This podcast at Galactica Quorum was the first James interview I heard. Like I said in my first post, I was a bit wary to get to "know" James, because he has such an off-puttingly arrogant air as Baltar. However, listening to this interview, that image very quickly melted as James sounded very warm, funny and approachable. He definitely made a positive first impression - one that has lasted while watching/reading other interviews. This podcast is, however, still one of my favorite, if not my very favorite, James interview. There's a genuine sense of respect between James and the hosts. The questions are in-depth and the hosts really know and appreciate the show, which is clearly something James appreciates. He sounds very enthusiastic talking about the show, and the atmosphere is warm. My favorite thing about this interview is that they really let James talk, instead of trying to impress him with their own theories or witty remarks. It's a conversation, but James gets to be the star.
I was going to post about my favorite parts with commentary, but there were just too many. The GC crew have very kindly agreed to let me post a transcript of the entire interview. So here goes! I might post my thoughts on it later on, but for full effect, stream or download the mp3 file. James is just a joy to listen to.
Brian: So we're talking to James Callis, we're at Farpoint convention, and I have to say, when you first came into the banquet last night, we were surprised, because you look much different than when we've last seen you on the show!
James: That's right!
Brian: Is this just something in the interim, you had another role or..?
James: No, funnily enough, this is for... There's two things going on. First of all, my character on
this how had an epiphany. And I thought the best way to show that he had an epiphany was that I had a haircut. [laughter] I think the fans have been asking me to have a haircut for something like three years [laughter], and it felt rather good, actually. It came out of... At the end of the third season, which everybody's seen, haven't they?
James: So I can talk about that. And the trial. I actually personally, you know, I didn't like to look at myself in the mirror after that. The man is, uh... Whatever you think about the man, it's quite a mantle to put it on, and I'd find myself in the morning looking in the mirror going, 'I feel like I'm sixty years old and unhappy and really low.' And it was amazing that shaving off the beard and cutting the hair was like a real release, it was like, 'No, I'm not that guy! I play that guy on television, I don't have to actually be like this, look like him.' Which was... And they were sympathetic to me. They understood, I think, that it's... It can take quite a toll on you emotionally, anything that you're putting yourself through, acting-wise like that. And so.. he had a kind.. he has a slight change of heart. And recently, whilst we've been on hiatus, forced hiatus as it were, because of the strike, I just thought... uh, a little trim?
Michelle: Why not?
James: [dramatic tone] James Callis is bald!
Brian: Aaron Douglas is - his haircut, also...
James: You know, actually, I really wanted to go bald, to be honest, for something coming up. And they were like, 'You know, to be honest we can't have that, because there's too many of you who are going thru similar things, essentially it'll be like, you know, the Three Stooges.' [laughs] I won't say who the others are, but there are people who don't have hair on our show. And they were like, 'No, you gotta keep some, James.'"
Brian: Now, Baltar has had some dark moments, but in the first season, he seemed like.. there was a little bit of lighter elementt to his character. That kind of tapered off as it went along. Was that a deliberate choice and [unintelligible] doing that?
James: No, I'm one of those people, I think, who just likes to do it rather than think about it too much, so it's just about you know, what's on the page for that day. And I suppose, with so many things in life, you get better the more that you do it, and the more applications... You know, practice makes perfect. So I think that, you know, I do believe the second season was better than the first season, I believe the third season is better than the second, cos collectively, we all just... You start having a language that is not even... talking, you know, there's a look in the eye, I know what you mean, you know what I mean... and we kinda go for it.
There was something as well about... I wanted to be very different, or at least thinking that I was very different, from lots of other... science fiction stereotypes. And what Gaius Baltar has only been involved with because of the explosion and the annihilation of most of his people, it's so monstrous. I always felt like, if I played that in any way that I really knew what was going on, then I'd be devoid of all sympathy, I'd be a monster. It actually wouldn't interest me. So I wanted to play it like, it's someone who's made the wrong mistake, he put his credit card in the wrong place and it got eaten, and then it's the end of the world. Somebody who's a bit hapless.
And this is in truth based on somebody I know, who is a brilliant, brilliant kind of scientist, pscyhologist, psychotherapist, and possibly the worst liar I've ever met in my life, totally transparent. Like, 'Oh, I was just at the shops.' -'No you weren't.' [laughter] Yeah, so I felt that was... You know, sometimes you've got these people who are very clever, but they can't tie their own shoelaces, or they don't know what day it is. And I think that part of the lightness was Gaius being very much in denial, cos he couldn't accept it for himself. And the more you are in denial, the more air you give yourself - you're running away from it, "It wasn't really me!" I wanted to get a T-shirt made called Not Responsible, and then on the back: Ever, but unfortunately "responsible" wouldn't fit across my chest, [laughter] and so they were like, "Well, do you want responsible like this, like downways..." I was like, "No, forget it, I'll just have to think that one."
