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.
Every Celebrity in GTA 3
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.
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.
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.
Every Celebrity in GTA: Vice City
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Every Celebrity in GTA: San Andreas
That story was the perfect script for another slew of big-name voices. For its third PS2-era GTA, Rockstar continued to cast celebrities, with rappers and hip-hop artists well represented. For the player-character of Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson, however, Rockstar turned to a relative unknown.
Christopher Bellard, who goes by the stage name Young Maylay, was in his mid-20s when San Andreas launched in October 2004. The role of CJ was his first acting job. Born in Los Angeles, the rapper was witness to gang violence and poverty growing up. He was brought in to audition after one of the main writers of San Andreas, DJ Pooh (also a rapper), called Maylay and the two talked about music. Unknown to the young rapper, the chat occurred over speakerphone, with Rockstar staff encouraging DJ Pooh to bring him in after hearing the conversation. Coincidentally, Maylay is the cousin of Shawn ‘Solo’ Fonteno who provided the voice of Franklin in GTA 5.
While Rockstar went lowkey for CJ, it aimed high for many of the supporting cast. The most famous name to grace San Andreas has to be Samuel L. Jackson, who played officer Frank Tenpenny. The veteran actor may these days be most popular for his role as Nick Fury in the MCU, but at the time of San Andreas his credits in Menace II Society, Pulp Fiction, and even a minor role in Goodfellas, meant he was perfect for Grand Theft Auto. His commanding tones brought much to a role that required charisma and villainy in equal measure.
Frank Tenpenny headed the C.R.A.S.H. unit — a supremely corrupt organization within the Los Santos Police Department that siphoned profits and supplies from the street gangs they were supposed to stop, and committed acts of brutality in the process. Tenpenny acted alongside his deputy, officer Eddie Pulaski, who was voiced by Reservoir Dogs actor Chris Penn. Penn, who sadly died in 2006, was the younger brother of Sean Penn. The actor also appeared alongside Debi Mazar, who reprised her role of Maria Latore from GTA 3 for San Andreas, in the dog movie Beethoven’s 2nd. Frank Vincent also returned as Don Salvatore Leone, with the game even taking CJ to Liberty City for one mission.
CJ’s family was a memorable feature of San Andreas, and Faizon Love, an actor in comedies such as Don’t Be a Menace and Fear of a Black Hat, played the role of Sweet Johnson, CJ’s tough brother. Playing CJ and Sweet’s sister, Kendl, was Rapper Yolanda ‘Yo-Yo’ Whittaker, a frequent collaborator with Ice Cube in the early 1990s, and a player of minor parts in movies such as Menace II Society and Boyz n the Hood.
Rockstar leaned strongly on hip-hop vibes for San Andreas, with one of the earliest gangsta rappers, Ice-T, cast as musician Madd Dogg. In the game, Madd Dogg’s rapping career falters after CJ steals his rhyme book, but they later join forces. Ice-T also voices himself on the in-game News Radio.
Also coming from the rap scene was The Game. While he was still up-and-coming when San Andreas launched, The Game (real name Jayceon Terrell Taylor) was hired to play minor antagonist B Dup. Born in Compton, The Game has since gone on to greater fame following his discovery by Dr. Dre and the release of his debut major-label album The Documentary in 2005.
A legend of the West Coast hip-hop sound, Aaron Taylor – better known as MC Eiht – led Compton’s Most Wanted, an early gangsta rap group. The group’s 1992 hit ‘Hood Took Me Under’ features on San Andreas’ soundtrack. In addition, MC Eiht voiced the character of Ryder in the game, an abrasive personality that seems inspired by the late Eazy-E, leader of the group N.W.A. Meanwhile, another music legend, Chuck D. of hip-hop group Public Enemy, voiced DJ Forth Right MC on in-game Playback FM radio station.
San Andreas’ music industry cast is drawn from beyond just the worlds of rap and hip-hop, though. Rockstar also hired British music icon Shaun Ryder, lead singer for the band The Happy Mondays. Ryder’s thick Mancunian accent can be heard emerging from the lips of Maccer, the singer of a touring British rock band called The Gurning Chimps. Fellow ‘Madchester’ band The Stone Roses can also be heard in the game, with their signature track ‘Fools Gold’ playing on Radio X.
