Interview: Elias Toufexis (2012)
“People should give voice actors more credit.”
Known the world over by gamers for his voice acting work as Adam Jensen in the hit game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Elias Toufexis has a bit of a cult following. In fact, when viewing any of his non-video game commercials on YouTube it isn’t surprising to find the comments section full of Adam Jensen quotes. Listening to him speak normally, Toufexis has the kind of smoky voice that is easily recognizable in a crowd, and which resonates with every listener’s inner anti-hero. But, as a trained actor who’s been making a living at it for seven years, appearing in television shows like Smallville, Supernatural, and Alphas, Toufexis is obviously more than just his signature voice. Recently, he flew down to Los Angeles from his home in Canada and spoke with Working Author to discuss his career in the sound booth and in front of the camera, as well as share his thoughts on what it’s like to be a working actor.
“I’ve always wanted to work on cartoons,” Toufexis says, regarding how he got his start in voice acting. “I’m a big fan of those DC cartoons…the Batman cartoon and the Justice League one ever since I was younger. So I wanted to do those.” But, according to Toufexis, new actors take what they can get. “What was available was video games. Because of Montreal, there was a ton of video games.”
So while he was doing some commercials, it was with video games that progress was made in his career. His work in that medium, however, started to morph from voice acting to performance capture. “I just finished work on Splinter Cell Blacklist,” Toufexis says. “And that game I worked on for almost two years, and only last week did I do any voice work.” He describes the performance capture as using the same techniques that major motion pictures, like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings, use, which captures more than motion; they capture an actor’s complete performance, including facial expressions. “When you see Splinter Cell it’s actually me as the character…so it’s really cool.”
As a film and television actor, Toufexis says there’s really no difference in how he brings his characters to life. “None,” he says plainly. “You have tricks of the trade that you do in the booth or on set…but those are tricks. In terms of approaching the character you do it exactly the same way every time. It’s a little different with Deus Ex, because not only do I have to record what I think the character is, but I have to record what everybody else chooses for the character.” So if a player decides to play Adam as merciless and cold-blooded or friendly and supportive, Toufexis has to deliver the lines believably. “There are things you can do in the game that I don’t think the character of Adam Jensen would actually do, but in the end it’s not up to me; it’s up to the person playing the game.”
As a voice actor, there are other technical challenges Toufexis has to manage. For instance, while the creative team, like the writer and audio director, are usually with him to provide context while recording, sometimes details are overlooked, which he doesn’t discover until he plays the game. “Yes, that definitely happens. You watch it and you go, ‘Oh, he’s running here. They didn’t tell me he was running.’ But you know what? They’re usually really good at that.” Toufexis explains how he had recorded the audio for the Deus Ex DLC in its entirety, but was called back three months later to re-record, because the creative team realized the character needed to sound more beat-up. “But, of course, every now and then there’s always – even in film and television – I’ll watch something and [think], ‘I didn’t know that creature was that big.’ And it gets me mad,” he laughs.
In addition to proper context, good dialogue is highly desired by voice actors. “From a technical standpoint…as an actor…in a sound booth, you really want people to avoid…alliteration with consonants.” He demonstrates the difficulty of that combination with a series of words that begin with the letter P. “In terms of character dialogue…it’s the same on film or TV or a sound booth; you just want something that comes off as real and not cheesy. Especially in video games, they have a tendency to lean towards cliché and cheesy dialogue.” In fact, Toufexis can tell how good a show is going to be based on how fast he can memorize the lines. “Good writing sticks with you, as an actor.”
Regrettably, despite doing the same job of bringing a character to life as film and television actors do, many voice actors don’t get the same kind of recognition. “It’s a different world, man,” Toufexis says with just a hint of frustration in his voice. “It’s really a shame, because – one thing that bugs me a little bit is that a lot of these new movies…they tend to cast big-name actors just to cast them. Not to say they don’t do good [work]…. But it will always bother me because…guys like Maurice LeMarche or any of the friggin’ Simpsons guys…Hank Azaria, guys like them, they’re amazing actors and they’ve done a million roles and a million things, but they will never be known.” He explains that people in the entertainment business know who these people are and what parts they play, but if they were walking down the street, the average person wouldn’t recognize them. “People should give voice actors more credit.”
As such, Toufexis doesn’t believe he’ll be cast to play Adam Jensen in the upcoming film adaptation of Deus Ex, citing Tom Hardy recently being cast as Sam Fisher for the film adaptation of Splinter Cell, so the studios will probably go with a much bigger name. “But,” Toufexis stresses, “I'll be involved in the movie in some way for sure.”
In many ways, Elias Toufexis represents every working actor trying to carve out a career. Having graduated from theatre school, out of a class of roughly forty students, he’s the only one who’s able to make a living by acting. Toufexis is a perfect example of how difficult a career path acting is and what little job security it offers. “I mean, I’m always gonna get work,” he clarifies, “because that’s how actors do it; we’re all contract players. There’s always gonna be some opportunity for me, but for all intents and purposes, I don’t have a job. So that aspect of [acting] is terrifying…. Here’s another way to look at it, I’m a working actor – I’ve done nothing but acting, and out of 15 auditions I probably book 1. So that’s 14 times somebody tells you ‘no’, and that’s 14 times you’re wondering, ‘Is it because I’m no good? Because I’m ugly? Is it because people just don’t like me?’ These are the things that go through your head…. It’s 90% rejection, 10% elation. That 10% is great, and if you can live off that 10% it’s fantastic, but not everybody can.”
Yet, despite the rigors that come with the territory, like constantly having to look for more work and networking with people who can provide new opportunities, Toufexis has managed to stay in the business and keep doing what he enjoys. And after seven years, he can’t exactly pick a different profession he would be in if he didn’t act. “Probably a cop or a soldier – something like that. Something with justice.”
Make sure to check out Elias Toufexis in his upcoming projects. He’ll be in the film Imaginaerum, voicing a CGI snowman; a French film Louis Cyr about a giant strongman; a TV show Zero Hour with Anthony Edwards; and video game fans will be delighted to find him in Splinter Cell Blacklist. His exact character is still top secret, but it’s a good bet gamers will know him when they hear him. On a side note, Toufexis encourages fans of Alphas to write Syfy and demand that they bring the show back for another season.
There’s always a special kind of joy in speaking with upcoming actors because they’re typically still humble and genuine. Elias Toufexis is no exception. “I never set out to be a mega-popular movie star,” he confesses. “When I wanted to be an actor, what I always said is, ‘I want people in the business to know who I am.’” He highlights the reputation of David Strathairn, a costar he admires, as a career goal. “I just want to be respected enough in the industry that people want to work with me.”
Follow Elias Toufexis on his site www.eliastoufexis.com.