Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sci Fi Q & A

This is the Q&A from the Sci Fi website. The questions were sent in the forum and different actors came to the Sci Fi studio to answer them. There's no interviewer; James simply reads the questions directly from the computer. It's an interesting setup, because you get to watch and listen to James, which is always a pleasure, but fans also get their voice heard. I'd say by the look of James' hair and general cheek hollowness that this was made in 2007, but I could be wrong. I've trimmed out the introduction he does at the beginning of each video.

Along with the Galactica Quorum podcast, this was one of the first James interviews I saw, and is still one of my favorites. James is genuinely warm and engaging, and he seems to enjoy answering the fans' questions.

Part 1

James introduces himself and says he'll answer the fans - "So literally, you have me where you want me. Yesh. Shall I move on to the first question?"

Hee. It's not a particularly good joke, but I'm a sucker for lame puns, because more often than not, I can't resist making them myself. He looks like he knows it's not a great joke, so that helps too.

"ochreluna 13 has asked: what is your favorite aspect of Baltar's personality? Do you enjoy playing silly Baltar, sneaky Baltar or the Baltar in Six's head best?

What I really enjoy doing is showing Baltar who has compassion. Playing this.. I was gonna say, rather revolting man and at the same time being allowed to show, sometimes, the window to his soul...which shows that he IS thinking about these things and he DOES care for people, is... I'd say it's quite cathartic. And what is the most fun is probably, silly Baltar is a lot of fun, of course he is."

I like the way the question is set, even if James goes slightly outside the types of Baltar mentioned there. I've expressed some doubt before about how much compassion Baltar truly has, but after rewatching some of season four, he really does seem compassionate. You could say he has a thick layer of narcissism over the compassionate nature that is, perhaps, his true nature under his issues or character flaws. I always hesitate to say such optimistic things, but if James himself seems to think so...

"Why do you think the producers let you keep your British accent for your character?

I think you should ask them. Why did they? I think there's a thing in America that you guys haven't still got over whatever, the colonial war... and basically all bad guys are British, essentially. I tried to change the accent on the very first day, the director said, "I want you to be in some fashion as natural as you possibly can be. What you don't understand, I don't think other people understand, what I'm going to make happen is that you're the touchstone, you're gonna be the person that people can relate to in some way, a person who doesn't know his way around the battlestar, a person who doesn't immediately come up with the right thing to say. You're like people's inroad into this drama in some fashion. And the more of a... character as it were, you become or you try to play, then I've lost all sympathy with you already. I need you to.. to retain some part of your innate nature."

I love when he quotes someone directly and then includes big words like "innate nature" or "inroad into this drama", which don't actually seem to quite fit. It's obvious it's not a direct quote, and while that's fine, it's amusing how he adds big words. His mind seems to default into big words rather than more common ones. As for Baltar's accent, I don't think James really sounds the same off character. As Baltar, he has this refined upper class enunciation, while as James, he sounds more like Ricky Gervais - his accent is more lax, he drops some consonants and generally enunciates less. James sounds warmer and more relaxed, Baltar more arrogant and like he's trying to impress. Which is probably just the difference between their personalities, coming to think of it. There's a whole Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde thing going on there, but luckily the kinder personality is his real one.

"Isn'tdaveone. One of the most important questions that you're going to hear this afternoon: are those your own glasses or are they a prop from the show?

Actually they're both, isn'tdaveone, they're both. I started wearing a pair of my own glasses on the set, because Harvey, one of the producers, saw me wearing them and he was like, "Yeah, you look pretty smart, you look like a scientist." And I had a pair made identical or as identical as I could to that pair. And actually I walk around that pair, which is like they've made five pairs on set, the anti-glare ones, the ones with the flair, the ones that reflect the lights, and there's a pair that I use for driving. So they're kinda my own and they're kind of a prop for the show."

I didn't realize he has glasses in real life, probably because he almost never uses them when he's doing a role. So either his sight isn't very poor, or he uses contacts most of the time. At first, listening to this response, I thought he meant that he had a pair made just for vanity reasons and doesn't need glasses at all, but if he uses a pair for driving, he probably does need them.

