Monday, October 5, 2009

An Evening With James Callis - The Panel, Part 1

So this is the panel from the con An Evening With James Callis, held in Bonn, Germany, this September. The main post for the con is here and you can stream or download the full video for this panel - the high quality link is the second one - here at There's also an audio stream file at VDVD Magazine here. This is a ninety-minute panel, so each post will cover about 30 minutes.

All photos by René Kissien from Caprica-City. Thank you so much for letting me use them! I was going to pick the right picture to go with each answer, but truth be told, I don't have that kind of patience, so apart from the one where he's fiddling with the bottle, these are pretty much picked at random. He looks great in all of them, and that's all that matters.

James is introduced and comes in to much applause, smiling charmingly.

Thank you very much. This is a very.. I would say quaint gathering, thank you very much indeed for coming. And I've just literally hopped off the plane from London, um.. so I'm here to answer some questions. Whatever you'd like to kind of ask me, within the bounds of reason [laughter; he removes the scarf and places it on the table.] And if I can answer, I shall. It's my second time in Bonn, I thought I'd say, I was here earlier in the year for FedCon. It's a really beautiful city, and just as I was coming here, we heard the church bells ringing. It's a beautiful sunny day as we head into the winter. I imagine that you're all Battlestar aficionados but I don't know. And you've all made your way here. Is everyone here from Germany?

Voice from the audience: NO!

No? (laughter) Goodness me. So why don't I just open this up to the floor and try and answer your questions. I don't know where I'll place myself.. I might look more nonchalant standing here by this desk. (leans on the desk; laughter) So does anybody have a question at all? No? You all came here just to look at me? How disappointing, I'm very sorry. Who's gonna be the first? There aren't any prizes for the first person. But come on, ask me a question, I'll try and answer it if I can.

Always good at breaking the ice, and he seems completely at ease and relaxed in this setting. He's warm and friendly, and he gives very loqacious answers. I'm actually glad there weren't that many questions, because he gets to really elaborate on the questions he does get, and it's one of the best panels, if not THE best panel, ever.

The way he describes the day and the church bells makes me think, once again, about his attitude and personality. Some people are always complaining, while others see beauty wherever they go. It's an odd thing. I'm sure James has bad days and bad moods, but there's something positive about his general disposition, like he sees the world as a beautiful, fascinating place and the people in it as inherently good and ... well, fascinating as well. There are many instances of that in this panel. He just makes things and people sound so... interesting. I feel uplifted by it.

(Gotta love the scarf!)
Fan: I would like to ask you what do you remember about the first day and the last day on set?

James: First and last day. Well, this has been um..chronicled, because I suppose it's like... the first day on set and I was the very first person to film on set. It was basically number Six and Gaius Baltar meeting each other for the first time in the story, where she comes into the house and we end up kissing. That was the first day. That's quite a memorable day. [laughter] If you remember, I was actually sat doing a television interview with this... I was sitting in my own house, and then the TV screens showed the interviewer. The funny thing about that was, the interviewer was actually in the next room behind me, not in a TV station (?) science. So she was being filmed on another camera while they were filming me. There was a discussion, I believe, into my role in developing methods of artificial intelligence.

The first day was really just um... just this thing where Tricia and I have this huge embrace and we end up kissing lots and lots. [laughter] And I think possibly, in a rather cynical way, they wanted that to be the very first thing, because they weren't particularly sure necessarily about me or Tricia. So it was like "le's get this in the can first of all" that's what they call it.. as in the film can. "Can" is also used colloquially as bathroom or toilet in England, but that's not what they meant. [laughter] They said "Let's get this in the can", and I think so that it could be hurried to the executives at either Sci Fi or NBC, so they can look at it and say...

They are very ruthless, these people, genuinely. If they don't like what they see, then you're out of a job. And there's no... it's like X Factor without laughs, or Pop Idol. It's just like "Hey, you - bye." By that stage already, cos I'd been involved... I'd had this before where somebody I was working with.. After about a week the producers and directors, they didn't like what they were seing, and it's a very... like I said, very cruel and ruthless. So whilst this person I knew was sacked, there were four people waiting in the hotel, to take that person's part. And I assumed that one of the reasons we filmed that thing first was because both myself and Tricia were unknown entities, quantities, for the network. And they wanted to check that that worked ,or tht scene really worked. I was just lucky that I was opposite Tricia, who's very beautiful and fantastic. I think that the people watching it were like, "Yeah, this works, ok." So we had some reprieve..

