Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The San Diego Comic Con Panel

I've been following the San Diego Comic Con reports with great interest, and Sci Fi has posted a video of the entire Galactica panel here. There's an interesting analysis of the panel here, and I agree with almost everything the writer said (I think they were a bit too hard on the female panelists though). Here are my thoughts. I'll transcribe most of what James says, so this is going to be a very long post. If you're not that into James, you can scroll down for observations on the other panelists.

Added: Nicole_Anell has taken the time to transcribe the entire panel here.

James Quotes And Observations

Starting on a shallow note, I was glad to see him so vital and healthy, clearly all better after the stomach parasite he had in the spring. He was energetic and happy and looked very good. Also, I loved his fluffy hair.

You don't have to be a fan to see that the audience loved James, and almost everything he said got either a laugh or applause from them. He gave deep and thoughtful answers and was generally entertaining and funny. Unfortunately, there wasn't all that much of him. Watching the panel was like watching the show: James and Tricia Helfer were the best part, but they didn't get nearly enough air time. There were simply too many participants in the panel. It seemed like two different panels, really - James/Tricia/Ron Moore/David Eick on one side of the table, and Katee Sackhoff/Jamie Bamber/Michael Trucco/Tahmoh Penikett (who arrived late) on the other. That's nine people and only 40 minutes to spare. In addition, the Sci Fi video - which has great quality and steady camera, so I don't want to complain too much - focuses on the person talking, so you miss people's reactions a lot of the time.

But on to James' responses. Smith asked, of course, about all the sex Baltar has. James started with "I had to pay a lot of money", which got a pretty hushed reaction from the audience. Not his best joke ever, moving on.

James: "I think that's one of the things that, in a story - especially like this - uh, what is it? Um... In an American mindset, the bad guy gets more tail, you might say? I've got a sign here saying, 'Please be aware that many members of your audience may be under eighteen years of age.'" [laughter; James waves his finger as a mock warning.] "OK. So I think 'tail' is a good way to put it then. And funnily enough, actually, I found making the first stuff a real... What's the word? If you're preaching to people that you're in love with God or you're seeing a new way, can you also be a nymphomaniac on the side?" [laughter] "You know, genuinely, I'm being serious, it's like, does that make you less spiritual?"

Man from the audience: NO!

James: [points at him] "Absolutely! [laughter] But it took me like three years to work that out! All the time I was like, 'I want to be one thing but I'm also like woman crazy and a nymphomaniac.' The way you think is like, that makes him a bad person, or unreliable, he's only got one thing on his mind. But then I was like, there must be so many people who... they've got goodness in their heart, but they're obsessed with something, one particular thing."

[A "woo" from the audience]
James: "Thanks, again. Mom."
[The audience really cracks up at this. He has to pause a bit to let the laughter die down.]

James: "I would just say.. Yeah, it's been exciting on that level, and these last two seasons I've found a way, I've felt, of... Gaius makes peace with himself on that level. He's not... He doesn't mind, and he doesn't care. At least on the TAIL issue."
[laughter]

David Eick: "I just want everyone to know that these are the kinds of conversations we have when in the script, it says, 'And then Baltar has sex with her.' An hour later, we're going, 'James, just have sex with her.' "
[The audience laughs a lot at this. James cocks his eyebrows and laughs at himself a bit.]

This all shows how much James thinks of Baltar and the motivations behind his actions. The intriguing part for me is that he's talking about the sex aspect, not the destruction of the Twelve Colonies or giving the nuke to Gina, as the defining issue for whether or not Baltar is a good person. A better moderator might have asked about that here and gotten us a bit deeper into James' reading of Baltar. Of course, Smith is only interested in sex, but James manages to make something deep out of it anyway. It's an interesting dance they do here - Smith asking about shallow stuff, and James acting like the question was "how does Baltar relate to the people around him?"

Smith: "He never occurred to me as the kind of guy that would have to be talked into bed. [Ugh.] Especially the last season must have been very painful, it was just one big holy sex orgy the whole time."

