The voice actor is just one of the unsung heroes or heroines of video games, helping to give life to characters invented from whole cloth—albeit of the digital variety. It’s impossible to imagine Super Mario without Charles Martinet’s “It’s-a-me!”, or Gears of Wars’ Marcus Fenix without John DiMaggio’s hoarse shout. Some of these voice actors have become stars within their own industry, such as Tara Strong (Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham City), Troy Baker (Joel in The Last of Us, Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite) and Nolan North (Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series, Cpt. Martin Walker in Spec Ops: The Line).
But scan the end credits of some video games, and you’ll be surprised to see some more mainstream names in the roles of some of your favourite characters, a few of whom can and have carried A-list films in their own right.
7 Ray Liotta, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Ray Liotta’s success in Goodfellas may not have sustained the actor’s A-list career, but he was able to channel his fictional gangster experience into the lead role of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The second fully 3D entry in the series, Vice City was set over a decade and a half prior to Grand Theft Auto III in its eponymous locale, a parody of mid-’80s Miami.
Liotta’s character, Tommy Vercetti, is an Italian-American mobster from Liberty City (basically New York) who is sent down to Vice City to start up a cocaine distribution operation following a stint in prison. The mobster soon finds himself embroiled in a multi-sided drug war, all the while sneering at Vice City’s glitzy superficiality and poor fashion sense.
6 Samuel L. Jackson, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Known for his intense and quite often profane characters, Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most successful actors in the world according to the 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Jackson’s prolific work extends beyond cinema, and in 2004 he broadened his horizons by lending his unmistakeable baritone to another Rockstar Games production, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
The game is set in 1992 in the fictional state of San Andreas (a condensed, satirical take on California) and puts Jackson in the role of its main villain, Officer Frank Tenpenny, a respected member of the Los Santos Police Department who uses his reputation to cover up acts of corruption and murder. Apart from Jackson, San Andreas also featured the voices of Peter Fonda, James Woods, the late Chris Penn and Ice-T.
5 Burt Reynolds, Saints Row: The Third
The star of Smokey and the Bandit, Deliverance, and the personal idol of TV’s Sterling Archer, Burt Reynolds is as well known for his mustache and rugged manliness as he is for his actual film performances. He also possesses a healthy amount of self-awareness, a trait clearly made evident when he signed on for Volition, Inc.’s Saints Row: The Third… as himself.
When a chemical is released over a section of fictional city Steelport, turning some of the residents into zombies, the nameless protagonist turns to the city’s mayor for information, discovering that the office is held by his/her hero, Mr. Reynolds. After solving the zombie crisis, the player befriends Mayor Reynolds, and they can even call up the city official to hang out or just drive across the city, guns a-blazing. For extra laughs, pair him with your autotuned compatriot Zimos.
4 Martin Sheen, Mass Effect 2 and 3
Charlie Sheen’s dear—and much more reserved—old dad signed on with BioWare to voice one of the major antagonists in the second and third entries in their groundbreaking Mass Effect series. The Hollywood veteran lent his voice to the Illusive Man, a mysterious pro-human “activist” who helps resurrect the player character of Commander Shepard after their sudden death in the opening of Mass Effect 2.
Though the Illusive Man claims his agenda is benevolent, it becomes clear by the end of the game that his intentions are anything but good. By the beginning of Mass Effect 3, Sheen’s character is one of Shepard’s fiercest opponents, seeking out Reaper (i.e. evil space-Cthulhu) technology for his own use and advancing his pro-human agenda at the expense of all other species.
3 Chloë Grace Moretz, Dishonored
Chloë Grace Moretz was 13 when she appeared in the film adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s hit comic book series Kick-Ass. Sure, a lot a child actors start even younger, but most don’t kill dozens of mobsters and drop expletives left and right in their first major role. As Hit-Girl, a pint-sized, terrifying pro-Second Amendment vigilante under the tutelage of her ex-cop dad, Moretz stabbed and swore her away into the hearts of audiences everywhere and soon appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie. She got her first few licks in video game acting by voicing Hit-Girl in the official game of Kick-Ass, and in 2012 she was cast as an original character in Arkane Studios’ Dishonored.
Set in the fictional city of Dunwall sometime in the early 1900s, Dishonored casts Moretz as the daughter of the Empress who is assassinated by a traitorous faction in the game’s opening minutes. As the Empress’ former bodyguard, who has also been framed for her death, the player must rescue Moretz’s Empress-in-waiting and restore order to the city. Dishonored was rife with other celebrity voices as well, including Susan Sarandon, John Slatterly and Lena Headey.
2 Emma Stone, Sleeping Dogs
One of Hollywood’s current “it” girls, Emma Stone broke out in co-starring roles in Superbad and The House Bunny. Since then, she took on the role of Peter Parker’s first girlfriend Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man and this year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and will be appearing in an upcoming, currently untitled Woody Allen feature, among many other roles. In 2012, she expanded her resume to include video games with United Front Games’ open-world action title Sleeping Dogs.
Essentially a John Woo movie by way of Grand Theft Auto, Sleeping Dogs has players take the role of Wei Shen, an undercover police officer infiltrating the criminal underbelly of Hong Kong. Stone voices Amanda Cartwright, a travelling American college girl who Wei introduces to the sights and sounds of Hong Kong. Although her time in the game is brief, she does end up having a fling with Wei, showing off enough of Stone’s natural charm to make up for the small role.
1 Kiefer Sutherland, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain
Since Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998, voice actor and screenwriter David Hayter provided protagonist Solid Snake and his “father” Big Boss with their distinctive growl in every ensuing game of the Metal Gear franchise. Series creator Hideo Kojima broke with tradition when he announced that 24 star Kiefer Sutherland would take over the role of Big Boss with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and its prequel Ground Zeroes.
The decision, which was controversial amongst the Metal Gear fandom given Hayter’s legacy, also saw Sutherland lend the character his motion-captured facial animations. He made his first appearance in character with the release of Ground Zeroes earlier this year, and will reprise the role when The Phantom Pain comes out sometime in the next year and a half.