Retirement means the culmination of all of the hard-work you've done in your life, it means enjoying moments with your family and friends, retirement means traveling to places around the world you've always wanted to explore, but not for Michael De Santa. For Michael De Santa, retirement means a living, breathing death sentence.
No one else could've portrayed the character of Michael De Santa better than Ned Luke did. In Grand Theft Auto V, the game did something that hasn't been done before in a game and Ned took the time to discuss it and his experiences working on GTA V.
Working on a project for many years leaves a person with a slew of memories to choose from as to their fondest, most enjoyable. We posed this seemingly impossible, unfair question to Ned and he regaled us with some of the thoughts that first came to mind.
"I don’t even know if I can say what my favorite one is. It all was so much fun. I had favorite scenes that I did with Solo, I had favorites that I did with Steve. I had favorite scenes that I did with my family. I was really lucky that I got to do so much with everybody. It’s just hard to say cause it all was so good.
"The psychiatrist stuff was really good. The thing about my character is I got to go crazy, right? Then I also had my more vulnerable moments as well. I love getting into the family dynamic. I love the scenes with Danny, who plays my son Jimmy. We just had so much fun anytime we’d do anything. The kitchen scene where Trevor comes in for the first time was a great scene.
"The scene where Trevor figures things out and takes off, that was a lot of fun. The scene where I fess up to Franklin that I’m working with the Feds, I really enjoyed that scene because that was the scene where Solo became an actor. This was all new to him and that scene, he was so present in it and I had a blast with him in that scene. The emotion really came through during it for us," Luke said.
We wanted to know how Ned tried to relate to Michael and some of the steps he took to get into the "Michael mindset," if you will.
Ned told us about how he put on a significant amount of weight for the part and that he thoroughly enjoyed getting to tap into parts of his own personality that he can't express often in real-life.
"In ways it was simple and in ways it was difficult. When I got my scene to audition and I looked at it, I was like, ‘oh man this is awesome, I gotta play this guy.’
"I took the breakdown of a guy who was battling a mid-life crisis, he’s battling his weight, he loves his family, he hates his family and he’s trying to overcome his psycho friend.
"The first thing I did is I put on 25 pounds. I thought that would really help me from a physicality standpoint. This guy has a lot of weight, so that kind of helped. I worked on my walk. I have a little bit of that walk anyway, but I really wanted to amp it up. They gave me a lot of freedom to create though and I don’t think I’ve had as much fun creating something.
"This role, I got to play parts of myself that I don’t get to live, which was really cool. It was just a gas climbing into that guy and finding his demons. I didn’t want to play some douche bag. I wanted this guy to have vulnerability, but I also wanted him to have humor and charm. That’s what I looked for in the character.
"After that I could just ride that guy for about 3 years and 3,500 pages (laughs). Pretty soon I was that guy. My poor wife, she was just stuck with me because I would just channel that a little bit (laughs). And now I’m kind of glad that’s over. My wife and I have a great relationship and with her being an actress and a model, she understands.
"I feel it though, especially driving in traffic. All of a sudden, I’ll want to jump into GTA mode. Three years of being in a little spandex suit with back fat hanging out, go crazy and then go home. It was really great though; it was awesome in that regard," Luke said.
Playing a character like Michael, it had to be fun for Ned to channel some of the frustrations of life through parts of his work. There isn't much of a better way to release stress than jumping into a insane person like Michael.
Ned did say some of the work he did for Michael was a nice release for him and learning the script was a bit like learning a new language, due to all of the British verbiage present in it.
"On the set it was a great escape definitely. I try to leave life off the stage. When you hit the stage, life gets out, but with this particular character, it kind of allowed me to bring life in. I had a temper, I’m a hardheaded dude, and it was nice to be able to channel that into this character.
"It became where I would get the material and I would look it over and go, ‘oh man this is going to be crazy’ (laughs). Immediately, it got to where my mind would just go into Michael mode and I would just know what to do. I think that’s just the comfort-ability of playing the character, A. And B, the freedom that they gave me with improvisation and that kind of stuff.
"I always joked that I had to learn a foreign language to play this character because these guys are so British. I was able to do my thing [with the script]. It was a really cool responsibility, but from a creative standpoint, every actor dreams of that kind of freedom, and for them to give it to you on a project like this, it was amazing.
"That’s a tribute to their lack of ego and their desire to want what’s best for the game.
"If I have any kind of problems in my life, money problems or family problems, I go on that set and I would forget all about it because that’s how much fun we were having," Luke said.
Everyone in this world can relate to the situation we find Michael De Santa in when we first meet him in Los Santos. He's a man who has retired from doing what he loves and what he's extremely talented at, but he still doesn't feel satisfied with retirement and he feels called to return to the life of crime.
Ned could really relate to how Michael had to have been feeling while retired and how that drive and desire for the thrill of heists was still heavy in his mind.
