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Sarah Rush GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Friday, 17 September 2010

Mike Egnor talked to Sarah Rush, better known to Battlestar Galactica 1978 fans as Fl. Cpl. Rigel (or the "Launch When Ready!" woman). Sarah talked about where she came from, how she got into the business as an actress, being a Bituminous Coal Queen, memories from working on the Battlestar Galactica series and the movie Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

You grew up in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania and you once said you wanted to be an actress your whole life?

When I was in second or third grade I did a play at the library. Later when I was in the eighth grade I did another play which had all sorts of stuff in it. My friends, family and teachers were amazed by my performance. It was about a young girl who died and this really triggered something.

You also won the Bituminous Coal Queen pageant in Pennsylvania? Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, when I was 16 I was the Bituminous Coal Queen in Pennsylvania. I also helped make a documentary about it with Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond. I do not have beauty pageant genes in my veins. I had never won a beauty pageant in my entire life, but I think the reason why I must have won that pageant was so we could make this really sweet film about it 30 years later. What happened was that I got the invitation that they were doing the 50th anniversary of the Coal Queen pageant and a reunion of past Queens. I thought: "I've got to go to this!" I heard that there was one Queen that was not returning because she was bitter! (laughing) Then I knew was definitely going! I was lying in my bed that night and I thought of doing a documentary about all of this.

I then had dinner with Patty and some girlfriends. I told her about it and she offered to produce it. We made this sweet film called The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania and it's about me going back to the pageant. It's not a chick flick, because we go into the actual coal mine! (laughing) It's amazing since they had never let anybody in this coal mine to film. But since I'd grown up in this town and my dad was the eye doctor, they trusted us. They were afraid at first, because it was a Hollywood crew and they thought they were going to be disparaged. But thankfully they knew Patricia's husband who directed it and our crew fell in love with the people of this town and made this sweet film. It's small town, America and they're authentic people. They don't give a hoot about Hollywood.

We went to all sorts of festivals and won two Best Documentary Awards and we won the Heartland Film Festival Award. The best compliment I received was from a film maker from Australia. She said she'd never seen people like this, but she loved them. You know how every region has its own authentic little things? Well, it's not that you have to be from Pennsylvania to have it resonate with you. You can come from Brooklyn, New York and have your own microcosm world. That's what it's about. It's a sweet film about real people's lives and homes.

actress Sarah Rush

actress Sarah Rush

What did your parents say when you told them that you wanted to go to Penn State and become an actress?

Because I was the Coal Queen I got a full scholarship to go to Penn State University, so they really couldn't complain too much. But my dad's cousin had been James Dean, the actor, so my dad did not want me to become an actor. My mother was always very supportive, but dad never really was. I went to Penn State and did a 5 year program in 4 years and I was the first person to get a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts. My dad would say: "Keep typing!" (laughing) He was still a bit worried, since I was an artist now and he didn't want to see me struggle at the age 50 to find work. He kind of had a point! Maybe I should start typing. (laughing)

How old were you when you got your first gig?

When I was 14-15 I kept calling this summer theatre in Pittsburgh. I was trying to get a job as an apprentice, but the owner of the theatre told me to call them when I was 16. I thought that was the magic number; also because I realized I could then drive myself back and forth to the theatre. So I started apprenticing at the theatre and then I went to college and got my first professional job in my sophomore year. I played Elma Duckworth in Bus Stop. I worked with great actors like Ed Binns and E.G. Marshall. They both became good friends and we had a lot of fun together.

You said you were one of the last contract players at Universal. You signed a 3.5 year contract. Did you look at it as your big break or did it tie you down?

No. I was so grateful. I graduated from Penn State and got this $2,000 scholarship from Samuel Gallu, who'd written Give ‘em Hell, Harry! I took the money and went to New York and got a job as a waitress at Beefsteak Charlie's. The girls that worked there were really tough and I wasn't tough yet. I'm still waiting to get tough! (laughing) They'd call me Joe, Beth or Amy. You know why? They're little women! It was very humiliating. Two weeks into that job, the board of health closed it down for the day. I had an audition for Universal Studios and got the job to be a contract player. I came back the next day to tell them I was not going to be a waitress there anymore and these girls looked like they were going to murder me, because they were all actors... (laughing)

As a Universal contract player I started at $350/week and later it would go up to $700/week. The idea was that you had to earn more money than they were paying you for them to keep you. I was 21 and very green. I was roller skating over the back lot and would just pop in. Another contract player was David Matthau, whose father was Walter Matthau. Walter was often making a movie and we'd go watch, hang out and have fun. It was so incredible and I got paid to do that! It was great.