James: "Yeah, I must admit I loved that whole idea of... [The audience starts to laugh, and James hastens to explain himself.] Well, I like the idea of Gaius being, eventually, kind of set up by these people, who he thinks are even more crazy than the people who wanted to kill him. There's all this crazy stuff with, you're being toted as this God or spiritual leader while really you have no idea, and you... not despise, but you kind of think very little of the people who have supported you and put you up there. That lends to... a lot of worry upstairs. So that's been a lot of fun to play."

Smith: "Almost led to a name change for the show - could have become Battleslut Galacticock."

James: "[chuckles] Yeah... Watch this space."

Oh dear. That's gotta be the single worst pun on the title that I've ever heard. James' chuckle sounds forced, and I get the feeling he's annoyed. It's hard to tell since they don't show his face. I do think the profanity was gratuitous and unfunny, and I've noticed before that James has a lot of consideration for his audience when it comes to swearing. (Edit: James' children were apparently in the audience for this panel, so it's very understandable that he'd be annoyed at this.) The way Smith focuses on Baltar's sex life is annoying, because it's belittling the character. After all, there's a horndog on every show, but characters with secret cylons in their heads are a rarity. I was also wondering what David Eick's "James, just have sex with her" thing was in reference to. Tory Foster? Does James find the sex on the show gratuitous and annoying at times, or is it just a thing with his character's motives and wanting to be clear on them?

"A lot of worry upstairs" is a very defining comment about Baltar. You could basically sum up his whole character with that. He's a man with a lot of worry upstairs. Awesome.

Asked about the most "badass" moment on the show:
James: "I don't know if it's bad-arse, particularly... I always feel ... strange coming out of my... 'bad arse'..." [laughter] "Anyway, one of my favorite bits on the show is when Adama and tigh are together - I think it's this season - and it's a very serious conversation about, food is running out, you know, people are committing suicide or whatever.. and Adama says, 'Are the people on this particular ship still eating paper?', and Tigh goes, 'No', and Adama says 'Why?', and Tigh says, 'Paper shortage'. And then they both laugh, and I hadn't seen that, you know, it was a different part of an episode I wasn't in. It just blew me away, the reality, the tragedy, the humor, the humanity, I thought that was fantastic.

And actually as well, on a level of shooting guns, cos I shot guns with Tricia at the end, and that was so exciting and so much fun. At the very end, we finished around. .the main unit finished around 4:30 in the morning, and two nights ago in Los Angeles, I just caught Apocalypse Now, and filming the end of Battlestar was like being in Apocalypse Now. It was like.. 2,5 units, 3 units on different stages, not with enough walkie-talkies. So some guy runs up to me at about 2:30 in the morning and goes [panicky tone, points with his finger]: 'Second unit!!! Second unit!!!', then disappears into the night."[Lots of laughter here.] "I arrive at the second unit, and the second unit aren't there, they've moved on, and there's some guy going, 'Oh yeah, they've moved on, pal, I dunno where...' And you can hear sporadic gun fire going off into the night... It was frakking awesome!" [laughter and applause.]

I don't have much to add to this, except: heee, "bad-arse"! It's a funny story, but I wonder if the entire last episode is shot in darkness with people shooting, or something. The shooting scenes are generally the ones I enjoy the least, but seeing Baltar and Six - Head Six? Caprica? Some other model? - shoot guns would certainly be something new and potentially exciting.

A question from a fan online: "When people from the fleet hear the name Gaius Baltar, there are usually strong emotions that follow. Up until recently, it was almost 100 % negative. How did you, James Callis, feel about the cult following that Baltar found himself among? Did you have a hard time balancing who Baltar was with his followers and who they wanted him to be?"

James: "Uh... One word answer? Yes."

Smith: "Sweet, moving on."
[laughter]
James: "Thank you." [laughs]

Smith: "No, go ahead, give them their answer."