[leans on the table and tips over a glass] Oops! There's nothing in it, it's ok. [There's a bottle of mineral water next to the glass, and he finds it's already been opened] How am I gonna get... oh, it's been done already. [pours water into the glass.]

So that was the first day. Actually it took me several.. I dunno, about three weeks to actually get on Galactica. You know, the whole show is Galactica but our particular storyline, we didn't get on set, we were filming somewhere else. It was memorable in lots and lots of ways. The director Michael Rymer, who was with us all the way thru... was very bold. And because it was the first day there's a lot of tension, and there's a lot of... There were several people on set who were executives, and they kept on crowding in by the monitor, you know, checking. Basically at some point, the director Michael Rymer just said, "Can you guys let me frakking od my job and get lost?" It was quite brave, really, a lot of people wouldn' t have said that. So they disappeared and things became slightly easier.

This has been told lost of times, seriously, but I was very self-conscious getting undressed in front of all these people. And I asked the camera crew if they would be gentle with me and maybe not make fun of me when I got my clothes off, to which the cameraman replied, just seriously went, "Do you think anyone's looking at YOU?" (laughter) "You're in the room with Tricia. Doesn't matter what you do, you could be chopped liver, forget it, don't worry." Which was quite helpful. [laughter]
I'm amused that he stops to ponder on the meanings of the word "can" - and looks rather amused at the toilet connotation. Does the British humor rely heavily on toilet stuff? Kixxa tells me it does, but I do wonder about James. Hmm.

I don't think he's mentioned that thing about the interview in the first episode before. It's a nice addition, because I often feel like he skips that bit to get to the hot sex stuff (well, who wouldn't?) I started to think about the woman who played Kellen the journalist. She appears on screen at the same moment as Gaius, it's the first time we see Gaius Baltar, and that's a moment a lot of people in the world have seen. Yet I don't remember ever hearing what her name is or hearing anything about her. I should look her up. Hmm. She doesn't even seem to be listed as "Kellen". I guess it's Suleka Matthew? I'm impressed James still remembers her name.

I think I've already commented on the sex scenes as much as I can - I won't get into the donuts here - but just one more thing: I cannot imagine what BSG would be like if James wasn't Baltar and Tricia wasn't Six. Can you? Honestly, that sounds like some hellish parallel universe where everything is wrong.

I was wondering why I made a note of him being so natural about the glass and not being distracted by it. Maybe it's because, had it been me, I'd already be sooo nervous about talking in public, and the glass would have made me even more nervous. (Little things like that really put me off at work.) But he keeps acting like he's talking to friends in a relaxed setting, and this is one of the reasons why I love him so much.

The reply continues:

And we kinda jump, like Battlestar, I dunno, five years in the future, to the last day. The last day was terribly hectic and I think it was filmed until something like 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. Normally when you finish the season and you forget something, you can always go back and do little bits you haven't done before. But on the last night, nobody's was ever coming bak,so it was just finishing when you finish.

There was something like three units, that means there are three cameras on different stages. It was like being part of some big battle, because... While you were doing your scene, I'm waiting to do my scene, I'm like "when are you gonna do my scene?" Well you have to do the scene, Jamie's in your scene, and Jamie's on a sound stage over there, filming. There was trouble coordinating everybody together, people hanging around for ages. And we were all, as you've seen in the finale, everybody's in like fighting gear, everybody's got their guns and wahtever. You're just like... honestly felt like being in some battle. you stand there having a cigarette like that, and over the radio they go, "second unit! second unit!"I remember one man running up to me, pointing at me very.. "third unit, third unit, quickly quickly!" and just disappearing into the night. (laughter) And there were a lot of battles that we were filming, you could hear sporadic gunfire.

