George Banks
Image: George Banks

As part of our long-running (but often neglected) Ninterview series – where we speak to Nintendo fans from all walks of life – we got the chance to sit down with British actor George Banks, who is perhaps most famous in this part of the world for his role as Henry Newton in Coronation Street, the world's longest-running soap opera. What fans of that show might not know is that George is a massive Nintendo fan. We caught up with him to discuss his love of all things Nintendo, his other acting roles (including voice-over work on Harry Potter video games) and much more besides.

Nintendo Life: How did you get started with video games?

George Banks: Games have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m the youngest of four and growing up I would watch my siblings play on the SNES; once they were done, I’d have a few precious minutes to play myself. We had Super Mario All-Stars and luckily each game had four save slots – so there was me, save file D on each game, slowly grinding away until I learned how to jump the bigger gaps or take out a Koopaling. As I got older I’d play co-op games with them; Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II Turbo (port 2 - down R, up, L, Y, B) and the legendary International Superstar Soccer. The sheen was taken off that last one a little bit once you learned how to routinely round the goalkeeper and shoot into an empty net. Still fun though.

My cousin had a Mega Drive too so would dip into the classics when we visited them. Lots of fond memories of Sonic 2, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage and Desert Strike (and not so fond memories of Ecco the Dolphin). I loved having the opportunity to play on both the big consoles of the time, but for me, Nintendo was king.

Why did you fall in love with Nintendo games in particular?

I think it’s the sense of wonder they manage to capture in their games. I've felt that way about them since I was a child; it’s just magic. You get a sense that just around the corner there’s something beautiful, or unexpected, or terrifying, or just plain silly – and it never disappoints. Every game I picked up as my collection grew seemed to be a gem that introduced me to a new genre. As I’ve gotten older with their systems, I appreciate that the games have tight controls and are beautifully crafted – they are never a chore to finish and I always want to finish them.

I also love sharing the games with my family now. My wife and I have our own 'TV show' for home, 'Korok Hunters' (yes, it even has a theme tune), where we amble about Hyrule, following clues and seeking out the little critters, only engaging in combat where absolutely necessary. Think cult classic 'River Monsters' but with 100% less fish. I’ve spent dozens of hours curled up on the sofa with her, watching her seek out a solitary rock amongst the mountains. My daughter is only dinky but she likes to raid my amiibo cabinet and pull out five figures that take her fancy, then create little stories for them. It’s like a real-life Smash 64 intro. I can’t wait to share the worlds that Nintendo have made for each and every one of those characters with her when she’s old enough.

George Banks
Image: George Banks

You're famous in the UK for having starred in Coronation Street, perhaps the most popular television soap in this part of the world. What was it like working on such a long-running show?

Mad. And also very lovely. I remember my first day so vividly; I took the train up to Manchester the evening before and was incredibly nervous. Breath of the Wild was only a few months old at this point and I cleared Vah Rudania on the trip. A little later on a stranger sat next to me and peered at the screen, so I invited him to play Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. I handed him the blue Joy-Con and we had a blast; it killed at least an hour. Really, I just wanted to take my mind off my nerves.

The first day itself was like the first day of a new school; everyone knows each other, is just so comfortable with each other and you’re the new kid coming in. I took a few tentative steps into the green room and before I knew it people were bounding up to me and introducing themselves. Honestly, everyone up there is just so lovely and welcoming and it wasn’t long until I just felt relaxed and happy to just be doing what I love doing.

It was strange being recognised at first. I was standing in line at the bank and a little old lady sidled up to me to say "ooh, you’re a nasty one" – I was a little perplexed and a smidge offended until I realised it wasn’t me she was talking about, but Henry – the character I was portraying. The thing you realise very quickly is that whenever anyone stops to chat to you, it’s because they love the thing you happen to be a part of and it reminds you how special it is to be a part of it. I haven’t been on Corrie for a few years now but I do still get recognised every so often and it’s so sweet when people say they would love the character to return.

You've made no secret of your love for gaming, even when speaking about your acting roles. Throughout your career, do you often meet other actors who share the same passion?

Absolutely. I studied acting at Rose Bruford and spent many weekends embroiled in 8-hour long Smash Bros. tournaments with a dozen other people – most of whom still work in the industry and still play. We also had an Xbox 360 set up in the house and my housemates and I would take it in turns switching out to play while writing our dissertations. Saints Row 2 was the game of choice, I don’t think it was turned off for about 4 days straight.

I performed in a tour of The History Boys in 2010 and picked up Pokémon Heart Gold in January just before we set off; unbeknownst to me, another actor in the company had picked up Soul Silver and it became a little pre-show ritual to have a battle and trade across any exclusives we had stumbled upon.