James: "No, that's kind of it. I think I addressed that question before. He gets involved in something that uh... that the can't fathom, and he's also, I think, immensely bored with a lot of people who don't challenge him, but just are like.... Whatever he does, they're like, 'Oh Gaius, how wonderful! Isn't that great?' And after a while that's like... it's like being in a prison, it's debilitating. So, um... One of the great releases that you'll be seeing is um... is the journey of this guy and his cult and how they... how they work out."

It's a good analysis, and someone like Gaius would probably judge people based on how much they challenge him. Actually, this is an aspect that I wish James had played on more in the show. We don't really see Gaius mocking or despising people for being dumb or obvious very often. Someone as intelligent and arrogant as him would surely spend a lot more time looking down on the workers on the ship who don't have a formal education. The only instance that comes to mind is when Tom Zarek is talking about the election, and Gaius very openly mocks him for his lack of insight. (I also love when Zarek says, "You're a genius!" and Gaius responds with, "And..?")

I wondered here if this comment had to do with James Callis as well as Gaius Baltar. Does James feel unchallenged because of all the BSG love? Would he have preferred more negative critique as well as appreciation? Does he feel that people - like, say, Kevin Smith - ignore the deeper issues and nuances of his character to talk more about how hott the sex is?

About his favorite moment:

James: "I don't really have one moment. I've had too many incredible moments over five years, practically... I mean, I used to joke that if I was invited back to the set on the second day, I took that as like a personal triumph. And... yeah. I'm really surprised my character, you know, made it as long as they did, I've just had a ball.

One of the things that... The axis that I played on mostly is guilt. I don't think anybody's had as much guilt going on in their own head as Gaius Baltar has had, but then very few people can have.. what is it, billions and billions of people being killed on their conscience. That's been a tremendous thing to work with, because you find out a lot of your own humanity - what really touches you, what you're really upset about, what you're really... It's not just guilt, I realize - it's shame, real shame. And if you have that or that's pushing through you, I found it to be almost like a kind of lubricant or fluid inside Gaius Baltar... It's like the thing that makes this guy go. And getting rid of it, finding a redemption, it's been like an exorcism, it's been incredible."
[Applause. Tricia looks at James with a smile; I think she looks proud of him here, which is sweet. They seem to really like each other.]

This was beautiful. The guilt aspect is really what attracted me to Baltar in the first place, and I can't understand why some people say he's irredeemable, has no conscience, no guilt, etc. I'm glad James doesn't see him that way at all. I would have liked to hear a bit more about this idea of guilt vs. shame. Does Baltar's shame stem from his conscience or from his ego? In other words, is he genuinely ashamed for what he's done, or mainly just disappointed that he's not the great, virtuous person he'd like to be?

I'm a bit surprised that he thought Baltar wouldn't be there until the end - he's such a central character, I would have been very disappointed if they'd dumped him early on. I also think it's amusing that James used the generic "they" instead of "he" when talking about Baltar. It's a common modern overcorrection, but one you see women make more often than men. I like that he seems to consider that the generic "he" annoys some people.

The actors were asked about the closure their characters had, and whether they were happy with it:

James: "My character's had full closure, but he could have had a few more affairs."
[laughter and some applause]

His shortest answer in the panel - I wonder if something happens to Baltar that he couldn't or wouldn't discuss here. On the other hand, he had already answered this before, given the issues with guilt and finding redemption. Perhaps we've already seen that closure on The Hub, where Baltar finally confesses to Laura that he was the one who gave the access codes to the cylons. That was, in my opinion, the biggest moment of closure for Baltar. It's the thing he's feared the whole time, and now he's survived it. Maybe this is the moment of redemption James was referring to earlier as an "exorcism".

All in all, beautiful answers. I think it's his theatre background that makes him such an engaging public speaker. It's not just the content and the overall charmingness that he brings to the table; he articulates and rhythms his speech in a way that is very easy to follow. He's just a pleasure to listen to.

