Interview: Elias Toufexis On Making Star Trek History Playing L’ak And Nerding Out In ‘Discovery’

The seventh episode (“Erigah“) of season 5 of Star Trek: Discovery was a big episode for guest star Elias Toufexis who plays L’ak. Season 5 is actually his second time on Discovery after playing a Federation prisoner in season 1. Toufexis is also a huge fan of Star Trek and TrekMovie had a spoilery (and nerdy) chat with the actor about the latest episode and how excited he was to make Trek history with the return of the Breen.

I know you are a genuine fan so was it difficult to focus on the work and not like just geek out over everything all the time?

They happen simultaneously. I focus on the work the second the camera rolls. No matter what the character is, I’m doing my job. But as soon as they say “cut” to relight or whatever, I’m walking around the set, I’m picking up props, I’m looking at stuff, I’m literally climbing in the Jefferies Tube on the Enterprise. When I really stepped back just as a fan, I was freaking out, every day. I would look around and go, “I have my own phaser, I have my own ship, this is crazy!” And then I would get back to work. Once the camera is rolling it’s what does my character want to do, am I doing all my lines… all that actor cliché crap.

You did have a unique phaser, what is it? Is it Breen?

No, the Breen guns were different. When I shoot it in the first episode, it just traps them in bubbles… there’s no particular backstory other than what I ascribe to it. I’m just like, “I have the most badass gun,” because it looks really cool.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham Elias Toufexis as L’ak in “Mirrors” (John Medland/Paramount+)

I know this was your second time on Discovery. When the casting director brought you back, did you know right away you were playing a Breen?

So they offered me the role and the next day they had me go down and get the plaster mold of my head [for the prosthetics]. And I said I still don’t know what I’m playing, and they said, “Oh, we have some concept art.” And the concept art turned out to be a little different than what it ended up being, but I asked, “What is he?” and they said, “He’s a Breen.” And honest to god, my first reaction was “Breen! Wait, they never take their helmets off.” And then I worked it out in my head, I’m going to be the first Breen that takes his helmet off. I’m going to make Star Trek history! And that really got me excited. Now not only am I a character on the show and not only a big bad antagonist, but now I’m making history.

The episode “Mirrors” explored the whole two Breens thing. How did that factor into your performance in the season?

It’s a good question. For me, there were three actually three Breens. There is the unformed. I always think under their helmets, they’re just jelly, completely malleable. So with the helmets on is one form. And if they release their helmets they suck it up a little bit to make this kind of humanoid thing to present themselves, but still gelatinous. And then there is the third form, the forbidden form, which takes focus. It’s an abomination form. I always played it like L’ak is doing it because he doesn’t want to be Breen. He especially doesn’t want to be a prince. He doesn’t want to be forced into this life. He sees it as a life of servitude. Even if he’s a prince and rich, or whatever the Breen do with that, to him it’s just a prison. The helmet is a prison. The gelatinous form is not really him. He even says that. He says, “It’s not me.” I see myself as separate from them. So I take this form even though they look at it as an abomination. He’s also doing it as a kind of “screw you.”

So in “Erigah” you spent the whole episode in a bed. Death scenes are hard enough but you are doing action and emotion and you never get out of bed. Can you talk about how you dealt with that challenge?

[Laughs] That week was rough. It was rough for two reasons. One, even if I wasn’t being shot and they’re shooting stuff around that bed, I still had to do the six hours of makeup. So I’m still doing six hours before I start my twelve hours of lying there. It was uncomfortable. But doing the stuff in the bed, it was okay for the most part. I found it difficult because the prosthetic would bend in these weird ways sometimes. So technically I was trying to find how can I get my head right so it doesn’t have this big extra chin. Then when we did the actual death scene, it was a bit of an emotional challenge because you have to get through that makeup and you have to get through the contact lenses as an actor. You want the audience to empathize with you and it’s tricky. It was hard in episode five with the love stuff to make sure that got through and it did, thankfully. And it was the same when I was dying, but I can’t say enough about Eve [Harlow] and the way she would play the scenes would help me tremendously. When you watch that scene, it’s her that’s bringing all the emotion to it, I just look sleepy. She’s what makes it work.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham, Wilson Cruz as Culber, Elias Toufexis as L’ak and Eve Harlow as Moll “Erigah” (Marni Grossman /Paramount+)

So much of this episode only works due to the chemistry established with Moll and L’ak. How did you and Eve develop that chemistry?

