During GQ.com’s recent chat with the stars of Grand Theft Auto V, they all agreed on one thing: they’re actors and not “just voice actors.” For better or worse, Shawn “Solo” Fonteno, Ned Luke, and Steven Ogg are Franklin, Michael, and Trevor, the characters they play in this smash-hit installment. They didn’t just spend time sitting in a recording booth talking into a microphone. Rather, over a three-year period they became their characters, lived and breathed in their skin, and through extensive motion capture, real-life interaction, and lengthy voice acting sessions in that very booth, Fonteno, Luke, and Ogg crafted performances that bring little bits of data to stunningly realistic video game life.
“Solo” Fonteno might tell you that he is Franklin and Franklin is him, but if you see these guys on the street, Ned Luke really isn’t Michael, and Steven Ogg isn’t, in fact, crazy Trevor. As great as their performances are in GTAV, it’s still all just an act.
They’re also one of the main reasons that the blockbuster video game is quite possibly the greatest ever created and, without a doubt, the absolute best to ever grace the current console generation.
We sat down with Fonteno, Luke, and Ogg to hear what exactly went into crafting the world’s most famous trio since Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron James.
GQ: This game is an enormous hit. What does hearing something like $1 billion in sales mean to you?
Shawn Fonteno (Franklin): A billion dollars, dude? I don’t even know how many zeros are in a billion dollars, man. [Laughs] Just to be tied to it with my likeness and my voice, that’s something that’ll go down in history with me. My grandchildren and my great grandchildren will see that. It’s like a historical moment for me, so it’s a good feeling.
Steven Ogg (Trevor): Yeah, it’s pretty wild. I’m not a gamer and I’m not into that world, so I don’t know much about it. Obviously, doing it for three years I got to learn more about it, and I understand how huge it could be, but honestly it wasn’t until the release that I really got it. Even before the financial end of it, which I can’t grasp, seeing trucks in Tokyo with my face on them or the billboards in Brooklyn that were being hand-painted with Trevor’s face. That’s when the magnitude of this game started to sink in. It is a global thing.
GQ: Ned, your son is eleven years old. Did he flip out when you told him you were going to be in Grand Theft Auto V?
Ned Luke (Michael): He’s not going to play the game until he’s in college. [Laughs]
GQ: But I’m sure he’s heard of it. He knows it’s a big deal.
Ned Luke (Michael): Yeah, he knows it. All his buddies have it. I let him do a few missions with the sound off. [Laughs] But, yeah, he’s so thrilled. He thinks it’s the coolest thing ever.
GQ: Steven, what about your son?
Steven Ogg (Trevor): No, no. We’ve got copies of it and he wants to play it, but he’s just too young. The funny thing is, I’m from western Canada and my nephew is old enough to play it and he now has street cred. I’m like, “Really? Street cred in Alberta? What the f*ck is that? What does that get you? A great Alberta Beef Burger or a twelve pack of maple donuts?” [Laughs]
GQ: Shawn, in your TMZ interview you mentioned that Franklin is you and you are Franklin. How do you guys relate to each other?
Shawn Fonteno (Franklin): [Laughs] We relate tremendously, man. I feel like changing my name to Franklin. Everything he’s doing, I’ve done it. I don’t want to put myself out there on blast, but I’ve done it. I’m an ex-gang member. I’m an ex-thief. I’m an ex-car stealer. I’ve done it. I know what it feels like to be on both sides of the gun, go to jail, et cetera. We’re tied together forever.
GQ: What about you, Steven? You’re not crazy, right? You’re not totally Trevor, are you?
Steven Ogg (Trevor): I like to call it a crazy little thing called… acting. [Laughs] It’s one of those forgotten arts in this culture. There’s a lot of talk nowadays about how “acting is you, you are who you are” but no, it’s acting. That’s my job. That’s what I do for a living. I’m an actor. [Laughs]
GQ: Were there any concerns about working on game that’s gotten some criticism about its violence and treatment of women?
Shawn Fonteno (Franklin): Nah, not at all. It has to be treated the same way as the movies. Scarface. Boardwalk Empire. You see all the same stuff that’s happening in these games in comic books and TV shows. It’s just a script. We’re having fun. They have to treat this the same as they treat the movies.
Ned Luke (Michael): GTA is what it is. Anybody that expects anything different is fooling themselves. I love women. I’m crazy about them. I have a beautiful wife, who’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I teach my son to respect women and other people’s position in the world, whatever it is.…People are always looking for something to hate on. If this is something for them to target and hate on, that’s their thing. I look at it as satire.
GQ: Is there a stigma attached when you do voice work for video games versus film or TV work?
Steven Ogg (Trevor): I want to take “voice acting” and send it up to space.…this was a motion capture performance. This was not me sitting in my underwear in a booth watching some character that was like Trevor and saying my lines. No. That was me up there in my motion capture suit with the camera directly in my face and the light in my eyes. It’s a huge thing. It’s not just voice acting. You put three years of your life into something like this and you certainly, if nothing else, want the recognition of what you’ve done—it is an entire performance that has been “captured”—your body, your face, and your voice. It wasn’t just three years of talking into a microphone. It was three years of shooting a movie that was motion captured.