Sarah Rush as Fl. Cpl. Rigel on Battlestar Galactica

Sarah Rush as Fl. Cpl. Rigel on Battlestar Galactica

Can you talk about your audition for Battlestar Galactica?

Since I was under contract, they called in all the girls, all the contract players. I came in and was very serious about my craft. I still am. It's not brain surgery, but I feel passionate about it. Though I now have more fun in doing it than I did back then.  When I was younger I was so very serious and committed. So I came in, I auditioned and there was Glen Larson and all these people and I had to say something like: "Red alert! Red Alert! 100 microns and closing, 99 microns and closing..."; something like that.

I sat in the middle on a chair with everybody around me and I used my fist as a microphone, said my lines and then looked at everybody. They all burst into laughter! I was so serious about it. We laughed and I got the job. It was wonderful and a blessing, even though my role was so small. I wished I could have been around more. You can imagine. I was just 22 years old and this show was so fantastic. I got to work with Terry Carter a lot and talked to him about acting. I don't even know if he knows how important he was for me. He was so supportive. It was such a great cast and to me it was a blessing to be on the show.

The other day Richard Hatch said he had a crush on you and you once said you had a crush on Richard... How come you guys never went out?

I was a virgin! (laughing) I was young, nervous and I never knew! (laughing) Oh my... I'm blushing now! (both laughing)

The battlestar bridge set was full of real and expensive computers. What did you think of it?

It was incredible! John Dykstra and the whole technical crew were phenomenal. It was like a $3 million set and at that time that was enormous. The set looked brilliant and it really was wonderful to work on it. I had never been an big scifi person, but I loved the thought of real people in this kind of atmosphere. It was one of the reasons why the show was so successful.  People were very human and had human experiences in the perspective of space.

Did you play video games on those computers?

Yes. I remember hanging out with David Greenan and David Matthau. It was a lot of fun. We went to lunch in our space suits! (laughing)

You celebrated your birthday on the set?

I did. Everybody took me to lunch, because it was the middle of the day. (pondering) Yes, it was lunch because it definitely wasn't dinner. If I remember correctly Lorne Greene paid for it and we went to the Universal walk area. Nowadays it's very big. It was smaller back then. I think there was only one restaurant. It was really special. I remember thinking: "This is a great birthday!"

If I remember correctly they reduced several scenes with the braids in your hair?

Yes, because I was really thinking about the role and I wanted to do those braids. We did them and they were okay with it for one episode. Then somebody from up above decided that they didn't like the braids. They wanted me to be more contemporary and I think I even heard the word "sexy". I remember I thought: "You got to be kidding me!" but suddenly a hair dresser was taking my braids out. The hair wasn't even combed yet when they called "Action!" Somebody simply wanted me to look more contemporary.

Sarah Rush as Fl. Cpl. Rigel on Battlestar Galactica

Sarah Rush as Fl. Cpl. Rigel on Battlestar Galactica

If someone would have told you the next episode would be totally about Rigel and you could have taken that part anywhere, where would you have wanted your character to go?

Maren Jensen. Laurette Spang and Anne Lockhart were all so beautiful , so for me to compete with them...  At that time I had just met Katharine Hepburn. I did a play and Katharine Hepburn came backstage. I couldn't believe when she said: "You were wonderful!" She frightened me terribly. I had dinner with her, George Coburn and her secretary. I actually met her a couple of times. Because of it I was very Katharine Hepburn on the brain, so if that character could have gone anywhere it would have been like her -- a very strong, but also emotional woman -- that goes to work.

Can you tell us a bit what the dynamics were around the women on the set of Battlestar Galactica?

Maren Jensen was just precious, Anne Lockhart was a doll and Laurette Spang I adore. I don't think there was any kind of competition in there. I was just lovely and we all got along so great. Oh, I think with Jane Seymour, who I really like and respect, there was definitely a little bit of an aloofness there.

