It’s not uncommon to be playing a game, and suddenly find yourself struck by an overly-familiar voice. Rather than being an obscure Easter egg, famous casting is now a major marketing tactic for games; just look at Giancarlo Esposito’s upcoming appearance in Far Cry 6 and Keanu Reeves’ performance as Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077.
But the appearance of A-list actors is nothing new. History is littered with a star-studded cast of Hollywood talent that voiced virtual characters in video games, in fact, and some even lent their full likenesses for an appearance straight out of the uncanny valley. Below, you’ll find the most memorable examples of famous actors who dipped their toes into the world of video games for some truly astonishing performances.
Christopher Walken – Ripper (1996)
Christopher Walken stars as a walkin’, talkin’ noir-cliche in this unintentionally hilarious ’90’s mystery game. The Pulp Fiction actor appears in live-action sequences as Vince Magnotta, a crooked cop who, at times, appears to be reading straight off a cue card. Walken does his best overacting while wearing a hat and trench coat, waving an unlit cigar as a prop while the player attempts to track down a serial killer in 2040’s New York.
The dialogue – like the game – is so bad it’s good, with lines like, “You can’t slice bacon with a baseball bat” and “Just because you two played tiddlywinks in your birthday suits doesn’t mean I’m going to open police files for you”. The real question concerns whether Magnotta is a good guy, or actually the murderer himself? It depends, as the game randomly chooses one of four possible suspects to be the killer on each playthrough, with varying clues pointing to the different outcomes. Ripper’s slow desktop sales meant planned ports on Sega and Playstation were eventually cancelled, but Walken’s performance is not lost to history – it thankfully lives on in Youtube playthroughs.
Natalie Dormer – Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017)
While many well-known actors lend their likenesses as well as voices to games, Natalie Dormer is unrecognisable as a space doctor in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The Hunger Games star plays Lexi T’Perro, a 600-year-old member of the blue, mono-gendered Asari race, who’s one of the first friendly faces you meet, before the character unfortunately fades into the background for the rest of the story.
A key feature of the Mass Effect series gives players the option to ‘romance’ a selection of characters, with the chance to progress from flings to something more serious. Unfortunately, those of us hoping to charm Dormer were left disappointed to find her doctor off-limits. Though the player can ‘flirt’ with Lexi, she keeps a strictly professional relationship with her patients. Keep trying and she’ll end up admitting you’re simply “not her type”. Ouch.
Eric Idle – Discworld (1995), Discworld II: Missing Presumed (1996)
Back in the ’90s, the Monty Python actor voiced hapless wizard Rincewind in two adventure games based on Terry Pratchett’s famous fantasy novel series, Discworld. Both borrow plot details from the books – such as Death deciding to “go on holiday” rather than help people, well, die – and feature surprisingly difficult puzzles. The scripts are stuffed full of references for Pratchett and Python fans, with jokes ranging from fart gags to sardonic social commentary.
But the most memorable part of Idle’s performance is a musical number sung over the credits of Discworld II. Given his casting, and the games’ core themes, it would have seemed obvious to try and incorporate ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, though there were presumably rights issues. Instead, the comedian sings a parody of Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’ – titled ‘That’s Death’ – performed on-screen by a skeleton with a top hat and cane.
Rami Malek – Until Dawn (2015)
Before his Oscar-winning performance in Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek leant his face and voice to this slasher horror game. He stars as tormented dudebro Josh, one of a group of teens trying to avoid a mystery killer terrorising a remote mountain lodge. Malek recorded full motion capture for the role and does a convincing job as things become gradually more unhinged.
Until Dawn received positive reviews and spawned a spin-off and prequel for Playstation VR, but the developers say they have no plans to revisit the original characters, so it’s unlikely we’ll see Josh return (especially given the game’s ending). This wasn’t Malek’s first foray into video games, either: he had an uncredited role as ‘additional characters’ in Halo 2, and also voiced Tahno in The Legend of Korra game based on the animated series of the same name.
Stephen Merchant – Portal 2 (2011)
Stephen Merchant’s standout performance as bumbling robot Wheatley is a big part of the reason why Portal 2 is still so beloved almost a decade after its release. The actor, who was approached by the writers based on his performance as Ricky Gervais’ gawky agent in Extras, perfectly blends comedy with something more sinister as the voice of a chatty metal ball who lets a taste of power go straight to his hard head.
