Lara Croft is one of the most popular and iconic video game characters ever created, but after a string of solid but underwhelming games, her star had faded considerably. In 2013, developer Crystal Dynamics successfully rebooted the faltering Tomb Raider franchise by telling Lara’s origin story, and rebuilding her from the ground up. No longer a haughty superhero, this Lara was untested and inexperienced, an ordinary woman placed in extraordinary circumstances.
Instrumental in bringing the new Lara to life was actress Camilla Luddington, who provided the voice and motion-capture performance to deliver a more grounded and realistic take on the character. Luddington returns as a more confident and assured Lara in the stellar sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider, which delves deeper into Lara’s past as she begins to embrace her destiny as the Tomb Raider. EW talked to the Grey’s Anatomy star about returning to the icon, bear heads on sticks, and how Grey’s Anatomy and Tomb Raider fandoms are crossing over. [Spoiler warning: details from the plot of the game are discussed]
Following up the first Tomb Raider, in that game Lara is unprepared for what she encounters, but in the sequel she’s very different. Could you tell me a little bit about how she’s changed and how that affected how you play the character?
Yeah, in the first game, Lara entered Yamatai [the mysterious island that she was shipwrecked on] as a kind of inexperienced if not naive young woman, and after all of her experiences and everything that she witnessed, she’s almost haunted by it. And at this point she’s in a place in her life where she can’t lead a quote-unquote normal life. As a result, we see a much more bolder Lara who is now on a quest to answer questions that she was left with after the island. And she’s willing to risk anything and everything to get there. And we also learn a little bit more about her relationship with her father and how she feels sort of haunted by him and wants to make him proud, and how that also drives her.
She seems a lot more self-assured this time. The way she tells Jonah [her friend who returns from the previous game], “Go back, don’t worry about it, I’ll figure out from here.” And of course he doesn’t, and he ends up being more of the damsel in distress.
I know! He is a damsel in distress. I think that Jonah to her is her family, so it’s also about her not wanting to experience possibly losing another family member to her, and especially since she feels like it is on her shoulders to go on this quest. So I think she wants to protect him, but Jonah is very loyal — to a fault, maybe. And he has to go out and follow and help Lara, too. I love that relationship.
Can you tell me a little about the filming? Has the motion capture process changed at all? Was there anything different about performing the performance capture this time as opposed to the first game?
With regards to my actual suit, the cameras on my head were the biggest difference to me, they were different this time around. Just in two years the progression is amazing. When I watch it, it’s crazy how just even Lara’s skin and her hair in this game is incredible. I don’t know the exact details of how they capture that, but it’s amazing to me; I’m in awe.
It’s funny that you mention her hair, because that’s the first thing I noticed. It’s this huge big-budget game, and I’m like “Her hair looks amazing!”
I know, you can see like every strand. It’s incredible.
There’s also that little detail in her animation, when she gets out of water, and she wrings her hair out a little bit, I thought that was such a nice touch, and it adds this human element to her character. Here’s this woman who’s jumping around and hanging off the side of buildings, but when she’s wet, she’s gotta pull her hair back.
I know. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Was there anything memorable about any of those other smaller animations that kind of bring the character to life?
We always have to be aware of temperature, because she’s going through such extreme climates. So there’s an element of even how you cower your body when you’re trying to conserve heat. All those things, like warming your hands, all those elements or even not really being able to speak well and open your jaw when you’re so cold. You have to be aware of all those things, especially when I’m actually in just a VO booth, and not in motion capture. Because you’re running through parts of gameplay so quickly, you sort of have to adjust, OK, wait a second, what atmosphere is she in, and really concentrate on that. Otherwise, I don’t think that it makes for a very realistic performance. More than anything, just how climate changes her. Her voice, or anything to do with her movement.
About how long was it to film this sequel overall?
I think about two years. The first game was three, and this game was two. There was a good few months, maybe almost about half a year or so before we were talking about the next one, and of course it isn’t like nonstop filming because every day that I’m off on Grey’s Anatomy I jump in and I do Tomb Raider. I feel like I’m sort of living two lives while filming. [laughs]
There’s a very memorable encounter early on between Lara and a bear. What was filming that like, was there someone playing the bear who was chasing you, or how did that work?
That’s one of the very first things I feel like we did. A lot of that I think was actually captured more in a VO booth, because it’s in gameplay. Which is really hard because you’re stuck in a very tiny room, having to imagine being chased by a giant bear.
I was hoping there was like a bear head on a stick or something.
No! That would be amazing. I wish we had stuff like that, it would really be helpful. I’m going to request it if we do another game.
And you have such an active fanbase from Grey’s Anatomy, and you’re really engaged with them and the whole #jolex movement [the name shippers give her character Jo Wilson and Alex Karev on the show] is very big. I was wondering how the Tomb Raider fanbase compares, and is there much overlap?
There is a crossover because I go to Comic-Con events and different game events and anime events and I meet fans of both or I meet fans of True Blood [Luddington played telepathic faerie Claudette Crane in season 5] and Tomb Raider. So there is definitely a crossover there. A lot of times a girl will say, I watch Grey’s Anatomy, my boyfriend plays Tomb Raider, and they’re both there together, which is really fun. You know what I’ve even noticed on Twitter is that people who are watching Grey’s Anatomy and now buying Tomb Raider because they’re excited about one of the cast members doing a video game.
Lara is one of the strongest women in pop culture today, and definitely the most prominent in video games over the last 20 years. What do you think that it is about her that makes her such an icon, and one that’s actually been able to endure?
I think especially right now, people are really interested in character-driven video games and movies, like we saw with the Batman reboot. It’s more interesting when you see characters that have a little humanity to them and seem realistic. I think especially with this reboot, I meet a lot of girls that say that they really relate to Lara and they feel like her strength is something that is inspirational and her drive. And it’s not that Lara is a character who thinks she will always win, luck is always on her side. She moves forward even in the face of death and thinking that she won’t be able to complete what she has to do, so I think that is inspiring to people. And in general right now, movies like The Hunger Games and even we talk about Shonda Rhimes, she has three female-driven shows. There’s a movement right now and there’s a push for more female characters in games and leads. Tomb Raider hopefully is part of that.
There are always rumors that there’s going to be another Tomb Raider movie. It’ll be 12 years since the last one [2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life starring Angelina Jolie]. Is that something that you would be interested in pursuing?
Yeah, of course, getting to play Lara Croft and continue her journey in film would be incredible, but I think regardless, I’ll always feel part of this franchise, and I know that the movie will be based on the game, so there’s an element of passing on the torch at some point, and it’ll be interesting to see. You know, I would love to do it, and if it’s somebody else I would be excited to see them perform.
Since Lara survived Yamatai and Siberia, where do you think she should go for a vacation?
I really want her to go somewhere warm! The hardest thing for me is to yell over wind and snow and everything, so just somewhere where she can not be freezing, I will be so happy.