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I’ll Always Remember James McCaffrey Best As Control’s Director Trench

His performance in Control is one of my favorites of any game, ever.

3:38 PM EST on December 18, 2023

a picture of zachariah trench from control looking straight at the camera
Remedy Entertainment

Today TMZ reported that actor James McCaffrey passed away at 65 after a battle with cancer. It’s likely you know him as the voice of Max Payne in Remedy Entertainment’s hard boiled shooter games. But I will always remember him as Director Zachariah Trench from a later Remedy game, Control.

Control begins with Zachariah Trench’s death, but that doesn’t mean the character is absent or silent throughout the game. His voice and image haunt you after main character Jesse Faden is named the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. One of the things that makes Jesse’s journey so interesting is how she learns about Trench’s failures — often, she’s learning the history of the Bureau straight from Trench’s disembodied voice.

Although Trench is little more than a ghost throughout the game’s story, his failures weigh heavy on Jesse’s shoulders. It’s a testament to McCaffrey’s ability as an actor that he is able to convey a complex set of emotions just through missives from a distant apparition. From time to time, Jesse gets calls from a “hotline” that is more or less a way to receive messages from the astral plane. It’s here where Trench gives her his bitter, hard-won advice.

Zachariah Trench is a character who marks the passage of time through his own personal tragedy, which is somewhat of a theme for Remedy Entertainment characters voiced by McCaffrey. He ends up becoming the Director of the FBC mostly because no one else can, and sees himself as the kind of leader who makes the hard decisions that no one else can. His lack of trust and paranoia are his undoing, in the end, and Jesse is there to make sense of what he left behind.

McCaffrey’s voice in this game sounds like old coffee, your last cigarette, creaking knees as you think “I’m too old for this shit.” He sounds world-weary, but also proud of the trials that made him weary. He sounds like he wouldn’t have made other choices, had no way of living another life. But especially in the scene where Trench talks about how working in the FBC killed his daughter and ruined his marriage, there’s a barely suppressed river of misery that runs underneath everything he says.

“We weren't careful enough back then. Something came home with me,” he says, his voice almost a whisper. There’s something about the way he says these two sentences that has stuck with me since the first time I’ve heard it — he almost sounds sarcastic, like he considers this moment of tragedy to be a joke the universe has played on him. The next line he chokes out is, “I took work home.”

Trench goes on to explain how his child died and why his wife left him, but you almost don’t need to hear it. The way he talks tells you everything.

In many ways I don’t think Control works without McCaffrey’s performance. His Trench gives the whole game an emotional depth that anchors it to reality, especially as the game becomes increasingly surreal. I was always happy to hear him in a game, and I’m sad I won’t again.

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