In the mid-season premiere, Sometimes a Great Notion, we learned remarkable truths about Earth, the Cylons and the Final Five. Now that the mutiny of the past three episodes is finally resolved, No Exit and next week’s Deadlock fill in the back story and details of the lives of the Final Five.
To pay tribute to these two Cylon centered episodes, I present an Exclusive Interview with the Actors Behind the Final Five! This week, I spoke with Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Michael Trucco (Sam Anders) and Rekha Sharma (Tory Foster).
Bear McCreary: How did the Cylon reveal change your approach to your character?
Michael Trucco: The Cylon reveal changed almost everything in terms of my approach to the character. I say ‘almost everything’. Sam’s love for Kara is unwavering. That hasn’t changed. There are certain truths in the humanity (or cylonity in this case) of your character that help ground you as the actor portraying that character. For me, when it comes to playing Anders, it is that love and loyalty to Kara that drives his intentions and passions.
On the flip side, his external identity has been compromised and therefore his own internal sense of self has been turned on its head. So I approach the character with more trepidation, peppered with a bit of confusion, add a dash of fear and frustration and “VOILA!” you have the recipe for a Season 4 Sam Anders.
Rekha Sharma: It made me realize there was going to be a lot of discovery for Tory… many existential questions that the average person doesn’t spend any time thinking about.
Aaron Douglas: My acting approach is one that is quite different from other people I have spoken with. I really don’t make conscious choices about things, I just say the words. This time was different, I decided that the revelation to Tyrol that he is a Cylon was like an epiphany to him in terms of looking back on his life it suddenly all made sense. It was his “AH HA!” moment. “That is why all of that has happened, that is why I have been feeling out of place, etc”. I made that choice, the cosmic joke revealed as Bradley and David put it.
Bear: When and how did you first find out? What was your initial reaction? Were you as surprised as the audience when you found out you were a Cylon?
Rekha: I found out because Eddie kept needling me to get a script from the office and read ahead – he was having so much fun with me and got me all excited – little did I know… When I read it I squealed like a little girl – ha ! And then proceeded to tell myself to “chill the f* out – this is an early draft and anything can change…”
Aaron: I was officially informed just before the read-through in December when we were shooting that episode but I had seen a piece of paper that I was not supposed to see in September and I had to keep my mouth shut for months before finally calling Ron and asking him, “What the FRAK?!?!” I initially really disliked the idea as I felt that they were taking a character that the fans really related to and had quite an affection for and were making him into something they would shun and dislike. I also realized that no one would humanize the Cylons more than the Chief so I appreciated the choice from that standpoint. After speaking with Ron for an hour on the phone, having him patiently listen to me and explain his side I was on board and eager to see what was coming in season 4, and I was truly not disappointed.
Bear: Has your character taken turns you ever disagreed with? Have you ever been frustrated or angry with your character?
Rekha: There are things Tory has done that are difficult to reconcile… but they are all understandable. I must have compassion for my characters or I can’t play them.
Aaron: No. I don’t think so. There have been things that I have questioned but Battlestar had the most gracious and open writing staff and producers that would take genuine time to listen to you and your thoughts and help you understand the path that your character was on and why Tyrol was doing what he was written to do. That and 9 times out of 10, if I found a piece of dialogue or action that I didn’t like I would just change it on the day. It is easier to get forgiveness than permission….. ha
Bear: Do you feel sympathetic to the Cylon plight, or do you empathize more with the humans? In the same situation as your character, could you forgive the Cylons and join up with them?
Michael: Do I feel sympathetic to the Cylon plight or more with the humans? Well, I guess I’d have to say the line between the two has been blurred considerably over the past four seasons. Therefore, allegiances and sympathies to any one side aren’t as cut and dry as people would like them to be. I feel that this is what defines this series so emphatically. This isn’t your grandpa’s old western anymore…y’know, good guys vs. bad guys, cowboys and Indians, black hats and white hats. It is this ‘us vs. them’ mentality that has driven the political and social discourse in this country and world throughout that keeps us mired in war and ignorance and hatred. There are ALWAYS two sides to every story, and that’s what this series has done so well to demonstrate over the course of the last four seasons. We all (human OR cylon) have intrinsic beliefs and do what we feel is necessary to defend those beliefs, and only after we try and understand each other’s position can we find some common ground.