The chemistry between James and Tricia, as well as James and Ron/David, was great. His appreciation for the show and its creators is obviously great, and it's always nice to see when an actor loves the show he's on. When David joked that they were debating about revealing that Baltar is the final cylon, James laughs and then acts mock-annoyed - I think he says, "How could you, David?" but it's hard to hear him there. I tried to read this as an indicator of whether or not Baltar is a cylon. Based on his reaction, my money's on "not"; he looks surprised and amused. It takes a moment for him to start laughing, but I think it's because David was talking quite seriously, and it probably takes a moment to register that there was a joke about Baltar being a cylon in there.

Tricia tells an amusing story about how James accidentally hurt her doing the toilet stall scene with Shelly Godfrey, because he slammed the stall door really hard to her knees. You can't see James' reaction in the Sci Fi video, but you can in this YouTube video. He looks endearingly embarrassed about it. Don't be so hard on yourself, James - it's just a funny story.

Thoughts on the other panelists

Jamie Bamber came in as a surprise guest star and got a thunderous round of applause, but personally, I would have preferred the panel without him. He looked bored through most of it and didn't have much to say. Asked about doing scenes in a suit, he talked about his hair, when he could have been talking about the character development. Kevin Smith was all, "is that all you're going to say?" and turned to James, which I loved. I think it was the only Kevin Smith moment that amused me. Smith asked Jamie how he lost so much weight so quickly on the show, and Jamie's response was - a joke about bulimia. Half of the audience booed or groaned at that point. Dude, bulimia is not funny. People die from bulimia. I'll chalk that one up to ignorance, because I don't think he intended it as mean as it came out, but it shows poor judgement to say something like that. He should have known better.

However, I did like the way he talked about the last episode as something that brought closure and was deeply satisfying. The final read-through was "a disgraceful orgy of self-indulgent tears and lower-lip wubbling" (said in a very British accent). He said the ending "does everything and everyone justice". I liked that. I hope I feel the same when I eventually watch it. The actors all seemed excited about the last episode. It also seems like Jamie, like James, has a lot of respect for the show and its creators, and that was refreshing to see.

Katee Sackhoff didn't really have very much to say about her character either, or perhaps didn't dare say it. She seems to go into giggling schoolgirl mode in these things, which is unfortunate. I'm not sure what kind of person she is underneath that act, but you can tell she felt uncomfortable and insecure of herself in that panel. She especially didn't know what to say about being a female/lesbian role model, and went speechless for a moment. She ended up saying that people should take Kara's good sides and leave the bad - "Use protection."

I personally thought Smith was exaggerating; Lucy Lawless's Xena is a tough one to top, and considering the totally kick-ass role of D'Anna the Three that Lucy herself has in Battlestar, I thought that comment was a bit annoying. Not to mention that Smith didn't say anything about Tricia Helfer being a lesbian or feminist role model. I'm not very active in gay circles, so I can't speak for the gay culture at large, but when it comes to my girlfriend and me, it's definitely Tricia who's the bigger feminist or lesbian role model, followed closely by Lucy. I wouldn't even include Starbuck/Katee on that list because of the "sassy girl" stereotypes she exhibits - drinking, traumatic childhood, etc. These things, to me, sort of cancel out the general badassery. I'm not sure if I should read Katee's reaction as a disagreement to Smith's gushing, or if she was just flustered and unprepared to really go into it.

Her nervousness melted a bit later, as she was giggling about funny stuff that happened on the set. David Eick mentioned the fight scene between Tricia and Katee in Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2 as his favorite badass scene, and Katee said they were calling each other a week later to say, "I've still got that bruise on my shin.. that was awesome!" She also said they became friends that day, and Tricia agreed. "But they wouldn't kiss, no matter what I said," said David. "He told us that if the ratings drop, we'd have to do the fight again but in jell-o," Katee said. "Thank gods you guys kept the ratings up," said Tricia. This was a fun bit, and it seemed like the fight was still fresh in everyone's minds, which was cool. It was one of the greatest Six moments.

