Fans of the hit HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire know actor Ned Luke, but a much larger audience – 20 million and counting – recognize him as Michael de Santa, one of the three villains in Grand Theft Auto 5. The actor spent three years in a motion-capture suit bringing the full performance of Michael to life, with other actors on a stage in New York City under the direction of Rockstar Games’ Rob Edge.
Luke is halfway through this massive game, exploring every nook and cranny of Los Santos along the way. He took some time away from the controller to talk about how this gig got him hooked on games, and why you won’t see him on a crew in GTA Online.
How familiar were you when it came to playing the GTA games before stepping into this world?
I remember GTA, the first one, and it was like Frogger on wheels because of that top-down view. And instead of putting firecrackers in frog’s butts they just pulled them out and smashed them. That’s what I remember of it because I pre-date all this stuff. I’m before Pong. When I booked the gig and found out that it was GTA, I said, “Uh oh, I better get that game.” I went and got GTA 4 and played it through, and the next thing I know I got the other two sequels and played them. Then I had Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption and I played those. All of a sudden I’m like this Rockstar fan. My experience with GTA was nil, other than I knew that it was GTA and popular.
How do you play your character in GTA 5?
The weird thing about GTA is when I’m doing a mission as Trevor, I’m just like, “Whatever, man. I don’t care what I do.” When I do a mission as Franklin, I find myself thinking like Franklin. When I’m playing as my character, I’m doing things Michael would do, and I don’t go outside of what I feel Michael should be doing. That’s what’s great about these three characters. I bet the players are inhabiting the characters, whether in mission or off mission, and they’re behaving the way their characters should behave, or in Trevor’s case misbehave. It’s just the way it is. That’s really cool to me. That’s just another way of getting inside a character. It’s an amazing game. It really is. I’m so proud of doing it and I’m proud of the guys and everything that we did. I always say “we” because I’m a coach’s kid, and it really is such a huge team effort and the best team I’ve ever been on.
What do you like to do for fun in Los Santos outside of the storyline missions?
I love the Strangers and Freaks, where you go to the question mark and you don’t know what you’re getting. The next thing I know I’m floating through the air or fighting aliens and stuff like that. I love that. I love the little deals where you’ll see a little red blip on the screen and someone wants help and you go over and help, and the next thing they’re pulling on you and they’re robbing you. It’s kind of cool. The other thing is I lived in LA for 18 years and it’s cool to just cruise around and figure out where I am. I went around and I tried to find my house.
Was it there?
I don’t know. I couldn’t find it. I probably drove by it 600 times because I’m an idiot. It probably is, but it’s just cool to drive around and look for the stuff that you knew and that you’ve been to. I can remember when I used to try to sneak onto film lots and drop off pictures as a young struggling actor. In the game, there’s the kidnapped actor in the studio, and that reminded me of breaking into the lot at Fox to drop off pictures at Junie Lowry-Johnson’s office. I lived in the desert for a while too, so going out into the desert is kind of crazy. I haven’t played golf yet, so I have to do that because I think that will be fun. I played a lot of golf out in LA, so I’m going to see if they actually have that course or if I can recognize what course it is. Then I run people over. “Hey, guy on a bicycle, sorry man. I didn’t mean to do that.” How can you not like that? Because they’re pixels or whatever they’re called, so you just run them down and there’s no remorse.
What are your thoughts on Grand Theft Auto Online?
I don’t even want to hear about Online, because Online means off the reservation. If I start doing GTA Online I’m going to put crews together and stuff, and then it’s going to be really dangerous. I’ll just get 15 personas out there and I’ll pick crews from all over the world. I have to stay away from Online. I wouldn’t have a career. Then I won’t have a house. Then I won’t have a wife. I really love my wife. I better stay away from Online.
If you can't get enough GTA 5 and GTA Online, here's Prima's free guide.