It’s been quite a few years since Franklin Clinton and his unlikely friends successfully pulled off the most audacious heist Los Santos had ever seen, but after the events of GTAV’s story mode it’s been unclear what became of Franklin.
With the arrival of this week’s new update to GTA Online – The Contract – we now know what he’s been up to: setting up a high-end “celebrity solutions agency” for rich folk with rich folk problems.
Of course, bringing back Franklin Clinton naturally meant reenlisting Shawn Fonteno, the man who helped bring him to life in the first place. IGN spoke with Fonteno about his unexpected return, Franklin’s new attitude, and his thoughts on working alongside Dr. Dre.
IGN: Did the plan to bring Franklin back in this way come as a surprise to you?
Shawn Fonteno: Well, the plan to have me brought back, it came as a major surprise to me. That was the last thing I was thinking about, you know what I’m saying? That they were going to bring me back. Back years ago I had a feeling they was, but that was back in, like, 2014 and 2015. I thought back then. But, you know, Rockstar move in stealth mode, man. They seem to surprise people. So yeah, it was [a surprise]; it was a major shock.
I was very happy to get the call. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I just knew they needed me. So, you know, of course I’m part of the Rockstar family. I jumped up, got on the plane, went, and made it happen and did what I had to do, man.
IGN: How did it feel, after such a long hiatus, to become Franklin again?
SF: It felt good. It felt good. You know, for a while, when they called and said to come back, I was curious: was I going to be Franklin? Like, could I land the Franklin again after all these years? You gotta remember that’s nine, 10 years younger, you know? So I was curious: am I gonna be able to do it again? So it was strange to me at first. But of course, you know, when I get there and I’m working with the crew, they open the red carpet out for you, man, and they make you so welcome that it’s easy to fall back into character.
But the main key to me falling back into character was my crazy-ass homeboy, Slink Johnson – Lamar. Long as I got him, man, I can always be Franklin. I'll be an old-ass man with a cane, walking around, and he come walk up with his cane and say some dumb-ass shit, and I'm gonna be Franklin. So it was a good thing, man. It was crazy.
IGN: So speaking of Lamar, one of the things I really liked about your performance in GTAV itself as Franklin was that I always felt his determination. He wanted to succeed. He wanted to extract himself in the situation he was in. He wanted success. However, you never let that get in the way of allowing Franklin to express his exasperation; his frustration with people around him and Lamar in particular. Not everyone can sympathise with the kind of position that Franklin was in specifically, but everyone can sympathize with being let down by people and being disappointed in people. So even though Franklin spent a lot of GTAV having a bad time, frustrated by people around him, I really liked his performance. Now, even just based on the first glimpse of Franklin in the trailer for The Contract, what I feel like I’m seeing is a happier Franklin, a more relaxed Franklin. Is this the case? How did that inform your performance?
SF: Well, back then, I didn’t understand. When we was doing GTAV, I was complaining about that. I was, like, ‘Man, why am I not fired up like Lamar and Trevor and everybody else?’ I used to be real frustrated with that. I used to be, like, ‘Man, I don’t like this shit.’ So I used to snap and do things while we were recording, and I would get told, ‘Uhuh; you can’t.’ Like, I would buck back at somebody, you know? Like, Trevor would do something crazy and I’d say, ‘Motherf—-r, you ain’t gonna do nothing.’ And they’d be, like, no, no, no, no, no. So I was, like, ‘F–k. I gotta be the punk? I gotta be kind of down?’
But now I understand the story of it, you feel me? [As Franklin] I was tired of that life. I was tired. I wanted to get out, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make some money. I wanted to change my life. That’s what was, I think, the Franklin character then. Now you going into this new one now, from how I’ve been working; you see it in the trailer, man. It’s ‘Hey! What’s happening!?’ I’m a business owner. You know, we hit the big Union Depository – you know, the big one – we got all this money. I ran off and did my own thing. So I’m imagining that that’s why I’m so f—in happy. It’s that, ‘Hey, I got a bunch of money, new lifestyle. I’m the man!’
IGN: I guess your own life over the past eight years must have changed in certain ways following the release of GTAV. Did you let some of that influence your approach to being Franklin again?
