[This interview contains spoilers for Uncharted.]
Between Uncharted and Outer Banks, Rudy Pankow is enjoying his time as a chart-topping treasure hunter. The Tom Holland-led adaptation of the popular Uncharted video game series recently completed its second weekend atop the domestic box office, and it’s a feeling that reminds Pankow of his hit series Outer Banks since its first two seasons dominated Netflix’s Top 10 rankings. In the Ruben Fleischer-directed action adventure, Pankow plays Nathan Drake’s older brother Sam in the story’s opening flashback, and much like his Outer Banks character JJ Maybank, Sam is a teenage treasure hunter in pursuit of lost gold. While the similarities are easily seen, the Alaska native couldn’t be happier.
“It’s funny because one of my reps said the same thing. She said, ‘You’re going to get the treasure-hunting pigeonhole,’” Pankow tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And I was like, ‘You know what? That’s fine with me.’ So it didn’t actually come up [during casting], but I’m sure [the casting directors] did see it. I’m sure they were like, ‘Okay, he knows how to play a treasure hunter.””
At a certain point in Uncharted, Nathan Drake is led to believe that his missing brother Sam was murdered during his globetrotting adventures, but the film’s coda reveals that Sam is very much alive in a run-down prison. While the appearance of adult Sam was disheveled enough to hide the identity of the actor playing him, Pankow admits that it wasn’t him in the prison cell. However, he’s still holding out hope that he’ll get a shot to play adult Sam in a potential sequel.
“That [second-to-last] scene with the bearded guy, that was not me. I don’t know if I should have said that or not, but I will stay true to the fact that it was not me,” Pankow reveals. “I don’t think I should have expectations, but at the same time, my fingers are crossed. So I hope it goes in that direction, and I hope that they just throw a couple of scruffies on my chin so I can play a late-20s to 30-year-old Sam. I would also get a little bigger for the role, so I think I can pull it off. So if there is a sequel, the fates will decide what will happen, but it would be a blast to hunt treasure alongside Tom Holland.”
Pankow is currently shooting season three of Outer Banks in Barbados, and he’s willing to shed just a little bit of light on what fans can expect for the Pogues.
“High-octane is an adjective I love using. I like to think that this season is going to be very revealing,” Pankow shares. “A new depth is a good one [for JJ’s individual arc] as well, but JJ’s journey this season might be frustrating. I think it’ll be a frustrating time for JJ this season.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Pankow also discusses his Uncharted casting process during the film’s reshoots. Then he looks back at JJ’s most emotional scenes on Outer Banks.
So Uncharted has spent the last two weeks at the top of the box office. Outer Banks [often referred to as OBX] has also topped the Netflix charts in both of its seasons. How does this winning streak feel right about now?
It’s a first! It feels good. It’s honorable. I just want to keep getting better so I can put out good, quality performances.
When did you make a tape for Uncharted in relation to your OBX schedule?
It was post-season two, but I don’t think season two had aired when I got the audition. We finished shooting season two, and when season two was in post, I got the audition. And the next thing I knew, I was headed to Madrid, Spain.
Did you know you were auditioning for Sam Drake? Were the sides real?
They were fake sides at first, but at that point, Uncharted had already gone through production. They had pretty much wrapped almost all of it. So when my portion came, they were doing reshoots and stuff. And I did know it was for Sam. I recognized the energy and feeling between the brothers, and having a younger brother myself, I was like, “Okay, I know where this is going.” So I tapped into that as much as I could, but I had some good help. It was really fun going back to that mindset of sneaking into places with your little brother.
Uncharted‘s casting director must’ve been familiar with OBX because both projects have that treasure-hunting component to them. Did that ever come up in conversation?
(Laughs.) Actually, it didn’t. It’s funny because one of my reps said the same thing. She said, “You’re going to get the treasure-hunting pigeonhole.” And I was like, “You know what? That’s fine with me.” (Laughs.) So it didn’t actually come up, but I’m sure they did see it. I’m sure they were like, “Okay, he knows how to play a treasure hunter.”
Did you have a relationship with the Uncharted video games already?
