“It felt like I got to take a trip back to Yamatai,” she said of the mystical island setting for both the film and its source material. “There are moments I’d forgotten from the first game that they definitely pull straight from in the movie. I was like, ‘Wait! No! Don’t go in there! Don’t go in the plane!’ I was yelling at the screen.”
Hollywood’s latest take on Croft with Alicia Vikander was very much inspired by what Luddington, 34, has been doing for years in the video game series that revamped the origin story of this crypt-crusader. While a movie sequel doesn’t seem to be in the cards at this point, Luddington embarks on this saga’s next chapter, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a new console game that provides an end to young Croft’s ascent to Tomb Raider status, while setting the stage for any number of potential adventures to come.
“When we started at the very beginning — [the first game] came out in 2013, but we started in 2010 — [the developers] made it very clear to me that they wanted to reboot the franchise and just make her a lot more human than she has been in the past and to have moments of self-doubt and weakness and all those things that you can grow from,” Luddington explains in reflecting on her time as the character. “So I feel like even at the beginning of the franchise I had to make her my own and take creative license with it.”
Though Luddington has yet to speak with Vikander, she feels a “bond” to every actress who played Croft across games and films. As she puts it, “We’ve all gotten to share this part of this very iconic character.”
In 2013’s Tomb Raider, Croft found herself marooned on the island of Yamatai, home to the remains of ancient Queen Himiko and the mysterious cult that worships her. 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider saw her struggling with PTSD and grappling with the organization Trinity to discover the lost city of Kitezh and learn more about the death of her father. Shadow of the Tomb Raider sees a more determined, more feral Croft skirting the line of villainy.
Case and point: she inadvertently kickstarts the Mayan apocalypse in her blind pursuit of Trinity.
“In this game, she ends up losing herself in tunnel vision for hunting Trinity,” Luddington says. “And I think the process for her becoming the Tomb Raider and finding herself is to turn the mirror around and shine a light on herself and ask herself whether she is doing the things that her enemies are doing. The lines get a little blurred in this game whether she could be the hero or the villain, and I think that’s really interesting to play because she’s lost herself within her own journey and part of her becoming the Tomb Raider is her finding herself again and asking herself what her drive is. Are her decisions the right decisions?”
Whenever Luddington isn’t filming Grey’s Anatomy, she’s going to the Square Enix studios, where a team of developers deck her out in a motion-capture suit, gray dots to track her gestures, and a facial-capture helmet to transmit her acting performance to the game.
The actress no longer finds herself in rare company. The rise in technology brings a rise in actors from film and television to offer their talents to the medium. The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus stars as the lead character in Death Stranding, Westworld‘s Shannon Woodward went over to The Last of Us Part II, and one of Luddington’s Grey’s Anatomy cohorts, Jesse Williams, claims Detroit: Become Human for his resume.
“I feel like you can see her soul behind her eyes,” Luddington remarks of the technological advances of Tomb Raider since the first game. “I was so excited because I felt like it captured even more of the performance that I did and Earl [Baylon, who voices Croft’s friend Jonah] did and other actors.”
“Sometimes,” she adds, “I feel like they capture more than the movies are capturing, and I think when you’re feeling and seeing more of what the character’s feeling, you’re more invested emotionally in playing the game.”
The rise in technology also means the process becomes more complex. Luddington isn’t simply in-and-out of the voiceover booth. She’s choking down bottles of water to emulate the sounds of those underwater levels — a feature from the original Tomb Raider games. “If anyone saw me in a VO booth, I’d look crazy,” she says with a laugh.
The motion-capture process brings other challenges. “In mo-cap, they really prefer you to get one clean take all the way through and that makes it really complicated because things are very specific,” she explains. “If my foot just happens to go over the line we have to redo it again; or if I pick up an object with the wrong hand, they need it in the other hand; or I place a dagger on the wrong side of me and they have already decided the holster’s on this side, we have to redo it again.”
When Croft is covering herself in mud as camouflage from Trinity soldiers, that’s Luddington. When Croft is pulling back a bow to land a nasty long-range headshot, that’s Luddington. When Croft is chilling on a boat — because Tomb Raiding is taxing — that’s Luddington.
One day, Luddington jokes, “I would love to have a pool where I could actually come out from the water and pull myself up.” For now, it’s back to water bottles in the VO booth. Though, to be fair, Luddington doesn’t know if she’ll be back for another game.
“What’s funny for me is, I was never signed on for a trilogy. I get signed on by game,” she says. “So I’m not signed on for a next game and I don’t even know necessarily whether they’ll do another game. I usually get a call at some point that says, ‘Do you want to come back as Lara? Here’s the rest of the journey,’ and they brief me on it. I will always be happy to come back.”