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Camilla Luddington On Playing Lara Croft And The Difficulties Of Pretending To Drown

Many will recognize Camilla Luddington from her recurring roles on shows like Grey's Anatomy,Californication, or True Blood, but gamers know her as Lara Croft.

Luddington provided Lara's voice and motion capture performance for the 2013 reboot, and lent a new level of grounded believability to a character that had previously fought dinosaurs and skateboarders in underground caverns.

This time around, Lara is a more prepared, more confident adventurer. Are you playing a much different Lara than who you played in the first game?

Camilla Luddington: I think so. One of the things I think is really interesting about her is she is wounded by her experiences in the first game. She feels as if she has gone into a secret world and that normal life is now impossible for her. Now she is consumed in a way to chase artifacts and uncover mysteries even more so than the first game. There is this drive behind her in this game to let the world know that she is not lying. She didn’t make these things up, and she doesn’t have to feel like she imagined something. That drive behind her and the place she is coming from is a little bit different and I think it makes her more than just a survivor like she was in the first game. She realizes that being a tomb raider is who she is meant to be.

Were you familiar Lara Croft and Tomb Raider prior to the 2013 reboot? Are you a fan?

She is such an iconic character that I assume everyone is familiar with the character. Also, for me when the first game came out, I was probably like 12 or 13 or something like that and my older brother actually had the game. I remember that he rarely let me play, but I would sneak on sometimes. I was familiar with the game really through him because he was a gamer. I grew up with the games being played around my household and admittedly I’m really bad at my own games, which is really depressing. I’m slowly inching towards the end even now. I’ve seen it played the entire way through. But yeah I kind of grew up around her, so I do think she iconic. I kind of assume everyone knows who she is.

If you went back in time and told that 12 year old version of you that one day you would be Lara Croft, what do you think she would say?

I think she would say, I need to play the game more because I was never allowed to play it [laughs]. I think I would use that as an excuse to grab the controls from my brother and say, "Actually I’m going to be Lara Croft, so you need to have me play the game."

How much has your role changed between the 2013 Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider?

It’s very similar. It was facial capture the last time around, except there really weren’t dots on my face. I think there might have been at one point – maybe for the trailer. Obviously they took facial capture, they just probably did it in a different way. This time around we are using something called Mova which is really exciting because it just captures so much more of what you are doing in a scene and makes it just so much more realistic.

I’ve kind of spoken about it before, but just to put it in terms for people to understand, facial capture is usually 90 points of reference on a face and what Mova is a fluorescent paint that gets airbrushed on your face and you can see it under a fluorescent light. It actually captures 7,000 points of reference. For me, like I said, it’s just constantly so exciting to see that because when I get to see a little a bit of what we captured it just looks incredible. It blows my mind; you can really feel the mass effect. More of your performance is in the game than ever. Not everything is motion captured, but Mova is just something that makes it just a little extra exciting.

Lara is a very physical character. Do you have to train to be Lara Croft?

I don’t technically have to train, but I have someone on set who will show me, kind of like I did in the first game, the way to hold certain weapons so that I’m not holding them wrong. I realized very quickly from the last game that it was a lot more physical than I thought it was going to be and so for myself, I did things like circuit training or even biking or running. Those are things that just help me maintain the endurance through an eight hour shoot of motion capture. Where things get really technical or kind of aggressive, they will have stunt people in and kind of go over that because it needs to be choreographed in a way that they feel like stunts are properly performed and better. It is taxing and exhausting, but it’s fun and I want to do as much of it as I personally can.

I’m sure you’ve been paying attention to the feedback from the first game and I’m wondering if you have a favorite reaction to the 2013 Tomb Raider.

I actually went to Comic Con in London as well as San Diego and an expo up in San Francisco. One of my favorite things is that people dress up as Lara and they get every single detail, every single scratch on her face down, so that’s probably my favorite thing. But in London I remember a girl approaching me – and this happened to me a few times with young girls around 17 or 18 – and they tell me that they see themselves in this new game as Lara and there’s something about her strength and resilience that has inspired them and they’ve told me stories of what they had to get over in life and they kind of look up to you as a female heroine like her because, sadly, it is still rare that female roles are so strong and the center of a storyline. Thank god for something like the Hunger Games because I feel like that has been proving female leads. That really strikes me as something that’s kind of touching and that’s something that I do think of when I’m making the game too.

Are you familiar with Tom Braider cosplayers – men who cosplay as and imagine Lara as a male character?

I haven’t seen any men dress as her. I have not met any of the male cosplayers. I’ve met male cosplayers of Alex, who wear the little skate t-shirt, but I haven’t met any of them dressed as Lara. That’s cool, I wanna see that now.

Has anyone ever recognized you as the voice of Lara?

