battlestar-galactica-03.jpg

Share to Facebook Tweet This Send to MySpace DiggThis Send to StumbleUpon Send to Reddit Send to Del.icio.us

Felix Silla GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Friday, 18 May 2007

On September 23, 2005, the day before Screenheroes held in Utrecht, the Netharlands, Mike Egnor and Marcel Damen spoke to Felix Silla, better known as the person in the suit of Lucifer and Specter (in the episode "The Young Lords") in Battlestar Galactica 1978. Felix Silla talks for the first time how he got approached for Battlestar Galactica and what it was like on the set. Silla also talks about his acting in the suit of Twiki in Buck Rogers and his amazing career.

My name is Mike Egnor and I'm here with Marcel Damen, and we're here with Felix Silla who played Lucifer as well as some other things on the series Battlestar Galactica. It's the day before Screenheroes [convention]. Mr. Silla, I appreciate you taking the time for doing the interview.

Thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure meeting the both of you. I know we've gone through some e-mails before, but we've never met in person. So finally we meet!

 

Felix Silla at the Screenheroes convention in The Netherlands 

Felix Silla at the Screenheroes convention in The Netherlands

 

Okay. You were born in a small village outside of Rome, Italy where you were trained as a circus performer. How did you get involved in that?

Well actually... You're right, I was born in Italy and then I immigrated to the [United] States. I went to New York in which I had a brother, who lived in upstate New York, but I didn't train in Italy in the circus. I worked with the Ringling Brothers in the United States of America.

Okay. That was also one of the questions I had. Did you get discovered and move over?

Actually what happened... I arrived in New York in November 1955 and Ron April... I told my brother: "Look, I want to go back to Italy, because I don't understand the language, you know. I'm really lost here." Every time we went to visit friends I was standing in the corner, because they were talking English. I knew they were Italian friends. They could have talked in Italian so that I could have understood them, but they always talked in English and I couldn't understand English, so... Ron April then told my brother that I wanted to go back to Italy, because I was kind of lost here. I don't like this [situation]. We went from New York City to see the circus and [see] if I could get a job.

Now, did you audition for Ringling Brothers?

Well, I started... No... I started working with the Ringling Brothers in a side show with just a handful of people and then I went in the circus itself and I did some bare back riding, being a clown, and things like that.

Okay. Did this circus performing help you in becoming a stuntman in Hollywood?

Actually, no. I traveled with the circus for almost seven or eight years and I finally decided to live in California. When we worked in Los Angeles, in the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, one of the families who was doing the publicity for the circus, was also doing the publicity for a amusement park in Santa Monica. So I decided to quit the circus and to start working... They gave me a job to go from the circus into the park and I did the publicity for it. And then from there I went into the movie industry.

Okay. Did you have any training in becoming a stuntman? How does that work?

Well, you don't really have training. You do what you can do, you know. You don't do things you don't want to do, because with some things you can end getting hurt. So you do things like... If you don't know how to swim, which I'm not a swimmer, you know. (laughing). You do things that you feel secure [with].

 

Felix Silla at the Screenheroes convention in The Netherlands 

Felix Silla at the Screenheroes convention in The Netherlands

 

You have, without question, one of the most impressive resumes in Hollywood. Let me go through some of the movies that you've been involved in: Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Towering Inferno, E.T., Poltergeist, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi, Batman Returns... Now let's go on to television: Bonanza, Bewitched, The Adams Family, Star Trek The Original Series, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers...

And a few others...

...And many others. There's a bunch I didn't mention.

Yeah.

That is staggering. How do you look back at it? I mean, how do you feel about it?

I, you know... Every time they bring this up to me and refresh my memory... Some of the things I don't remember that I did. (all laughing) It's such a long time ago. It brings back memories of which were the good old days. Like Bonanza, one the top episodes it produced. As a matter of fact, the writer wrote a sequel to it. I was a Leprechaun living on the Ponderosa. But the actors refused, because it would take too much of the name. It was a story that we went to live on the Ponderosa as a family. Like five different families lives in the Ponderosa, as a taxpayer and things like that. They refused with a smile that they had taken too much away from us.

Which movies are you most proud of or are most memorable to you?

Actually, I did a movie with George Segal, The Maltese Falcon, the remake of The Maltese Falcon was called The Black Bird. To me it was fun doing that, because I was myself and I played a German... Actually, I was playing the partner of [actor] Sidney Greenstreet, right, in The Maltese Falcon? Remember that role in The Maltese Falcon? (Editor's Note: Felix is referring to the character "Kasper Gutman"). I play his part. I would dress like a German soldier... well, I don't want to say Nazi, but anyway... I had this German uniform, with a shaved head and a goatee and mustache, and I was the bad guy. I'm looking for the Maltese Falcon which was filled up with diamonds and jewelry inside. That was a funny, funny, funny show that I played with George Segal, but it didn't do very well because Segal and the producer had a lot of problems with the show. So it didn't do very well in the box office. But it was a fun little part, that I really liked, because people got to see me as myself. I wasn't inside a costume, but just myself.

