|Battlestar Galactica Cast Interviews|
|Written by Marcel Damen|
|Sunday, 11 January 2009|
We recently found these short interviews which were done by Universal to promote the Battlestar Galactica 1978 series. Some great thoughts by long deceased cast members like Lorne Greene and John Colicos from the time there were filming the pilot "Saga of a Star World".
As an actor, Lorne Greene has coped with everything from runaway horses in Bonanza to falling scenery in Earthquake. There was even a glorious moment, during a live telecast of Key Largo, when a fellow actor was locked out of the studio. For several nerve-wracking minutes, Greene carried on a conversation with himself.
But nothing in his experience, the actor admits, could have prepared him for Universal's Battlestar Galactica.
Greene co-stars in the futuristic fantasy as the commander of the Galactica, a colossal man-of-war, careening through outer space. Behind it trails a convoy of air buses, rocket-powered taxis, galactic tramp steamers and other incredible craft, fleeing the destruction of their world, and searching for a new one called Earth.
"This is the first science-fiction story I've ever done," said Greene, relaxing on the "Battlestar Galactica" set in a costume that drew a fine line between a cossack's dress uniform and the royal blue robes of some ancient pharoah. "When I read the script, my first reaction was, 'Wild.' Then I thought, 'But how in heaven's name are they going to bring it off?'"
The answer was provided -- in part -- by John Dykstra, producer and Academy Award winning special effects creator. Dykstra constructed the most expensive "toy" of its kind, a $50,000 scale model of the Galactica, complete with pulsating lights and miniature working parts, then matched it to the interior sets at the Universal Studios.
"The set we're working on today is the bridge of the Galactica, its electronic 'guts,'" said Greene, pointing toward a space-age console, above which a glowing starfield could be seen through long, vertical windows. "There's more than $3 million worth of computers in this studio, on loan from the Tektronix people. When I order a squadron of rocket craft into combat against our dreaded enemy, the Cylons, the action is computer-programmed. Every knob, light, telescreen, pulsator and gauge is the real thing.
"The effect is spectacular. Wait and see."
Glen Larson's screenplay for Battlestar Galactica is intentionally vague as to whether the outer space exodus is happening in the future, in another world today, or in some past millenium.
"There's a hint that since we're searching for Earth, we may have found it," said Greene. "Perhaps we started civilization as it's known today.
Such concepts, he predicts, will challenge the audience -almost as much as the special effects have challenged the actors. "In most dramatic tales, the sets and props are what they appear to be. A tree is a tree. A horse is a horse.
"But in Battlestar Galactica, we have to deal with unfamiliar objects as if we've lived with them all our lives. Even in character, it's disconcerting to have a robot dog fix you with his laser beam eyes, then cock his head to be petted."
How does Greene meet that challenge?
"By imagining that this parallel world actually exists, that its social and cultural crises -- and its fantastic creatures -- are real. It's the only way to behave normally under abnormal circumstances."
Special effects, he went on, pose other dramatic problems. "They're time-consuming to set up. You arrive in the morning, full of energy, and hours later, you're still waiting for the first shot. Your batteries have to be recharged.
"When a scene involves visual trickery, like front-screen projection, the other actors may not even be there. They're projected beside you as fleeting images... ghosts... apparitions. Take one false step and you'll walk right through them, and blow the shot!
"What makes it worthwhile is the magic that emerges on screen. John Dykstra refers to people who create special effects as conjurers. He's right! Sometimes I feel like a man who's been sawed in half by a magician. I don't know why I'm still in one piece. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Lorne Greene's deeply resonant speaking voice, and command of the English language, is so well known that it seems he must always have had that gift.
"Not so," insists the silver-haired actor, currently starring in Universal's space epic, Battlestar Galactica.
"I was raised in the Ottawa Valley of Canada, where the people are a mixture of Scotch, Irish, French, Indian and several other backgrounds. The dialect there is so thick that it's almost another tongue. Words like 'about' become 'a-boot.'