The next question is pretty hilarious, and he reads it really fast, which makes it sound even funnier.

"Rictorious: Let's look at your tally - Six D'Anna Starbuck Gina reporter - some Caprican bimbo before the bombs [laughs] - your playmates as president... Felix Gaeta?"

He looks at the camera with this mischievious smile and frown, which suggests that he's amused, but this isn't the first time he's heard this suggested. (Naturally, with all the cast jokes about Gaeta being gay, this might be a familiar idea. But I like to think that he's read some Baltar/Gaeta slashfic too.) The editors have added a moment from Baltar's trial where Gaeta says, "..no.." in a voice that suggests he's lying. Brilliant.

"You sure get around. How much of a player are you in real life?

In real life I'm married, I'm happily married. I've been married for nine years. And I have... we have two children. So... uh. Was I ever really a player? Uh..no, to be honest. Had a fun time at drama school, but I wasn't really a player."

He sounds almost sorry that he can't give a more exciting answer. But it's not really the kind of question that requires a deep answer, it's just a funny moment. Funnily enough, this question came up in a discussion about homosexuality on Galactica, and Rictorious seemed happy with James' reaction to the Gaeta bit. It remains to be seen how sexually charged the relationship between the two men is - we've been promised some closure on Baltar/Gaeta in the new season.

Part 2

"Atmo: What was your favorite scene of the series that you were not in? Which series, Atmo? "

Hee. He looks at the camera a bit indignantly, which really sells the joke. I wonder if he's also thinking of series=season, like they say in the UK.

"I think that I would have loved to be in the boxing stuff in Unfinished Business. They had such a laugh doing that, it brought everybody together, the... the shots and the shooting of that thing looked fantastic, and uh.. yeah, I was.. my character obviously couldn't be there, so that would have been... great to be involved with in some way."

Episodes like this are probably exciting for the actors, because you get to do something a little different, and it's probably fun to beat someone up on camera. There were quite a few clips in the Gag Reel that were from this episode, and you can tell they had fun doing it. Whether it's equally fun to watch depends on the viewer's taste. I must admit that I personally don't like that episode. Reason 1: Baltar's in it for like two seconds. Reason 2: I don't really care for boxing. Reason 3: I hate the Quadrangle stuff. Reason 4: I think they could have done so much more with the flashbacks. Like, we know Cally and Chief ended up having a baby, so we don't need to see them happy and newly pregnant. I'd rather have seen the new government at work and Gaeta starting to realize that Baltar isn't what he thought. Well, that goes back to reason 1, I guess.

"What does your wife think of your randy American fans? Does she wish she'd married a quiet government employee instead of a young sexy actor?"

Heee. He seems to pick a lot of funny questions, which somehow makes the mood of this Q&A more close and personal. He's joining in on our jokes. (Well, I wasn't a fan yet when this was made, so maybe I shouldn't say "our".)

"No, but maybe her mother does. That's a joke, a shout out and lots of love for my mother in law. I don't think my wife knows that there are randy American fans, and my wife wouldn't have thought of me, when we married, I don't believe, as a young sexy actor, although it's very nice tro be described as such."

He always acts like he doesn't think he's sexy at all. Maybe I should focus more on his looks in my posts - certainly lots of material there. On the other hand, maybe no one thinks that much of their own looks. By the way, some of the randy fans are not from America. :P

"If you could project, atmo asks, whatever world around you that you wanted, like the cylons do, what would it be?

Ah yes, I read this one on the internet, I like this question. And I would not change the world at all. The world is very very beautiful, the one thing I'd like to cut out of it is all the aggression and violence and hatred. Obviously then it would be a slightly different world, but the planet and the people on it are beautiful. I wouldn't really like to project myself anywhere else. This place, but this place in peace. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

Awww. No, James, you're beautiful. When he says this, he just looks so warm and caring. There are many ways to answer a question like this, including petty or selfish ones - "I'd project a world where everyone serves me" or "I'd take away all the stupid/ugly people" or whatever. James seems unusually appreciative of other people, and it makes me all warm and fuzzy to hear him say things like this. Fan squee!

