Every Celebrity in the GTA Games
31 mins read

Every Celebrity in the GTA Games

The Grand Theft Auto series is well known for its roster of famous voices. From the cream of movie talent to global chart toppers, there have been many major celebrities who’ve graced the streets and radio stations of Rockstar’s open worlds.

GTA’s journey to big-name actors began in 1999’s Grand Theft Auto 2, which included a live-action short film for the game’s introductory sequence. In it, a criminal named Claude Speed carries out jobs for various crime syndicates before he is taken out. Relatively unknown English actor Scott Maslen, star of UK soaps The Bill and Eastenders, played Claude in this short.

But from small beginnings grew superstar lineups. As the series entered its 3D era in 2001, developer DMA Design/Rockstar Games upped the ante and cast some serious names to voice its game characters. From Grand Theft Auto 3 onward, the games would include famous names from the worlds of Hollywood and the music industry. But Rockstar’s relationship with stars hasn’t been a smooth journey; as we’ll explore here, the studio’s approach to celebrity talent is very different today than it was in the star-studded PS2 years.

Grand Theft Auto 3 Celebrities

Grand Theft Auto 3 arrived on the PlayStation 2 in October 2001. While the previous Grand Theft Auto games were 2D, the move into three dimensions for GTA 3 brought with it a step up in storytelling ambition and world building. This could be heard in the radio stations, which would go on to feature some A-list names in future entries. But for this Liberty City-set game, the main celebrity talent voiced members of the Italian Mafia at the heart of the game’s plot. With a story influenced by mobster movies, it was a canny decision by DMA Design and Rockstar Games to use actors who’d been in landmark crime dramas such as The Sopranos and Goodfellas. These famous voices would work in contrast to the central character, Claude, who was a silent protagonist.

Those famous Mafia movie veterans included Frank Vincent as mob boss Salvatore Leone. Vincent has credits in Martin Scorsese classics such as Raging Bull and Casino, but his most significant role in relation to GTA 3 is almost certainly mobster Billy Batts in Goodfellas. Bringing gravitas and a serpentine charm to his portrayal, Vincent reprised his role in future GTA games, Liberty City Stories and San Andreas.

Heard alongside Vincent was the unmistakable New Yoik accent of actress Debi Mazar, perhaps best known for playing Ray Liotta’s fiery lover in Goodfellas. Her brassy performance as Maria Latore, the scheming wife of Salvatore, helped drive GTA 3’s story and was the perfect foil to the stoic silence of the player-character.

While these actors may not be the most instantly recognisable names, the following will surely ring a bell: Michael Madsen. Famous for his ear-splitting performance in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Madsen voiced the surly Toni Cipriani, one of Leone’s ruthless enforcers. It was a brief role, but one that benefited from his recognisable gravelly tones. Sadly Madsen only provided his voice for the Tony Soprano-influenced Cipriani once; voice actor Danny Mastrogiorgio would take over duties for prequel game Liberty City Stories.

Michael Madsen voiced Toni Cipriani in GTA 3 but was later replaced by Danny Mastrogiorgio in Liberty City Stories.
Michael Madsen voiced Toni Cipriani in GTA 3 but was later replaced by Danny Mastrogiorgio in Liberty City Stories.

Speaking of The Sopranos, that show’s Joe Pantoliano (who played Ralph Cifaretto in the HBO crime series) was tapped by Rockstar to voice Luigi Goterelli. You may also recognise Pantoliano from his wide ranging work in movies such as Bound, Bad Boys, and as the traitorous Cypher in The Matrix. Here, he plays a low-ranking member of the Leone mafia family, and hands out some of GTA 3’s earliest missions.

Stand-up and character actor Michael Rapaport (Beautiful Girls; True Romance) voiced Joey Leone, Salvatore’s mechanic son. Joey doesn’t feature heavily, appearing in a scattering of early missions, but with Rapaport’s delivery the actor brings a strong dose of New York to Liberty City with that distinctive accent. Rapaport continued his gaming credits when he was cast as Troy Bradshaw in the GTA-inspired Saints Row series.

Rockstar would head to Miami in the next GTA entry, Vice City, which featured a story inspired by Scarface. But before the studio jetted off to Florida, it brought a little of Miami to Liberty City by casting Robert Loggia in Grand Theft Auto 3. Loggia played drug kingpin Frank Lopez in Brian de Palma’s crime epic, and took on a tangentially related role for GTA 3 as Detective Ray Machowski. A bent cop, Machowski hires Claude to carry out some ruthless hits, before fleeing the city to evade capture. It would be Loggia’s only involvement in the game series.