The company you’re working with becomes your family for a little while when you’re working in theatre or TV, and I have so many fond memories of silly nights after shows digging out and playing Wii Sports or Luigi’s Ghost Mansion on Nintendo Land. The games are so easy and accessible and fun, everybody just gets them. It’s a great unifier.

George Banks Coronation Street
Image: George Banks

You've lent your voice to video games, too. What’s it like voicing a game?

It’s an age ago now, but I was lucky enough to be the main commentator for the Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup game back in the early '00s. The dialogue was recorded at the former EA headquarters in Chertsey and it was an amazing experience, if a little daunting. It was my first big job and I didn’t really have a clue what to expect.

The script was hundreds of pages long and was full of lines that would essentially be stitched together –meaning I had to provide several different readings of each line, with a difference of tone or level of excitement. I was sat in a little box for hours, not unlike Harry himself, and I would do my best to give the directors as much choice as possible. Honestly, it was exhausting. I’ve got huge respect for people that specialise in voice work; it’s incredibly demanding.

In my downtime, I would visit the on-site arcade which was all free to play and tear my way through games I couldn’t afford to beat otherwise. The team there also discovered that I enjoyed video games and were kind enough to let me see the game being developed. I suppose it’s a relatively common thing to see now, but at the time I had no idea what to expect. The development room was up a big flight of stairs and was essentially a very long, open office space with a lot of computers. Sadly, I can’t recall who showed me the game, but I got to see the wireframe characters flying around and even have a cheeky go on the early build. It was such a thrill playing a game that was being built, seeing those blocks being put into place and knowing I would contribute to it in my own way.

I own a copy of the game and the Prisoner of Azkaban one too, which I also did voicework for – most notably the EyeToy games 'Chocolate Frogs' and 'Exploding Snap'. It’s fun to fire them up and play every so often – hearing a much younger, greener me doing my best. I’d love to do more games now, but it’s a tough part of the industry to crack.

Which TV actor have you worked alongside in the past who has surprised you with their gaming knowledge and passion?

Easy, it’s Sally Ann Matthews. She’s a bona fide soap legend.

You can find yourself with a lot of downtime on a shoot, so during my time at Corrie, I set up my SNES Mini in the green room for people to muck around with. Sal and I had a period toward the end of my run where we had a lot of scenes together – which meant a lot of time in the green room together, too. We mostly played Contra III and she was absolutely relentless. To this day I am devastated that we couldn’t find the time to finish it.

What got you into acting, and what roles are you most proud of, outside of Corrie?

I first got into it as just a fun thing to do on the weekend when I was about 8 or 9. I had never done it before, wasn’t particularly something anyone in my family had done but I was having a miserable time at school so my parents chucked me at a bunch of activities to try and find something I enjoyed. I was painfully shy the first few sessions but I stuck at it and eventually just let go of my inhibitions. It was ace, such a release. It was mostly improvisation sessions and drama games and I loved thinking on my feet and being someone totally different, making people laugh. I’ve been hooked ever since and I’m so thankful my parents encouraged me to do it.

I’ve had a lot of moments in my career that I’ve loved. I saw The History Boys when I was 16 at The National Theatre and told myself I would play Dakin one day, and I was lucky enough to do just that in 2011 – touring all over the country with it. In 2014 I played Stephen Wraysford in Birdsong; that was another really special production to be a part of and it’s where I met my wife. There have been parts along the way that I didn’t land but then another project comes along and it’s totally not what you expected and even more brilliant than you could have hoped. That’s the thing about being an actor; your fate isn’t in your hands. You never know where it will take you, so you just need to enjoy it.

What's your favourite video game, and why?

That’s such a tricky one, I love so many games for so many different reasons. I guess the ones I hold most dear though are the ones intertwined with events in my life.

I think if you had asked me 6 years ago I would have said Pokémon Red. I know it’s not perfect and is very dated in places, but it’s my comfort game. I had not long started secondary school when the anime and game were released here and the characters resonated with me – a child setting off on a grand adventure. A bit scary, a bit fun. The game had great characters, an attainable number of Pokémon, loads of secrets to uncover – not to mention the utter joy of playground rumours aided by the rise of easily accessible internet. I’ve played it through so many times and I could play it again tomorrow and be happy.

But I think Breath of the Wild has taken its crown. It is a game that I adore everything about. Zelda games are my favourite to play – I have completed all of them and I just could never have imagined this for the series. How it was so different but so familiar. I think I’ve spent 500+ hours playing it and I would do it all again. My wife is doing a second playthrough currently and she has it docked while I play Legends Arceus. As she roams Hyrule my ears prick up and I can instantly visualise what she’s up to or where she is by the musical refrains or the sound of the atmosphere (that sounds nuts, but it’s true). Sometimes a phrase of music inexplicably brings tears to my eyes. It’s just so beautiful. It’s a perfect game.