How did you involved with Battlestar Galactica? Were you hired there for the stunt work, or the part of Lucifer?

You know, I don't remember how they hired me. They just put me in the costume. (all laughing). That's where I was. They're always put me in a costume. They call you in. You do an interview and they say: "We're going to use you for this" and I say: "Okay". That's how they do it.

In the early days [before the show aired] there were interviews [and one was] in Time magazine (September 18, 1978) and it said "Bobby Porter" was credited for the part of Lucifer. Do you know Bobby Porter?

Yeah, I know Bobby Porter. Yeah.

Do you know if he did anything for Lucifer? I always see you credited for Lucifer.

I have no idea, who's what! You know, I don't remember.

 

Felix Silla as Lucifer (suit) on Battlestar Galactica 1978 

Felix Silla as Lucifer (suit) on Battlestar Galactica 1978

 

Did you know any of the other cast before you started? Did you get to meet Lorne Greene in Bonanza?

Yeah, I worked with Lorne Greene. I was doubling for, what's his name, Noah.

Noah Hathaway [who played Boxey].

Noah Hathaway. I used to double for him on Battlestar Galactica.

So how do you get... You're 3'11", right?

Right!

How do you get from 3'11" to a 6' robot?

Actually, what they do, is to put something over your shoulders, like a frame they put on your shoulders.

Were there batteries in there? How did you get to see?

You got to see through a screen in front.

Were there batteries on top of you for the lighting of the head?

I think they had something inside for the head with the cables, yeah.

There was also another robot in one of the episodes. It was on "The Young Lords". It was called Specter. It was kind of like Lucifer only a slightly older model, something he used to prank with. Do you remember that?

No, I don't remember playing that.

So, you did stunt work for Noah Hathaway. Can you explain that? Were you first involved for Noah or did you already work...

They called to interview me to do stunts for kids, because children are not allowed to do work after certain hours. Also they weren't allowed to do a lot of dangerous work. So, they hired little people to do their parts. It doesn't matter [who it is]. If you get hurt, they don't care, they just hire somebody else, but if Noah gets hurt, then the show's going to be over. (laughing). They can't replace Noah.

Did you play any other stunt parts for any other children on shows?

Yeah, in Return of the Jedi... No, not Return of the Jedi, in Indiana Jones. I worked on Indiana Jones for six months. I got to play [the stunt double of] Short Round. Yeah, I did all this hard work for him.

You met Dick Durock [who played the Imperious Leader and a Cylon] on the show?

We met. Yes, Dick Durock and another guy playing a Cylon. There were a bunch of guys playing the Cylons, hanging around together.

Do you remember any of the names of the actors in the Cylon suits? Did you get to work with them a lot? Did you speak to them off stage as well?

Well, we were friends. We used to do a lot of work together. We were working in two or three shows together. We did Battlestar Galactica and also some other stuff.

So what can you tell us about Mr. Durock?

Richard Durock. He's a hell of a nice guy. I haven't seen him for a while. I think I did a show with him about three years ago, in Nashville, TN, we did a convention together. And we're supposed to do a convention in Seattle together, but it didn't work out. I was waiting to get back together again, to see him again. We don't see each other anymore on stage so we got to go to conventions to see each other again.

 

Felix Silla as Lucifer (suit) on Battlestar Galactica 1978 

Felix Silla as Lucifer (suit) on Battlestar Galactica 1978

 

That will be good. The voice of the Cylons, the Imperious Leader, and also for Lucifer were all added later. Did they read the lines off screen?

I think that's how they did it. Same thing they did with Buck Rogers, E.T. and The Adams Family. They read on stage while you're working so you know the movements that they want you to do and then later on they added the sound to it.

Did you ever meet Jonathan Harris, who did your voice [of Lucifer]?

I met him on the different conventions, but I never met him on the show.

Okay. You never met him on the show? Did you know in advance how he...

... I never knew anything about it. I didn't know anything. Same thing with Buck Rogers. I knew that Mel Blanc was doing the voice. I met him once. He came on the set and we had a picture taken together, but I never had a chance to see the photo. I met him, the only time, at the Universal Studios, he came... Then they called him on the set, and they showed the film and he did the voice. I didn't know he was doing the voice for me.

So John Colicos had the only speaking part actually in all the scenes you had [during shooting]. How good of an actor was he that he could do that without getting anything back?

