don’t have to stop and worry about where a camera is like you would on TV. However, I’ve always wanted to play an action hero. One of my favourite movies, thanks to my dad, is Aliens and we were always huge fans of Ripley, so I always wanted to do that and I know so many lines from that movie. I always wanted to play a role like that, and this is my role like that.

Q: You have gone from playing the future king of England’s wife to Lara Croft, two different types of storytelling. Where has it pushed you as an actor to do the Lara Croft role? Has it pushed you from the depths of your acting knowledge?

CAMILLA: In any role I have played so far, nothing has physically pushed me like Tomb Raider has. It was extremely physical and the depths of despair that she feels, I haven’t experienced in any other role yet. I almost feel like it was the most challenging thing by far. The Will & Kate film was like this guilty pleasure, fun, cheese fest, that was really, really fun for me, but the highs and lows of that film just don’t even compare to Tomb Raider. She is going through extreme circumstances and that’s appealing as an actress. This character’s completely broken down and then has to build herself back up. 

Q: Lara is quite confrontational in this game, I guess it was quite fun to let go after the suffering to let loose.

CAMILLA: It was. My favourite moment in the game is when she gets those double guns. They actually cut out something that was in fact my favourite line. I don’t know why they cut it out, because it was a really cool moment I thought. She grabs these double guns and the first time she is shooting, she yells “I’m Lara F**king Croft,” and it’s this real intense moment that could have been extremely cheesy but actually wasn’t, it was amazing. So, yeah, it felt empowering to have those moments because for so much of the game, she is completely beaten down.

Q: Was it noticeable to you that the character in part was written by a strong female writer in Rhianna Pratchett and how was that, taking the iconicness of Lara Croft and conveying that as a character?

CAMILLA: That’s a tough question, because I’m wondering, would it have been all that different if a male had written it? It’s basic human survival, so I feel that maybe gender doesn’t play into it. But yes, Rhianna is a great writer and it’s a testament that Lara is who she is in this game. Maybe it does have to do with that feminine voice, but I really think that it has nothing to do with gender. 

Q: Do you think it makes it a little more genuine?

CAMILLA: Yeah, but now I’m interested to see how a male would have written it. I mean, is she losing her top in the middle of the game or something (laughs). 

Q: Arguably there was a more male influence in the earlier Lara Croft stories; she was more of a sex symbol at that time, whereas she is more of an icon in the latest incarnation.

CAMILLA: She is, but I’m not sure how much of that is also just the way she looks too, and I don’t know how much input Rhianna had, if any, in that. That all came from men at Crystal Dynamics. It would have been such a strange game to have that emotional experience that she has, and she’s in a tube top. It would have felt very strange. 

Q: Would you like to be involved in more video games now, outside of any future work you may have in Tomb Raider?

CAMILLA: I’m actually working on a new game right now that I just started work on and it’s super top secret. I’d get in lots of trouble if I told you about it. When I can talk about it I will. I kept Tomb Raider secret for two whole years and Tomb Raider fans; oh my God you guys are relentless. Can I just tell you, I have never met fans like you before. Fans took scenes of me talking in Californication and mashed it up with the Tomb Raider trailer and kept hounding me saying, “We know it’s you.” I wanted so bad to tell people. There were photoshopped pictures of me in a motion capture suit and I was thinking, “Those aren’t our stages.” Those sneaky fans of this franchise.

Q: What was it like coming into Grey’s Anatomy, which is of course a real juggernaut of a series?Camilla 4

CAMILLA: Intimidating. They are nine seasons in, they’re still the number one drama in the US, and it’s a well-oiled machine. In my first few episodes I had to be really nervous acting with Ellen Pompeo and I really wasn’t acting, I was terrified. I got the script at like 8pm the night before and they wouldn’t give it to me until all my contracts had been signed and the next day I had to film. I had the entire page of medical dialogue, full of words that I had never said before in my life. I was literally shaking my first few weeks on the show, but now I love it, it feels like family, it feels like home.

Q: Have you picked up any useful knowledge on the show?

CAMILLA: I think I could perform an appendectomy (smiles) if anybody has appendicitis, I know where to cut.


Thanks to Laura Kate for the additional questions.

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