There's a clip of Gaius telling her ... disciples?... "You are perfect just as you are!" which makes me wonder if the editors think he was being hypocritical here or something. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. I did notice that there were a few too many clips from season 4 in this Q&A, as opposed to the other actors' Q&A's where there were more earlier seasons stuff. What's up with that?

Part 3

"werealljustfloating.. is actually the name of somebody whos asking me a question. "

A transcript-related note: I always seem to write "everyone/someone" on a first listening, but it always turns out to be -body instead. Maybe James is partial to the -body endings. Also, I was amused by how the actors approached the fans' screen names in these Q&A's. Lucy Lawless was amused at "Martin8or" and I think there were some other similar things. It's cute. It almost makes me want to have some funny name, but I always use Deniselle everywhere because I'm boring like that.

"we'realljustfloating has asked:
Who do you think Baltar really loves the most? HeadSix or CapricaSix?

Because I'm playing him, I think I can tell you what I think. I think Baltar can't really tell the difference. The Head Six is as real to him as Caprica Six. When she holds him, she kisses him, it's real. Nobody else can see it, but he can see it, he can FEEL it. It's in his head. And I suppose because of that, more recently, he's had more interaction throughout the whole series with Head Six. But I suppose he fell in love with Caprica Six. So it's... It's six of one and half a dozen of another!"

It's an interesting question, but one that might be impossible to answer, both because of Baltar's complex love-hate relationship with both, eh, copies?, and the fact that we don't really know what HeadSix is. Throw in Gina and it's an even bigger mess. James seems to have trouble articulating what he's thinking, and it's quite a fuddled answer. In the end, he looks kind of bugged, like he was hoping he could say something more interesting but he just doesn't know how. I think what happened here is that he liked the question, but realized too late that it's too complex to give an adequate response to, and he doesn't want to say something definite that he might regret later.

"sonofcylonagent: I must say that the best bit I saw you do was the torture scene. How did you mix pleasure and pain without making it look comical?

Because, sonofcylonagent, I was um.. I really had that in my mind that I didn't want it to look comical, and I was sure that it could really go in that way, and the way that it doesn't look comical essentially ist hat the pain is all the way thru, and it's a real pain and it looks like, from the guy's face and the way his voice is breaking, that he can't actually take it very much longer. Because that was the true line, you're never gonna find it funny. If you're undergoing that much pain, then the pleasure is only.. It's like dulling the pain, rather than making you, you know, "woo-oo"-flap your legs about and get really excited."

This, on the other hand, is obviously something he had given a lot of thought to. Even if he's analyzed Baltar deeply as well, it's probably easier for him to talk about his acting methods, which are his own thing and not written by someone else. It's nice that fans have told him they appreciate the torture scenes, because I can imagine that was a hellish thing to go through as an actor. Personally, I hadn't thought of the possibility that it could look comical - I guess if he had overdone it, it might look that way, but to me it just seemed very real and very painful. Here's a link to a "behind the scenes" article about season 3, written when the torture scenes were filmed. A brief excerpt:

After three-plus hours of this sadism, lunch is called, and Callis — shaken, spent and seriously hoarse — retreats to his dressing room.

Three-plus hours?! It was hard enough to watch the extended cut in the deleted scenes which went on for maybe ten minutes. But he actually had to do that for that long? It feels downright cruel to make him go through that. On a lighter note:

Cracks Callis, "I don't know what's more torturous, being tortured or being the only naked person in front of a crew of people who are doing everything possible to avert their eyes."

Back to the Q&A:

"freyja also asks: do you believe that Stockholm syndrome plays a part in Baltar's loyalty to the cylon race and his desire to belong?

Actually, I think he's playing them all along. He doesn't really believe, I don't think, that he's a cylon. Part of this existential crisis is, you know.. he's ended up with a group of robots, and the first thing to say to save his life is.. "You know, I might be a robot as well.. yeah! I like licking radiators!" Something like that."

It's a very interesting question. I thought the Stockholm syndrome might come in with the love affair with D'Anna (from torture to threesome). On the other hand, he really only seems to care about himself and whether he's a cylon. I'm not sure if you can read the Temple of Five scene as just survival tactics, because he's alone, asking God about the truth. But then, I also have trouble believing that Baltar really thinks he's a cylon. It's more like he's desperately clinging to some hope or some sense of belonging, even if he knows it to be false.

