Picture the Eminem shown in the image above. It’s 2002, The Eminem Show has launched, and he is at what many would consider to be the peak of his powers. Then, in video game land, there’s Grand Theft Auto. In 2002 we saw the launch of the acclaimed Grand Theft Auto Vice City, only 12 months after the launch of Grand Theft Auto III, also on the PS2, and it would only be another 24 months before the next core entry, 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas would launch as well. Both the musical superstar and the video game IP were firing on all cylinders, enrapturing millions, and for many players of the PS2 trilogy of GTA games, it’s quite likely that the music from the real Slim Shady was being played on loop in the background of their play sessions. Now would it have been a reach to think that if a Grand Theft Auto adaptation were to emerge, that Marshall Mathers himself would be a part of it? Because it turns out, we were pretty close to that reality, but Rockstar didn’t allow it.
Kirk Ewing, an agent and co-founder of virtual avatar app Veemee, has recently spoken (on the Bugzy Malone’s Grandest Games podcast) of a conversation that was had with former Rockstar boss Sam Houser that nearly resulted in the rap superstar featuring prominently in a film based upon the iconic GTA franchise. In that podcast Ewing recalled the conversations that were had, saying
Because of the relationship that I had with Rockstar and I had with Sam, I actually tracked him down to his hotel room one night where I knew he was going to be staying for a while, and the two of us stayed up late and talked about the possibility of making a film. This was just after Grand Theft Auto 3. And I think at that point, it was still in Sam’s mind that it might be something that he wanted to do.
I remember taking a call at about 4am from one of the producers in LA with an offer to make a film, and he said: ‘Kirk, we’ve got Eminem to star, and it’s a Tony Scott film, five million on the nose, are you interested? And I phoned up Sam and said: ‘Look, you need to listen to this. They want Eminem in the Grand Theft Auto movie and Tony Scott to direct.’ And he said: ‘Not interested.’
At that point, they withdrew from any conversation about making a film, when they realised that the media franchise that they had was bigger than any movie that was going on at the time.
While Houser was absolutely right, and with subsequent releases, culminating in the 2013 launch of Grand Theft Auto V, a game that still shifts millions of copies per year today, a franchise that is absolutely more profitable than anything in film, television or music, it is of course fascinating to visualise what a GTA movie would have looked like nearly two decades ago, and what it might have meant to have Eminem in it.
I’m sure Sam Houser was sitting back pondering on some specific Eminem lyrics, “This world is mine for the taking, make me king”, and with all that the GTA franchise has achieved since, it’s pretty clear that Houser achieved that.