Rekha: I feel equally sympathetic to both parties. They were both abused and betrayed by each other… this is no Nazi war where there really is someone to blame. Having said that, forgiving the cylons would be really difficult to do when you have lived under their tyranny and have hated them for years. I think joining up with them has to come from having a vision for the future and an ability to really put the past behind you. Personally, I’m not the best at it – sometime I wish I was more like a dog – they’re really good at being in the moment! hee hee
Aaron: I see both sides. It would be hard to choose. I could not join Cavil but perhaps the others. I could see my way into finding bipartisanship as it were and joining forces with the idea of a better future.
Bear: What has been your favorite scene to play in the series?
Aaron: The scene with Mary at the end of the episode ‘Dirty Hands.’ I will never forget what it felt like to sit quietly with the most beautiful, lovely, talented, gracious, patient, wonderful actress I have ever met. She is an absolute delight. That will be with me all of my days.
Rekha: Can’t pick.
Bear: In terms of your acting process, what was the most difficult scene for you to connect with emotionally?
Rekha: Throwing a mommy out an airlock.
Michael: The most difficult scene for me to connect with emotionally had to have been the one in Season Three when Sam learns of Kara’s “death.” That was just a difficult day in general. There were SO many levels being put into play in that scene standing on the Viper in the hanger bay. The loss, the denial, the guilt, the alcohol, the anger, the hurt (both emotionally and physically). This is not an easy place to go as an actor. And the reality is that I (thank God) have not had to experience a loss on that level in my own life, so it was incredibly difficult and painful to bring myself to those dark places and get into that head space. I didn’t talk to my fiancé for almost two days prior to shooting that scene. I just needed to feel the disconnect and not have the crutch of calling up and saying “hi” and “I love you”. I think she understood and was very supportive. I was glad when that day was over.
Then, weeks later when that episode airs, what was a long and painful scene was chopped down to just a few seconds of screen time and much of the exchange between Sam and Lee was gone. I was devastated. But such is the nature of editing. As Ron Moore explained it to me, there’s only so little time in a one hour episode and so much content to get in. And while they loved the scene between Sam and Lee, there just wasn’t time for all of it and it detracted from the overall story of that episode.
Aaron: All of the beginning of season 2. Unbeknownst to Ron and the writers my wife passed away on the hiatus between season 1 and 2 and for the first 4 episodes of season 2 someone was about to die, was dying or had just died and Tyrol was dealing with that. It was a tough few months.
Bear: What role in your career was the biggest stretch for you?
Rekha: I don’t know… I guess being a cylon is a bit of a stretch. I’m pretty sure I’m human. : )
Aaron: I think there have been many times when a director has had a very specific idea of what he wanted, that combined with the lack of trust or respect that Canadian actors get from most Hollywood directors has led to a stifling of my creativity that I just could not understand and had a very hard time dealing with. So often Canadian actors are looked down upon by people flying up to do a movie or an episode of a television show. That is the real stretch for me. Keeping my mouth shut and trying to figure out just what it is they are asking me to do. So often they have no ability or desire to communicate with actors so they just yell, say nothing or are so dismissive and condescending that you just give up and get out of the way. I think the greatness of Battlestar Galactica started with Ron’s writing, moved to wonderful casting and then to Ron, David and Michael giving the freedom to the actors they had, no matter their nationality, to create. It so rarely happens and it is so often overlooked.
Bear: Have the fans reacted differently to you since you were outed as a Cylon?
Aaron: They all say, “Dude, it totally sucks that you are a Cylon.”
Rekha: Yes – it seems there’s a bit of a love/hate thing going on…
Bear: Tory is a bit of the “bad cylon.” Was this fun to play, or frustrating?
Rekha: FUN : )
Bear: Michael, in No Exit Anders goes in for brain surgery. What was it like to experience the heavy make-up for the bald cap? How long did that take every day?
Michael: Oh yes…..the frakkin’ ‘bald cap’!! Honestly, if I had to do that all over again, I would’ve shaved my head in hindsight. Sure, it was fun and interesting the first couple of times. It really was a fascinating process and that all goes to part of the movie-making-magical-experience that makes this job so fun. But after six, seven, ten….a dozen or more times in the make-up chair for four hours at a time, every morning at dusk to apply the damn thing, then another hour or two back in the chair at night to remove it…man, I was DONE. Our incredible make-up artists, Patricia and Ankara and Haley, my saviors!, made it all tolerable. We had a lot of laughs, mostly at MY expense, but bless their hearts they were working their asses off. They had to be there EVERY morning and do all the heavy lifting. I just sat there getting poked and prodded and glued. My iPod was my friend too.
