Exploring Far Cry 4's Sadistic, Complicated Villain Pagan Min

We talk with actor Troy Baker about his recently finished role as the psychopathic antagonist in the fourth entry in the main Far Cry series.

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Pagan Min, the well-dressed, disturbing antagonist in Far Cry 4 is also voiced by one of the most prolific voice actors in gaming today. With recent, high-profile roles as Joel in the The Last of Us, the Joker in the Batman Arkham Origins, and Batman in Lego Batman 3, we talked with Troy Baker about what it takes to play a very different sort of character: the sadistic dictator Pagan Min.

Troy Baker
Troy Baker

In case you don't know much about Min, Ubisoft provided a quick summary of the "self-appointed King of Kyrat": Pagan Min was born in Hong Kong, the son of a mid-level drug boss in the Golden Triangle. His father was a small fish in a big pond and even as a young man, Pagan was as ambitious as he was flamboyant. This peacocking drove a wedge between them. Pagan worked for his father, hated him, and was frustrated as a lieutenant, seeing his father as a dinosaur. Nobody knows how his father died, but it wasn’t natural causes.

After his father’s unfortunate passing Pagan inherited his small piece of the pie. He then left his old identity behind and adopted the moniker 'Pagan,' naming himself after an old Burmese king who murdered his family to take control. Of course, he changed the pronunciation to be western so that he’d be more unique. Pagan quickly started carving himself more of the pie he believed that he deserved. He built considerable assets, a small private army, and started angering his allies in the heroin trade. He didn’t fit in and he knew he couldn’t kill them all; it was only a matter of time before the old guard decided to have him killed.

GameSpot: How do you prepare for a role like Pagan Min?

Troy Baker: Looking back to the how we started, I'd say you really can't prepare. You can rely on some of the tools you've picked up along the way as an actor, but this is really one of those situations where, because we're four games into the franchise, five if you include Blood Dragon, we've got an opportunity to build off the successes of those previous games.

So, there were several conversations that we had in the very beginning going, "Ok, let's look at some of the successes and what we've done character-wise that have really resonated with that culture. What can we do differently that still incorporates those principles but makes it feel like its fresh?" What we didn't want to do is just create another mustache-twirling systemic obstacle in the path of the player character. We really wanted to find another character that was compelling, that could really draw you in.

Everybody has their go-to that they try to draw parallels to, in either film or TV or books or previous games or whatever. And what I feel like the end result of those conversations is that we really found a new character. So much had already been laid out before it even came to me. But it was a fun moment when I first sat down and met with the team because they had some preliminary dialogue.

It wasn't in canon, it wasn't necessarily a scene from the game, it was just an overall idea. They said, "Feel free to do what you want with this, but this is just the idea. This is the theme, setting, and tone we want to see if we can get." So, I looked it over and they said, "Just one more thing. We don't want the Joker."

And that's just such a specific form of direction, but that shows the commitment from the team to create something new, they're not just trying to create their own version of somebody else's idea.

Anyway, we went through this scene, and you know how Far Cry is, it's pretty visceral game. So the subject matter is also very visceral. I feel so bad for her now, but halfway through this scene, someone from the studio came into refresh the coffee and the water and stuff. And when she opened the door, I just looked up and said, [affects the voice of Pagan Min]. "Who's that person? Who's walking in here? What do you want?"

She just stopped and looked, and nobody broke, so I continued, "No come closer, don't just walk away." And we brought her into the scene, and I realized that this is how we're going to do this. We're gonna have fun with this, and we're gonna take some things that could instantly be looked at as a distraction, and we're going to build upon those. So the way that we prepared: it just happened as we were doing it, not so much trying to get in our heads around who Min is beforehand. We were constantly questioning different ways to do this character and how we can do it better than what we've done in the past.

It sounds like you had a lot of freedom to create your own character.

There's an interesting study that a farmer did when talking about security and freedom. He said that if you have a herd and you take away the fence, they would actually come closer together because they don't feel protected. But if you put up a fence, the herd will scatter to all four corners of the land because they understand that there are parameters, and they feel free to explore.

And so there's a real partnership that we had between myself and the team and the other actors on the team. They said, "Guys, here are your parameters. These are great borders to have, and we're going to keep you safe and keep you protected and give you all the information that you need. But for God's sake, explore this. Explore this story. Explore these characters. Get dirty with these things." They really wanted us to be as invested as they were in the project, and I think it's going to show when people play the game.

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Pagan might not be the Joker, but he definitely seems like a psychopath. Is there something specific that draws you to these types of characters?

Not only as a gamer but also as an actor, I'm really excited seeing what's happening inside the game space right now. Before, people always said we need to be more cinematic. I think that can be the original spinner that you put on the bait to attract the fish, but what's happening now is not so much that we're just throwing lines in the water. We have an understanding of what fishing really means, and how to do it strategically. We can say, "Don't fish there, fish here. Use this kind of bait. Use this kind of rod."

What we're doing is asking: Why do we want to have this story? What does this need to be a cinematic and not just be gameplay? All of these things and all of these changes that we're seeing happen within the game space are coming on the backs of those kind of questions. And so, as an actor, I'm drawn not only to stories and characters, but I'm drawn to teams that are asking those kind of questions and trying to create those kind of experiences. At the end of the day, we're asking people to spend $60, and for a lot of people that's a stretch. Especially when you think in this market that maybe they'll wait a month or two weeks and get it for ten bucks when they buy it used. What can we do to make this a day one purchase for people, where they're lining up outside to get it?

We've strategically shown you things in the game, and so far it's tracking very well. People are saying, "I want to play this day one. There's a character that I love about this." There's a world, there are moments where people think, "Holy crap, I can't believe they're doing that gameplay-wise." I'm drawn to that as a gamer, first of all. If something gets me jazzed as a gamer, then the actor isn't far behind.