A little bit! I played Assassin’s Creed, and then I had a friend who said, “Hey, you should play Uncharted.” So I made my way to it, but around that time was when I dropped off of gaming. I thought to myself, “I’m getting too old for gaming,” but you’re never too old for gaming; you can always go back to it. But I got to the part of the game where you can play as Sam, but I didn’t make it far past that.
As far as all the coded messages that Sam sends to Nate, do you think they first learned how to do that so that the staff at the orphanage wouldn’t know what they were up to most of the time?
Yeah, actually. What I loved about Sam was that he had so much of it already figured out. I think he had this plan all along to meet up with his brother in the second portion of his life. When I was playing him, I thought, “Does he think he’s going to get adopted with his brother?” That was character development I was thinking about, and I decided no. If someone were to come in, they would adopt Nate rather than him, so he had to have everything set and primed.
When the flashback dissolved into the present, Holland’s Nate replicated the face that young Nate (Tiernan Jones) made in the past. Did you see Tom and Tiernan work that out on set?
Tom came on a separate day, but they did mention that to Tiernan. They showed Tom’s face to Tiernan, and he was like, “Got it!”
The odds of an Uncharted sequel are very good now, and if it was up to me, you would play adult Sam because Holland still looks so young. Plus, the brothers are only five years apart. So do you have any expectations, or are you just letting the chips fall where they may?
Expectations? No, I don’t think I should have expectations, but at the same time, my fingers are crossed. (Laughs.) Heck, I would love to play alongside Tom Holland; it would be an honor. So I hope it goes in that direction, and I hope that they just throw a couple of scruffies on my chin so I can play a late-20s to 30-year-old Sam. I would also get a little bigger for the role, so I think I can pull it off. But I don’t have expectations, and as an actor, I’ve trained myself to let it go once I’ve finished a job. So if there is a sequel, the fates will decide what will happen, but it would be a blast to hunt treasure alongside Tom Holland.
At the very least, they could work you into some flashbacks to explain what happened to Sam in the first few years after he left the orphanage.
I sure hope so! Thank you.
But just to be clear, that wasn’t you in a wig during the coda, right?
Ooh! That’s a good question. There’s a photo in the movie that looks like an older version of me, and that is me. But that [second-to-last] scene with the bearded guy, that was not me. I don’t know if I should have said that or not, but I will stay true to the fact that it was not me.
Well, his head was angled down, and he was shaggy enough to not preclude you from the role. So I’m keeping hope alive.
Since you mentioned one of the Polaroids in the film, did you have a photo day on set?
There was a day! Tiernan and I just went out to some random places in Spain and took photos together. We jumped around and took Polaroids with one another. It was a good time with Tiernan.
OBX is by no means a small show, but could you tell that Uncharted was a major-studio film set pretty quickly?
You felt that energy. There’s just a certain energy or weight when you’re portraying something that’s already been created like a video game. With OBX, there’s the same amount of people, but with Uncharted, you feel a certain caliber. There’s this “we’ve got a job to do” kind of thing. Both sets felt very freeing and fun, but with OBX, we’re creating it as we go along. With Uncharted, you have to think about this next level of portraying someone who’s already been portrayed, but you know that it can’t be exactly like that. That’s not going to do it justice. You have to create something that’s close to it without being the exact same.
So how does one go from Alaska to a career in show business?
A lot of long walks… (Laughs.) Honestly, it just came down to commitment. With so much going on now, more and more people are realizing that commitment is harder nowadays. I was talking to someone recently, and they said, “You’re going to live through seven careers in your life.” And I was like, “What?” So I don’t know if I quite agreed with that person, but I get what she was saying. It is very easy to commit to something, but it’s also very easy to commit to something else. So for me, there was a moment in Alaska where I was like, “I have one commitment right now. Let’s make this work.”
I can’t imagine that a lot of actors have come out of your hometown [Ketchikan], so have they renamed Main Street after you yet?