I think I got home at something like.. around 3 o'clock in the morning, I was gonna have a, you know, little drink or whatever.. and i remember ringing Jamie Bamber who's my close friend, and he was filming until something like 5:30 in the morning, he was very disappointed. He was like, [indignant voice] "Yeah, you go have your drink. You know some of us are still working!"[laughter]

And the last scene I filmed, actually, there's something slightly poetic about it but it was also with Tricia. Funnily enough, I don't actually think it actually made the cut. It's not in the final show. But it was her and me running around the corridor firing these huge guns at imaginary cylons. I think there was only like one chance to get it right and you can only rehearse so many times. Actually you may know, firing these guns is genuinely dangerous. You've got people who are armors who tell you what to do, but... if the magazine jams, these things are... they're called blanks, but they're like real bullet casings that can come out and hit you in the face and burn you. And there are so many ppl around firing guns that uh... I don't know, people were getting shells in the eyes... so that was the beginning and that was the end.
(applause) Any other questions?
It's interesting that they apparently filmed out of order, with the battle on BSG coming last. I'm not a huge fan of space battles, but there was something endearing about seeing James in army gear. There are certain types of clothes where he just looks... small and loveable. (L)! The big helmet was especially cute on him. Amusingly, Tricia looked much more at home in her army gear, maybe because she's more athletic and taller than James.

The final days of shooting sound like a pretty chaotic experience - even if James described it as "frakking awesome" in the 08 Comic Con panel - and he doesn't sound all that emotional talking about it. Maybe it was one of those things where it just went so quickly, you had no time to process it until later.

The next question is about director Michael Rymer and what kind of techniques he used while filming.

We were terribly lucky to have this man lead us. I've worked with a lot of people over the years, and I'm not... I'm in a slightly difficult position to talk about it, because I am so partisan. I'm a fan of the show, but I'm also a big fan of Michael Rymer, a big fan. So I dunno. Just learned so much, and not just about film, but about the way that .. the way he manages people. He's very nonconfrontational. He always wants everybody's idea first of all before he'll tell his idea. He wants to hear what YOU think and what you want to do. If he likes it, he'll, he'll stand, he... He's someone who has the courage and the confidence to stand back. This is a big deal, because a lot of people don't have that courage or that confidence and they're constantly jumping [jumps forward] in and changing things, that can be quite difficult. This is somebody who's like, "Yeah, do what you want. If I don't like it I'll tell you." Very mild-mannered with a very good sense of humor. But like a lot of people out there, like the ... [he doesn't finish this thought]

Making the show was a gentle experience, it wasn't a hard experience. He's a very nice man who wants the best out of everybody and the best FOR everybody, so I was.. also as well... He would give everybody a chance to do their thing. Occasionally, for example... say you were trying to work out a scene that's going to be a big scene and you didn't quite know what he was going to go. A lot of directors then would be like, "Well, I don't know.. how much time have I got [pretends to look at watch] I have to get this thing in the can. It's just about getting it shot. So you're the guy talking. Right. It's gonna be on you first of all, right, that's it." You understand, even though you do this for a living, that's quite a lot of pressure for somebody, and sometimes if there's too much pressure, you can't do the thing you need to do.

So occasionally I would say... [?] how we're filming this, Michael would put the camera at the back of people, like make it move back. I'd say what for, what are you filming.. He went,"What I'm doing is... this will give me a great cutting point at any point during the scene, but it will also allow you as the actor to get your confidence up. By the time you're cooking? with gas, then I can come around and be on your face." That's a rather marvellous technique, but a lot of people I don't think would have the confidence to do that, because they'd spend five or ten minutes shooting people's backs to see the room, and there'd be a lot of people in the studio going, "Sorry, what the hell is this man doing? He's just giving us lots of people's backs." I suppose I'm delving into the tricks of the trade there, but.. He also said, you know, sometimes that'll give him leeway to see where he wants the angel of the picture to be.

And in my.. I dunno how many years I've been acting now, I think it's like over 12 or 15 years, but one of the .. one of the most generous men, like from the second week on, the whole cast spent most of their time at his house. And it was one dinner party after a cocktail party after.. So in some way he was the person who galvanized the family together. I just remember, my experience is like, when you've done the day's filming, everybody's off on their separate little trip(?). I've rarely been invited into the director's house to discuss what we're doing. Rarely. This was something that happened for five years. And.. that's a pretty special connection. So that then.. I'm a firm believer that actually anybody can act, really, anybody. But you have to feel comfortable, you have to feel confident enough to do that thing. He's somebody who really did make us feel comfortable and confident enough to give it our all.

