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Leaving The Vault

The stars of Amazon’s Fallout share how they’re bringing Bethesda’s Wasteland to live-action
by Brian Shea on Apr 09, 2024 at 12:43 PM

The tagline of the Fallout franchise may be “war never changes,” but the landscape of video game adaptations sure has. Once considered a laughingstock of Hollywood, video game adaptations have experienced a renaissance in recent years, thanks to high-quality, high-grossing, and critically acclaimed films like The Super Mario Bros. Movie and series like The Last of Us. The next major game adaptation, Fallout, hopes to join the upward trend this category of movies and television has experienced.

Announced in 2020 for Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, Fallout tells a distinct story within the post-apocalyptic Wasteland with a familiar backdrop from the various games in the series. Following a nuclear war, survivors retreated to Vaults to wait out the havoc and destruction of the bombs. Approximately 200 years later, a young Vault Dweller named Lucy emerges into a devastated Los Angeles.

For actress Ella Purnell, who stars as Lucy, watching playthroughs of the games was instrumental for understanding the tone of the world, but since Lucy is a unique character created for the show, she relied on other aspects to arrive at her performance. “When I want to get into the psychology behind what happens when you’ve lived underground your entire life, and then you come out to the surface, it’s a different kind of mindset,” she says. “I wanted to come up with it on my own.”

Bethesda’s Todd Howard executive produced and worked with the cast and crew on set, but actor Walton Goggins, who plays a mutated bounty hunter known as The Ghoul, also credits the writing team for perfectly balancing the drama and comedy of the Fallout world. “It was all on the page,” Goggins says. “They did their homework, and it was built into the DNA of the story that they created. This isn’t Fallout 1, 2, or 3; it’s its own thing. It’s original content within the Fallout world.”

Jonathan Nolan, who wrote on acclaimed films such as Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Interstellar alongside his brother Christopher, co-created the science-fiction HBO series Westworld with Burn Notice writer Lisa Joy. The duo of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy developed Fallout for Amazon as co-writers and executive producers, with Jonathan Nolan also serving as director.

Each of the three main characters approaches the world from a different perspective; Lucy is the naïve Vault Dweller stepping outside her underground home for the first time in her life, while The Ghoul is a gunslinger who has survived in the Wasteland longer than Lucy has been alive. Meanwhile, Maximus, played by actor Aaron Moten, is a member of the Brotherhood of Steel faction, ensuring he also has a different worldview from the other two main characters.

“I think the character creator is where that idea comes from,” Moten says. “[Nolan] has been talking a lot about how he’s the type of player that spends eight hours in the creator before he can even launch into the game. It’s nice to have such different perspectives, you know?”

With Fallout showing promise and holding an excellent pedigree of talent behind it, video game adaptations continue to show that they can and should be taken seriously. The stigma that a video game movie or show – particularly a live-action one – is doomed to be bad is finally falling to the wayside.

But it goes beyond the pedigree. After all, several poorly received films and series have had excellent writing teams, directors, producers, and casts. In talking to the actors, what attracted them to the project was the opportunity to tell stories within this rich and expansive world that so many players are already familiar with while combining that aspect with real-world themes many of us experienced around the same time Fallout was announced in summer 2020.

“The interesting thing is even with the things that we’ve gone through as a global community with COVID and how things drastically changed for all of us, but our own human, subversive sides are still there,” Moten says. “We found a way to connect with each other. Something that’s akin to Fallout is factions. That’s humanity trying to restart itself again, and there are just these differing positions on it.”

Goggins posits that the recent upward trajectory of game adaptations could be a symptom of it being newer than other genres. “You follow good storytelling no matter where it is, and games that are being adapted into movies and TV shows right now are that way for a reason; that’s where the great stories are, and Fallout is a great story,” he says. “I think that with any new genre, there’s a learning curve. What do the fans expect? What licenses can you take outside of the game? And when do you stay in the game? I think that people were earnestly trying to do that. […] I think it’s just like, ‘That didn’t work in that one’ or ‘That didn’t work in that one,’ and they’re fine-tuning and fine-tuning, and everybody is looking at what everybody else did. And now we’re just in a really sweet spot with some really great stories that deserve to be told with great people telling them.”

We’ll soon learn if this is one of those great stories that will become another poster child for video game adaptations as Fallout arrives on Amazon Prime Video tomorrow. Not only that, but the series has already been picked up for a second season.

This article originally appeared in Issue 363 of Game Informer