"When I got the acting bug, at the age of sixteen, I knew I'd never amount to anything unless people understood what I said. I worked, day after day, for years to lose the accent of my childhood."
Lorne Greene as Commander Adama on Battlestar Galactica
LORNE GREENE AND JOHN COLICOS
When Universal's Battlestar Galactica comes to the screen, Canadian moviegoers will share a reunion in space.
Lorne Greene stars in the futuristic fantasy as the commander of the Galactica, an inter-planetary man-of-war, large enough to hold 60,000 survivors of a dying civilization. His arch-enemy is John Colicos as Count Baltar, who betrays the entire human race to lizard-like creatures called Cylons.
"I'm the Benedict Arnold of the distant future," said Colicos, "a kind of Galactic Judas."
It was more than two decades ago that Greene and Colicos co-starred in Hamlet for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, with Colicos as the Danish prince and Greene as King Claudius. "That was before Lorne became a hero in Bonanza and I discovered that villains, like blondes, have more fun," Colicos explained.
In those days, Greene, from the Ottawa valley, and Colicos, from Toronto, were among the most promising young classical actors in the Canadian theatre. Then Greene became the CBC's top newscaster ("or news reader as we used to call ourselves," he said). And Colicos joined the Old Vic Company in London, where he was the youngest King Lear in the history of the professional British stage.
"Inevitably we both wound up in Hollywood where we renewed our friendship," says Colicos. "But by then, the die was cast. Lorne was a western father figure. I was on the side of evil and injustice."
Does either actor regret that image?
"Not at all," answered Greene. "I've often been asked how I could play the same role in Bonanza, week after week, for fourteen years. But it wasn't really the same. As the stories developed, so did the characters. We tackled some very delicate subjects that would have been impossible in a contemporary setting... at least on TV. And the series made me financially secure.
"When it was over, I did play a few villainous roles -a devious, dissolute bishop in The Bastard and a financial gangster in The Money Changers. But most of the scripts I'm offered, and accept, cast me as a decent guy."
"You don't know what you're missing," Colicos told his co-star. "I'll admit that a running role in a television series is an annuity, while the villain is usually killed or jailed at the end of the episode, which makes it unlikely for him to return the following week. But I've now Ione more than one hundred 'heavies' in ten years and no two were completely alike."
Colicos has also appeared in such movies as, Anne of a Thousand Days, Breaking Point, Wrath of God, and Scorpio and on stage in The Devils and Sherlock Holmes, mostly in unsavory roles. (A notable exception was his award-winning performance as Winston Churchill in the Broadway production of Soldiers, which he repeated in London, Toronto and Dublin.)
"Count Baltar is the most scurrilous character I've ever portrayed," he continued with obvious relish. "For sheer awfulness, on a scale of one to ten, he's a fifteen. He doesn't merely betray a few close friends, he sells out the entire human race."
"But he gets what he deserves," added Greene.
"That's true," said Colicos. "When I come to the Cylons for the reward I've been promised -- the governorship of a space colony -- they lop off my head."
"It couldn't happen to a nastier fellow," said Greene with obvious affection for an old friend.
John Colicos as Baltar on Battlestar Galactica
When he was growing up in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, Dirk Benedict never thought of acting in motion pictures.
"In fact I never thought about motion pictures - because we didn't have any!" said the exuberant young star of Universal's Battlestar Galactica. "We didn't even have television. Every summer, they'd bring in a couple of old Audie Murphy pictures and show them at the ranchers' hall. That was our entertainment for the year."
Now Dirk shares top billing with Richard Hatch, Lorne Greene, and guest stars Ray Milland, Lew Ayres and Jane Seymour in Battlestar Galactica. As Lt. Starbuck, in the outer space fantasy, he's an aerial daredevil who refuses to take anything seriously, even the attempted destruction of the human race by the dreaded Cylons.