It's like improvising. I did a show called The Lord of the Rings (Editor's Note: the 1978 animation), myself and a bunch of old people and we have to improvise everything. Like when we go through a door, we have to make believe we go in and out a door, opening and closing [it]. The director, he wasn't a nice guy. Ralph Bakshi, he used to scream at people. He wasn't a very nice person. He kept screaming at us: "Do this! Do that! It's stupid", whatever. I went: "Hey, we don't have anything to work with. Give us a chance". He was just screaming at people like crazy, like he was a maniac! And then he became... then they did a cartoon around it.

Do you have any fun recollections of John Colicos?

No...

Did you mingle off stage? Between scenes?

Actually, no. I used to go to work, do my job and go home. I left everything there. I didn't take any problems home. I didn't bring any problems with me. If I had a problem on the set I just left it [there].

Did you make friends with some of the cast from the show? Did you make friends with people in the Cylon suits?

Yeah, sure!

Did you meet later after the show?

Yeah, we met while we were working, right on the set. After every scene we did, we'd just sit and talk. We'd have a cigarette together and a cup of coffee, we talked. [We got close] because we had to spend many, many hours on the set.

Did it take a long time to get you set up for the costume?

It wasn't really that much time, no. Like on Buck Rogers it only took like 15 to 20 minutes to get the suit on, yeah. Maybe 20 minutes.

Did you have fitting sessions for the suits?

You mean before the show...

....Yeah, before the show started.

Yeah, I went through a lot of stuff. I had to go through [the process of making] a body mold...

They made a complete body mold? We're talking about Twiki, right?

Yeah, we're talking Buck Rogers now. They do make a body mold - you have to have a body mold made - and they then make a sculpture and everything. It's a big process. It takes a long time.

Did they have any earlier models of Twiki? Did they change it later into the form it is now?

No. They only made... They made the original one, and made five [copies], five Twiki [copies]. One disappeared; somebody stole it, way before the show even started. Then there were five left. I think there's one left at Universal Studio.

Have you seen any of the episodes of Battlestar Galactica when it was on air?

You know what, I do have a video. I do have the complete video DVD set, you know with the Cylon.

You got the [one with the] Cylon head on it?

Yeah, I have the original [set]. I've never watched any of the [episode]...

 

Felix Silla as Lucifer (suit) on Battlestar Galactica 1978 

Felix Silla as Lucifer (suit) on Battlestar Galactica 1978

 

You've never watched the episodes?

No, I've never seen any. I even have tapes that I've been buying. I haven't seen them, I just have them at home.

Do you have any scripts or any parts of the costume that you took home after the show?

You mean from which show?

Battlestar Galactica.

No.

What about Buck Rogers?

Buck Rogers, yeah. Well, I do have a script. Every week they gave me a script. Even when you don't say anything, you'd have to know the moves and acting with the other people, even when you don't say anything. The dialogue was done by the script supervisor. She would read the dialogue for Twiki, and I would do the moves for him. Because you'd have to have a script and you'd mark everything.

How did you get the job of Twiki? Did Glen Larson call you up and say: "I want you for this"?

Well, I knew... I knew one of the producers. We were friends, we used to go to the same church. He told me there was something coming up, Universal was going to do a show, and they called me for an interview. I had an interview with other people. As a matter of fact they were talking of [using] Eve, you know Evie [Editor's Note: Evie was the chimpanzee in the costume of Muffit in Battlestar Galactica].

They were going to put a monkey...

They were going to put a monkey in the Twiki costume! How are you going to make this poor animal stand up all day and make it do this and that?

I bet it would have been a different Twiki then! A bit more like Muffit. (all laughing)

Yeah, I remember her many, many days doing Battlestar [Galactica] and she used to get upset.

Okay.

The trainer used to tell the director: "Look, this animal is going to get tired. You've got to give her the chance to rest." The thing is that when they get tired they get hot, because the set was hot. They had all these little pieces of Velcro stuck to her body and he told [them] many times that if she started to make a little noise to stop filming and give her ten minutes of rest. The director would say: "Okay, okay" and they'd go on and forget all about it. Then all of a sudden you'd hear these weird noises, screaming, and pieces flying all over the set. It was Eve trying to rip everything of her, because she was tired and wanted to get out of it and rest.

Was there ever any problem of Evie attacking any of the...

No! No, Evie wasn't really a vicious animal. It was a young chimp, but she never attacked anyone. Like I said she just got upset when she got tired and wanted to rest.

Did you do any shots with Evie because you doubled for Noah [Hathaway]?

I was around... We were around when they were doing the scenes together, but I don't think that we were really close. Because when I did a scene, doubling for Noah, I was involved myself and... What's the [name of the] actress from England, the well-known actress... (pondering) Anyway, we were doing a scene together. Then all of a sudden she was telling the news people that I didn't want to let her go because I was, you know, hanging on her.