There once was a scene where we were all on set -- I believe it was the wedding scene. The makeup artist put a little glycerin under her eyes or something. I was standing there and was supposed to do a little weeping or something. Jane said: "Oh, Our little actress..." (ouch) It made feel really small, but it was okay because she's wonderful. So she was little bit more aloof, but the other girls were just great.

When Tom DeSanto tried to get the show back, had he contacted you to be involved in it?

Yes, he did. I didn't meet him, but I talked to him on the phone. Of course, any actor wants a job and especially something like this. It's so funny because in 30 years all the actors have done a lot of other things and yet if you Google "Sarah Rush", it will say Battlestar Galactica and the Bituminous Coal Queen of Pennsylvania. I'm grateful for that.

Did Tom DeSanto have a direction that he wanted your character to go in?

He never said anything about that. He's very sweet and kind. He said he'd really like to have me on board, but it never came to anything, which is alright. Also at that time I adopted my daughter and that was a really good calling for me.

I want to ask you about Catch Me If You Can with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.

It was "catch me if you can" in that movie, because it was such a small role. (laughing)

Did you get to meet them and were you star struck when you did?

Oh my Gosh, yes. If you're going to be star struck, you should be star struck over Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. I'm really not a star struck kind of person because you're an actor and you work with other actors. But I worked for a week and I'd be in this dressing room trailer. Tom would  be on my right and Leonardo on my left. I would just laugh and say: "You guys, this is just hilarious to me." and they were so wonderful and so kind to me. I don't know who said it, but they gave me this star dressing room and they kept upgrading me. It was hilarious! (laughing)

Leonardo DiCaprio did this scene in the movie where he's looking through the FBI files and sees his picture and tears it out. And when you talk to Leonardo, you'll notice that he's a very normal looking man -- kind of geeky even. You then see him on camera and "My Gosh", his eyes pop out and he's this incredible thinking actor. He's just wonderful. I didn't mean geeky in a bad way, but in a good way. He's just a neat kind of guy. So he did that little scene and he came back to watch it on the video and then said to me: "So how did I look?" and I said: "Leonardo, there is a reason that you are a star. It was wonderful." (laughing) He didn't say anything and was just thinking.

Sarah Rush and Tom Hanks on Catch Me If You Can

Sarah Rush and Tom Hanks on Catch Me If You Can

The thing about Tom Hanks that I'll just love him forever for was that after that week I just wanted to come up to him and thank him for being so gracious to me.  He was so lovely. I was supposed to be in two other scenes that they scratched, because they were scenes that involved Leonardo and they thought they were mean spirited towards Leonardo's character. I was very disappointed of course. Steven Spielberg would walk by me and say: "We're going to get you in the next scene." He was so kind and Tom Hanks was also so sweet to me.

At one point when we were first doing this scene I messed it up so terribly, because I was so nervous! There were 300 extras around and we just started laughing and Tom Hanks said: "Wow. You really blew that one!" (laughing) I remember watching Tom Hanks doing this one scene and it was 17 takes, because he had to walk around the desk and he'd make a mistake. And I just thought: "Tom Hanks, walking around the desk, making mistakes, 17 takes... That's refreshing!"

So I went to Tom at the very end of my week of work and wanted to thank him for being such a peach. He grabbed me, put his arm around me and had the wardrobe girl take our picture. I would never have asked him in a million years and it didn't even occur to me to take a picture. Of course I now have this incredible picture and I cried all the way home, because I was so grateful and moved. I then emailed it to EVERY person alive! (laughing). I send it to a friend in Florida who wrote back: "Sarah, Thank you so much for sending me a picture of you and your husband. He looks a little bit like Tom Hanks!" (laughing out loud)

I wish I would work more as an actress and I hope I'll still keep working, because I'm so grateful for every job. I really am. But I got a residual for that movie and when I opened up that check it was the EXACT amount of our daughter's adoption. Isn't that a blessing? Every job is a gift. Actresses love to work and need to work, because you need to make a living, but we also love this, obviously, or we wouldn't be doing this. But when fans respond and come from so many parts of the world to see you, that is very meaningful. So thank you for that!

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