If you were among the many to have owned the PlayStation 2, you likely remember the arrival of Rockstar Games’ then-opus, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Following the game-changing Grand Theft Auto 3 and the expansive fan-favorite Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the gaming giant had massive shoes to fill with its third new-gen chapter.
Astute gamers had already deduced “San Andreas” would be the next location, given that the original GTA 1 & 2 had featured the trifecta of Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas. Upon receiving confirmation, it became clear that GTA would be drawing influence from films like Boys N The Hood, seeped in early-nineties Los Angeles culture. Naturally, that meant a heavy hip-hop influence, with particular emphasis on NWA and its individual members — particularly Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E.
Though many became enamored with the brilliantly immersive setting, it was the characters that left the lasting impact. Particularly the Grove Street Four: protagonist CJ, the Eazy-E inspired Ryder (voiced by MC Eiht), the stoic Sweet, and the game’s most quotable and arguably enduring figure Big Smoke. Between his iconic fast-food order and the oft-quoted “YOU PICKED THE WRONG HOUSE FOOL,” Big Smoke has cemented himself in the pantheon of great gaming characters. Even if he did betray us.
In honor of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ 15th Anniversary, here are five questions with the man who brought Big Smoke to life, actor Clifton Powell.
HNHH: Before signing on to join San Andreas, what initially drew you to the project?
Clifton Powell: I knew that Grand Theft Auto would give me the opportunity to break into voice-overs as well as to continue to connect with a younger generation.
Did you bond with your fellow Grove Street Members at all during the recording sessions? What is your fondest memory bringing Big Smoke to life?
I bonded more with the engineers and producers for the project because we worked very closely to make sure Big Smoke felt real. My fondest memory bringing Big Smoke to life was talking about my ups and downs and wild and crazy last experiences in my career with the engineers and producers.
How do you feel about playing one of the game’s villains? What measures did you take to bring humanity to Big Smoke? After all, he’s one of the game’s most beloved characters.
When approaching any project I work to make the character believable and real. I never think about being a villain but how can I get to the heart of the character I am playing. I had to use all of the techniques I have learned to bring Big Smoke to life and make sure I had the right tone for his character.
You must be aware of how popular Smoke’s infamous fast-food order has become. For example, a YouTube video titled “How Big Was Big Smoke’s order really?” has over six million views. Does it surprise you how many people have come to cherish that iconic order? Are people still quoting it to you? And most importantly, in your own head, what did Big Smoke order?
Wow, that’s amazing, I had no idea that YouTube video existed. But it does not surprise me. I receive seven to ten messages on social media daily about Big Smoke and San Andreas. Yes, social media has made the iconic order relevant to this day. I have no idea what Big Smoke ordered haha
Were there any particular hip-hop albums you were listening to during the time you were working on San Andreas?
All Tupac and Biggie!
Looking back, how does it feel to be part of such a legendary game?
It feels great to be apart of such an iconic project. Yes, fifteen years later San Andreas is still popular and I am grateful to have been apart of it.