Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Galactica Quorum Interview - Now With Commentary!

I've been meaning to discuss the Galactica Quorum interview, which I transcribed but didn't comment on yet. So I think I'll comment on selected quotes in this post, because it's useful to have a full transcript without interruptions too. I really like this interview, so I might or might not react on everything he says here. I might get Jamesly babblish when I'm excited. Be warned.

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.'

Wow. I can't really imagine him bald, and even if he did shave his head, I bet he'd have a full head of hair again in like two days. I've heard of his amazing beard growing abilities, and I can't imagine it being different there. I wonder who the other bald characters are (it can't be Chief, since Brian the interviewer mentions Aaron's hairdo, and James says he doesn't want to spoil).

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.

I really like this, and it's one of the things I like about Baltar. He's not a monster; you can have long and heated debates about whether or not he has a conscience - for the record, I definitely think he does - and there are different viewpoints on how much guilt he's really feeling or what morality means in his case. But the one thing you can't argue is that he's cruel and loves to torture people just for the fun of it. He doesn't knowingly conspire against people or plot to take over the world. I don't know if he's hapless so much as incredibly self-absorbed; I don't consider him an absent-minded professor type really. He just isn't interested if it isn't about him, i.e. his attitude on politics. Jumping ahead in the interview a little, James argues that Gaius is starting to care more about people:

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.

I think it's true to an extent, but I'm not sure how far you can take that argument. That's another really difficult and intriguing question - how much empathy does Gaius really have, and how much does he care for other people? He shows empathy with Gina and helps her out, then kills a black-haired Six with his bare hands. He prays for the sick boy and visits Chief after he lost his wife, but he's still obsessed with his own role in everything. It's not like he's become driven by empathy and caring for others, he's still the "chosen one" who thinks englihtenment ultimately means finding out who he is and acting out his important role in the big plan.

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.

One of my favorite episodes, Baltar and Six wise, is Home, Part 2 in the second season. There's a pretty long scene where Baltar starts to question Head Six and she plays mind games with him, and James and Tricia are just brilliant, the way they play off each other's reactions. I don't think they could have done that scene in the first season, at least not as effectively, because you can tell that it's a result of leaning to read each other and react to each other better. I think the same is true of all of the couples on the show - Adama and Laura, Lee and Kara, Helo and Athena - and maybe it's a thing with the viewer as well. You know their history and the way they interact, and it adds to your reading and enjoyment of the scene. I realize James isn't only talking about romantic pairings here, but the ensemble as a whole, but I think it's especially true of actors who often do scenes together.

Asked about the scene in Rapture where Gaius kicks dead D'Anna's arm out of the way, James clearly gets excited and almost doesn't let Brian finish the question, which amused me. You can always tell he likes a question when he does that.

... 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]

And he brings up farting like it's the most natural thing in the world. Which, of course, it is, but it amuses me how comfortable he seems about it. This was a cute story. He's just so dramatic here, which, I guess, he has to be to really sell the joke. It's like he's acting again for a moment, and then he comes back to his normal tone in a heartbeat. He can just snap into acting gear and snap out of it effortlessly.

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?

I loved Soap. In a fan's life, sometimes you'll have happy moments of "Yay, my idol likes the same thing I like!" And I had that moment with this (and also when I saw that he likes to drink cola, but I digress). He talks about Burt, who was my favorite character on Soap, and how he was flailing and bulging his eyes in a scene where he's in the bath. It's a bit hard to follow in an audio file, but I know what Burt could look like when he was flailing and bulging and twisting his eyes - brilliant body acting by Richard Mulligan, and actually something I've noticed about James as well. I wonder if Baltar's body language as a whole has been influenced by that. If you're not familiar with the character, try this clip. It's not the scene James is talking about, but you can see the type of purposefully exaggerated body movement that Burt was famous for. When he's talking about the scene in Soap, James once again starts acting, and he does sound quite a bit like Burt. Awesome.

More about Rapture:

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.

Hee, "bear of man", I like that. And I agree about Chief hitting him. Actually, I think that line is incredibly dramatic, so much so that it comes off a little comical and I wish they'd left that out. It's just too... movie-like. Basically, it's a line no one would actually say in that position. I think Galactica seems so realistic in general because the dialogue is naturalistic enough to be believable. That might also have to do with the improvisation of the actors. But this line is just off. It's "Welcome back, Mr President", actually. I think the scene would be much better if Chief had just hit him and been done with it.

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.

I hadn't thought of that. Actually, the body bag thing was always very weird to me, but now I know why. I remember watching that for the first time and wishing they had shaved him in the bag, now that he was unconscious. Too bad they didn't. There's something sad about the scene, when Tigh asks, "He's not dead?" and he's told, "No, unfortunately", or something like that. It feels pretty cold and tragic that everyone wants him dead. Even if it's almost entirely his own fault.

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.

His point was that they want to be subtle and cut down on the lines, and then he ends up babbling for quite a while. He notices the irony of that and adds his characteristic self-deprecating humor to it. But since the question was "do you add to the script", he could have said, I don't know, that he added the part where Baltar goes against signing the death list in Precipice. Or, you know, that he added "What have I done?" in the Miniseries. Or anything else he's ever added. I'm not sure why he didn't think of that here.