(Laughs.) Heck no! I will be very embarrassed if that happens. But my hometown is great. They know me, and most of the time, it’s like, “Hey, it’s Rudy again! Good job on Uncharted! Good job on OBX.” So it’s a really fun small town, and things haven’t changed too much there.
Whenever I think of Alaska, I immediately go to Al Pacino struggling to sleep in Chris Nolan’s Insomnia. So when you first left Alaska, did it take a minute for you to adjust to the way daylight and darkness work everywhere else?
(Laughs.) It wasn’t too much of a shift! Alaska’s long days during the summer time and short days during the winter time may have been the reason why I was able to focus. You kind of have to commit that downtime [during the winter] to doing something.
So OBX has obviously become quite popular, as have you and your castmates. Has that popularity changed the vibe between you guys at all? Or do things mostly feel the same?
I would say it mostly feels the same. I don’t want to say fame, but everyone handles “growth” and their careers differently. Everyone handles that on their own, and we all respect each other’s routes and how they want to handle that. But when it comes right down to it, the set feels the exact same. We do what’s asked of us, and we do our very best.
So you’re shooting season three in Barbados right now. What adjectives would you use to describe the scripts you’ve read so far?
High-octane is an adjective I love using. I like to think that this season is going to be very revealing. A new depth is also what I’ll say.
And how would you describe JJ’s individual arc?
A new depth is a good one as well, but JJ’s journey this season might be frustrating. I think it’ll be a frustrating time for JJ this season.
The scenes with JJ’s father are his heaviest moments by far. Do those scenes take the most out of you?
Yeah, they’re definitely the most draining. I have to put on headphones to get to that headspace where his father is very manipulative and abusive. So I really enjoy getting my mental space to that very uncomfortable place because there’s an honor and a responsibility to it that feels good. So those scenes definitely require the most prep.
He could’ve easily been just like his father, but he’s managed to forge his own family in spite of him. He still has problems, but he’s overcome his upbringing for the most part. Is that one of the most appealing aspects of the character?
I would agree. Choosing your own family is something you can believe in and trust. One of the first breakdowns that I read of JJ is that he’s loyal to a fault, and his fault is to himself. He doesn’t really know what he actually wants at times, so he does what his friends want and ask. But then he’ll do his own random things, and they’re his fault. So I’ve really enjoyed playing the “loyal to a fault” aspect.
According to the Internet, you love cooking. Have your castmates exploited that love at all?
(Laughs.) We actually have some good chefs on OBX, but I’ve made coffee cake for the cast, which they enjoyed. So I think they would attest to my cooking and baking.
Now that you’re part of a chart-topping show, do you no longer have to share apartments with each other?
Yeah, I lived with Chase [Stokes] in season one, but after that, we got our own places.
What movies or shows affected you the most growing up?
I really enjoyed quoting random movies. My dad probably wouldn’t want me saying this, but the first one I started quoting was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’ve quoted that one since I was a teeny-tot. I grew up watching Harry Potter and Star Wars, and as a kid, I would go to school dressed as a Jedi or Harry Potter. But my favorite movie that always blows me away is Remember the Titans. It just gets me going.
If they made that movie today, you’d probably be in the mix for Ryan Gosling’s part.
Ooh! That or Sunshine [Kip Pardue]! (Pankow mimics the locker room scene where Sunshine first gets his nickname.)
Of course! And what actors inspire you the most? Whose work will you watch no matter what they make?
Kenneth Branagh, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver … I have a list of actors that goes on for a while. I’m always stealing from them to be honest, and they’re always teaching me as I watch them. So one day, I hope to meet these people, and Kenneth Branagh is a good place to start.
Lastly, can you tell me about Chocolate Lizards?
Chocolate Lizards was a blast. Thomas Haden Church was a riot to work with. He’s such an organic person, and when they say cut, the scene almost keeps going with him. He still talks to you the way he talked to you in the scene. And Carrie-Anne Moss was delightful to work with as well. She was caring and wise. So I learned so much from those people on set. And also, Bruce Dern. My gosh. Just breathing through a scene with Bruce Dern and knowing that you’re being heard by him and playing off of him was an amazing experience.
Uncharted is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.