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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 '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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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