"I'm the worst of the good guys," said Dirk. "I play cards with the people from the planet Gemini..who cheat! I have an affair with a 'socialator,' a sort of interplanetary call girl. In fact, I rescue her from a giant underground beehive on the planet Carillon, where she's being held captive by insect people known as Ovions.
"And when I meet the Android Sisters, a singing trio, each of whom has two mouths and two sets of vocal chords -- resulting in some fantastic six-part harmony -- I try to cut myself in for 15 percent as their manager."
But when the chips are down, Starbuck becomes a hero. Flying his "turbo-thruster" ahead of the Galactica, a mile-long, inter-planetary man-of-war, he clears a starfield of mines which the Cylons have placed there.
"I've never seen so many gadgets in one place in my life," said Benedict, referring to the dazzling electronic gear on the Battlestar Galactica set.
"It's like another world. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here. Then again, I feel that way about being in the movies at all."
His home town in Montana's Big Sky Country was so small, recalls Benedict, that "the entire population wouldn't have filled an average Los Angeles apartment house." After lettering in football in high school, he went on to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where he faced an audience for the first time.
"It was on a dare," he continued. "One of my friends, on the football team, challenged me to try out for a college production of Showboat. Since there was no chance I'd ever be chosen, I figured 'Why not?'"
Dirk was promptly cast in a starring role as riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal.
"I tried every way to get out of the show," he went on. "I pleaded with the faculty advisor, I pretended I was desperately ill, I sang off-key. Nothing worked. So there I was on opening night, singing Jerome Kern's Make Believe, and I loved it!"
His first encounter with Broadway, a few years later, was equally off-beat.
"After starting a dixieland jazz band in Seattle -- music is one of my hobbies -- I visited New York between gigs. An agent suggested that I attend a Broadway audition, just for the experience. This time I knew I had no chance whatsoever of being signed."
Wrong again! Dirk was chosen for a featured role in Abelard and Eloise, starring Keith Michell and Diana Rigg. What happened to his dixieland band? "I think they're still waiting for me in Seattle," he replied with a sheepish grin.
If Dirk's career, including starring roles in movies like Sssssss and W, has been unorthodox, it's matched by his lifestyle. Having grown up on a cattle ranch, he's become a convert to a diet based solely on whole grain, and he eats no meat, fish or poultry.
"As a kid, I ate venison steak for breakfast, meat loaf for lunch and maybe a two-pound T-bone for dinner," he said. "But I found that meat was giving me the wrong kind of energy. So I decided on an experiment; I went into the woods for several weeks with no food other than grain -- wheat, oats, corn, barley, buckwheat and rice."
"And I felt absolutely terrific."
Now, he plans to open an "alternate foods" restaurant in Los Angeles in which only grain dishes will be served. Won't that interfere with his career, he was asked?
"If I wanted to be a movie star, it might," he answered. "But I just want to act -- when I feel like it, if I feel like it. Fame and fortune are bunk. There's too much to life to be at the mercy of a career."
He gazed toward the set in which he would momentarily be called to work, a 'turbo-thruster launching bay' aboard the Galactica, presumably capable of sending rocket ships into space at the speed of light.
"The way I look at it," he said, "it took a few minor miracles to get me this far."
Richard Hatch's career is "flying" in more ways than one.
The popular Streets of San Francisco star is currently on screen in Battlestar Galactica, Universal's futuristic fantasy, as a heroic fighter pilot in a distant galaxy, eluding enemy aircraft at the speed of light.
In the circus adventure, Search for the Stars, Hatch was a different kind of "flyer." The word is big top slang for a trapeze artist who hurtles through the air. (The fellow who breaks his fall is appropriately called a "catcher.")
"The sensation of sailing through the air is fantastic... and scary," Hatch recalls. "But I wouldn't want to make a career of it. on the other hand, David Nelson, who played my 'catcher,' had such a terrific time on the trapeze, he kept on working at it. He's good enough today to star with any circus in the world."
