The Path of Deus Ex – An Interview With Elias Toufexis

When honour’s at the stake. How stand I then, That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d, Excitements of my reason and my blood, And let all sleep, while, to my shame, I see The imminent death of twenty thousand men, That, for a fantasy and trick of fame, Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, Which is not tomb enough and continent To hide the slain? O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!”

That’s Hamlet. Act 4, Scene 4. It is a pivotal moment in Shakespeare’s tragedy where Hamlet realises his recent inability to seek vengeance seems ridiculous next to the thousands of men who are about to sacrifice their lives on a worthless battlefield. It is an important moment and a crucial choice that shapes Hamlet’s future. This soliloquy has long been held in high regard by every actor who has graced the role.

In 2005, at Vancouver’s Spectral Theatre, one of those actors was Elias Toufexis. It is a role that stays with an actor long after everyone has left the stage and years later, Toufexis still feels the presence of the character. “He’s so layered and complicated,” he tells me. “I feel like I was only really getting a grip on who he is by the very end of our 5 week run. I’d like an opportunity to try again. I don’t think an actor ever really completely nails the role of Hamlet.”

Shakespeare can be a daunting challenge for actors. Some of the greatest thespians have stepped into the shoes of Hamlet and come out the other side with a different view of their craft. With a common theme of tragedy, betrayal and love, Shakespeare’s work is equally thrilling and inspiring. Toufexis himself is clear evidence of this. “As cliche as this sounds, Shakespeare is the reason I became an actor. When I was a kid I saw the Star Wars movies and Batman movies and I wanted to be in them. It wasn’t about being an actor, it was about legitimately being a Jedi or superhero. When I grew up and realized that acting is an actual job, I started looking into it. When I saw Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V movie, it opened up a whole world to me, I watched every Shakespeare film I could find and read every one of his plays. Then I decided to actually study acting and becoming an actual Jedi kind of took a back seat.”

A professional actor for more than ten years, Toufexis has carved a very personal niche. A niche that typically features a whole lot of science-fiction and death. From humble beginnings as Punk #2 in the TV series The Dead Zone, Toufexis has travelled from Supernatural, Smallville, Alphas to SyFy’s acclaimed series The Expanse with a monumental amount of TV and film work in such a small space of time in between. Work that has earned him a place in a wide range of rabid fanbases.

His work has definite themes. Desperate characters. Bleeding-edge worlds to move around in. In terms of genres, Toufexis and science-fiction have become like best friends. But despite the success, this connection has been mostly out of his control. “If I’m honest, it’s not been a direct choice of mine. It’s just been what I’ve been offered. What people don’t realize about working actors is that we’re just contract workers. We put our portfolios out there and whomever bites we’re happy to work for. I happened to work a lot in science fiction. Funny thing is that I’m getting to a point in my career now where I’m able to choose from a few offers and I still find myself gravitating toward sci-fi. It’s just more interesting than cop or lawyer dramas to me. I play a lot of bad guys on TV and bad guys in science fiction are always the more interesting characters. Especially on well written science-fiction like The Expanse.”

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We can talk about Toufexis’ treacherous TV characters all day long but let’s get down to business. He has made his unmistakeable mark in video games. Kobin in the Splinter Cell series, Frederico Auditore in Assassin’s Creed, Cristof Merpe in Dying Light and Henry in I Am Alive have laid the foundation for Toufexis to be one of the most recognizable actors in games today. Even in some extensive work that will never see the light of day.

Despite the starring role of tribal hunter Takkar in Far Cry Primal this year, Toufexis spent two years in performance capture and voice work as the protagonist Jason Brody in Far Cry 3. However before release, Ubisoft scrapped what they had and cast a different actor. A situation that’s not all that uncommon, Toufexis tells me. “So much goes into the making of a game. Far Cry 3 wasn’t the only game I’ve worked on that went through a huge overhaul and re-cast everybody. If you find the original trailers for Rainbow Six: Siege, you’ll hear me all over that trailer. I did performance capture and voice for weeks. Then they decided to completely overhaul the game and start from scratch. Completely overhauling a game and starting fresh happens very often. Probably more than gamers realize. So I didn’t really look at Primal as getting another chance at a Far Cry. Very different game, obviously, being in a completely new language. It probably helped that I’ve worked for Ubisoft before and they knew me, but I still had to audition and go through the normal process. Had a blast on that game though. I still remember a lot of the language.”

