It’s no longer unusual to see big-name actors in video game roles – and usually it works out fine. Ellen Page in Beyond: Two Souls, Kristen Bell in Assassin’s Creed and Charles Dance in Witcher 3 were all perfectly cast, bringing their talent and star quality to fitting roles, and featured prominently in those games’ promotion. But sometimes, famous faces pop up in video games where you’re not expecting them, whether it’s someone at the start of their career who later turns into a huge star, or an ageing legend looking for a quick buck. Here are some of our favourite improbable appearances.
Rami Malek – Until Dawn
In the time-honoured tradition of up-and-coming actors appearing in horror flicks before hitting the big time, actor of the moment Rami Malek starred in this 2015 slasher game, immediately prior to his role in Mr Robot and before winning all the awards in the world for Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek is typically convincing as sinister dudebro Josh Washington, one of eight teenagers (including Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere) getting bumped off in a secluded cabin. Sadly we’re unlikely to see the Oscar recipient gracing the forthcoming sequel.
Mark Hamill – Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger
Ten years after Return of the Jedi, “Luke Skywalker” Hamill made his onscreen video game debut in this science fiction epic from Origin Systems. Mixing interactive space battles with quaintly low-res cinematics, the game starred not just Hamill but Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies playing the almost identical roles of “British character actors wondering how they got here”. At the climax of the game, Hamill’s character, space hero Colonel Christopher Blair, must destroy the evil Kilrathi army by … flying his fighter craft along a fortified trench then delivering a bomb.
Peter Dinklage – Destiny
When Game of Thrones star Dinklage was cast to play a companion robot in Activision’s online sci-fi shooter, fans were excited to hear what he would bring to the role. The answer, it soon transpired, was extreme apathy. The actor delivered his lines in a ceaseless monotone, often stuttering over sections of dialogue. Sure, he was not helped by lines such as: “That wizard came from the moon!” But no one was hugely surprised when the performance was entirely stripped out and Dinklage was replaced by Uncharted actor Nolan North. When you play the game of video game voice overs, you emote or you die.
Christopher Lloyd – Toonstruck
The comic actor did his goggle-eyed best in this ambitious point-and-click adventure, in which disenfranchised animator Drew Blanc finds himself magically transported inside his sickly sweet cartoon world, Cutopia. Clearly intended as an interactive Who Framed Roger Rabbit, sadly the mix of FMV and computer graphics was rough (despite a huge at the time $8m budget) and the game was severely delayed, resulting in poor sales. A sequel was never released, despite passionate pressure from the cult game’s fanbase.
John Hurt – Tender Loving Care
We will perhaps never know what drew such a brilliant, accomplished actor to this bizarre FMV game, so let’s just go with ‘money’. It certainly wasn’t art. Billed as an erotic psychological thriller, Tender Loving Care features Hurt as an idiosyncratic psychologist seeking to help a young couple come to terms with the death of their child. He does this by suggesting they hire an attractive nurse, then asking the player a series of very direct questions about sex and morality. Then everyone takes their tops off. I hope he was really well paid.
David Bowie – Omikron Nomad Soul
Always interested in both technology and acting, it was only a matter of time before Bowie made an appearance in a video game. Perhaps we should not be surprised that it would be in a bizarre existential cyberpunk thriller, featuring a body-swapping alien detective searching a domed city for demonic serial killers. Bowie takes on two roles: a disembodied hacker revolutionary named Boz, and the lead singer in a group called The Dreamers. An early project from offbeat French studio Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls), Omikron would be Bowie’s only in-game acting role – and he provided the soundtrack as well.
Bruce Willis – Apocalypse
When action star Willis signed up to be digitised for this third-person action shooter, he was set to play the AI companion in an interactive version of a buddy movie. But the AI character wasn’t working, so Willis became the lead – although unfortunately his onscreen avatar was so tiny you couldn’t really appreciate the two days of facial scanning and motion-capping he provided. Furthermore, all the dialogue he’d recorded as a supporting character had to be used for his new role, making the story (and his performance) utterly incomprehensible – and yet still better than Die Hard 4.
Carmen Electra – Def Jam Fight for NY
“I’m Carmen Electra,” says the actor in her trailer for this odd hip-hop fighting game, “Do you think you’re man enough to play with me?” And that pretty much says everything you need to know about her role as a scantily clad bar-room brawler, fighting rappers such as Lil Kim and Shawnna while wearing a red corset and suspenders. Well done to everyone involved.
Gary Coleman – Postal 2
For the second title in its ridiculously irresponsible Postal series of shooter games, developer Running With Scissors decided it would be hilarious to give a cameo role to ex-child actor Gary Coleman. You meet him signing autographs in a mall then, somehow, he becomes involved in a bloody police shootout. It says something that, in a game loaded with racist and misogynistic douchebaggery, this is perhaps only the fourth or fifth most offensive moment.
Tim Curry – Command and Conquer 3
Curry’s manic turn as Russian president Anatoly Cherdenko in Command and Conquer 3 is the stuff of legend. Appearing throughout the war strategy game in a series of short video clips, his finest moment comes at the conclusion where Allied forces launch a massive attack on the Soviet Union and he is forced to flee. Required to deliver the immortal line, “I’m escaping to the one place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism… space!” Curry does little to hide his amusement and incredulity. Frankly, I could watch this for ever.