And I suppose, you know, different things.. he's Australian, he's not American, so he's got a you know, a different... When things got a bit gung ho and a bit like you know, "Let's go!" whatever, Michael would always step back in that, slightly. In a way that I think if you were American, you'd be gunning for it! "No, that's... I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure that's the.. um... " in the sense that he's got a healthy dose of cyniscism, he's not totally... what's the word, your party man or your party line.

And another thing he did, which I think they really liked, although I think they found it tough at the time, was that he'd embroider(?) ideas they gave him. Most people just wanna shoot what they've got, that's it, you know, what have I got on the page? Right. He would always be looking into... where'd the idea come from? How can I make the idea slightly more interesting? "You know, it says this but what if you did that? You come into the room, you're already.. you're already upset." Just little ideas that would then elevate the material. I believe actually his wife, Loretta, was the person - she and Eddie - that come to that song that we used at the beginning of the show, the Gayatri mantra. He's an informed.. spiritual... enlightened individual. An absolute privilege working with.

I don't really know enough about Rymer or film making to really comment on this very much. However, I always love hearing James praise other people, because it brings out his warmth so much. He seems excited to get to talk about Rymer. And I like that he can appreciate spirituality and mentions it as a positive quality (that will come out more later in the panel). It makes me feel like he might appreciate mine as well.

I just have to return to his Battlestar yearbook entry where he wrote about Rymer in a teasing way that, I suspect, he reserves only for people he knows well and who truly get his humor:

Four years passed pretty peacably - although the Hiring of Mike "Boomerang" No reason or Rymer - threatened to sink the whole project down the crapper - For a start no one could understand a word the man said - Think Crocodile Dundee meets Orson Welles - then double it. Luckily his hold over the proceedings was only slight - and when they made him a producer - he disappeared altogether - which seems to be a running theme in this particular line of work.
:D :D What can I add to that?

James: Let's just talk about sex, shall we? [laughter] Any other questions? Cos like we've got 90 minutes. I could tell a joke, but uh...

Fan: Hello, James.

James: Hi.

Fan: I don't have a question, but I'd like to say that you're looking frakking gorgeous tonight and that's already worth coming.

James: That's really sweet, and I believe that there is an eye doctor somewhere in the hotel. You can get... (laughter) And your head tested as well afterwards. That is very sweet, thank you.


Um.... this IS the Battlestar Galactica event, right? Not Stargate? (laughter) I have come to the right place, have I? I'm just checking, just checking.
Heee! I'm not sure if James is so much flattered as amused at the comment. I'm a bit curious about him in this respect. Does he, in fact, realize he's drop dead gorgeous but tries to keep himself humble? Or does he genuinely have such a negative body image and self image that he thinks he's pretty bad looking? As for the fan's comment: I SECOND, with a great big Gaius hand raise. Sexy professor charm! *droools* (I wouldn't necessarily have stood up and said that to his face, but then I'm posting it in public where he may read it anytime - so I guess I can't judge.) And he did say "Let's just talk about sex", so it's all his fault if the fans' minds are in the gutter now. ;)

Asked about the lack of goodbye scene between Laura Roslin and Gaius Baltar. "How would you picture such a goodbye scene between Laura and Gaius?"

You know, it's a fascinating.. I've never thought of that before. I think that it would have been a goobye with no words, I think, essentially. There's something that these... we were so lucky the writing on the show was so brilliant, and a lot of the writing isn't just writing lines, it's writing the things you don't say. Several points that.. "Gaius can't reply", "Gaius doesn't know what to say", "Laura wants to say something but doesn't". And I'm thinking now that there was a big deal of things like when Gaeta was going up before the firing squad, there was a thing where I said to him about, "I know who you are." I think this was important for everyone on the show, there's a kind of recognition about "I know who you are", or "I know what you're about". And I don't think, given their history, that there would be any words. It would be a look in the eye... And that look in the eye would say so many things. On some level it'd be like "Go, go do whatever you're going to do." And the fact that we can look at each other means on some level that we wish each other no harm. We've gone thru so much together.

