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Even if you’ve just barely scratched the surface of Starfield, Bethesda’s massive new spacefaring RPG, you’ve probably met companion Sam Coe. The single dad who always wears a cowboy hat is available to join your crew early on along with his daughter, Cora, who tags along on your ship. And because he’s bisexual, he’s romanceable for any player character, no matter their chosen gender. With his gruff but tender cowboy vibes and easy-on-the-eyes visage, Sam Coe has quickly become a favorite character for Starfield players around the globe, and the great performance by his voice actor, the distinctive Elias Toufexis, plays a huge part in his popularity.
Toufexis is no stranger to voicing iconic characters–his work as Adam Jensen in the Deus Ex games is so memorable, he reportedly struggled to get other voice over roles because of it. But Toufexis, who is currently also playing alien villain L’ak on Star Trek: Discovery (though he can’t talk about that due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike), landed a stellar role with Sam Coe, whose voice is now the center of the universe for 6 million Starfield players. And thanks to his hilarious internet presence, we can’t stop talking about Sam Coe and his dang cowboy hat.
Starfield voice actor on Sam Coe
Toufexis had a ton of creative input when it came to creating Sam Coe, more so than with roles in games the actor has worked on previously. “I dove a little bit deeper into Starfield than most other projects I do because I was invested heavily as an actor and voice director and in other creative roles right when I came on about five years ago,” Toufexis told Kotaku over email. “I learned a lot more about the story and overall gameplay and I met a lot more of the team behind the game than I would have just coming on as an actor.”
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And though Sam Coe always wears a cowboy hat (“He sleeps with his hat on. That’s weird,” Toufexis joked.) Kotaku can confirm that Toufexis did not wear one in the booth.
Another notable aspect of Sam Coe’s character is his sexuality–he’s bisexual, and Toufexis did not hesitate to make it infinitely clear that he played the character with that in mind, even in the face of backlash from conservative gamers. Toufexis even quote-tweeted a negative reaction to Sam’s sexuality, writing “actually, I played Sam as bisexual” in response to their overblown disgust. Because players can romance any of the four romanceable characters no matter their chosen gender, Toufexis said that he “had no choice really to at least play [Sam] with an openness when it came to his sexuality.” But he “decided early on that it was better to play Sam as having a bisexual past instead of justifying being romanced as a surprise in the moment. Kind of like Ooh yeah, I’m cool being romanced by another man because I’ve done this before.’ It just made more sense to me to play it that way.”
And because Toufexis was more involved in the overall creative process than in other games he’s worked on (he’s also provided voices for Saints Row, Gotham Knights, Horizon Forbidden West, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and countless other games) he “had a ton of context and conversations with all creatives on board” about Sam’s background and his personality. “I adored Sam from the beginning. He and I are very similar so it was a lot easier to play him. I was just myself, with my voice, no accents or affectations. A lot of fun,” he said.
Toufexis’ voice is an iconic one–slightly husky, somewhat deep, and soothing, like a voice you’d want to read your bedtime stories (Cora’s a lucky kid). I asked Toufexis how he felt about AI being used to replicate the voices of iconic VO actors, a phenomenon that has recently become a major talking point in the industry–and one that may result in the inclusion of voice actors into the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes.
“I honestly feel that AI cannot replace real actors in the long run. But it can take away a whole slew of jobs that normally go to actors. Big roles like Sam are probably safe.” — voice actor Elias Toufexis
“If I find someone is using my voice for profit or promotion without my permission, I will ask them to stop. If they do, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for them. I will not pursue them. But if they don’t, I will look for them, I will find them, and I will… well let’s just say we have to protect actors from replacement. It’s a dangerous slope. If my voice can be replaced, that is almost literally leading to taking food out of my kid’s mouths. This is a huge part of my livelihood,” Toufexis said, before continuing.
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“I honestly feel that AI cannot replace real actors in the long run. But it can take away a whole slew of jobs that normally go to actors. Big roles like Sam are probably safe. AI is just a tool that steals from other people’s work and tries to create reality. But it’s not reality and I believe people will know the difference and want the real thing. But it may take some time. I look at it like NFTs or 3D TVs. There will be a little while where people fool around with the new tech, but eventually they’ll realize how fake it is.”
If the ongoing push for AI use in video games continues, Toufexis knows that it could result in the strike extending to his voice-over work, not just his current on-camera role. “If AI protections like replacement aren’t being regulated vehemently by the gaming studios, there’s a good chance it will get folded into the film and TV strike. Then I’ll be in even more of a panic as the months go by,” he joked.
But for now, he can at least find solace in how beloved Starfield’s Sam Coe is for the millions of people traveling the stars with him. I asked how he felt about the reactions to Sam and his daughter, which he said are “ninety percent positive.” “I’m very happy with how both Sam and Cora have been received,” he said. “Of course, there’s the other side. Not everyone is going to love what I do. Not everyone loves the game.”
Some of the backlash Toufexis has received isn’t just rooted in Sam Coe’s bisexuality, however, but is clearly part of the ongoing console wars between Xbox and PlayStation fans. “I personally don’t understand how someone attaches their personality to a certain gaming system or against a certain game so vehemently that they spend time on social media attacking people,” he said. Neither can we.