It's interesting that he's often brought up the "less is more" idea. He's said that himself and Jamie Bamber, both British, were more happy with the show being over than the rest of the cast, because the British mentality is that you end on a high note, when the show is still good. British shows tend to have seasons of only six episodes, and many prominent British shows (like my favorite, The Office UK) only ever had two seasons and a Christmas special. This is something I respect about British TV, even if a fan always wants more and more. (An example of overdoing it would be something like Absolutely Fabulous, where the first seasons were brilliant, but the last one was completely off).

That said, I find it annoying that so many Baltar scenes have been deleted, and every time I see deleted scenes on the DVDs, I find myself thinking: "Did they have to cut this?" Many of the scenes with the Adamas, for instance, are long enough on the aired version and you can tell why they cut some of it, because the cut scenes often feel like hammering the point home a bit too much. But I feel like they already show too little of Baltar. Or am I just a fangirl who can't have enough?

Asked if he thinks TV is getting dumber in the post-strike world, James ends up talking about a reality show he likes. This is a quality in James that I really admire, and one that I think is unusual in highly intelligent people. Intelligent people are often snarky. The smarter you are, the more flaws you see in other people and their behavior, and the easier it is to look down on others. But it seems like James has the opposite reaction to people - he always finds something to respect and praise.

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.

It's always easy to earn points by mocking reality shows and people involved in them, so I really liked this. I also liked that he's so nice about Jack's weight, sort of putting a positive spin on it. By the way, I have no idea which Jack Osbourne show he's referring to - there have been so many and I couldn't find anything with "Jack Osbourne and the Recruits" on imdb.

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.

I think he meant "I love it because I get to play against myself", but then realized he can't spoil that bit. I'd really like to see an interview where he talks about that scene, because I've been wondering how they shot it. The timing is really good and the two Baltars are just so different and delicious in their interplay.

I love his analysis of their differences:

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...

It's true, I think, that HeadBaltar is a lot of things Gaius would like to be. However, at least when he's talking to Caprica, he's also mean, mocking, cynical and much colder than Gaius. He didn't seem as tormenting or conscience-like with Gaius, it was more like "come on, get a grip", which I liked. And I would really, really like to see Head Six interact with Caprica Six, but I doubt we're going to see that.

A little Easter egg I didn't transcribe: if you listen to the whole file, there's silence in the end, and then you can hear James saying: "I hope I'm going to talk about Battlestar", and the others laugh and say he can talk about anything he wants. A cute little extra dose of his self-deprecating humor. Maybe a little true, too - what did he end up talking about? Battlestar, yes, but also Jack Osbourne, Soap, rat kings and musical farts. God bless his babbly little heart.


Anonymous said...

I think by bald people he meant Chief and Roslin. They weren't any other in season 4.0. and they hadn't filmed any of season 4.5 by that point (except perhaps ep 11).

I don't know if his hair would grow that fast. Hair and beard growth is not really correlated, is it? Many men have no hair at all but have abundant facial hair. Isn't the growth of facial hair, as well as body hair, prompted by testosterone, being a secondary sexual characteristic? While hair (on one's head) is not.

And I agree, I was horrified by the idea of bald James Callis!! Baldness really works for some men, but for some others it looks really wrong, and I think James is definitely one of them - because very short hair doesn't look that good on him either. For instance, the extremely short hair he had in Arabian Nights. (I don't mean the kind of haircut he had in Bridget Jones - that worked well.) Besides, he has lovely hair, why would he shave it off?

Deniselle said...

True, I had forgotten about Roslin. I guess I thought The Three Stooges=men, but if Aaron, Mary and James were bald, that would make three. But Brian did mention Aaron's hairdo, and James said after that that he can't reveal who the others are, so that throws me off. I'm not really sure.

I think he might have pretty strong hair growth on his head as well, because his hair is so thick and often long. But I might be wrong. I'm not an expert on hair. :P

But yeah, I think the extremely short hair (like Soldier Soldier style) doesn't really become him. I hope he sticks to fairly long hair.

Brian said...

Thanks for transcribing our interview! Even after hearing it dozens of times during podcast production, seeing it in text somehow makes it new again.

Just one quick note about James. Months had passed since our interview when I went up to his autograph table at Dragon*Con to say hello. He recognized me immediately and asked how I was doing. That was amazing for me, that he remembered *me*. (Aaron Douglas too remembered us from the interview we had done. These BSG actors are genuinely nice people.)

A second note, also related to Dragon*Con. That weekend, the Galactica Quorum podcast was a finalist for a Parsec Award for Best Fan Podcast--and we won. The next day I went again to James' table to tell him the news, and especially to thank him, because I used a portion of his interview for our submission piece. On hearing the news his eyes lit up and he warmly congratulated me and shook my hand. Again--top notch guy and I can't say enough about him.

Deniselle said...

Brian, glad you appreciate it! :) I've heard from many reports that James has a great memory with fans. I bet he had fun doing your podcast - you can tell from the audio that he's excited and happy to be talking about those aspects of the show with fans. I'm not surprised he remembers it.

Congratulations for the win! Much deserved. :) I also enjoyed your Eddie interview, by the way.