What's your favourite Nintendo game series, and why?

Zelda games may be my favourite to play but my favourite series is Super Smash Bros. I’ve always been a fan of fighting games but it got to a point where they started to feel a bit samey. Two people opposite each other, ducking and jumping around and learning combo or special move inputs – and if you knew those inputs you would just batter anyone picking the game up for the first time so it was hard to get others enthused. Then out of the blue comes this bonkers, messy, chaotic, four-player free-for-all where the objective isn’t to whittle away health but to chuck your opponent off the screen. And on top of that, every character controls the exact same way, so there was no need to spend ages memorising inputs and finding your best character – you could just jump in with anyone. It was revolutionary. I was absolutely obsessed with it and spent my weekends playing the N64 version with friends.

That didn’t change as I grew up and went to uni, where many friendships were forged in the crucible of Smash. To this day it’s the game I always play on my birthday, hosting a little tournament with friends – a tradition I could thankfully continue online the last couple of years. I love it and I honestly don’t know where they can go from Ultimate.

What's your favourite gaming platform, and why?

It’s the DS. Being an actor can be a bit of a lonely life at times. Long train journeys across the UK, flights to countries where you don’t know anybody, time on a shoot where everybody but you is working. For nearly a decade the DS was my constant companion through all of that. It let me explore new worlds wherever I went, which made doing it in real life a little less scary – just like Pokémon back at school. And the games – the library is insane! Trauma Center, Mega Man Zero Collection, New Super Mario, all the Pokémon games... it’s just an absolute treasure trove.

I loved the bump to 3DS too; my nephew would send me notes via Letter Box when he was little and StreetPass was just brilliant – that thrill when the light would go green and you’d scan a carriage to try and figure out who set it off. I really miss that feature; I wish they would bring something like that back for the Switch.

I also have a very special place in my heart for the Virtual Boy, which I got for an absolute steal. I found one boxed for £70 from a charity shop in my teenage years and I have a fair few games for it now too, including the excellent and criminally unported Virtual Boy Wario Land. The console is bonkers, ridiculous and just so Nintendo.

George Banks Star Fox
Image: George Banks

What's it been like being a Nintendo fan over the past few decades, and how do you feel about the company in 2022?

It’s weird, I think most people might say it’s been up and down but to be honest I haven’t felt like that. I don’t care about sales numbers or graphical power or any of that – I just want to play good games and Nintendo games have always been good. The Wii U era was tough, don’t get me wrong; the games they brought out were brilliant but the rollout was hideously slow. And I think because it was widely publicised how poorly it was selling you just knew it wasn’t going to get better. Because I had one, though, I was able to enter a Star Fox competition to win a certificate signed by Shigeru Miyamoto; I just scraped the score needed and have the certificate to this day – it’s the absolute crown jewel of my collection. I guess the 3DS helped patch some of those dry spells during the Wii U’s time, but I missed playing on the big screen.

The Switch has been amazing, I’m a proper 'hybrid' user of it and it is, of course, my new companion when I’m off on an acting adventure. Weirdly, I think I do miss having a dedicated console for both and the variety of games that brought with it, including Nintendo franchises with two very different entries – Skyward Sword as a 3D home console Zelda and A Link Between Worlds a top-down portable Zelda game, for example. But the Switch itself is just such a brilliant concept flawlessly executed and 2022 is such an exciting year. We have already had some massive hitters, then there’s Kirby, a new mainline Pokémon, Zelda (hopefully), the new Mario Kart DLC, Mario Strikers (loved Strikers Charged), Mario & Rabbids, Splatoon 3... the list goes on. I don’t know how on Earth I’m going to find time to cram it all in. My poor backlog. It feels like a real renaissance for the console.

Where might we see you cropping up in the future, acting-wise?

It's always difficult for someone in my line of work to answer that. So much of what I do is decided by other people, and sometimes when you know something is coming you can’t actually tell anybody!

There are exciting things happening though, some things I created are entering into festivals and auditions for theatre are starting to open up again after the difficult last couple of years – that’s something I’ve really missed. Hopefully, I will have more concrete news to share soon.

Finally, do you have any words for the Nintendo Life readers?

Keep being excellent. I’ve been to Nintendo 'things' all over the world and Nintendo fans are always a joy to hang around with; the community at Nintendo Life is no exception. I love going through the posts after an article to see what the readers have to say, there’s clearly a huge base with really strong knowledge about the company and some of the takes I read are brilliant. I think it’s one of the things I love most about being a Nintendo Life fan; you feel like you’re part of this little club, where people mostly just get along, don’t really care what anybody else is doing, and just like to have fun and chat.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? Nintendo Lifers really are just lovely people.

We'd like to thank George for taking the time to speak to us. You can find him on Twitter.