But this is a very different role for me. When you play someone as iconic as the Joker, the big temptation is to rest on your laurels. Because he's the Joker, and that's a really small club. More people have walked on the moon. It's an honor, but you still think about other roles and you wonder, "Could I do that as well?"

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My best friend, Travis Willingham, has a phrase; he says, "We have to do what makes us tremble." And this was one of those roles that made me tremble and made me wonder if I could pull it off. Can I find a character that's got great shoes to fill, really stylish shoes as we saw in the trailer, and can I really get into this and stretch myself and not just do the Joker, but can I do something that's a really compelling [short pause] villain. I had to struggle for the right word for it.

But I believe there are things we've shown you strategically and you don't know the full story. That's all I'm going to say. There's so much more to this story than is on the surface.

You hesitate to call him a villain; is he one of those characters who is purely evil, or does he try to justify those evil things? Perhaps in his mind he's a good person who's forced to perform necessary evils for what he perceives as the greater good.

You know what, I'm curious to see your answer to that question after you play the game. I'm not tilting my hand at all, but is A.J. [the games' protagonist] a hero? Is he a villain?

In games, you get to decide. And I'm not just talking about divergent and emergent gameplay, or what the game allows you to do systemically. I'm talking about when you have an open world experience like this, there's a story that's being told and a world that's being created and a path that's set before you. You get to choose the speed at which you play, the style at which you play, what missions you go on and when. You don't get that in TV and film, and you certainly don't get a 12 to 14-hour experience. A movie is an hour and a half or two hours, and you're watching the entire time. A game is something that you have agency in, and it's this partnership that the game has with you and that you have with the game.

In my approach, and sometimes this frustrates the shit out of devs, I'll say, "Wait a minute. This is the point in the game where, me as a gamer, I'd throw the controller down and I'd want to rage quit, because I wouldn't do that." And fortunately, I got to work with such a great team that they'd listen and ask, "Why?" They'd help me to understand either why we'd have to do this, or they'd say, "That's a really good point," and they'd take it back to the developers. Those are the kind of partnerships that we have because this is all a partnership.

We want to create an experience for the gamer that they feel like they have agency in. That they feel like they're compelled to continue to play for 10 or 14 hours and go into multiplayer and play for hundreds of hours. That's something that's carefully, strategically crafted. So I'm really curious to see your answer to that at the end of this.

Are there any special sensitivities that you have to bring into a role as a white guy playing a mixed race character?

What I think you do is play something honestly and you learn something about the character. The temptation is to focus so much on what we're seeing on the surface. Not just racially or aesthetically, but you can extrapolate whatever you want out of that. Because there was so much trust put into the team, and there was so much commitment to playing the story and playing these characters honestly, race wasn't the focus. So it was never really a focus for me either. It was understanding who this guy is beyond all of the surface stuff, beyond being a mixed race and what looks like. It was all about: I'm going to play this character, and we'll let the pictures do their work.

And that's really the approach that we had the entire time: do this with honesty. I'm not even going to say people will be forgiving, it's that people will understand. People will just believe that that's the character. And I think sometimes we can disrespect certain characters or certain people by trying to pander to a certain thing to make sure that we don't offend. And we actually end up offending by trying not to offend. So what we did here is, we did everything with honesty. We did everything with a commitment to respecting the story, respecting the character, and respecting the people who are going to be playing these games.

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Was there any particularly memorable scene that stood out for you, or at least one that you're able to talk about?

It's going to sound glib and cliche, but every damn one. There was not one wasted scene. If you go to those black bars in the cut-scene, it better not be viewed as an interruption. It better have a strategic purpose.

There are so many devs that have this mentality that they're fighting the "press A to skip" process. Like, if you go back to the old Nintendo games, after so many times you're just going to spam the A button to try to skip through the dialogue scenes. You're just trying to get back to the action, and there are some gamers who still have that mentality.

But all of the cut-scenes that we did, I really feel that there's not a wasted one. When there was one that wasn't necessarily as purposeful as it needed to be, it probably got cut. Or it got retooled so that you wouldn't feel like putting down the controller and getting something to drink or whatever. It got retooled to where you feel that it's part of the experience. You didn't want to press A to skip.

The trailer was obviously one of the first things that we shot. And normally we operate in this vacuum, where we don't see the finished product for a long time. We're just the idiots in the stupid suits with the shiny disco balls and the cameras in our face and we're moving around like crazy people. And then a year and a half or two years later we get to see the finished product and go, "Oh, that's what it looked like!"

But with the trailer, so much was said about the tone of the game in those last few seconds; Pagan is getting up onto the helicopter and he says, "We're going to tear shit up." And you get to hear that song kick in and you realize this is the game that we're making. Fortunately I go to see that before we finished filming completely, so I got to take that tone into the studio as well. There's so much that that trailer taught me that helped inform the rest of the scenes we did.

Of course, though, I've got my favorites. I wish that I could even tell you one thing about it to where when you play the game you go, "Oh yeah, that was his favorite scene." But I think, and honestly once you get there you'll know exactly what scene I'm talking about, but it's a delicious scene. I'll just say that.

Last question, as someone who's played Batman and the Joker, and who's taken leading roles in Shadow of Mordor and now Far Cry, what do you want to do next?

It's funny because you're constantly asking yourself that. I think everyone's that's trying to create something is asking, "What do I want to do next?" I get asked that question a lot, and I've tried to sit and pen some kind of great response that I'm going to say every time. But there just isn't one. Honestly, if I can continue to work, number one, that's a win. Number two, if I can continue to find characters like Pagan Min, that are challenging for me, that are compelling for people to watch, that pull people into the experience, and I get to be a part of that, those are the kind of experiences that I really want to seek out.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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