If I had shaved my head?…15, maybe 30 minutes to apply some wounds and scratches and whatnot and I’d have been a lot less grumpy. But I’d have been bald for real and I wouldn’t have nearly the fond memories and great stories that I do now so it’s all good.
Bear: What’s the most memorable interaction with fans you’ve ever had?
Aaron: I love the fans, I love going to the cons but my favorite thing is doing the Q&A panels and telling them funny stories and listening to them laugh and laugh.
Rekha: I had a conversation with an Indian woman during a convention in New York. She wants to be an actress and I could see the impact my career has had on her. We all need to know that our dreams are possible. We all need someone to “represent”. That kinda stuff keeps me going.
Bear: Indian characters are relatively rare on television, and when they do occur, it is usually because the story specifically requires an Indian character. The sci fi universe of BG does not have such categories. Is it a relief to be released from Ethnic type-casting? Similarly, do you hope this series sets a positive example for other shows with regard to type-casting minorities?
Rekha: YES! It’s a major relief!! I believe, I hope, I pray it sends out a positive example.
Bear: Or you were actually type-cast because you are a Cylon?
Rekha: Naw… I don’t think so.
Bear: Rekha, you and I have frequently spoken about Indian music, since its an influence I draw from regularly. What do you think of the Indian-inspired Watchtower that “switched you on?” Were you surprised when you first heard it?
Rehka: Well, I wasn’t totally surprised because I knew you were cooking something up. But, I was surprised by how much it rocked ! I thought it would be more subtle… and I loved that it was a lot of things – including Indian… I mean, the show starts every night with the gayatri mantra “Om Bhu Bhuva Swaha…” So I think it’s brilliant to carry that theme through to the final five.
Bear: What’s an interesting experience you’ve had hanging out with any other cast members?
Aaron: Every experience is a study in fascinating idiocy. ha. My fondest memories are with Jamie and James either at James’ house or Jamie’s house drinking wine till the wee hours. Sitting down for the most interesting conversation combined with a spread created by Loretta that would rival anything from a King’s court. Tahmoh in Atlanta at Dragoncon. Relaxing by the pool with Tricia and taking care of her cats. Lunch with Katee on Sunset. My sweet extra long hugs from the very lovely Candice. Having Nicki pass me a screw everyday for years on end. Golfing with Rob, Greg, Ryan and the lads. Talking about the 70’s with Mary in NY. London Expo with Eddie. Sushi with Grace. Dragoncon with Hogan and Olmos, so say we all. The memories are many and too full to recount in one answer. It was a life lived in 6 years. It was all remarkable. My favorite times were with my Flamingo.
Rekha: Oh boy – Too many to name… How about the most “soulful” experience? Doing my groceries, scrubbing the floors of my new place in LA, and making dinner every night for days on end with Kate Vernon.
Michael: An interesting experience with another cast member? There have been a lot, but there is one in particular that stands out recently. It was during the summer while shooting up in Vancouver and we had a long weekend, so Michael Hogan invited me out to his house on Bowen Island. Get a break from the usual same-old same-old of the city of Vancouver. So I said ‘sure’ and decided to hang out in the “country” if you will. Now, Bowen Island is Old School, salt-of-the-Earth, tight knit family style, working man’s land, and Hogan is like the proverbial Godfather in this sacred domain. He and his family have been living there for years and he knows everybody, and everybody knows him. But an outsider like me stands out like a palm tree in an evergreen forest. “Who’s this guy?” was the most popular inquiry uttered by everyone we encountered. Which is not to say the people were unfriendly, but rather just protective of their beloved Island and beloved Michael Hogan. After discovering I was a friend and co-worker of Hogan’s they’d have given me the shirts off their backs.