Part 4

"renewing spirit : in the act of portraying Baltar, do you see him more as a victim of circumstance, or a diabolical passive aggressor?

In the act of playing him, what do I think? Of course he's a victim of circumstance, and like so many things in life, he's also put himself in this position. Is he a diabolical passive aggressor? I definitely think he is not a diabolical passive aggressor. One of the things I think is interesting for you guys, and for me as well, before the fear of discovery, before the annihilation of the species, Baltar is not a politician. Baltar is a genius scientist. I would presume when you're that brilliant, you don't play politics. Why would it ever enter your mind that you have to forethink how you're going to manipulate other people? No, you're just brilliant, everybody's gonna listen to you. And you've never looked behind your shoulder once, only looked in the mirror, seemingly. And then when this thing happens, that's when the machinations and the politics have to spring up, because it's about saving your life on almost a minute by minute basis."

The question is set kind of funnily - it's like two mutually exclusive ways of seeing Baltar. James, of course, has sympathy for his character and doesn't see him as diabolical in any way. He even seems to be defending some of Baltar's more manipulative moments. I actually think that seeing Baltar as fully evil is always derived from the viewers' own attitudes. It's impossible to read that from the show, because he has so many fits of kindness. He can be kind of passive aggressive, though.

This is one of two moments where James seems amused at just how self-centered Baltar can be - "only looked in the mirror", he says with a little smile. It's one of the things that amuses me about Baltar, and it's nice that James seems to feel that way too.

[in a pretty convincing American accent] "Grimmjack66 asks, Could you do a sustained American accent like Jamie Bamber? I really don't know if I could do that for a really long time in the show. But I think I could give it a go. Maybe Baltar have a brother or something like that..."

Hee, a brother. I think his American accent is pretty good, but I don't know how someone from the US might see it. I'd love to see a role where he has to speak American the entire time. It might be quite different.

Next, James looks for a question that he apparently saw before and especially liked, by Freyja:
"How has Baltar's development affected your own personality? Has James become more like Baltar, or has Baltar become more like James?

It's a great question. Um, playing somebody as complex as this has really made me think. It's made me think about so many things that otherwise I would never have thought about. Has that made me become the man? No, definitely not, but it made me cut my hair quite recently so I wouldn't feel like the guy when I got out of bed in the morning. Has Baltar got something from me? On a broad brush stroke level, he's slightly more human because I'm playing him. [chuckles] That's the most stupid thing in the world to say. What I MEAN is that I didn't want to be a caricature on some level. The thing perhaps that Baltar has from me, that he did not have in the script, is warmth. He's quite warm. There are quite a lot of cold people on Galactica. And that warmth makes him sympathetic in some way, and gives him an understanding into...people, when he can be, if he can possibly think about them for one second, other than himself or his own reflection. So that's something that I think I've added."

It is a great question, and it seems like he loves to answer the questions about acting (which, of course, is something he's given a lot of thought to). I love how he mocks his own answer like that. But I don't think "he's more human" is necessarily that silly - I think he just meant that Baltar has more positive, warmer human traits because of him.

Again, he seems amused by Baltar's narcissism - it's irritating, but at the same time, it makes him a funny character. I like that he brought warmth to the character, and that he considers it such an important side of Baltar. I think a lot of viewers - especially casual viewers - seem to overlook the positive sides of Baltar's character and only focus on the negative ones. Yes, he can be narcissistic, devious, and incredibly childish, but he's also warm and compassionate sometimes, doesn't hate anyone, and isn't cruel to anyone. I think even some of his negative outbursts of emotion add warmth - the temper tantrums, nymphomania and guilt-riddled anxiety seem to give him color, as opposed to some other characters who always keep their cool (Cain, etc.). I also find a character like this much easier to identify with, because I'm an emotional person myself.