Merchant was given freedom to improvise during recording, and was pushed out of his comfort zone to portray Wheatley’s shift from being “loveably hopeless to hopelessly evil”. But he struggled with the volume of dialogue required and told MTV he found the process so “exhausting” that he felt he could “never do [it] again”. However, after the game’s release, Merchant said he was “very pleased” with the reaction and how fans had taken it to heart. He even returned to voice Wheatley in the Portal 2 level pack for Lego Dimensions.
Susan Sarandon – Dishonored (2012)
Five-time Oscar nominee (and one-time winner) Susan Sarandon lent her considerable talent to the first Dishonoured game. The A-lister gives a memorable performance as Granny Rags (real name Vera Moray), a former aristocrat who gives out creepy quests in the game’s nightmarish steampunk city. Dishonored’s revenge-driven plot, which sees the player framed for murder and forced to become an assassin, seemed an odd choice for Sarandon, who is a vocal anti-war activist.
But the actress was impressed by the game’s willingness to give players the option to progress in a stealthier, non-lethal manner. In fact, the higher your body count in Dishonored, the more chaotic things become. Sarandon tweeted that she was “proud Dishonored is one of the first games you can choose to be clever instead of violent”. Some other famous voices to listen out for in the game include Pedro Pascal, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Carrie Fisher.
Vin Diesel – Wheelman (2009)
Only Vin Diesel can save the world… by driving a car. That’s the wholly original (ahem) premise of this action-adventure game, which features all the cheesy dialogue and over-the-top street chases you’d expect from the Fast and Furious stalwart. Vin Diesel stars as Milo Burik, an undercover agent in Barcelona whose very particular set of skills are needed to stop a vaguely sinister threat.
“With me, you always know right where I am. Behind the wheel,” he growls. A film adaption of Wheelman was announced at the same time as the game back in 2006, with Vin Diesel set to star and produce, but it never got off the ground. By the time the game was released he already had three Fast and Furious films under his belt, so perhaps a Wheelman movie proved one vehicle too many.
Cara Delevingne – Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Despite her famous face (and eyebrows), supermodel Cara Delevingne only appeared as a voice in the Rockstar Games series. Before starring in major films like Suicide Squad, she hosted in-game radio station Non-stop Pop FM in GTA 5. ‘DJ Cara’ is an impossibly upbeat ‘soon to be famous aspiring beatboxer’ who shouts things like “Try and have some fun!’ and ‘You really don’t hate this music, so stop pretending!” in between Britney and Rihanna tracks.
GTA’s radio stations have been a memorable feature of the franchise since 1997, and DJ Cara’s sunshine pop feels a perfect fit for the game’s Los Angeles-inspired setting. The playlist is stacked full of bubblegum classics to listen to as you wreak havoc around Los Santos – and who says All Saints’ ‘Pure Shores’ isn’t the perfect soundtrack for a virtual drive-by shooting? Fun fact: Delevingne isn’t the first fashion icon to feature in the franchise as Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld also appeared as a DJ in Grand Theft Auto IV.
Kit Harington – Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
Harington was at the height of his Game of Thrones fame when he was cast against type as the villain in 2016’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. He plays Rear Admiral Salen Kotch, leader of a rival faction that wants to take control of the solar system (because of course). The character is a world away from Thrones’ heroic Jon Snow, and is prone to lines like: “Care clouds judgement. That is why you cannot win.”
Harington did motion capture as well as voice work for the role, but only makes brief appearances throughout the game – mostly popping up to rant on video screens like an irate vlogger – making his appearance ultimately feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. Infinite Warfare features several other famous voices, too. Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton appears as technical officer Carl Hamilton, and UFC fighter Conor McGregor cameos as antagonist Bradley Fillion.
Peter Dinklage – Destiny (2014)
One of the most infamous bits of casting in video game history – but for all the wrong reasons. The Game of Thrones actor gave such a stilted performance as robot helper Ghost in an early version of Destiny that he was eventually replaced by Nolan North (a.k.a. Uncharted’s Nathan Drake) ahead of its official release. Maybe the script didn’t help, but Dinklage’s dry delivery of lines like “It’s power is dark” hardly made the dialogue jump off the screen.