Kyle MacLachlan has been a recognisable face since he made his name in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and has also been seen in the likes of Showgirls and Sex in the City. For Grand Theft Auto 3, the actor lent his voice talents to Donald Love, a media baron that turns out to have cannibal tastes. He’s overseeing construction in Fort Staunton, using Claude’s many skills to instigate a gang war to drive down property prices. Love became a recurring character, with appearances in Liberty City Stories and Vice City. Sadly MacLachlan never returned to the role, and so The Sopranos actor Will Janovitz voiced Love in the former, while Canadian ice hockey player and occasional actor Cam Neely (who has played minor parts in Dumb and Dumber, its sequel, and other comedies) voiced him in the latter.

Media baron Donald Love has been played by three people - Twin Peaks' Kyle MacLachlan, The Sopranos' Will Janovitz, and ice hockey player Cam Neely.
Media baron Donald Love has been played by three people – Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan, The Sopranos’ Will Janovitz, and ice hockey player Cam Neely.

Grand Theft Auto 3 opens with a cutscene in which Claude escapes a prison transport alongside fellow inmate, 8-Ball. The wily 8-Ball guides the player to their first mission and his strong voice belonged to none other than Gang Starr co-founder Guru (real name Keith Edward Elam). Gang Starr would feature on the soundtrack of San Andreas and GTA 4, and the musician would reprise his role as 8-Ball in Liberty City Stories.

One cameo that’s not technically a celebrity but is a neat easter egg is the manager of the Chinatown branch of Bank of Liberty, who is voiced by Dan Houser, the former vice president of Rockstar and writer and producer of GTA 3.

With veterans of Goodfellas, The Sopranos, and more, it was quite the cast for DMA Design and Rockstar’s first 3D Grand Theft Auto. But for its next entry in the series, the developer cranked its casting game up another gear.

GTA: Vice City Celebrities

For the highly anticipated follow-up, Rockstar headed to its version of Miami – Vice City – for a tale of drugs, excess, and betrayal. Vice City featured an even more glittering cast than its predecessor, led by the series’ first fully voiced protagonist in Tommy Vercetti. Rockstar tapped none other than Goodfellas star Ray Liotta for this headline role, who gave Vercetti a brash and hot-headed demeanor well suited to the game’s 1986 setting.

By his own admission, the late Liotta was not a gamer, but he seemed pleased by the title’s success. Vice City became the fastest-selling game for its time, shifting 1.4 million copies within two days of its October 29, 2002 release.

In a 2003 episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Liotta was asked about his experience on Vice City. “It was fun,” Liotta told Conan, who’s known to be a gamer. “You’re just sitting there cursing at people.” But in an interview with IGN before the game’s launch, Liotta said the recording process had been a “great challenge” and that it’s an “intensive” process. “You’re creating a character that’s not there before,” he said. “I’m the player, so you see my guy, but it’s kind of like I’m you or you’re me… the scenarios that go on, it’s exhausting.”

While the crime series has mostly been set in the United States (with the sole exception of the 1999 expansion Grand Theft Auto: London 1969), Rockstar has employed various British actors in the games. For Vice City, it hired London geezer Danny Dyer to portray British music manager Kent Paul. Paul was a drug-addled, fast-talking manager to Scottish metal band, Love Fist. One of the group’s members, Jezz Torrent, was voiced by Kevin McKidd, who has been seen in Trainspotting and the HBO/BBC series Rome. Mckidd would return to the world of video games several years later, lending his Scottish tones to John “Soap” MacTavish in 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and its sequel.

80s legend Phil Collins played himself in Vice City Stories and performed one of his most popular songs, 'In The Air Tonight'.
80s legend Phil Collins played himself in Vice City Stories and performed one of his most popular songs, ‘In The Air Tonight’.

Continuing the British theme, musician Phil Collins portrayed himself in Vice City Stories, the Vice City prequel which launched initially on the PlayStation Portable, giving him the distinction of being the first ever real-life celebrity to appear as themselves in a GTA game. Meanwhile, Collins’ in-game manager, Barry Mickelthwaite, was voiced by veteran actor Timothy Spall, who has credits on the Harry Potter movies and The Last Samurai. Players can watch Collins perform a rendition of ‘In The Air Tonight’ in game, a song that also features in the pilot episode of 1980s TV series Miami Vice, which was an influential touchstone for the game.