Shawn Fonteno (Franklin): It was totally different. Acting in front of the camera for film is totally different from acting in a big studio where you don’t where something is at and you have to imagine that it’s right there. You have to figure it out while they’re building stuff that looks like stuff, so it’s a totally different thing. You have to feel and visualize everything that you’re acting. It’s night and day.
Ned Luke (Michael): Yeah, we’re actors. We’re not just “voice actors”. Steven Ogg is one of the most brilliant actors I’ve ever seen in my life.…For me, acting is acting. I don’t care if you’re just doing voice or live action or motion capture or what. Acting is acting.
GQ: Have you gotten a chance to play the game yourselves yet?
Shawn Fonteno (Franklin): Honestly, I just sat back and was tripping off of what was going on with the sales and how it was radiating through the pop culture and everywhere around the globe first. Then I finally sat down and started playing it, so now I’m halfway through it. It’s so interesting that I can’t put it down. It’ll be three in the morning and my wife is telling me to put it down. [Laughs] It’s so addictive.
Steven Ogg (Trevor): That’s actually a special little anecdote. When we were trying to put in GTAV, much less play it, we put it in the Xbox 360 and I was like, “Oh, this is such a beautiful moment.” There we are, my son and I, sitting there and we can’t figure out this f*cking thing. [Laughs]
Okay, we’ve got 2.7 gigabytes, gigabang, gigawhatever. [Steven slips into full on Trevor mode] What the f*ck is this?! Okay there’s two discs. Put this one in first. Okay. What the f*ck? Where to load it? I don’t know. Load it onto here. Manage storage. f*ck! I just want to see the opening. I’m going to cover his face and ears if it starts with Trevor jumping on a skull screaming, “f*ck! f*ck! f*ck!”—he’s not going to hear that…but he’s so excited, he just wants to see the opening (or anything).
So I pick up the Bat phone and I call Rod [Edge - the director]. We FaceTime so he can help me figure this out. It was such a great scene. I’m in the country house with my son and we’re FaceTime-ing with the director of the game and his son, who’s an actual gamer, and we’re getting instruction on how to start the game. I’d show him the screen and he’d walk me through it. It was such a beautiful moment. [Laughs]
GQ: Do you think the success of the game will lead to more TV and film work for you?Ned Luke (Michael): I hope so. [Laughs] I think that’s the goal of everything you do. Stanislavski said, “Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art,” and for me, that’s what acting is. It’s the only thing I want to do. I love it. I’ve been in this game for thirty years and nobody knows who I am. You have really hard times and you have really good years and you have years that you can’t feed your family and you have to sell cars. I gotta tell you, stealing cars is a hell of a lot more fun than selling them! [Laughs]
GQ: How has your life changed since the game’s release?
Shawn Fonteno (Franklin): [Laughs] I’m turning into a star, man! People are reaching out to me and are really appreciative of what I gave to the game. I feel good that I can make people happy with what they see in Franklin. I’m getting a lot of compliments and I’m loving it.
Ned Luke (Michael): This has reawakened my imagination like nothing I’ve ever done before. Doing this game has made me a better actor than I ever was. You’ve got to understand, I was a bitter dude coming off four years of being out of the business. I went back to my hometown so my son could experience where I came from. You’re at my age and you don’t have a series or good representation, and then to come out and get into this? You better believe I’m recharged.
GQ: Steven, is it harder or easier to play someone completely off the rails like Trevor?
Steven Ogg (Trevor): It’s certainly fun because you just get to be nuts. The thing about Trevor, this character that I so love to play, is that he kind of represents the gaming world and this idea of pure escapism. He gets to be that guy who gets to say whatever he wants, to do whatever he wants, to f*ck whatever he wants. Everyone has that fantasy, right? Trevor just does it. It’s very liberating. So, to play that, you basically have an impulse, you feel it, and you try it. There’s someone there to help you with when to pull back or let you know what doesn’t work, but it’s very freeing. I also love that people are recognizing his sense of humor. That was Trevor for me. Walk that line. Bring in the f*cking intensity. Bring in the violence. But also, through that, find a sense of humor and allow people to laugh at it. When you do that, it sends that message that you’re not taking yourself too seriously. It’s a little wink. Three years of getting to do that? Yes, please!
GQ: In that same vein, Ned, did you feel like you had a lot more creative freedom and input working on GTAV as opposed to the film and TV
work you’ve done?
Ned Luke (Michael): That might be the thing I’m most proud of on this deal—I was given so much freedom to become the guy. That’s a testament to all the guys that worked on the game. They’re so confident and have so little ego about what they’re doing. They want the game to be the best that it can be, same as me. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. It was like going back to acting class, being able to be so free and not locked in. I’m just thankful for the faith and trust they had in me to do it. And that I didn’t overdo it and piss them off and have them fire me. [Laughs]