Brian: You could get a sash...
James: [laughs] Indeed! Exactly! So... as the seasons progressed, and uh... There's some... I don't know who this person was who thought of this thing, but apparently there's... in going thru a crisis, what is it - denial, aggression, acceptance, you know, the five stages of something or other. And I think, straight away... Gaius goes through those five stages in every episode, every scene, every moment!
James: But there's a kind of grand arc, and if I can say it in a podcast, the second season gets grittier and shittier, and you can't run away from it as much, and basically you're like... Do you know what... Have you heard of a king rat? Do you know what it is? It's actually revolting. Lots of rats get together in like a duct or vial from a pipe inside a church, and they're mashing over each other. There's too many of them and they can't get over each other. In the heat that they then produce, their tails fuse together, making a kind of Gordian knot, and then they're all trapped with each other, they all rip each other apart. It is, I mean...
James: I'm making like a very revolting face now, because that's so horrible. [laughter] But that's kind of what happens to the people in Galactica, we are totally trapped on this ship, and the more we're pressed together, the more you're forced to confront so many unpleasant things about other people and unpleasant things about yourself. This is one of the huge strengths of our show, because... I always like to say, it's the end of the world, and if I can possibly do my next door neighbor a disservice I will, because we're that petty. You don't actually understand how important it is. You've got your own flipping... Yeah, the world's lost and I lost everything and everything. Gimme back my five quid! [laughter] Or my five dollars, or whatever... It's pathetic! And that's the way that people are trying to run themselves. So yeah, that's a... that's a long-winded answer to a rather short question!
Brian: No, it's good. I love that the characters have had some major surprises to them, like the final five, Tigh and Tyrol... Your character - what had surprised you, if you had known when you first started, what would surprise you, now that you're coming to the end of what is a long arc?
James: Surprising, I suppose, is um.. I'm slightly jumping into this season now, because I'm a man of science originally, and yet a man of science who has Messianic visions. This is very odd. Somebody who thinks that's all bunk, and everything has a... There are no phenomena in nature, everything is natural, so... It's rather difficult for him to comprehend. And that's the huge reversal. I suppose as well, what has happened over the course of the series, that shouldn't be so hard to understand, this man is actually getting a heart. He's been a little heartless before - heartless, vain, narcissistic, with no consequences whatsoever at the beginning of the miniseries. He's like a rock star, scientist with all these awards, sleeps with all these women, one of them happens to be a robot, oh dear, oh dear...
And slowly he's coming into contact with ever more people. I think in that house that he lived in, what would he ever have to do? Roll over to the lab, sleep with somebody, be in the house. It's not very much contact, you kind of keep yourself in a bubble, a rather nasty narcissistic kind of bubble, it's totally been burst. And now he's like with everybody else, and he certainly feels for.. people. So, uh... He's kind of... I don't know if it's religious, although there is a religion kind of coming up, with some suitable nutcases to, you know, chant it all out, but I suppose the big difference or the big surprise is that this man of science has something else going on, that he finds it rather difficult to accept.
Brian: Listening to the Ron Moore podcasts, there's oftentimes when he will say... talking about a comic trick[?] for a show, that an actor had on the fly tought of something, improvised something. I'm thinking of a specific scene where Romo brings Number Six the pen, and Six smells the pen, I thought that was brilliant, and Ron said that Tricia had just come up with that, I thought that was great.
Brian: Is there anything that you particularly remember coming up with?
James: I think we all come up with stuff like, you know, the whole time. There's things written down in the script that you either pay attention to or you don't, as the case might be. The lines you're always paying attention to, some of the stage directions don't make sense, when you've got the thing actually on the floor. I think that we're all lucky cos we're kind of ... a very instinctive cast, and intuitive, this kind of thing is happening all the time, I think.
Brian: One of my favorite Baltar moments from season 3 is from the Rapture episode, when D'Anna's dead on the floor, and altar steps into the light...
Brian: And he.. you.. Takes his shoe, and he just kinda flicks her wrist out of the way. I thought that was comical, I thought it was funny, I dunno where that came from, but it was hysterical.
James: I'll tell you where it came from, that's a thing like Tricia sniffing the pen. It's kind of like, what's the... ok... Let me digress slightly to talk about musical farts, okay? [laughter] Because this is a very... Actually, it's not my phrase, it's a friend I work with in London. It's when you set up something amazing, [in a very dramatic voice] the warrior comes forward, he's got his sword on his hilt, his face is all [inhales sharply] bloody and everything like that, and then somebody farts. [laughter] It's like, you totally take way the awesome, you know, like that, you're... You're pulling the rug out from under somebody's feet.. and I thought that this was this huge thing, and the big moment, and you know, if you are the chosen one, there's a certain deference that Gaius certainly doesn't have. So he's gonna kick her leg, and ... "Get out of the way, you selfish cow! It's my moment now!"[laughter] And he doesn't even know how to control his own moment, which is why I did that shuttering thing about... Actually that totally was ripped from Soap. Did you ever see Soap?