Oh, you mean Jane Seymour?

Jane Seymour! Yeah! She's telling the reporters that Felix had got all over her, excited about her. And I said: "Hey!" (all laughing) We were between things blown up, shooting, fires and stuff flying all over the place. She was lucky... Actually they should have had a stunt double for her, but she did her own stunts.

Because Noah Hathaway...

...So no, we were never involved. The animal was involved later.

Because Noah Hathaway was in love with Jane Seymour at the time that they were filming.

Who's that? Noah?

He got to talk to her about it years later and laughed about it.

I can believe he was.

He was only six years old.

He was crazy, Noah, funny kid...

Let me ask you about the Twiki outfit. How did you see through... Were there holes in the eyes?

The eyes were a kind of fine screen. There were very, very little fine holes. They were very small. As a matter of fact when they did a close-up of me, they had to blacken my eyes. I didn't like that, because at lunch time I had to go walking around the studios with two black eyes. (laughing) I could see very well.

 

Felix Silla as Twiki (suit) on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century 

Felix Silla as Twiki (suit) on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

 

You had pinchers in stead of fingers...

Yeah, it was like a fork with four fingers in one part and the thumb would go like this (showing with his hand).

So you couldn't really pick things up?

Yeah, I could pick things up. I could put the claws like that (showing with his hand).

Right, right.

It was okay.

Did you have any problems in the costume falling down?

Falling? Yeah, I fell once. Gil [Gerard] and I were doing a scene at the cemetery and it was really hard for me to walk there with that amount of rocks. It was in the backlot of Universal. That was in the days when everything was still built. Now it's all gone, the cemetery is gone, the backlot, everything is gone. So we would do the scene and we were getting chased by the mutant. So Gil and I got to talk to each other when we rehearsed the scene. Gil told me: "Look, I'm going to give you a lead of about 20 feet ahead. Then we get chased you go ahead and I'll catch up with you." So what I did, before I put the mask on - I was dressed, but the face mask could come off - before I put everything completely on, I looked over where I was going to run and I kind of cleaned [up]; when I would see big rocks I would move them out of the way. So the camera was on a track coming this way (showing) where there was a brick little wall about this high (showing) and we were running this way (showing) and the camera was following us. So we do the scene and when the director says: "Action" I start running. I took off and ran up the little hill like this (showing) and then Gil is coming over and I'm going down. As soon as I was going down I fell flat on my face, because I didn't realize... Going up was fine, but going down I lost my balance and fell flat. I was going: "Oh my God, what's happened to the suit" I thought it was in a million pieces. So this guy comes over, you know, it was at night. He tried fixing me up, so he puts his hands underneath my armpits like this and he lifted me. So while he was lifting me, I'm saying: "I'm sinking into the suit" (laughing). The suit is choking me and I kept telling him, but he says to the director: "What do you want me to do with him?" It took really long. "What do you want me to do with him?" and I kept saying to myself: "Put me down, you're killing me!"

Oh!

And he kept saying: "What do you want me to do with him" and I kept saying: "Put me down!" So I kept yelling like this, so finally I heard the director say: "Cut! Put him down". So he put me down and I said: "Why are you holding me like this? I'm dying, you're killing me! Why did you do this?" That was the first time I fell, and nothing had happened to the suit. The suit, no problem, nothing cracked, nothing broke, my face was fine, you know. So we did the scene one more time and it was fine. But that was the only time that I fell, because that was the only time we were shooting outdoors. Most of the time we were indoors.

I understand that you are doing some Las Vegas and Reno shows with the harmonica [in "The Original Harmonica Band"]?

I did... We're not going to do that anymore. We're no longer together with the group. We used to have a group called The Harmonica Band. We did it for awhile while I was in California. Actually we played in [Las] Vegas once. We were interviewed for one of the shows there a long time ago. The group kind of got separated. Everybody went their own way. While we were doing Buck Rogers, that was the time we were doing The Harmonica Band. We were going to do... I wanted to make some records and the group didn't agree with me. So what were we going to do? I was going to pay for it, because I was making some money. But we no longer... I live in [Las] Vegas now. We're no longer together.

 

Felix Silla in "The Original Harmonica Band" 

Felix Silla in "The Original Harmonica Band"

 

Do you have any hobbies or activities that you're doing now?

Yeah, the only activities I do is to go to conventions.

Conventions all over...

I go to Amsterdam, to London, to New York. All over the place.

Okay. Mr. Silla I appreciate you taken the time to do this interview.

Thank you very much. You're from the [United] States, right?

I'm from West Virginia.

You don't live here?

No, he came over just for the convention.

Wow. Very nice!

 
< Prev   Next >