It's funny, but writing this, I also realized that Baltar has made me think about things I wouldn't have thought of otherwise - guilt and complicity, compassion and narcissism, what makes a character a villain... It's the mark of a truly great show, and it's great that it makes the actors think about deep stuff too. If an actor has to consider deeper issues to portray the character, that must mean the character is not a caricature, but complex and difficult just like real people.

"I wanted to thank you for your time. it's been a real pleasure for me to see what you are thinking and where you are... um, enjoy, take care, be good and if you can't be good, be careful."

There's a genuine warmth to how James says this. He really seems to enjoy encounters with the fans. I like his catchphrase in the end - he's used it in several of the messages at the unofficial website as well.

I remember first watching this, trying to "get to know him" a little. It felt a bit like, if he's gonna be arrogant or rude or bigoted or something, I can still pull back and just enjoy the character. It took me by surprise, and still often does, just how warm he seems. There's a kindness to him that goes beyond what I had expected. I remember watching this and thinking that I can't help it - I will be a fan of his, because he's just a beautiful person.


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Wesoly said...

Hi, Deniselle. I hope this post goes through.

Wesoly said...

Hmm...did this one work?


Nicole Anell said...

I've seen the first two of these, but somehow never saw 3 and 4! Thanks!

You could say he has a thick layer of narcissism over the compassionate nature that is, perhaps, his true nature under his issues or character flaws.
I like this, even though I should be careful not to be over-optimistic about his nature either. :D I do think there's a lot of compassion in Baltar, he seems to naturally react and empathize with other people's pain, but he's hardly ever brave or selfless enough to do anything about it.

He always acts like he doesn't think he's sexy at all.
Hee, I know! Boy needs some extra self-esteem. :D His projection answer was really sweet.

I actually like Callis' answer about Caprica and HeadSix, because I agree with his take on it. I think whatever Baltar's feelings are, they're the same for both versions of Six, because he doesn't really separate them in his mind -- his original relationship with Caprica and their ongoing invisible relationship sort of melded together for him. I think even with Gina, he never fully, emotionally accepted that she was different. I always found it really sad when he's talking to her about New Caprica and says something like "we can be together again." Oh honey, WTF.

It was hard enough to watch the extended cut in the deleted scenes which went on for maybe ten minutes.
Uh (tiny voice) there was an extended cut in your deleted scenes? We didn't get that in America. We got a cool scene with Caprica and D'Anna beforehand, and a Kara/Leoben thing, and... maybe some other stuff I can't remember, but definitely not the torture stuff.

The Stockholm Syndrome question is interesting, I think I agree with the question-asker behind it more than James. :D Although I love the radiator line. I think it's partly survival instinct, but I think he really does *want* to believe he's a Cylon even if he knows deep down he's not, because -- well, what you said, the hope of belonging, and also to avoid feeling guilt.

Insight from the U.S. -- his American accent is decent, but not as perfect as Jamie Bamber's. I can definitely tell he's putting it on. It's fun to hear, though! :p

Nicole Anell said...

Yaaaaay, I finally got my giant comment through!

Deniselle said...

Nicole, yay! It finally worked! You should be able to post as anonymous even, so that's strange. Well, now you're on blogger, maybe you should start a competing James blog. :P

Maybe I should make a point of blogging about his looks and spamming his website with it until he gets it. :D James, you're gorgeous, come on! I like his self-deprecating humor, but sometimes it seems like he really means it and it makes me feel bad for him. Well, better than being self-loving in the Gaius way, I guess.

I do agree with the first part of the Six response - that he can't tell the difference. I just think he gets muddled in the swamp of duh when he starts saying that HeadSix is real to Gaius - of course she is. He doesn't really get to a deeper point after that, so I felt he kinda lost what he was going to say there.

My third season DVDs contain a seven-minute extended cut of the torture scene. It's horrid. It's more sex, more torture (I imagine this is the uncensored version), and you can even see the green screen behind James and Tricia and the boom mike guy standing there, and it still feels really real and really horrid. The US DVDs don't have this? :O Though I'm sure you'd remember it if you'd seen it.

What throws me is that he tends to use the American accent to be sarcastic - like talking about the Letterman show etc. - and thus I always hear it as his sarcastic voice. Maybe he should work on using it more in normal speech and it might come off more natural.