Michelle: Yeah, it was a great show.
James: Oh, I loved Soap. Is it Burt from Soap, is his name Burt, the guy with white hair?
Michelle: I think so.
James: There's this wonderful bit where... But totally, I was copying this thing where Burt is sitting in the bath, and I think he's talking to Benson, or his wife at the time. And she says, "What's wrong, honey?" He goes, "I'm invisible, I can make myself invisible." And she says, "No, you can't, Burt." "Yes, I can, watch." And he goes... He does a similar thing that I was trying to do with my eyes, I was trying to... It's like [snaps fingers] like that! [laughter] And he says, "Am I invisible?" She says, "No, of course you're not invisible!" And he goes, [angrily] "I'm in the bath, it doesn't work when I'm in the bath!" And I had a similar kind of thing about, you know, when I was standing on that platform, it's like he wants, he wants so much to be this person, and it's so self-evident that he's not, in some way. He doesn't know what to do, and that's why...
For example, on that moment there as well, the end of that moment is Aaron, Chief Tyrol coming forward and smacking me over the face. Now, it wasn't written that way, the thing... It was, as they felt, a cinematic out, for literally a gun to click by the forehead and you'd then pan to Aaron's face and he'd go, "Hello, Mr President." And I was like... I said to Michael and Aaron, I said, "You know, Chief, you hate me. And you're a kind of a bear of man, and if you see somebody like Gaius standing there, and you've got the opportunity, you're not just gonna to put a gun to my head, you're gonna smack me out. And that then really worked for us, because by knocking me unconcious, they could then.. We totally made all this up about getting me back onto the Galactica. Because I was saying to Michael, Michael Rymer the director, "Well, if everybody knows about it, then as soon as I get back on the ship, I'm going to be lynched!" So then we developed this intricate thing about me being, you know, in a body bag, et cetera, et cetera,. And I remember, when we were filming it, there were some executives on the ste going, "What?! Well, where is this in the script with the body bags and tadada..." [laughter] Hey, you saw the numbers, leave this thing to us! And I think it really worked. There was something very exciting about, I felt, in storytelling terms, this man who's come back to the ship, almost like Lazarus in a body bag, nobody knows, in a body bag, that's very Galactica. Somebody's on board the ship, nobody knew about it, et cetera et cetera. That gave us a credence to... the prisoner who was... then stuck there in kind of solitary.. et cetera.
Michelle: So how much freedom and input do they allow you as an actor, to add to the script, I mean are there points where you go, 'No, that ain't gonna work'?
James: No, I don't think we add to the script, to be honest. You know, it's all about time and making everything tight. The amount of time, what actors normally like to do.. I'll tell you a joke about that in a second.. We like less lines, nearly always, unless you are on stage. And the joke is that there is this Hollywood star who's like, you know, "I nee to be in this movie and I need to be in every scene of the movie, because I'm a star." They're going, "Wonderful, wonderful," because the more scenes the big star's in, the more people are gonna watch it and the better it is. And then the star looks at the script... There's too many lines! There's lines everywhere, what do, you know... I can do that with a look! [laughter] I can do that with a... and there's something very... difference between television and movies is that, you know, television is a lot of talking heads, and a motion picture, in a way, can tell you things just in the picture, it has a universal language.
And we believe on set that the people who watch our show are as bright and brighter than we are. So there's several things that we like to cut because we're like, "Hey, I don't need to tell them that twenty times, the people watching this show are really smart, and if they're not then they're not gonna get it anyway." But there's something really... pedestrian about spoonfeeding, and saying the same thing again, and again, and again. And... what's far more interesting is not telling you something, so that you then, as the audience are like... So it's not about adding, nearly always, it's about subtracting. And that sometimes is difficult, because.. not that people are particularly precious, but you know, the writers.. That's why they write, they write something down, they love it! "No, you can't cut that, why would you do that!" Well, because I can say it slightly differently or... because it might be - oh, so many words come to mind for backing up your case: it's gilding the lily, it's too on the nose, et cetera. And listen to the man, when I'm talking, people can't even shut me up! [laughter] I'm on set saying I'd like to say less, or do less, or be... Even though this might sound like the pot calling the kettle black, especially coming from my mouth, we prefer to be on the subtler scale than not. Obviously my character has difficulty with that, because he's not subtle. But there's ways in which people can be.
So you only want to cut something if you find it, like, impossible to say or it doesn't come naturally out of your mouth. And as an actor, the only way that you're ever going to find that out is actually if you say the line yourself and try it. There's no point ever in like, you know, going to somebody like, "I can't say this, I can't do it!" if you haven't actually rehearsed it and been through it. That's senseless. So you've got to try everything. Which is... part of what we do.