The chemistry was natural. Eve and I became good, good friends. We became friends pretty quickly. I’m about 10 years older than her so off-camera, I kind of felt like a big brother. And on camera, it was very easy to fall in love with her because she plays it so great, and she’s so pretty. It was very easy for me because she’s such a good actor. So the connection, it had a lot to do with Eve. I would always kind of defer to her performance first. And then her performance reflects onto me trying to get through the makeup. So yeah, I definitely feel that we had that chemistry. And we talked about it a lot. And we ran scenes together a lot. Yeah, we tried to make sure that that love came through. That was our big thing. Make the love come through and make people empathize. And if we did that, then we did our job.

This is a nerdy question, but when L’ak dies, why didn’t he revert back to that gelatinous state?

Yeah, I asked that question. I was like, “When he dies wouldn’t he just fall into it, because the other form takes focus?”  I think it’s just one of those Star Trek things, like “Why didn’t?…” and you just kind of let it go. You explain it away in fan fiction, or whatever. Like, once he took that form, when he died that form stuck… It solidified.

Eve Harlow as Moll and Elias Toufexis as L’ak in “Face The Strange” (Paramount+)

Moll’s last line is “This isn’t how our story ends.” So, is this how your story ends?

You think I’m going to answer that question? [laughs]

This was your second time on Trek, is your agent pitching you for a third? You can do makeup, no makeup…

[Laughs] There’s so many possibilities. I’m never going to say no to Star Trek if something comes around, but I’m pretty much on the bottom of the list now. There’s a lot of other actors they are going to want to use before they come back to me.

Well, there is also the tradition of when they just get to like working with and actor, like Jeffrey Combs, Vaughn Armstrong…

That’s true… Like the actor who played Sarek [Mark Lenard], he was a Romulan, a Klingon, and a Vulcan. So yeah, it’s possible. But the way the business works now is a lot different.

Elias Toufexis

Elias nerding out on Twitter

If you haven’t already, Elias has been sharing what a great time he had as a fan shooting the fifth season of Discovery on his Twitter/X account @EliasToufexis. For example, he recently showed off an early makeup test…

He also shares behind-the-scenes shot, including this one with a bonus image of him playing Star Trek as a teen…

The fifth and final season of Discovery debuted with two episodes on Thursday, April 4 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Discovery also premiered on April 4 on Paramount+ in Canada and will be broadcast on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The rest of the 10-episode final season is available to stream weekly on Thursdays. Season 5 debuted on SkyShowtime in select European countries on April 5.


Note: The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

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love him.

I would have been happy if there had actually BEEN chemistry between L’ak and Moll. Sadly, there was very little. These were not well-written characters, and the actors didn’t gel onscreen.

I disagree just about as strongly as is possible. I felt like their on-screen connection was visible. The way these characters are written almost make me want them to win. To each their own, I suppose.

I disagree. I definitely saw their chemistry and connection. And, as Scott mentions, the way they were written, I cared about their plight.

I’m glad he had fun. His character wasn’t horrible.

It never gets old seeing huge Star Trek fans getting to live their childhood dreams. Whoopi Goldberg, Mae Jamison, Jason Alexander, Kelsey Grammer et al and now Stacey Abrams, Robert Kazinsky, Tawny Newsome, and Elias Toufexis. Makes me smile.

Moll, L’ak and the Breen are saving this season of DSC. we have something new to focus on beside Michael and Book staring at each other crying but trying not to cry….so many emotions! lol

I asked for this.