Speaking at a panel today at PlayStation Experience, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End director Neil Druckmann provided some background on the new character Nadine Ross. The character is black, but is performed by a white actress, Laura Bailey. Druckmann said when Naughty Dog created the character, they had no final look in place for her. They only determined her character details, including her role in a mercenary military organization and that she was from South Africa.
With that information, Naughty Dog sent out a casting call to determine who would play Ross. Many people auditioned, including white actors, black actors, American actors, and actors from South Africa, Druckmann said. But Bailey blew them away.
"There was no question in our mind: that's Nadine," he said about Bailey's audition.
With the role cast, Druckmann returned to the studio to go over concept designs for the character. A Naughty Dog concept artist presented a design of a black character, and Druckmann thought it was too good to pass over.
"This is awesome," he said of the design. "How often do you see a character of color that's ripped..and I was like, 'This also is Nadine.'"
Some inside the studio had concerns, however. "Someone on the team said, 'You know, you have a white actor [playing] a black character, are you sure you want to do that? You're inviting controversy,'" he recalled.
Some people suggested "changing the character," but Druckmann wanted to finish the character and see her in-game before making a decision. Months later, Ross was finally ready in the game. Druckmann and the team were so impressed by the final result that there was no way they were going to change her.
"What's so awesome about our medium is your outward appearance doesn't matter at all. If it did, Troy 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 [in the game]."
Druckmann went on to reveal that Uncharted 4 also features a white character played by a black actor. In the case of this character (who will be revealed later) and Ross, Naughty Dog went with the actors who performed the role best, regardless of their skin color.
"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," he said. "I stand by that 110 percent and I wouldn't change anything. I'm so proud of Laura's performance and I hope none of this takes away from what she was able to accomplish."
Uncharted 4 launches in March 2016 exclusively for PS4.