So that night we decide to go and visit his ol’ buddy who lives on a boat down at the Harbor. Not just a ‘boat’, this is actually a handmade replica of a 19th century civil war era sail ship damn near 80 feet long and seemingly as tall to the top of the mast. And this guy knows every square inch of it personally. He’s the real deal. A true sailor right down to the salty grey beard and maritime cap and rubber boots. It was parked in the Harbor all summer and was scheduled to be moved out into the bay the next day. A few (dozen?) beers later and we were recruited to help his friend move the damn thing the next morning. It looked like a floating museum piece and, as I discovered the next morning, moving it out of the harbor was something of a spectator sport. People started to gather round and watch this authentic sailor and his ragtag and hung-over crew of two actors(!) run around the decks with long poles and rope lines making sure we didn’t wipeout the whole dock and a number of rather expensive yachts along the way. Now, Hogan fits right in and spends a good bit of time around seafaring crafts, but city-slicker from Southern California and my ankle-high leather motorcycle boots must have made for more than a few chuckles among the locals. But I’ll be damned if we didn’t get her outta thar’ in one piece and nary a scratch on her or any other vessel. That was good times indeed!
Bear: Aaron, do you actually have a talent for fixing machinery?
Aaron: I could sharpen a pencil if you showed me how.
Bear: You and I are both big Elvis fans. How’d you get into the King?
Aaron: My grandfather Walter “Bud” Douglas. Growing up he would listen to Elvis all the time and my brother and I fell in love with that music. I remember buying Time Life music of the 50’s and 60’s tapes off the TV when I was 13. I remember my friends parents telling me I was born in the wrong era. While everyone else was listening to the Eagles, Billy Joel, Alman Brothers, Meatloaf, KISS, ACDC, Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, etc I was listening to Elvis, The Rat Pack, Tony Bennett, The Byrds, The Four Tops, The Temptations, musical soundtracks, The Five Satins, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Sam Cooke, The Shirelles, The Delphonics, I could go on and on. But for me the greatest showman of all time will always be the King. TCB baby….
Bear: Any general thoughts on your time on Galactica and about the series ending?
Rekha: It was easily the best series I’ve ever worked on. The best role. The best people. The best story. The best. All good things must come to an end. The great thing is – the memories I have and the friendships I’ve made will last forever.
Aaron: The end of Battlestar Galactica, for me, is more than just the ending of a television program that will not only stand the test of time but, I feel will be looked back upon as a show that fundamentally changed the genre itself. It truly is lightning in a bottle. But is also a profound chapter in the book of my life. Although the filming is complete and those pages have been filled and turned this chapter will never truly be complete. It will have addendum’s, footnotes, pictures and more historical events written into it for the rest of my life. There are so many things that happened to me personally during this time that is really is the most poignant 6 years of my life. The story of the Galactica will soon be over, it will have run its course through the magic of television but the impact will never be forgotten, never fully be realized or described. It was a profound time for me, my cast mates and many fans. I am so very proud to have been a small part of something so wonderful, so transformational, so important and beautiful. My eternal gratitude will lie at the feet of Ron and David.
I’d like to extend an extra-special thanks to Rekha, Michael and Aaron for taking the time do these interviews. It means a lot to me and I know it does to all my readers out there too. Tune in next week for my interview with Mr. And Mrs. Tigh: Michael Hogan and Kate Vernon.
So Say We All!
PS: I’m certain some of you will miss my in-depth musical analysis for these entries. The reality is that the unusual amount of fast-paced and essential dialog in these two shows left little room for big musical statements. But, here are two soundtrack tidbits anyway…
1. Prologue: I had an exciting opportunity to re-arrange Richard Gibbs’ Opening Prologue music and adapt it for this episode. In the beginning, it sounds essentially the same, but as the piece goes on, it evolves and gets bigger, incorporating the instruments I’ve introduced to the series over the years. It’s still recognizably Gibbs’ haunting “Number Six Theme,” but with a little Season 4 twist added.
2. Ellen’s Theme: If I’d known Ellen was a Cylon back in Season 1, I would’ve written a theme for her back then. But, I didn’t. 🙂 Now her character has retuned, and I felt a brand new theme at this late point in the series would not resonate with audiences. So, I hijacked Tigh’s Theme, in particular the modal variation of it that first appeared in Escape Velocity to underscore his visions of her in the brig. I already used this version of his theme when he remembered Ellen was a Cylon at the end of Sometimes a Great Notion, so it made perfect sense to use it as Ellen’s theme as well. I also carefully selected a few moments to quote the duduk melody from “Gentle Execution,” the cue underscoring Tigh poisoning her in Season 3’s Exodus, Part II. And there’s even a quick quote of the Resurrection Hub theme from The Hub in this episode, in a fairly obvious place.
See you next week.