The casting of a white actor to play a black character raised some controversy, so, after reading NeoGAF the night before, Creative Director Neil Druckmann wanted to give some background on their decision at a PlayStation Experience 2015 panel:
When we cast this character, we had no final look for the character. We just had kind of who she is, the army she runs, and that she’s from South Africa, so we sent a big casting call to all sorts of agents, including Laura’s agent. So we brought into audition black actors, white actors, American actors, actors from South Africa, and they were all – not all, some of them were not so good – but a lot of them were really good.
And then Laura walks in and… just kills it. And I’m there with the casting director, with our editor, with my co-writer Josh Scherr and wee were all just floored with how good she was. There was no question in our mind, that’s Nadine.
Druckmann continued by revealing that a member of Naughty Dog said they were inviting controversy with the casting decision:
So then going back to the office, and looking at all these character designs, and we had this really awesome character concept artist Ashley Swidowski who came up with the look of the character that’s very close to what you’re seeing in the game. I was like, ‘This is awesome, how often do you see a character of color like this that’s ripped?’ and I was like, ‘This also is Nadine.’
Somebody on the team said, ‘Well, you know you have a white actor, it’s a black character, are you sure you want to do that? You’re inviting controversy.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, you might be right, let’s hold off on changing it’ – because some people were saying we should change the look of the character – ‘let’s get in the game, let’s see it all together, and then make the call.’
Months later, they were reviewing a scene and Naughty Dog fell in love with the character. They no longer saw Laura’s performance, no longer saw the character’s concept art, and didn’t see the hard work of the animators and modelers. “I see Nadine,” Druckmann said.
That combination just felt so right, and we all fell in love with that character… You can’t change anything. This is who this character is. That to me is what’s so awesome about our medium is their outward appearance doesn’t matter at all. If it did, Troy [Baker] couldn’t play Joel in The Last of Us. Ashley Johnson couldn’t play Ellie. In the movie version they can’t play those roles, and they played them to perfection.
Druckmann also revealed that there’s an important white character played by a black actor, but he couldn’t reveal who it was just yet.
“If we were to change these characters, we would be operating out of fear of something that’s outside the game, and these were the best calls for Uncharted 4. So I stand by that 110% and I wouldn’t change anything. And I’m so proud of Laura’s performance, and I hope none of this takes away from what she was able to accomplish,” he concluded.
You can check out the full panel in the video above, where you learn more about the characters and story of Uncharted 4. You can see Druckmann’s comments beginning at 7:35.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End launches March 18, 2016 on PlayStation 4.