Was he attempting to create a deadpan character that didn’t hit the mark? Or was he method acting to sound as robotic as possible? Even with the benefit of the doubt, you can’t escape the fact that his performance makes it sound like he’d rather be anywhere else. Still, his delivery of the line “That wizard came from the moon” became so infamous you could even buy official t-shirts bearing the slogan in 2014.
Steve Carell – Outlaw Golf (2002), Outlaw Volleyball (2003)
If you thought sports games needed more violence and boob jokes, then look no further. Before he was a Hollywood heavyweight, Steve Carell lent his voice to two games in the innuendo-heavy Outlaw sports series: Outlaw Golf and Outlaw Volleyball. In the latter, Carell’s announcer jokes about peeing on train tracks and introduces bikini-clad characters such as Summer, a stripper/scientist working on a cure for ‘pole burn’.
The games are crude, crass, and would almost certainly not get made today, but Carell gets through some cringe worthy dialogue with an enthusiastic performance that’s not a million miles away from his Office character Michael Scott. Carrell didn’t return for the third game in the series, so his former Daily Show castmate Steven Colbert (yes that one) took over as announcer in 2005’s Outlaw Tennis.
Kristen Bell – Assassin’s Creed series (2007-10)
She might now be better-known for her voice work in Disney’s Frozen series, but in the early noughties Kristen Bell appeared in three games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Both her voice and likeness were used for Lucy Stillman, a recurring character in the modern-day story who met an untimely demise at the end of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The success of the series led to years of talk of a possible film adaption, and in 2015 Bell was rumoured to be reprising her role for the big screen.
But the 2016 film ultimately took a different direction with a fresh set of characters and actors, leading to a rather limp 18% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Outside the Assassin’s Creed universe, Bell continues to do gaming voiceovers, most recently reprising the role of her Frozen character Anna in both Disney Infinity and Kingdom Hearts 3.
Michael Fassbender – Fable III (2010)
The third Fable boasts a stellar cast, with the voices of Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry and John Cleese proving instantly recognisable. But one of the game’s most famous stars is a bit more difficult to pick out. Fassbender plays King Logan, the protagonist’s older brother who is, to put it mildly, a bit of a bastard. Thanks to his wicked ways, Logan is deposed halfway through the game, but luckily not before Fassbender manages to get in a few decent monologues.
When Fable III originally came out, the actor’s reputation was still rising, and major hits like X-Men: First Class and Prometheus had yet to be released, which partly explains why his performance largely flew under the radar. This remains Fassbender’s sole appearance in a video game, though he later starred in 2016’s widely-panned Assassin’s Creed movie.
Brian Blessed (Various)
As someone who naturally sounds like they’re addressing A THEATRE AUDIENCE, Blessed has an unsurprisingly long history of voiceover work. His gaming roles include a retired brigadier in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, a mad scientist in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and the narrator in Lego Dimensions.
The British thespian recently lent his booming baritone to dwarf warrior Gotrek Gurnisson in DLC for the Total War: Warhammer II strategy game, which has the 83-year-old laughing maniacally and belting out lines like “Spoils of war, all for me!’ as Gotrek dives into piles of enemies.
It’s such an energetic performance that you’d be hard-pressed not to follow him into battle. Blessed has described himself in interviews as “50% actor, 50% adventurer”, and has spoken of enjoying the novelty of video game work after his 60-year career on stage and screen. Long may it continue.
Sean Connery – James Bond 007: From Russia with Love (2005)
It might not hold the same cult status as Goldeneye, but James Bond 007: From Russia with Love achieved the seemingly impossible – getting Sean Connery back into the (virtual) tuxedo. The third-person shooter saw the actor reprise the role of Bond, 22 years after he last played the spy on screen in Never Say Never Again. Connery recorded new dialogue for the game, lending his distinctive vocals to his younger likeness, and many of the original cast from the 1963 film version of From Russia With Love appear with modern voice actors.
A number of changes were made to the plot, including a pre-title sequence where Bond thwarts an attempt to kidnap the UK Prime Minister’s daughter, played by singer Natasha Bedingfield, and legal issues meant shadowy organisation SPECTRE had to be renamed OCTOPUS. Though it only received middling reviews, the game deserves special status for convincing its star to reprise his most famous role, just a year before he announced his retirement from acting.