Keeley Hawes on playing Lara Croft: 'fans of the game are some of the nicest people I've ever met'

Unlike many other video game voice acting jobs, Hawes does not have to suit up and be motion-captured - but she'd be up for the challenge

When Lara Croft burst on to the video game scene in 1996, she became a figure of lust for millions of teenage boys. It was a deliberate act on the part of the developer, Core Design, during less enlightened times when the likes of PlayStation Power magazine unashamedly filled its pages with female models and when gaming was still, by and large, a laddish pursuit.

Over the years, though, the character has been repositioned. Her intelligence, sense of adventure and athleticism has been brought to the fore. For 38-year-old actress Keeley Hawes, who has been voicing Ms Croft since 2006, this has worked well but it has still brought with it some awkward moments.

“My elder son played Tomb Raider when he was younger,” she says. “I knew he couldn't go further than the first level but he enjoyed the swimming and jumping. Then he said, 'I like it when that lady runs' and I thought, right that's it, I'll stop this for a few more years.” She laughs. “It was slightly odd given that I was voicing her.”

Hawes became the fourth actor to voice Lara, following on from Shelley Blond, Judith Gibbons and Jonell Elliot. She had recorded a couple of lines on the request of her voiceover agent which had been sent to the United States. Hawes then received a call asking her to lend her tones to the character for the game Tomb Raider: Legend. “I was contracted to do one game but they were happy with the result and it went from there,” she says.

Since then she has made the role her own, only stepping aside in 2013 for the Tomb Raider reboot. “That game was a prequel and Lara was 18 so my voice was too old,” she explains, admitting to hating the sound of her own voice (“it's that awful thing of no-one liking the way their voice sounds,” she explains, “it's like, uurgh”).

Still, Hawes returned for the current game, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris and she hopes it won't be the end. “I like Lara,” she says. “She's a British aristocrat which gives something to go on and she's very dry with a great sense of humour. I like it when the scriptwriters introduce little things too. It all fits together well.”

Unlike many other video game voice acting jobs these days, Hawes does not have to suit up and be motion-captured. She recites her lines in the “old-fashioned” way, occasionally jumping, punching or getting out of breath when the voice needs additional realism. “It would be impossible for me to play Lara physically,” she laughs. “Although I'd like to have a go.”

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It's all a far cry from her television career – she appeared as Zoe Reynolds on Spooks from 2002 to 2004, played Rosie in the Vicar of Dibley between 2006 and 2007 and has starred in many literary adaptations including Tipping the Velvet in 2002. But she loves games – “I grew up with Pong, that was my intro but it's astounding what they do these days” - and sees them as a healthy pastime - “as long as people aren't sitting in front of consoles for 10 hours-a-day”.

Above all, she is intrigued by the attention it brings. “I meet people quite often and they are always big fans of the game; some of the nicest people I've ever met” she says. “It often leads to me making them a new answering machine message but it's always a very positive thing. The fans love the game. They love Lara and are passionate for her. She's been around for 20 years and she's a huge part of the teenage years of so many.”

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is out now.

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