There’s also a bona fide rock legend in San Andreas. In the 2000s, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose was a relatively reclusive figure, so the fact that Rockstar got the singer to be involved was quite the coup. Rose voiced the DJ Tommy ‘The Nightmare’ Smith, who hosts the game’s classic rock radio station, K-DST. The DJ also has a star on the Vinewood Walk of Fame in GTA 5.
GTA: San Andreas also featured plenty of ‘regular’ actors. Clifton Powell, an actor with credits in Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, and who has a memorable turn in Rush Hour as Chris Tucker’s character’s cousin, was cast as the treacherous Big Smoke. And as Cesar, a member of the Aztecas gang and boyfriend to CJ’s sister Kendl, Rockstar cast Clifton Collins Jr., who has appeared in movies such as Capote and the HBO series Westworld.
Rockstar also returned to the cast of Easy Rider for San Andreas, this time employing Dennis Hopper’s co-star, the late Peter Fonda. He can be heard as the weed farmer and conspiracy theorist The Truth.
Actor and comedian David Cross, known for his role as Tobias Funke in Arrested Development, provides the voice of Zero, the owner of toy store Zero RC. The late Charles Murphy, the older brother of Eddie Murphy, was famed for his hilarious turns in The Chappelle Show and he adds his comedic delivery to San Andreas as the sleazy pimp Jizzy B.
Radio host and actor Kurt Alexander, better known as Big Boy, voiced Grove Street gang member Barry ‘Big Bear’ Thorne, and comedian Andy Dick played Maurice on West Coast Talk Radio’s gardening segment.
Finally, super character actor James Woods added his trademark mercurial charm to the role of Mike Toreno, a wily government agent that eventually teams up with CJ.
Grand Theft Auto 4 Celebrities
For its next mainline Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar Games started to move away from casting celebrities. As the aforementioned interview with Vulture explained, Dan Houser revealed that working with celebs such as Burt Reynolds could be tricky. He also mentioned the trouble he had with Chuck D. on San Andreas, even needing to ask another director to “step in”.
Every Celebrity in GTA 4
“We don’t bring in name actors anymore because of their egos and, most important of all, because we believe we get a better sense of immersion using talented actors whose voices you don’t recognize,” Houser explained. Additionally, Rockstar aimed to write a more original story for Grand Theft Auto 4, one that didn’t pay such heavy homage to classics in the crime movie genre. In short, the stage was set for a game that would be less reliant on big names.
Nevertheless, GTA 4 did feature a scattering of celebs, many of whom played themselves. Ricky Gervais, star and writer of the original British version of The Office, performed a digital stand-up comedy set which players can watch by visiting the in-game Split Sides Comedy Club. The comedian Katt Williams, who has appeared in My Wife and Kids and The Tracy Morgan Show, also performed at Split Sides. An additional set was produced for The Lost and Damned, GTA 4’s first expansion, featuring British comedian Frankie Boyle.
Ted Lasso actor Jason Sudeikis played Richard Bastion, the host of WKTT’s right-wing radio show, while fellow actor and comedian Omid Djalili plays the mega rich real estate developer Yusuf Amir, who also later appeared in GTA Online. Brooklyn Nine-Nine actress Chelsea Peretti voiced Lori Williams-Jones, who appeared on the WKTT show Just of Unjust.
There were countless other cameos too, including German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who played himself and hosted radio station K109. Parks and Rec actor Will Forte played radio host Martin Serious, actor and comedian Bill Burr voiced Lost Motorcycle Club biker Jason Michaels in GTA 4 and The Lost and The Damned DLC, joined by actor and director Adrian Martinez who played the Lost’s club secretary Brian Jeremy. Jamaican DJ and actor Carl Bradshaw plays himself, hosting the Tuff Gong Radio station, UFC fighter Bas Rutten played a parody of himself in Weazel’s The Men’s Room, Actor Michael Bower played Eugene Reaper, one of the bystanders in the Three-Leafed Clover heist, who shot Packie’s associate Michael ‘Saint Michael’ Keane.