It's a slightly one-sided thing because I think Gaius really had um... Gaius appreciated Laura, Gaius found Laura attractive and briliant and honest, and she was everything that he could never be. And this is something I tried to bring, I suppose, to the character, that he could see it. It wasn't that he hated it, he could see it. But given the kind of character Gaius was, it's not necessarily something she could see in him. So it's like one of the those things, a love-hate relatioship, I think on some level he really loved her and she really hated him. (laughter) Like I said, if there had been a goodbye, they wouldn't have tainted it with words. She's too clever. He, Gaius, might have tried to say something... inappropriate or wrong.. but Laura was a really classy lady, and she wouldn't have needed to say anything. A look, a nod... and then goodbye. That's all.

This is a beautiful answer, and that's how I picture Laura and Gaius' goodbye as well. Again, James sounds very warm talking about it. I love the idea of "I know who you are" as a running theme between the characters. They know each other; humanity has dwindled to very little, and the same people have been stuck together for some years now; everybody knows each other, and maybe it's a bad thing in some ways, but there's also a recognition, an integrity about it. You can see the others' humanity when you know them.

It's interesting how much respect James has for Laura Roslin, and I imagine it also has something to do with his respect and admiration for Mary McDonnell. I personally found Laura's position as the main character annoying sometimes, by the end, because she would do horrible things and yet people would hail her as a heroine. But I'm not saying I disrespect the character in general; she was smart, she was classy, and there would probably have been a really awesome goodbye scene, had they thought to make one. I'd rather have Baltar and Six back together, of course, but it would have been nice to have that too.

The next question is about whether James watches the show. The fan had had seen somewhere that Eddie and Mary do not.
James: They didn't watch the show?

Fan: Yeah.

James: Not true. [laughter] No. I can tell you right now that's not true.

Fan: Okay.

James: I know for sure it's not true about Eddie. Because, I mean, Eddie used to come to me and say, [eddie voice] Have you seen the rushes? [/eddie voice] The rushes are what you.. when you just filmed something, that's called.., before it's processed, before they make the sound and everything, the stuff just out of the film cam... Although it's not a film camera.. by the first season we were shooting on digital video, HD, but the rushes are the thing that gets processed. So Eddie was always like, "Have you seen the rushes?" And I said, "I haven't actually watched anything, no." [ev] "I watch everything. [laughter] Everything. So should you." [/ev] And.. yeah, when I hear Eddie hasn't watched the show, it's not true and not real.

Maybe Mary hadn't, or I don't know about Mary. I find... I was just in London a few days ago, and um... I just come home from dropping one of my kids at school, and I turned in the new.. I had just gotten satellite television for the first time, been away from it... [something seems to happen off camera] Thank you. Thank you very much. [laughter] Don't try this at home.

I just got satellite TV, been away from it five years in Canada, getting back to London and getting all the stuff... Flicking through channels, and there's Battlestar Galactica... for me gen.. I couldn't work out what episode, what season, what was.. you know, in the sense of being involved with so much product and so much stuff. I knew it was our show and not the sone from the 70's. [laughter] Other than that, it was like.. do I appear in this one? Do I have a lot to say? I can't really remember.. Yeah, but they did, or they will. I'll send Mary the box set on your behalf.

I love how he makes the most Eddie face while doing the Eddie voice. It's uncanny. He nods his head, looking entirely serious, and he really does look like Edward James Olmos for a moment. It's weird how he can do that.

It's odd to think of how little he can tell the different episodes and seasons apart. The interviews show that he's seen the episodes when they first come out, and he remembers Baltar's storylines well - because he lived through them - but it seems like the fans have more of an idea about what happened in which episode/season. It's interesting that being inside the thing actually makes you less exact about this type of thing. (He proves this later on by not remembering what episode the nuked Earth was in, "but it was the end of one season".) Or maybe he's just a scatter-brained professor. We can never fully discount that possibility.

The next question is about his future projects. I already transcribed most of this for the original con post:
I've been involved in something in England, a pilot... [Meet Pursuit Delange] It's a rather difficult thing to describe. It was a comedy and it was very risqué, very very risqué. So risqué that the pilot possibly won't be made, but now, people are interested perhaps in a movie that will be less risqué. Do you understand risqué? Essentially risqué is rude.. I think, essentially, rude or crude, or both. I play this guy who was a wannabe, he wanted to be involved in the media in some way. And he's very naïve and a bit... sweet, like a nice guy, sweet, but he gets... he meets up with an old school friend who never was actually his friend at school. And the old school firend is really mean, really nasty. So it's like a duo between myself who was like Bambi and my friend who was like Satan. (laughter) It was very funny to do.

