Who was the first actress to play Lara Croft? Angelina Jolie? Some busty model paid to wear a costume at conventions? No, the original Lara Croft was a petite British actress named Kate Shannon who provided the voice for the first Tomb Raider game. Kate is a professional voice artiste (the idea that the character was voiced by a secretary in the games company is an urban myth) and I was able to interview her on 30th September 1998 when she was recording The Gemini Apes. This was a BBC radio sci-fi play - an ‘audio movie’ - directed by Dirk Maggs and starring Christopher Lee, which was broadcast on Christmas Day.
How did you get involved with The Gemini Apes?
"This came through my agent. Dirk had heard of me, obviously because of Lara Croft, but also through a couple of friends who worked with him when he did Superman."
Have you done much radio?
"I’ve done an awful lot of cartoons. I’ve done a fair bit of radio but my speciality is cartoon voices. I’m doing one at the moment called Supermodels, which is for a company called BRB. I’m playing a black vegetarian called Yasmine, as well as her very aristocratic mother. Most series are about 52 episodes and I go all round the world, usually in American accents. The most fun I had was when we did Robin of the Forest and I got to play Maid Marian, a little girly thing, and Will Scarlet, which I did as Keanu Reeves: ‘Yo, dude!’ A really laid back guy."
How long have you been doing cartoon voices?
"Oh golly. About eight years now. I really love it. It’s good fun."
How did you start?
"I started because of a friend of mine, Mark Bradley, who’s a composer. He does all the music. He’d been doing documentaries, then he got involved with cartoons. He’s done a load of stuff for the BBC and all over the world. He got myself and Stuart Milligan, who played Superman, involved. And we recommended people we knew, so it’s like a little family. There’s about eight of us. We hardly see each other any more now, we just hear each other on the headphones. Everybody’s recorded separately because we’re all doing other stuff. We see each other at Christmas and that’s about it."
Give me a few titles that you’ve worked on.
"There’s Robin of the Forest, The Supermodels, Willy Fog. There’s one about The Untouchables, a mouse thing: Elliot Mouse."
Are these American cartoons?
"Some of them were made originally in Japan and now they’re all coming from Spain. They’re sent directly to us, then we dub them all in American accents and they’re sent all over the world. Occasionally they’re sold to the BBC, like Willy Fog and a couple of other things, but often we never get to see them again. They disappear."
What about radio?
"I haven’t done any for a while because I’ve been doing the cartoons and doing a lot of theatre and working a lot in Europe. I’ve done quite a lot of radio, mostly classical stuff. So it’s nice to do something like this, doing an actual motion picture!"
Have you done any films?
"I have. Again, I’ve been concentrating on theatre, but I did a short film for Channel 4 which actually won Best Picture at the London Short Film Festival last year. That was called The Ring. That’s done very well, and my lover in it is now in EastEnders playing Beppe. I did one at the beginning of this year which should be released in November, called Cousteau on the Beach, again for Channel 4."
How did you get the role of Lara Croft?
"I’d actually worked for the company about three times before, and it was just another job, initially. It was called Cool Design in Derby. I’d done Machine Head for them in Swagman. I knew all the guys there, all the guys who were designing it. So we talked through ideas, we talked about making her English. They sort of wanted Helena Bonham Carter but not quite that prim. So we worked with that, and every time I went back her figure was more voluptuous! They’d added a little more oomph to it."
Did they expect Tomb Raider to be as big as it is?
"Not really. They knew it was a good game. It was very sophisticated and she was such an interesting character. But the way it kind of mushroomed: everyone was just completely astonished and obviously extremely pleased. I know that DreamWorks are trying to pinch the guy who started the design. He went over for about six months and was paid obviously a lot of money, but he was very unhappy and now he’s back."
"That one was actually more, because of the discussions involved, but the actual recording didn’t take more probably in total than a day. But I had to go back a few times because they kept changing their mind, changing the script. I’ve still got the original script and at some point I shall auction that for charity. So there’ll be a lot of schoolkids saving up their money, I guess."
They’re talking about a film.
"Yes, they are. Also I heard that a girl’s actually changed her name by deed poll to Lara Croft. Because she’s actually got the body, which I don’t have. And she wants to make a pop record. It’s a phenomenon."
Apparently Lara Croft is now in a car advert in France. Did you know about this?
"Really? No. It has amazed me that it’s continued to be so successful. Every time you pick up Time Out or the Evening Standard, there’ll be some mention of her or a picture. It’s quite amazing."
Are you benefiting from the success, or was it a flat fee?
"It was a straight job, unfortunately for me, or I could be enormously wealthy! But obviously a lot of work’s come from that. A lot of interest and stuff that maybe I wouldn’t have done before, which is great."
Are they planning another game?
"I think so. There was talk of a love interest, but I don’t know if that will work or not. I think the idea is that she is so dynamic and independent."
The next obvious step would be a Tomb Raider cartoon series.
"I’m not too sure. I think it would very much depend of the financial deal and worldwide distribution. I think it would be a great idea. I think it would work extremely well."
Have you heard anything on casting the film, or have you got any ideas?
"I’ve heard rumbles but I don’t know. I can’t think of some who’s actually got those attributes, apart from probably Pamela Anderson. Maybe you could just cut off her head and put somebody else’s head on or something!"
What have you got coming up?
"I’ve just opened a comedy club in Brixton called Top Dog Comedy, which is going very well, so I’m very happy with that."
Do you perform there?
"No, I run it. It’s my idea and it’s great because I can use all the comedians I really admire. At the moment, we’ve got a post-Edinburgh season. We’ve got the guy who’s just won the Perrier, which is great. But I’m also working on theatre projects; I like to balance the two.”
Interview originally posted 11th April 2006