Tom Holland was mid-swing on SpiderMan: Homecoming when a PlayStation was craftily snuck into his trailer. There had been a handful of delays on the superhero set and Holland’s thumbs were being twiddled dry out of boredom, but when the actor retired that day, a surprise new console was waiting to keep those hands busy. A few games were bundled in, but only one stood out: Uncharted: A Thief’s End, the fourth instalment in the swashbuckling, Indiana Jones-esque series.
“I don’t know if that was [Sony Pictures chairman] Tom Rothman planting a seed early on, but I played that game and loved it,” an excited Holland tells Total Film, finally able to discuss the long-gestated film at length.
However, despite Holland being initially won over by Uncharted’s cinematic qualities, there was no indication that he would be the right man to bring Nathan Drake – a wisecracking, adventure-seeking hero with an appetite for treasure – to the big screen. “It never occurred to me that I could play him,” he continues, pointing out the character’s age, mid-thirties. That all changed after a pitch meeting – just not one initially linked to Uncharted.
“I had a meeting, after or during Spider-Man 2 [Far From Home], with Sony to pitch this idea of a young Bond film that I’d come up with,” Holland explains. “It was the origin story of James Bond. It didn’t really make sense. It didn’t work. It was the dream of a young kid, and I don’t think the Bond estate were particularly interested.
“But the idea of a young Bond film sparked this idea, in turn, that you could do a Nathan Drake story as an origin story, rather than as an addition to the games. And that opened a conversation, and we started to discuss if I could play this role. After meeting with various directors and scriptwriters and storyboard artists, we made the decision that I was going to be Drake. And here we are now.”
Indeed, here we are now, a few weeks out from Uncharted reaching cinemas. Yet, Holland’s story begins towards the end of this adaptation’s long, winding road to cinemas.
Instead, we have to look back to the late noughties – when David O. Russell was first pinned to direct Uncharted and Mark Wahlberg was set to play the lead role – to truly appreciate how long this journey has been.
“I’ve been attached for so long, at one point I was playing Nathan Drake, and now I’m playing [older mentor figure] Sully,” Wahlberg says over the phone from Los Angeles. Russell’s initial vision was “drastically different” to the final film, Wahlberg says, not going into specifics. “But I think definitely, by taking the time to figure out the tone, they’ve made the best version of the film,” he adds.
After Russell left the project to direct Silver Linings Playbook, Wahlberg soon followed, and Neil Burger – who, at the time, had just finished Limitless – was put in the directing chair. He then withdrew to helm Divergent, with Horrible Bosses’ Seth Gordon coming on board, only to leave a year later for Baywatch. Shawn Levy eventually entered negotiations to direct in 2016, and a year later Holland was cast as the younger Nathan Drake. Another year passed and Levy departed to take on Free Guy. Dan Trachtenberg and Travis Knight came and went in quick succession, with Venom’s Ruben Fleischer finally taking Uncharted into production in 2020.
Q&A MARK WAHLBERG
Do you have a history with the games?
I played it just to kind of check it out, but I’m not a big videogame guy. I just felt like it was so cinematic. It felt much more like a big, giant, adventure movie than any other videogame I’ve ever seen or played.
How would you describe Sully and Nate’s relationship in this movie?
There’s not a lot of trust there. Nate’s pretty smart, and he knows that Sully is scamming everyone he meets. So it’s interesting how it plays out, and having to earn each other’s trust and respect.
Production temporarily shut down due to the pandemic. Did your approach to filming change at all after such a prolonged break?
Of course. I’m always living a monk’s type of existence in that, I get up, I work out, I prepare for my work, I go to work, I come back to the hotel, and I just stay in the hotel anyway.
But the world has changed so drastically, and I don’t know if it’ll ever go back to normal, because, you don’t only have to worry about doing your job, you have to worry about everybody being safe, and that was the most important thing.
But I always kind of have the same approach. I’m not sightseeing in the city, and going off to restaurants and all that stuff, all too much.
Would you be keen to head back into the world of Uncharted?
Look, the audience will decide if they love the movie, and if they want to make another one. I always go into everything that I’m doing as: “OK, I’m playing this part, and then as soon as I’m done with that, I’m off in search of the next thing.”
But, if there was a massive demand for it, and people want to see it, and we can make it better than the first one, then that’s worth having a discussion about, for sure.
You’ve been in a few franchises, but never a Marvel or DC movie. Would you be keen to appear in one of those?
I just take one project at a time. I’ve been working on The Six Billion Dollar Man for quite a while, which is also an uphill battle. But that one’s much more grounded. It’s a guy who appears to be a regular guy, who just happens to be scientifically enhanced to be able to do some incredible things. But are you asking if I would have the courage to walk out of my trailer in a cape or a costume?
Go on, would you?
I don’t know. It would depend – and if Marty was directing it. JACK SHEPHERD
“I don’t want to say anybody else didn’t deliver on the material,” Wahlberg – who rejoined the project in late 2019 – says when asked why Fleischer succeeded where so many others had failed. “The other ones didn’t pan out for various reasons. But ultimately, it’s a big thing for the studio. It’s up to them to get to a place where they’re comfortable with the script, and then Ruben came in, and he really had a great take on the material.”
Holland agrees. “Some of [the directors] came in, and had ideas that we didn’t like, that just didn’t fit the characters, and we had to move on to other people,” he says. “We took inspiration from everyone. There were very different variations of Drake, and very different variations of Sully. Some people preferred to make the game, some people wanted to make it completely different to the game. It was an interesting process – one that I wouldn’t like to be in again. It’s quite stressful looking for a director.”
Fleischer, for his part, says landing Uncharted was partly down to his long-standing relationship with the studio, the director having just finished back-to-back work on Venom and the Zombieland sequel for Sony. In fact, Fleischer was first publicly attached to Uncharted in early January 2020, with principal photography starting mid-March that same year. “I was firing on all cylinders from a production standpoint,” he says, speaking to Total Film while in the final stages of post-production on the movie. “I was just really in the rhythm of making movies.”
Everything “snapped into place in a great way” when the first scenes were shot in Berlin – and after a decade of development hell, Uncharted was finally in front of cameras. And then, just two days later, Covid struck. “It got completely turned on its head,” Fleischer says. The set was shut down and everyone went home – but no-one, it seems, stopped working.
For his part, Holland started beefing up, working out and drinking “two or three” protein shakes a day, hoping to match Wahlberg’s physique. While Peter Parker’s still a high schooler, Nathan Drake’s an old-school action hero, and Holland needed the body to match.
Q&A SOPHIA ALI
Do you have a history with the games?
I had never played them. Both of my brothers are really into gaming. I’d seen them play it before, in passing. But then I played it when I got the part, and I was really pleasantly surprised. I really, really enjoyed my time playing it. And I don’t play games very often. I’m not a gamer.
How did you go about making Chloe your own, rather than just borrowing from the games?
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