When celebrity voice-acting goes very right

Robert Culp died on Wednesday. You might not immediately recognise his name, but you'll certainly recognise his work. His brilliant performance in Half-Life 2 brought the multi-layered malice of Dr. Breen to stunning life, and aside from his work in Valve's groundbreaking FPS, he was a long-serving and well-loved veteran of TV and film. Good man. Good work. He'll be missed.

And being reminded of his work got us thinking about other occasions that celebrity acting talent  has added a lot to a game. It certainly doesn't always work out, but when it does, the right blend of actor and material can be mesmerising to behold. Here are some of our current favourites.

Stephen Fry - Fable II

Stephen 'National Treasure' Fry is officially the greatest man Britain has ever produced (yeah, he even beats Brian Blessed). Actor, comedian, writer, technophile, and all-round witty ball of awesome, his performance as Reaver in Fable II couldn't be any better judged. Decadent, smarmy, filthy and charming all at the same time, he creates a character so complete that it's impossible to believe Lionhead wrote Reaver for anyone else.

Brian Cox - Manhunt

Veteran thesp Brian Cox has been brilliant pretty much forever, but Rockstar in-joke or not (he played a Hopkins-troubling Hannibal Lecter in 1986's Manhunter), his none-more-disturbing performance as all-seeing snuff baron Starkweather in the stealth muder-'em-up is skin-crawlingly effective. His sickening delight at Cash's increasingly brutal actions, combined with the game's pounding soundtrack and painfully bleak ambience elevate Manhunt to far more than the schocky gore-fest it would be otherwise.

Mark Hamill - Batman: Arkham Asylum

Hamill had an advantage here, in that he'd been playing The Joker in Batman: The Animated series for years before Arkham Asylum came along. Actually scratch that. He hadn't been playing The Joker. He'd been The Joker. Imagine the archetype of the character in any form and you imagine him sounding like this. Hamill has it all nailed. The charistmatic malice. The sheer delight in carnage and cruelty. The sense that he's utterly insane and bloody loves it. That death-rattle laugh. He becomes the character so convincingly that it's impossible to visualise that voice coming out of Luke Skywalker's face. Go on, try it. You can't.

Ray Liotta - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Maybe it's the nostalgic flashbacks to GoodFellas. Maybe it's just Liotta's relaxed and charismatic, no-bullshit persona as Tommy Vercetti. But either way, his is one of the most satisfying protagonist performances in all of the GTA franchise. It's the absolute antithesis of the awkward, bored, "Can I go home yet?" drawl we all too often get when Hollywood types take a holiday in games.

Zoe Wanamaker - Fable series (again)

We can't understand how Lionhead is so consistently, sickeningly amazing at matching the right actor with the right script, but they scored another perfect 10 with Zoe Wanamaker. Ethereal but strong, enigmatic but forthright, and understated but loaded with dramatic power, her Theresa in Fable II is one of the perfectly played characters in gaming to date. But with an arm-length CV covering film, TV, theatre and comedy all the way back to 1973, that gravitas is very easy to explain.

Martin Sheen - Mass Effect 2

Many actors of Sheen's status wouldn't dream of 'lowering themselves' to video games, so it's even more impressive that he lends his voice to Mass Effect 2's Illusive Man with such conviction and aplomb. Drive, ambiguity, charisma and bombastic believability. He has it all, and he uses it to boost an already dramatic epic up to a whole new circle of credibility.

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  • Zeb364 - April 20, 2010 9:07 p.m.

    @JONO99: I don't wanna see Arnold hurt a great series like Bioshock but it would be hilarious to hear him in trauma center with the anime-ish Japanese art style. That, and as you said, the classic "It's not a tumor!" And what about essentially the entire Firefly crew in ODST? I mean I know they were pretty much just playing their Firefly characters but it was still fun to listen to.
  • kaittybee - April 15, 2010 9:50 p.m.

    WOWWWWWWWWWWWW i had no idea that teresa is voiced by madam hooch! (sorry, im a hp fanatic)... now every time i play fable 2, i'll think of madam hooch, and every time i watch hp1, i'll think of teresa... dammit!
  • vogler1604 - April 5, 2010 2:07 p.m.

    Well Nolan North plays a rather large range of characters, but outside the gaming world I guess you can barely call him a celebrity.
  • dannymc18 - March 29, 2010 1:30 p.m.

    Liam "God" Neeson in Fallout 3 has to be one of the glariest glaring omissions that ever glared a glare.
  • Gaff - March 29, 2010 10:01 a.m.

    Loved Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man in ME2. By far one of the best uses of a AAA Hollywood actor in a game to date. I can only hope he reprises his role in ME3.
  • Jok3rNThi3f - March 27, 2010 9:02 p.m.

    I think a good add to this would be Kevin Sorbo in God of War III. Much like Hamill, he's been Hercules for years. As you put it. "He IS Hercules." Sure. It's not very recognizable, but still. It's him alright.
  • Holty07 - March 27, 2010 6:22 p.m.

    Very nice choices! Ray Liotta was great as Tommy Vercetti. Was good to see the protagonist of a GTA game get a good voice. Also Mark Hamill WAS/is damn good as the Joker!
  • Cyberninja - March 27, 2010 1:48 p.m.

    good picks
  • philipshaw - March 27, 2010 11:44 a.m.

    I would have to agree with all the picks in this feature
  • Kapwan - March 27, 2010 1:25 a.m.

    She is not really a big celebrity but Linda Hunt as Gaia in God of War always sounded perfect.
  • Azymuth - March 26, 2010 11:07 p.m.

    I think Sarah Hamilton in The Longest Journey deserves this award too.
  • J0NO99 - March 26, 2010 7:54 p.m.

    Someone please get AHHHH-NOLD a script for a game. I would love for him to voice in the next Trauma Center game, just to hear him say "IT'S NOT A TUMOR!" or get him in Bioshock 3 so he can say "Whos your Big Daddy and what does he do?" Seriously, the possibilities are endless.
  • KnightDehumidifier - March 26, 2010 3:50 p.m.

    I would throw in Mickey Rourke's tasteful chops as Demo Dick from the 2009 classic Rogue Warrior.
  • Rhymenocerous - March 26, 2010 2:20 p.m.

    James Woods in GTA San Andreas. I've never enjoyed hearing people swear as much as that.
  • y2sky2003 - March 26, 2010 2:05 p.m.

    Some of my recent favorites include Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (almost felt like the 7th movie, at times) and some of the Dragon Age characters were done quite well (Morrigan, Duncan come to mind)
  • drewbian - March 26, 2010 12:05 p.m.

    shiiiit i always thought it was judi dench doing the woman in fable. zoe wanamaker is so cool though, nice article
  • Valsadie - March 26, 2010 11:42 a.m.

    Terrence "T.C" Carson as Kratos in the "God of War" series?
  • allthegoodnameswheretaken - March 26, 2010 11:31 a.m.

    Awww No more Breen =(