Brian: Do you think in the post-strike TV landscape that... Well, we've been subject to a lot of bad TV, just reality shows, the American [unintelligible]... with smart viewers really, they don't wanna think, they wanna sit there and tune out. Do you think another show like Battlestar could happen again, or has the situation changed such that they're not gonna want to invest in a show where people do have to think a bit more, or...
James: I'm not sure. I think the way that technology is going.. which is, you know, thriving! Look at the - we're recording on these very...funky-looking space age... things. [laughter] The technology is pushing us to a certain place right now. I have to say that, you know, that I don't see... I don't see TV getting dumber, particulary. I think once the bar is set, and there are so many great programs on, scripted shows on. You know, you learn from them and you want to do something slightly different from it. There's some reality TV shows I love watching, I mean really love watching. I don't know if you saw Jack Osbourne and the recruits. Did you watch any of that stuff?
Michelle: I watched some of that, yeah.
James: It was just such great drama!
Michelle: He really buffed up for that too.
James: Did he?
Michelle: Yeah, cos he was a big kid, but...
James: Yeah, but he still looked big, I thought that was kind of cool in the sense of... he was very... you know what, I just, I thought he showed a lot of grace looking after those children . And I was... I don't know how old he is, but he surprised me with his maturity and his leadership. So I was like glued to this thing. It was like, it was great drama. It was kind of like Lost, but I knew what's going on.
Brian: Right. You were in the middle of filming the last season before the hiatus. At that time, were you sort of looking forward to reaching the end?
James: Very much.
Brian: Now that you've had time off, do you feel reinvigorated, you want to do more?
James: That's exactly how we feel. We really felt that we were gunning towards the last stretch, we know that the show's gonna be over at the end of this. The break has given us all perspective on how nice it's gonna be to see each other again and...finish off the show. But yeah, I really want to finish off the show.
Brian: So you're ready to move on?
James: Well, I mean... Yes, I think we all are. I think the writers, I think you know the actors, everybody is. There's only so much, as well, I believe, on a really well contained show like ours, that you can do, and I think that was such a smart decision by Ron Moore and David Eick that, you know, they didn't want to go on for fourteen seasons [laughs]. There's the odd joke about - this is the episode where Adama loses his pen! [laughter] Oh dear. And now he'll find it.
Brian: No no no, that's next week.
James: [laughs] Exactly, exactly, when he finds it again. So yeah, we don't want to run out of ideas and we want to keep it kind of compact.
Brian: You get to play a character that has many aspects to his personality. But you also had a brief chance to do the Head Baltar. How did you approach him differently than the regular.,..
James: I think on a very simple level, Head Baltar is just in control in a way that Gaius isn't. We've done some Head Baltar in this season coming up as well, that has been.. for me, really great. Watch out for that episode, I love it! [laughter] I mean, why would I love it? [laughs] Uh, yes. So, he's just more in control. I suppose, what is it? It's almost now, thinking about it, it's like if Gaius had a hero, it might be Head Baltar, who's like in control, he knows what he wants, he's dapper, he's serious and he doesn't have the same... um... You feel like if you got hold of Head Baltar, you'd actually be able to hold something, whereas Gaius is like a fish, it's like... grab him, it's gonna... [laughter] He's like teflon, he's gonna fly out of your hands or... He's - slimey? [laughs] I don't know if slimey...so Head Baltar isn't necessarily...
Brian: I didn't wanna be the one to say it.
James: OK, well, I said it, there it is, there it is.
Brian: The show is pretty much a mirror of our time. It started at a time that was post-9/11, the New Caprica portion of the stuff could be seen allegorically as Iraq, or maybe the Nazi era in Germany. In this country, a common theme we're hearing now is change. And coincidentally enough, as BSG heads towards its conclusion, not knowing anything about the fourth season, just what I gather is change is coming whether it's cylons with humans or just in ...
James: Thats true, I think that's absolutely true!
Brian: Do you think it was prophetic on the writers' part, do you think it's a coincidence?
James: You know something, I think that they have planned out what they're going to do. I don't know if they've actually written all of the nine scripts. But I would imagine having had this time off in the hiatus... There's a certain amount of reality and... you know, in a strange way we've almost done the Clinton-Obama debates, when Mary and I had our run of presidential campaign in season 2. But I think there will be something of hope and change, very much so, in the last nine that we're doing. Certainly the first lot that we've done, it's almost like lots of pieces of string in a roll, and you blow them all out, and the last nine episodes is going to be the [concitenering?], the bringing together of all of the threads. I don't know if our show is ever, you know, an optimistic Battlestar Galactica, it's almost like an oxymoron. But there will be hope and there is change, yeah.
Brian: Thank you very much.
James: Thank you very much!