Since then, actually, I've just done a film in London called Re-Uniting the Rubins. Which is about a family, the Rubins family, who haven't spoken to each other in fifteen years. And because of a course of events, they were thrown together. It's kind of a bittersweet comedy. Do you have, in Germany, do you have a show like The Apprentice... so you've got your own Donald Trump? A German version of Donald Trump? -You don't? You just get Donald Trump? Well, in England we have this guy called Alan Sugar, who runs The Apprentice. And he's um... terribly successful businessman but started from very humble beginnings. And the character that I played in this film is.. wants to be a business magnate, and is actually rather... I dunno, unpleasant, naïve..There's just been something on the news about what I was doing on the film... Which I didn't... when I got the script, I was... It's true, and that's on the news at ten.

There's all this mining going on in Africa for [ore?] that ends up in our mobile phones. Do you know about this? Some of you do. You go to the top of the class, the people who do. [laughs] Anyway, there's all this stuff that it's a huge conflict in the sense of the mobiles... Mobile or cell phones are a multi-billion dollar industry and business. We're all slaves to being on the mobile phone. But it's causing wars and havoc in Africa where people are being paid nothing. They spend their whole lives mining this stuff out of the Earth. And that's something that I was doing in the film. I was very unscrupulous. So that was that.

I didn't actually know that. So I guess I go to the back of the class. *blushes* Meet Pursuit Delange sounds awesome - James is NOT the bad guy? This should be a great change to his roles lately. When he described it was gross earlier, I wasn't sure if I'd like it, and I'm still not sure. It sounds very hit or miss. But I'm still eager to see it. I'm trying to think back of his roles, if he had any that were just "nice guy", and I guess he was as Tom and the Wolf, but not in so many others. Most of his TV and film roles have been somewhat menacing - Gaius is actually from the nicer end of the scale, considering crazy cult leader Mason Duryea or Haman the anti-Semitic mass murderer.

Re-Uniting the Rubins sounds pretty cool too. This sounds more like a "baddie" role, but not one he's done before. His role in Going Wrong was a sort of business man, but he was also dealing drugs and other shady stuff. Unless Danny Rubins does that, this might be a different thing. There's a family angle, which certainly isn't very common in his work. I can't remember him doing many roles where he even had a mother or father or sibling. In fact, have there been any? *muses* There may not have been.

Granted, I might actually hate these projects when they come out, so I won't say too much about how awesome they are, but we'll see. Sounds promising and slightly different to what he's been doing.

And uh, possibly some other stuff... Until I've actually got the job, until I'm actually on the set, I don't really like to talk about it, because our industry is so up and down. I have been called out before going, "You'll see me in this." And it doesn't really happen. So we'll see, watch this space.

I wish he weren't quite so secretive, but it's certainly a job where there are no certainties (pun unintended but I'm leaving it), and after getting to translate only 40 pages of a book myself - after bragging to everyone I know about translating a book - I can see where he's coming from. Things can change, and more often than not, they do.

To be continued...

In the next part: More chest hair!


Wesoly said...

Great work! :D

Oh, and who's he fooling in that picture? :D "Oh, dear. Did one too many of my shirt buttons come undone?"


Deniselle said...

He seems to be hot and was scratching his back or something... but opening that many buttons in the first place.. come on! ;)

And thank you! :D It's a fun task to transcribe our Professor. Prof. Chester. Chestair? Did we ever agree on a name for his chest hair? :D

Caprica-Lex said...

Jeez... That looks like a helluva lot of work. I was there... but I still can't wait to read the rest :)

Deniselle said...

Aww, thank you! :)

It IS a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun too. I'm already almost done with part 2.

millari said...

Thanks for the transcript. I haven't had much time to sit and listen to the whole video, so this was a nice compromise.

Btw, you might be interested to know that the journalist character Gaius is talking to in the Miniseries is I'm pretty sure called Kellen Brody.

Deniselle said...

:) So glad to hear even native speakers enjoy the transcripts!

Kellen Brody. It's odd that she has a full name and it's not even credited on imdb. (Not that imdb is such an unerring well of knowledge anyway, but still.) I think she's credited as "Journalist".

It's kind of strange to think of her - so many ppl have seen her, yet she's in a rather invisible supporting role.