Maren Jensen has a soft, sensual smile, warm eyes, and the kind of magnetism that makes girl-watching an Olympic spectator sport.
She also has very little actingt experience, which the producers of Universal's Battlestar Galactica took into consideration when they tested her for the key role of Lorne Greene's daughter in the futuristic fantasy.
Magnetism finally won out over playing it safe. Ms. Jensen's sultry beauty brightens the story of an outer space exodus, while her dramatic skills -- in the words of executive producer-writer Glen Larson -- would be "the envy of a seasoned pro."
Born in Glendale, California, the 21-year-old actress majored in theatre arts during three years at UCLA. She appeared in several college productions, but admits, "I did absolutely nothing professional, not even the California equivalent of off-off-off-Broadway." She did, however, begin a successful modeling career which included Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazine covers.
When a mutual friend introduced her to agent Barbara Gale, she was surprised by the agent's obvious enthusiasm. She was even more surprised when Ms. Gale started sending her on calls that resulted in two network commercials and a guest shot on The Hardy Boys.
But even more startling, she recalls, was being signed for a stellar role in Battlestar Galactica opposite Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Lorne Greene and guest stars Ray Milland, Lew Ayres and Jane Seymour.
"It's been an incredible learning experience," she says. "No matter what you think you've learned in school, when you race a camera -- a real camera -- for the first time, it's different. There's no way to teach what I've absorbed simply playing scenes with people like Lorne Greene and Ray Milland."
Ms. Jensen comes from a "totally non-theatrical" family. Her father is a physician and her mother is a membership secretary with the Los Angeles Zoo. "Mom's job is to generate enthusiasm for the zoo's special programs," she says.
Ms. Jensen is single -- and plans to keep it that way for at least a while -- as her career moves rapidly forward. Her hobbies are "almost all musical," including singing and playing piano.
Maren Jensen as Athena and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica
Tall, muscular young actor Dick Durock is getting up in the world.
Durock was cast in Universal's outer space adventure, Battlestar Galactica, as an officer of the Cylons, sub-human warriors clad completely in chrome. Their "Imperious Leader," as described in Glen A. Larson's imaginative script, is a giant lizard with a taste for cosmic domination.
One day, Larson -- who also served as the film's executive producer -- visited Durock's dressing room.
"Turn in your chrome uniform because you've been promoted," he told the actor. "You're now the head lizard."
How does one portray an outer-space reptile with a Hitlerian power complex?
"You stand tall... and slither," he replied.
GLEN A. LARSON
Glen A. Larson, executive producer and writer of Universal's space fantasy, Battlestar Galactica, is one of Hollywood's most prolific authors. In the past few years, he has created such popular TV series as Alias Smith and Jones, Quincy and Switch and has developed McCloud, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries.
But he admits he doesn't enjoy writing.
"Most authors don't," he says. "It's a lonely, frustrating, demanding way to earn a living. What we enjoy is having written, and watching skilled actors bring it to life. "
"For a screenwriter, the happiest words in the English language are 'FADE OUT'."
One of writer-executive producer Glen A. Larson's visions in Battlestar Galactica -- Universal's challenging space fantasy -- is an underground paradise on a nuclear planet, ruled by enormous insects. Among the features of the unearthly spa is a gambling casino where delicious food and copious quantities of drink are on the house, and where no one ever loses.
He admits he was inspired by several forays to Las Vegas, both as an entertainer (he was once a member of the Capitol recording combo, The Four Preps) and as a tourist.
"I've always thought of Las Vegas, with its dazzling decor, glittering lights and feverish atmosphere, as another world," he explains. "So when I let my imagination wander into outer space, it seemed appropriate to put it there."
Among the attractions at the mythical casino is a vocal trio, the Android Sisters. Each of the girls has two mouths and two sets of vocal chords, resulting in fabulous six-part harmony.
"That idea was inspired by my own checkered past," says Larson. "As a member of The Four Preps, I wondered how to make our sound bigger, without enlarging the group. The Android Sisters offer one answer."
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