Before Grand Theft Auto, celebrity appearances in games were usually a hideous lurching shambles of backfiring PR and naïve zeitgeist-driven disaster. Between actors being told that “interactive entertainment” was the next big thing, and the desire of game publishers to add a bit of star power to an otherwise unremarkable release, we got some absolute cringers. Apocalypse, starring Bruce Willis. Revolution X, starring Aerosmith. Shaq Fu, starring Shaq. The Daedelus Encounter, starring Tia Carrere. Ripper, starring Christopher Walken, Burgess Meredith, Karen Allen, John-Rhys Davis and Paul Giamatti. None of them exactly great, as game or career moves.
But GTA, from part III onwards, has treated celebrity casting smartly. There’s no contrived stunt-casting. Simply, Rockstar just casts GTA like a decent director would cast a film. It considered the characters, the cinematic context of those characters, and it casts actors who can play those characters properly, whether they be megastar names or not. And ironically, that less glittery approach did ultimately turn games into the next big medium for established acting talent. By treating the casting process with puristic respect rather than as a means to mutual easy publicity, Rockstar started to make games a legitimate port of call for Hollywood’s A-list.