This August, Toufexis returns in what has arguably become his most famous and acclaimed role: security guard turned one-man cyber-army Adam Jensen in Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. 2011’s Human Revolution was a critically and commercially successful rebooting of a long-respected cyberpunk saga. Corporate corruption, clandestine violence and barely-tolerated transhumanism once again surround Jensen in the year 2029. Two years after the events Human Revolution and twenty-three years before JC Denton arrives at the Statue Of Liberty, Mankind Divided involves the long-term plans of the Illuminati starting bear fruit and Jensen is now working for Interpol, hunting down augmented terrorist groups.

Toufexis is glad to inhabit Adam Jensen’s augmented skin for a second time. “The years since [Human Revolution] haven’t changed my perception of the character himself. The script to Mankind Divided helped grow him. What changed since the last game is my perception of how Adam Jensen would be perceived. An actor always wants people to respond to a character he or she plays, but I never expected this guy to become the most popular character I’ve played. I knew he was a good character and I really loved the story of the game and his journey in it, but I didn’t know he’d be thrown into the upper echelons of video game protagonists. It was a welcome surprise. A happy one.”

There were four different endings for Human Revolution. Twelve if you counted the Good, Evil & Neutral variations. In the finale, a signal was broadcast worldwide that caused augmented humans to erupt in sudden, widespread violence. Jensen is faced with the decision to share the cause of these events with everyone else on earth regardless of the consequences and quite possibly the shape of humanity’s future. The fate of the planet in his hands. One ending that he can choose involves a complete cover-up. Jensen decides to keep the world in warm ignorant bliss, destroys the Arctic facility from which the signal came and, in a surprising development, kills himself in the process.

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Tragedy and regret are exciting waters to dive into as an actor. But finding some connection with the player can sometimes be a herculean task. Every character is different, every performance new. Toufexis as Adam Jensen delivers the following monologue upon choosing death at the end of Human Revolution. Despite his resignation, he still feels a glimmer of hope in the rest of the planet (depending on whether or not the player had a mostly non-lethal playthrough) and admits to himself that the responsibility of deciding the future of humanity should not fall to someone such as him.

“Do I trust mankind to save itself? That’s what Eliza was asking. The truth is, I don’t know. After everything I’ve seen, all the fighting, and the chaos around me. I only know what I want to believe: somehow, human decency will triumph. These past few months, I faced many life-threatening situations. I could have given up many times, but my need to know the truth, to uncover the secrets that others were hiding, and to survive, forced me to keep on going. Most of the time, I tried to keep my values in mind, knowing my actions did not have to harm others. I held on to my humanity, resisting the urge to abuse power or resources in order to meet my goals. And in the end, I got the job done. But does this mean I have the right to choose for everyone? No. Because it isn’t up to me. It isn’t up to Darrow. Sarif, or Taggart, either. Ordinary men and women will have to decide together what course mankind should take. The kind of people who, time and time again, have picked and chosen the future in highly practical ways – slowing change when it’s negative, speeding it up when it’s good. Can they do it again? I don’t know. But I do know I’m not about to let anyone in this station, including myself, stand in their way.”

So what of Jensen himself? What if you chose for him to die at the end of Human Revolution? Toufexis says not to worry. The most nihilistic players of the Deus Ex franchise will be accommodated. “The script manages to make any choice work. It’s hard to discuss without getting into spoiler territory but suffice it to say the ‘killing yourself’ ending still flows perfectly into where Mankind Divided begins. The state of the world in Mankind Divided is kind of is an amalgamation of all four ending choices. No matter what you chose, the world would have ended up this way, now it’s up to Jensen to finish it. I hope his adventures go on for years. Mostly because I like money but also because I like Jensen. One of the great things about this series is that we’ve all realized the potential for multiple stories over multiple mediums. There are already comics and books. Look for more [because] they’re going to definitely expand the universe. We’re going to beat you over the head with it and you’re gonna love it.”

The catastrophic effects of the signal that is broadcast at the end of Human Revolution are felt in Mankind Divided, creating a highly intolerant environment for augmented humans. With so many of them segregated and vilified, the world of Mankind Divided attempts to reflect the systemic racism that runs through our real world. But with a much more futuristic and totalitarian twist.

The world of Deus Ex has always been about shaping the path of humanity for better or worse. As an actor, Toufexis sounds more than ready to stick around for the future of this series to see which path we humans will choose. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

This article was originally posted on Kotaku Australia on 20 June, 2016.

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