With Miami Vice being such a big influence on Vice City, it’s no surprise that one of the game’s main cast members was played by an actor from the show. Few players will forget the character of Lance Vance (“…the last dance for Lance Vance”) from the game, played by Miami Vice star Philip Michael Thomas. He played detective Ricardo ‘Rico’ Tubbs in the TV series, but adopted a more criminal persona for Vice City and its PSP prequel.

Puerto Rican actor Luis Guzman (Carlito’s Way; Boogie Nights) did a remarkable job with the unctuous and short-tempered drugs baron Ricardo Diaz. Guzman had also appeared in Miami Vice, in the episode ‘The Prodigal Son’, playing the ambitious Miguel Revilla.

But Vice City’s supporting cast looked to even higher heights than its TV inspirations. Cubans leader Umberto Robina was voiced by legendary Mexican-American actor Danny Trejo, while the gun-obsessed Phil Cassidy – who previously featured in GTA 3 – was voiced by actor Gary Busey (Under Siege; Point Break) for his Vice City appearance. Meanwhile, veteran actor Lee Majors of 1980s TV show The Fall Guy provided the voice of ‘Big’ Mitch Baker, leader of the Vice City Bikers.

[Jenna] Jameson was offered $5,000 for the role [of Candy Suxxx], which she accepted as her boyfriend was a fan of the previous game

For one of Vice City’s main mission givers, film director Steve Scott, Rockstar enlisted Easy Rider and Blue Velvet actor Dennis Hopper. In the game, Vercetti helps the shark-and-mashed-potato-obsessed porn producer by bringing in Candy Suxxx and Mercedes Cortez to work on his film. Fairuza Balk, who starred in witchy movie The Craft and appeared in American History X, lent her voice to Mercedes, daughter of drugs baron Juan Cortez. Her scene partner was a more notorious choice, though; Suxxx was voiced by real-life adult film actress Jenna Jameson. According to Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto, Jameson was offered $5,000 for the role, which she accepted as her boyfriend was a fan of the previous game. Candy Suxxx would become so famous within the GTA universe as to get her own star on the Vinewood Walk of Fame, which can be seen in Grand Theft Auto 5.

The potential for crookedness in the real estate industry has been a theme in successive GTA games, and Texan businessman Avery Carrington was one of the prime drivers of shady property dealings in Vice City. Rockstar hired the rich tones of Hollywood sex icon Burt Reynolds for the role of Carrington.

Unfortunately, while Reynolds does great work in Vice City, he allegedly wasn’t so easy to work with. In a 2018 interview with Vulture, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser recalled a time when he and Reynolds got into an argument over the direction of a scene from Vice City, which ended with the star shouting: “Get the limey out of here.”

Burt Reynolds played Texan businessman Avery Carrington, but was apparently difficult to work with.
Burt Reynolds played Texan businessman Avery Carrington, but was apparently difficult to work with.

The character of Ken Rosenberg, a lawyer and business manager, appears in Vice City and San Andreas, and both times he is voiced by prolific character actor William Fichtner, whose credits include Heat and Prison Break. Rosenberg seems to be inspired by Sean Penn’s character David Kleinfeld, another drug-addicted lawyer who aids criminals in 1993’s Carlito’s Way. In GTA: San Andreas, protagonist CJ helps Rosenberg out of his predicament with Liberty City’s Salvatore Leone, with the lawyer nostalgic about his days working with Tommy Vercetti.

Actor Tom Sizemore, another alumni of the movie Heat, voiced Sonny Forelli, Vercetti’s boss who resides off-screen during most of the events of Vice City. Robert Davi, who acted alongside Sizemore in The Bronx Bull, provided the voice of Mercedes’ father, Juan Cortez.

But that’s not all! The lead singer of Blondie, the legend that is Debbie Harry, can be heard in Vice City as she voices Doris, Kaufman Cabs’ dispatcher. Her band’s songs ‘Atomic’ and ‘Heart of Glass’ can be heard on the game’s radio station Wave 103. Rapper Luther Roderick Campbell AKA Uncle Luke also appeared as DJ Luke on Fresh 105 FM.

Other cameos include American football player Lawrence Taylor, who played the steroid-addled former footballer BJ Smith, and actor and writer Wil Wheaton who voiced the radio talk show host Richard Burns.

GTA: San Andreas Celebrities

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas ramped up the series in a major way, with an enormous map that included fictional versions of Los Angeles (Los Santos), San Francisco (San Fierro), Las Vegas (Las Venturas), as well as country towns and rural landscapes. This was the colossal stage for a gritty story set in the early 1990s, taking inspiration from the rivalry between gangs Bloods and Crips, the LAPD Rampart scandal, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.