Ned Luke, 56, is an actor who, as his Wikipedia entry notes, "is best known for his role as Michael De Santa in the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V."
That might sound like feint praise. But that video game has sold more than 45 million copies and generated $2 billion worldwide since 2013. Luke plays a leading role as a gun-toting robber living on the lam in a stylized version of Los Angeles. The game's content is so violent and graphic that Kmart and Target yanked it from stores in Australia.
Now, Luke has a new starring role: He's a gun store manager in a clever new ad from States United to Prevent Gun Violence. The gun-control advocacy group set up a fake gun store in New York City, where Luke's character informs unwitting customers about the sordid history behind each of the firearms. He shows off a silver revolver and then notes a 5-year-old boy used it to kill his baby brother. He holds a rifle and reports that it's like the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. The ad's tag line is: "Every gun has a history. Let's not repeat it."
Quickly, the Internet discovered that the connection -- the fake gun shop manager was also the actor from Grand Theft Auto. Luke found himself caught in the crossfire of the nation's gun debate. Outrage was everywhere. Sides were taken, accusations thrown.
— Jeff Anderson (@amountainpass) March 18, 2015
— Benny (@GhostofGaunt) March 20, 2015
But some people also supported Luke.
@ned_luke that campaign was awesome man. props for standing up!
— Markus Garo (@markusgaro) March 20, 2015
The actor stood up for himself, too.
— Ned Luke (@ned_luke) March 19, 2015
The actor seemed stunned by the angry reaction. Reached by The Washington Post, Luke declined to comment and risk stirring up the controversy anymore.
But it is striking that an actor so closely identified with Grand Theft Auto -- a franchise soaked in gun-riddled violence -- would also star in an anti-gun ad.
Maybe a job is just a job. Maybe he wasn't trying to make a statement. Or maybe he was attracted to the high irony of it all. Maybe he was motivated by guilt after promoting so much video game violence. Or maybe he was secretly trying to undercut the anti-gun group's mission.
Or maybe he's just an actor, playing whatever role he's assigned.
Now Luke can add one more credit to his resume: starring role in the nation's debate over guns.