Actually, it has happened a few times. Once I got on Grey’s Anatomy, I tweet a lot about both projects, so people now know that I do that also and I’ve been doing it for a long time, so I do actually get recognized for Tomb Raider, as well. The weirdest time for me was when I was out to eat with a friend of mine and I had a ball cap and sunglasses and someone came up to me and said, “You’re Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider games,” and I was like, “How did you know? My entire face is covered and we haven’t spoken.” People have started to recognize me and it’s really great, it’s really unexpected always still, but it’s really fun.

I was working on a film and there was a crew member who didn’t know I had a British accent because when I do an American accent for a role I stay with it on set, because it helps me to stay in the accent. I don’t think he even knew I was British. He was tying a mic to me, because we had to hide it sometimes, and he was tying it around the side of my leg. He said, “This is gonna' feel really weird. I call this the Lara Croft Tomb Raider way of tying things.” And I said, “Oh, you like that game?” and he was like, “Oh yeah, I’m a huge fan I love the game, it’s awesome. Do you know the game? Do you play it?” and I was like, “Well, actually, I’m Lara Croft.” So he was like, “No you’re not.” And then he tested me on certain stuff to do with the game and eventually he was convinced. Like, “What island did she shipwreck on?” And I’m like, “Yamatai.” That was really fun.

A strange contractual agreement of Daniel Craig playing James Bond is he’s not allowed to wear suits in other films. Are there any kind of weird, comparable stipulations for being Lara Croft?

I don’t know if it stands any longer, because it’s kinda something I joked about with [creative franchise director Noah Hughes], and it seemed more to happen in the first game. I know that a couple years ago I had joked or something about being in the Lara Croft outfit for Halloween, and I was told by someone that I wasn’t allowed to do that, and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the Lara Croft outfit, but I’m not sure if that’s banned anymore. I remember being kind of depressed because she looks so awesome that I would have loved to dress up as her.

There was even a Grey’s Anatomy episode where my character dresses up for Halloween and a joke was made about me dressing up as Lara Croft, and how we would need to get the okay. I don’t know if that would ever, ever happen, but there was a while where I was strongly advised not to be in any Tomb Raider outfits.

Some new details recently surfaced about plans for a new Tomb Raider film, but Lara has not been cast yet. Would you want to play Lara Croft in a Tomb Raider movie?

That is something that GK Films and MGM is doing based on the original game. That’s already out there in the media and it’s going ahead at some point. I believe it’s still in such an early stage of development, but yeah, absolutely I’d love to. This is a character I’ve lived with for so many years now, longer than anything else I’ve very played. To me, she actually feels like a part of me and I almost feel like I own her a little bit in a weird way. It would be hard to see someone else play her.

Are you sick of pretending to be cold?

What you don’t realize is when you’re shivering and taking in a sharp breath, you start to hyperventilate. There will be times when I have to take a few minutes between scenes because I start to get really dizzy. I don’t mind doing it, but it does make me sometimes feel like I could pass out.

Are there any reactions you’re tired of doing?

I don’t want to have to drown, ever. Capturing that is a bizarre process and it’s really difficult. Sometimes, the only way to do it, especially in a video booth, is to have a bottle of water and force yourself to choke on it. It’s really bizarre to do. I would love it if she never drowned ever again. Yelling or screaming? After a few hours I always say can we please leave it to the end? Because I will lose my voice. But yeah, probably drowning is the most difficult.

Do you have a favorite death to enact? Is it fun pretending to be eaten by wolves and have your face ripped off by a bear?

Yeah, I think the more gruesome it is the more fun it is to play in a way. Because sometimes what we come up with is just so horrifying, and it’s not like she’s just getting stabbed – she falls, then a burn, and then this and that. It’s so completely overwhelming to even think of someone dying that way, and it’s fun. It always keeps things really fresh and new, because they’re always thinking of a new way she could die. Like, “Oh I never thought of that. Let’s do that. That’s horrible.”

How does that work in the recording studio? Do they just put you on a microphone and say, "In this scene you’re flying down a river and a branch stabs you through the neck”?

That’s exactly how it happens. Sometimes they ask, “Can we redo this in motion capture?” because to physicalize it, it makes it a lot easier. But sometimes you have to get really crazy, like with drowning. Sometimes you just have to use the elements around you to help with those moments that you have never experienced before in your life. It’s hard to call on actual memory.

Are there any quotes from the game fans frequently request?

Do you know what guys make me do a lot? They say, “Hey can you reenact this scene where Alex dies?" and I always end up thinking like, “Okay, what happened in that scene?” And then I realize they just want a kiss on their cheek. That’s what happens in that scene. It’s a sneaky way for people to get a kiss. Other than that, sometimes they use what was in the trailer, which is “A famous explorer once said.” They’re likely to do those lines. But, really the sneaky kiss is what happens a lot.

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Illustration: Lara´s face by the artist Leon de Leon.

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