"Yeah I think it is, he likes the action, he likes the juice. For me it was easy because it was a lot unlike acting. I had been an actor for a long time and I gave it up for four years. I went back home to my hometown, helped with my brother’s football program and I went to open a restaurant and four years later, I told my wife, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ We went to New York, found a house, a week later, we moved. It was just like that; you can’t retire from something you love.
"Michael Townley is the freakin’ Michael Jordan of bank robbing. It’s a guy who can’t give it up. So when someone says to me, ‘hey my kid wants to be an actor.’ I say to them, ‘is there anything else that you could do with your life and be completely happy doing it? If there is, then do that. Otherwise, if that’s the only thing you can do, is be an actor, then get after it.' That’s kind of how Michael is.
"I’m 55 and I just put my papers in for retirement. You think I’m going to retire? There’s no way I can retire! We think okay, ‘I’m going to get to that gold watch man,’ and then you get the gold watch and you’re like, ‘now what?’ It’s like that same thing in the game, where Trevor’s like, ‘now what?’ That’s what retirement is like. You can only play so many rounds of golf before that gets old.
"Your passions don’t change, as you get older, I think your ability to do those passions does.
"I laugh because Hawk Harrelson is the play-by-play announcer for the Chicago White Sox. They asked him, ‘Hawk? How do you want to die?’ He said, ‘I want to go in the booth man. Here’s the call, Paul Konerko is up to bat, he hits a long one to deep left, he looks up and you can put it on the boooard, he gone, and that’s it (laughs).’ And that’s how we are.
"When you have a passion about something, that’s how you want to go. That’s how I look at this character. When he comes out and does this little gig, he loves it. When he gets out of that, he’s like, ‘damn man I feel good. That felt great.’ And now all of a sudden, when Franklin shows up at his pool, it’s really easy to get back in the game. It’s like Michael Jordan again. If someone comes back to you with a checkbook and you think you can still play, you’re going to play," Luke said.
When you have kids, it's hard not to think about them when you are offered a role for a game like this. How will this look to them? Am I setting the right example?
For Ned, he did think about his young son, but his initial reaction to be offered the part was more of one that he didn't want to be in a video game.
"I had second thoughts about it when they called me for the audition, I said to my agent, ‘I ain’t doing video games. I’m an actor, I ain’t doing video games are you kiddin me?’ He goes, ‘but it’s Rockstar.’ And I’m like, ‘who is Rockstar?’ He says, ‘it’s the guys who do great video games. Let me just send you the script and look at it.’
"As soon as I looked at it, I went from no wanting to do it, to nobody else is going to do it.
"That’s how good the material was. But as far as second thoughts about doing it, I didn’t really have them, but at the same time I’m a parent and I’ve got to be a responsible parent. I’ve got an 11 year-old son who isn’t going to play the game. That game has got a great big M on it for a reason. It’s not for 11 and 12 year-olds and stuff like that.
"I do let him drive around with the sound off. My niece goes, ‘it’s really weird hearing him swear all the time.’ So having second thoughts about it, no because [my son] doesn’t get to play it. However, all of his buddies are playing it. When he gets older and his friends say, ‘man your dad is so old.’ He can say, ‘oh yeah? Well can your dad do this?’ But I do not have any second thoughts because I gotta raise my own kids, I can’t raise everybody else’s kids for them.
"I tried being a coach in little league and it doesn’t work because each parent has their own idea of how things should be. The other thing about this game is that you can’t take it seriously. It’s not like Rockstar is sitting there going, ‘okay, let’s save the world and let’s put out GTA V because we’re very serious people.’ That isn’t what is going on, these guys are sitting there commenting with satire, it’s irony, it’s humor and it’s fun.
"Nobody in this world can possibly think they’re serious. If you think Rockstar is saying, ‘hey go do this.’ You’ve got to be a total idiot, and you can quote me on that. If you’re out there thinking that, sorry world, you’re an idiot.
"If anything, it’s an illustration of how not to live," Luke said.
After an experience like this, it's nearly impossible to not improve as an actor and find things you learned from it.
Ned has been involved in many projects over the years, but he said his work on Grand Theft Auto V has been the greatest gift to his career.
"This has been the greatest gift to my craft that I could ever get. Like I said I was an actor for a long time and took time off and thought I was getting stale. It’s not even about the character, it’s about the first day I walked on that set, I put on 25 pounds and I gotta put on this tiny mo-cap suit.
"I get this thing on, walk out on the stage, it’s like boom, but then five minutes later I realized, it was acting, and I never thought about it again. What it did do was free up my imagination because we didn’t have sets. This was a big, blank, empty stage. We had this guy James and he would make the greatest erector sets you’ve ever seen. It took me back to acting class where I first started and I was really excited about it and my imagination was fertile.
"All of a sudden I found myself who was a young actor and was really into it again. It’s because of this show. I call it a show all the time because it’s not even really a game, since it’s so cinematic. Then all of a sudden with improvisation areas, there was a path that I could just chase, and Rod, thank God, would let me chase it.
"From an acting standpoint, I recommend it to every actor on this planet who wants to be a good one. Work on a Grand Theft Auto," Luke said.