SF: Most definitely, because my life has changed also since GTAV. My business, things that I’ve did; I am my own boss. You know what I’m saying? I have my own job. I work for myself. I’m a husband; a devout husband. I’m a father, and that’s all I’m about: my family and protecting and providing. So yeah, when I started laying the stuff to do for the new Franklin after I found out he was more of a boss, yeah. You gotta remember, from what I seen and what I know, I think that the old Franklin took a lot that he learned from the Michael character, the Trevor character, the Lester character, you know, all these characters. He soaked it all in and now he's putting it back out. Now he’s a boss. He’s the Michael. He’s the Trevor. He’s the Lester. Because all of them brought special stuff to Franklin. Lester brought a whole lot of stuff to him. Lester was the key to dropping them gems in his brain, ’cause Lester had the connections with everybody. So I see a lot of Lester in Franklin, too.
IGN: Despite the fact GTAV first arrived back in 2013, are there still times where you find yourself thinking, man, how did this happen? To be a part of something so enormous?
SF: Yeah. I’m doing it right now! As we speaking I’m, like, ‘How the f–k am I doing interviews right now about GTA still?' I mean, I’m very thankful. I’m grateful. And I’m happy to be in this position, you know? Who wouldn't?
I’m a firm believer that – I say this all the time – if something is for you, it’s going to be for you. No matter how long it take, if it’s for you, it’s for you. I’m a man of faith; I believe in God, I believe in things will come to you. That’s how I feel, man. It’s just, if it was meant for me, it was meant for me. Of course, it’s Rockstar’s call, ’cause they the one that put the plan together and they the one that makes the call and say, ‘Get him back in here’, but I’m here now, bro. You can’t get rid of me now! You stuck with me!
IGN: So back on The Contract, there have been music business angles to a few of the previous GTA Online updates, but the injection of the music business aspect in The Contract seems pretty central here, certainly with the involvement of Dre. How did you find this element of The Contract, particularly with your background in this business yourself?
SF: Well, so when I found out about it, I was shocked because, man, you know, only Rockstar can get Dre back in the music world, man. It’s crazy. When I found out I was gonna be working alongside of Dre, it was like, whoa. Because I know the hip hop world; I lived it. Dre is an icon man. He’s a legend; he’s a living legend. He’s in the Hall of Fame, he got a star on Hollywood. He’s accomplished all the accolades that can come with being a musical legend, you know? So for me to be right there with him, man, it’s crazy.
A lot of people don’t know, and some people do know, that I did a movie with him years ago called The Wash. It was a jacked up scene. I was really being a f–kin Lamar in that movie. I end up getting shot up; Eminem shot me all up and shit. But to be working back with him after all these years – 20 years, man – it’s crazy. I’m still pinching myself, man. I’m still waking up at two in the morning, my wife be looking at me; I’ll be up at two in the morning and I just come into the living room and just sit down and just be, like, ‘Shit, it’s happening again.’ But this is something I went through when GTAV was coming out, also. I just can't sleep until it come out and it gets to the world and then I can relax and get some rest.
IGN: In your experience, do you think that there may be anything in particular that might be misunderstood about what you do and how you do it?
SF: No, not really. Not really. Like I said, if it’s something for you, man, it’s for you. But I can say that you have to find yourself to be a performer; to really do motion capture work. You really have to. You can be the best actor, and I’ve seen them; I’ve seen great actors come on set and can’t do a bit of motion capture, because it’s a different world. I’ve seen them freeze up and I’d be like, ‘Nah, that’s not the actor I know,’ but it’s a different world, man. You definitely have to create the performance out of you into this character because you gotta remember, you are not physically sitting inside of a real home or a real certain situation. So you have to let your mind wander, man, and you have to get into the performance of it. But the crew at Rockstar, they always make you comfortable and they make it as real as it can get.
IGN: So what would represent a win for you, following the release of The Contract? Once people get to meet Franklin again, what’s the kind of thing that you would love to hear?
SF: My performance, man. I just want people to see the performance that I put into it, that I worked so hard on. That I tried my best to fall back into Franklin. It was hard, but I think I did a damn good job with doing it, you know? So I want people just to feel me; I want them to feel like they really in there with Franklin. Because I give my real self. I don’t act when I’m doing Franklin because I’ve been through a lot of stuff that you see Franklin been through in his life. I’ve been through the hard stuff too, you know? Growing up in the ghetto, being in trouble, being around the gangs, and having a crazy mother—-r like Lamar with him and all that type of stuff. So I just want people to feel me, man. I just want them to understand me in there and say, man, this dude really is a performer. That's all I want, man.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN's Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter every few days @MrLukeReilly. He likes GTA radio updates but he's patiently awaiting the return of V-Rock, Master Sounds, and Emotion 98.3.