The irrepressible Iggy Pop can be heard on the airwaves, as the famously shirtless rocker helms the classic rock station Liberty Rock Radio. His former band, The Stooges, can also be heard in the game, with the track ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. The actress Juliette Lewis is another radio host, hosting modern rock station Radio Broker. Lewis is also a musician, fronting her band Juliette and the Licks, and one of their songs ‘Inside the Cage’ is included in the game.
Grand Theft Auto 5 and GTA Online Celebrities
For the most recent Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar stripped back the celebrity appearances even further. But while the main cast wasn’t star-studded, the in-game radio stations did play host to a number of famous names, all of whom play fictionalised versions of themselves. One of those was Paper Towns and Suicide Squad star, Cara Delevigne. At the launch of GTA 5 back in 2013, Delevigne was only 21 years old and had few acting credits, with an appearance in the Tom Stoppard-directed Anna Karenina being her biggest role at the time. She was better known as a model,but the Briton found herself cast as the dance-pop obsessed DJ of Non Stop Pop FM.
Every Celebrity in GTA 5 and GTA Online
Eastbound and Down actor and comedian Danny McBride played Duane Earl, the host of the talk radio show Beyond Insemination, which discusses outdoor pastimes like fishing and farming, and can be heard in Blaine County,
The virtuosic bassist of George Clinton’s Parliament, Bootsy Collins, fronted Space 103.2. The late Jamaican reggae producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry spins records as the DJ of the Blue Ark radio station. This wasn’t Perry’s GTA debut; a number of his songs and that of his band The Upsetters have been included in the series over the years.
The chill tones of soft rock musician Kenny Loggins can be heard as the host of Los Santos Rock Radio. Since two of his songs – ‘Highway to the Danger Zone’ and ‘I’m Free’ – are included in the game, Loggins has the funny distinction of introducing his own songs on the station.
A lesser-known celebrity, Jesco White, helms Rebel Radio. White is a tap dancing folk artist, and he handpicked the station’s playlist. He’s also one of the few famous figures to physically appear in GTA 5, playing the Dancing Outlaw/Hillbilly who can be seen tap-dancing at the Foreclosed North Alamo Pier. Outside of the game, White had a couple of documentaries produced about his life and struggles with depression and drugs. He also briefly appeared in the music video for ‘Loser’ by Beck.
Finally, it would be very remiss not to mention Lazlow Jones. Fans of the GTA series will know the radio personality has enlivened many a play session thanks to his comedic interactions with callers and guests. Lazlow could be heard on Chatterbox FM all the way back in GTA 3, and the radio host has been in every subsequent game in the series. What you may not know is that Lazlow Jones is a real person and a former member of Rockstar – he has worked on multiple Rockstar titles including writing for Max Payne 3, Red Dead Redemption, and the GTA games. He made his physical debut in GTA 5 with a digital version of himself appearing in missions, while his voice can be heard on various radio shows, including ‘Chattersphere’ – an obvious reference to his station in GTA 3. He also appears in GTA Online with the introduction of Nightclubs following the After Hours update. Lazlow also appears on Fame of Shame, GTA’s parody of The X Factor, alongside actor Fred Armisen, who plays Hugh Harrison.
Speaking of GTA Online, Dr. Dre appeared as himself in the Cayo Perico Heist and The Contract mission chains. The highly influential hip-hop artist and producer’s songs can also be heard on the soundtracks to San Andreas and GTA 5. Fellow Beats headphones entrepreneur and former record producer, James ‘Jimmy’ Iovine, also makes a cameo as himself in the Cayo Perico Heist . Rockstar Games writer, record producer, and rapper DJ Pooh (real name Mark Jordan) also appears in these missions as himself. In addition, DJ Pooh is the host of West Coast Classics radio station in the game.
GTA 6 Celebrities
As the world waits with bated breath for Grand Theft Auto 6, it remains to be seen how many famous names will be heard or seen in the game. While we don’t even know who plays lead protagonists Lucia and Jason, we do know how the celebrity list starts, with T-Pain, the rapper and record producer known for his work with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Flo Rida. T-Pain is famously a huge fan of GTA Online, and was a long-time member of the NoPixel roleplay server before he began work on GTA 6.
Whoever T-Pain’s cast mates turn out to be, they will have needed some strong self-control to keep their involvement a secret.