Tricia, who sat next to Katee, generally seemed very caring towards her, giggling with her and generally looking like "Aww, you remind me of a younger me." (They're apparently good friends outside the show, so maybe that's why.) Tricia seems like a very kind person, but the problem is that she's a bit passive in these things. I felt like she had a lot to say but didn't want to hog the spotlight to say it. Smith should have asked her more about her characters.

The things she did say revealed that she cares about being an actor more than being a sex symbol - much respect to her for that. She specifically mentioned playing Gina as a refreshing diversion, getting to "not be kinda sorta glamorous at all, and it was just a lot of fun, which is really odd to say, but it was a challenge, and I like challenges." She said basically the same thing about Shelly Godfrey - she was happy that "she's a little bit different", and she got to try something new as an actor. I also liked how Tricia said that she had finally found out something about her character - I took this to mean Head Six/Caprica Six, and I'm very intrigued to see the new episodes and find out more about her. She also seemed very excited about getting to use actual guns in the finale. Sadly, she wasn't asked about the love child with Tigh, which was the biggest WTF moment of the whole season for me. I would have liked to hear her reaction to it.

I was impressed with Michael Trucco. He was quite articulate and funny. But he, too, had nothing to say about his character. In this case, it was clear that it had to do with the writing - Sam Anders isn't much of a character. He said as much, when discussing the day Aaron Douglas (who plays Chief Tyrol) came to him and told him they're cylons. He was incredulous, because he's such a secondary character that they don't even know him on set: "Lots of people even call me Steve." I loved that.

Ron Moore and David Eick were there, but they didn't really get to say much, which was a shame. I would have liked to hear more analysis of the characters - it interests me more than the final cylon, which is bound to be anticlimactic and disappointing when it finally comes out. Ron's self-congratulating bit about the "one year later" scene in Lay Down Your Burdens, part 2 was a bit much, though. It's one thing to do something daring, but to flat out say that no show has ever done this before is just arrogance. And yeah, Alias did it. With two years.

They made two jokes that sounded like they just make the show up as they go along - first about trying to decide the fourth cylon blindfolded: Gaeta? Anders? Gaeta? Anders? (If this is true, they absolutely should have gone with Gaeta!) and secondly, about having Tigh count how much booze he had left, and then deciding he should have lots of it, because it's so funny to see him drunk all the time. Some of the cast did their impression of Michael Hogan's "haw haw haw" laugh - that was really cute.

Tahmoh Penikett came on last, towards the end of the panel. The audience was very excited, but his entrance did take some time away from fans asking questions and such. The audience seemed to love him, though. He didn't have time to say much, but he did wax poetic about the final episode, saying that the whole cast was "on the same page" and that it was "brilliant". The audience was left with a nice feeling of closure, which helps wait for the new episodes.

On a more sour note:
An open letter to Kevin Smith

Dear Mr Smith,
This panel was supposed to be about Battlestar Galactica. Not about you, or how you love swearing and that makes you cool. Your "stage persona" seems to consist of crude sex jokes and swearing, and frankly it's unimpressive. Saying "fuck" so many times deprives it of all shock value, and your talk about sex wasn't entertaining, it was boring. If you think "frak" is so awesome, why did you only use it twice? It would have been much funnier.

Several times, you stalled the panel and even interrupted the panelists to make jokes about yourself, when there were so many jokes you could have made about the show. Why did you have so little to say about it anyway? You had the creators in front of you and what did you ask about? The Caprican version of "cocksucker". You made that joke at last year's Comic Con too, and it wasn't that funny to begin with.

You claim to be such a fan, yet you couldn't even remember who Shelly Godfrey was. Granted, she only appeared once in season one, but she was a pretty big deal. Don't waste the panel's time by asking which episode that's in, because all the fans in the audience knew right away. Oh, and that really long name last episode had? Revelations. Too long for you to remember?

Please never moderate a Galactica panel again.

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