The Most Surprising Hollywood Cameos in Gaming History

Rob Waugh

Peter Dinklage, the Hollywood actor best known as Tyrion Lannister in the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ stars in the newly released space shooter, Destiny.

With the recent wave of blockbuster video games we’ve seen more and more movie stars crossover into the video game world.

Here are some of the most surprising examples.

Stephen Merchant in Portal 2 (PC, 2011)

Anyone who’s played through the seminal PC puzzle-shooter ‘Portal 2’ and thought that the moronic robot assistant Wheatley has a charm beyond the usual PC voiceover artist is bang on. He’s voiced by comedy genius Stephen Merchant, creator of the original, British series of ‘The Office’, and veteran of Hollywood comedies such as ‘Hall Pass’.

Merchant says that he actually threw himself around a non-existent world to inhabit the role of the accident-prone robot, and found the role more exhausting than any other he’s done.

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Wheatley sounds unmistakably Merchant-esque as he delivers lines such as, “Most test subjects do experience some, uh, cognitive deterioration after a few months in suspension. Now, you've been under for quite a lot longer, and it's not out of the question that you might have a very minor case of serious brain damage! But don't be alarmed, alright? Uh, although if you do feel alarmed, try to hold on to that feeling because that is the proper reaction to being told that you've got brain damage. “

Speaking to MTV, Merchant said, “I have to say, I found the entire thing really exhausting. Gamers are incredibly enthusiastic about the stuff they love. Suddenly I realized, this is quite a big deal and what I thought was an easy gig, wasn’t. I suddenly felt this responsibility to try and do a good job."

“Normally I just rock up and I do the lines and I go away again. But for some reason I was really working hard. I guess because I wasn't really in a set, I wasn't in a costume, so I was using my imagination. The guys at Valve were very good at painting a portrait of what the world would look like before it was designed."

The result was a huge hit for Valve, and won multiple Game of the Year awards in 2011. Merchant has said he would be interested in reprising the role if Valve made a ‘Portal 3’.

David Bowie in Omikron the Nomad Soul (PC, Dreamcast, 1999)

The multi-talented Bowie dabbled in cinema with the extremely weird, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. His brief dalliance with games turned out to be equally weird and ultimately a bit of a commercial failure.

‘Omikron: the Nomad Soul’ is worth seeking out, though, as a reminder of a period where Bowie was a technological (as well as musical and cinematic) pioneer.

He voices two characters in the game: his wife Imam also pops up as a passer-by.

The appeal of the game to Bowie was how it mingled ‘Blade Runner’-esque visions with elements of the hit ‘Final Fantasy’ series and Buddhism.

Bowie’s character Boz, says, “You’re not the first video game player to get your soul trapped in this dimension.”

Bowie can also be found playing in a band in one of the game’s bleak, futuristic cities.

“I saw Boz as being a kind of digital patchwork quilt, made up of all sorts of shifting patterns, fleeting thoughts, and fractured memories: someone who would slip in and out of focus, one moment drifting and world-weary, the next absolutely concise and direct,” Bowie said at the time.

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Megan Fox in Call of Duty: Ghosts (All formats, 2013)

The unstoppable entertainment juggernaut that is ‘Call of Duty’ has recruited an arsenal of heavyweight Hollywood talent for scriptwriting and directing duties for its last few instalments.

Last year’s ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’ was written by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Stephen Gaghan. It was promoted with an even more surprising cameo: Megan Fox, who popped up in a live-action trailer for the game, shooting down drones with practiced skill.

Fox insists that she is a proper, hardcore gamer who’s earned her stripes. "I’m really good at ‘Mortal Kombat’,” says Fox. “I have that down and I don't cheat. The way my brain fires signals works well with how that game works."

Scriptwriter Gaghan says that his inspiration for the game was Hollywood itself: or at least Los Angeles. “I did riff off people’s fears of America not being a superpower any more. You can feel it now. You drive around, the roads are falling apart. The whole thing doesn’t work. You fly to a country that’s supposed to be a third world country, and they have these perfect highways, public buildings, public transportation. You go back to America, and you’re trying to find a bathroom in Santa Monica, and you think, ‘Oh my God’.”

“Games are becoming a cinematic experience: we’re in the middle of that change,” says Gaghan. “It’s making a big noise. There’s a kind of immersive experience people are drawn to, and ‘Call of Duty’ is one of those.”

Bruce Willis as Trey Kincaid in Apocalypse (PlayStation, 1998)

When Bruce Willis’s character, Trey Kincaid in ‘Apocalypse’, yells, "I don't get paid enough for this crap!" there’s perhaps a touch more conviction than the line deserves. In 1998, when the game came out on PlayStation, voiceovers in games were a relatively new phenomenon, and a major star such as Bruce Willis voicing a game was practically unknown.

‘Apocalypse’ is actually surprisingly good. It’s a two-stick shooter similar to the classic ‘Robotron’, with Willis playing a scientist who has invented nanotechnology (tiny robots). However, his former colleague, The Reverend, uses the discovery to unleash apocalypse, complete with four large, very literal, and very violent, horsemen on the world. Cue much shooting.

There was just one problem: Willis slowly got cold feet about the project, and his character Trey Kincaid was cut back to a point where he “emoted” via a series of one-liners. Initially meant to be a “buddy” character, he was made into a main character largely so Willis didn’t have to voice so many lines, or respond to other actors. Hence the final version of Kincaid yells one-liners constantly as apocalypse is unleashed on screen: "Strap one on, it's time to jam!" and "Open up a can of whoop-ass!” The game was still a moderate success, despite Willis’ less-than-rounded performance.

Mike Oldfield (‘The Exorcist’ omposer) in Tres Lunas (PC, 2002)

Richard Branson’s young record label Virgin was catapulted into the mainstream by one album: ‘Tubular Bells’, an iconic instrumental album which was used on the soundtrack to ‘The Exorcist’ and eventually as part of the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Fans of the album might be surprised to hear about Mike Oldfield’s foray into gaming: a pioneering virtual world which Oldfield admitted came from his dreams, and which he has said may be a reflection of his subconscious mind.

Few game worlds have been as personal as the world of ‘Tres Lunas’, however, which includes Oldfield’s cat, and a gravestone for the world’s creator.

“I haven't got the foggiest idea [what it means] to be honest,” said Oldfield. “I am sure if you found a good psychiatrist, they would come and say 'No this means that, and that means this.' And they probably would be quite right; it's most probably my subconscious mind.”

Oldfield used the same MusicVR software to create another game, ‘Maestro’, in 2004. It was another ‘shared world’, which he regularly visited in a God-like role, chatting with fans. What a psychiatrist might have to say about that is another matter.

Stephen Merchant in Hall Pass (Copyright: REX)
Stephen Merchant celebrating Bafta success with his The Office co-stars (Copyright: REX)
(Copyright: Wikipedia)
Megan Fox (Copyright: REX)
Call Of Duty: Ghosts (Copyright: Activision)
(Copyright: YouTube)