|Kate Vernon GALACTICA.TV interview|
|Written by Mike Egnor|
|Saturday, 02 August 2008|
Last year Mike Egnor spoke to Kate Vernon, better known as Ellen Tigh on the Battlestar Galactica 2003 series. She talked for over an hour about how she got in the business, parts she has done in the past and her part on Battlestar Galactica 2003.
NOTE: This interview was done some time ago, but never published. It was done halfway Season 3, before Kate Vernon was asked to return for more episodes in Season 4.
I wanted to say I appreciated you taking the time to do the interview.
Oh thank you, my pleasure.
Did you watch the original Battlestar Galactica?
No, I didn't. I was well aware of the show John Colicos and Lorne Greene were friends of the family, friends of my father, who was also an actor, John Vernon. So those guys were in our house all the time but I wasn't really aware of the show.
Do you remember anything about those two when they came over? What they were like?
They were both very tall, handsome, formidable men with great big smiles and big warm hearts. I mean I was a little girl. They were dear, dear wonderful men.
Speaking of your father, you grew up with a family in the entertainment business. Your mom was a former actress and model. Your dad was the great character actor John Vernon, who was in movies like Animal House and Dirty Harry. He often played villains. When you were growing up and watched his work did you ever have trouble separating the role and seeing him as the bad guy and getting upset with him?
Well I suppose he...there was a lot of Dean Wormer in my father. (laughs). Dean Wormer was a microcosm element of my father, meaning there was Dean Wormer already in my father. But my father was much larger then Dean Wormer. No, I grew up as a child of an actor; I mean he was just my dad. He too was a huge, formidable presence and also very delightful and silly. But in terms of viewing him as an actor or like his characters, I never really made that comparison until much later in life.
What was it like growing up with him? Did you go on the set when he would film?
We went to the set on Mission Impossible, and Mannix, and Cannon, you know all those great TV shows of the 70's. I met a lot of the actors that he worked with, and we did go on location with him several times. But my dad was such a humble man. He was really just a man from the prairies, from Saskatchewan. He was a very humble man. We were never really raised in a movie star's house. It was a very real, down to earth home. Yes they had parties, and yes the entertained, but the reality of our home life and of our parents, they were just very real, down to earth people.
It's been said that you wanted to be an architect when you finished high school, but that you would need to lock yourself in the looney bin if you didn't express yourself as an actress, is that true?
(Laughs). Wow, that bio really needs to be rewritten. I think that was written about me when I first started this business. But on that note, yes, I love architecture and home design. Home is very important to me, space is very important to me, and being comfortable is very important to me. All the different ways you can create that can be very interesting. Did I want to go to school and study the arithmetic, and the angles, and the things you need to become an architect? No. I wanted to play, and explore, and be creative. I found at that time in my life that acting felt so good, and there was so much reward in the exploration of these characters, and a psychology behind acting, that I went down that road. It seemed very normal, given my home environment.
Did you do any acting when you were in high school?
No, just school acting.
actress Kate Vernon
Your father, it's said, tried to talk you out of it, but you went into it anyway.
Yeah, my father was an extremely practical man and he had ridden the ride that a working actor rides which is: You work, then you don't know if you are ever going to work again, then you work, then you never know if you are going to work again. And he did not want me to go through that, as any father wouldn't want for their child. I mean you want to know your child is going to be safe and secure, and taken care of for the rest of their lives. Like don't go in the business whatever you do. So his whole thing was learn a trade, have some other skills to fall back on. But I knew for me I couldn't go that route because my passion was really for acting, and I couldn't focus on anything else; on doing anything else and give the time to acting that I needed to.
Did your success in acting lead him to telling you later on that you made the right choice?
Yes. I proved him wrong, much to his great relief. Because when I did finally get started, I got very lucky. I auditioned for four jobs and I got the four jobs. My dad couldn't believe it, I mean nobody can. I was in the right place at the right time, I guess. He was relieved, he was very relieved. And I joined the ranks of the working actor right off the bat.
Did you have any formalized training after high school, or did you go straight in to it?
Oh yes, I studied with wonderful teachers. I studied with the late Peggy Fury. And JoAnne Barron, and DW Brown, and I also studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
The first role is listed is a part that you had as a cell mate in Chained Heat about life in a women's prison, is that right?
And your father played the warden in that movie. Did you have any scenes with him?
No, that was just some cheesy, god-awful movie, and I was an extra and that was it. That one we don't even like to talk about.
Alright, I was just wondering if it was difficult to work with him around.
Well I have done three movies that were not included [on IMDb] with my father.
OK, we can talk about some of those other ones.
But the thing is we never had any scenes together. So we were in the same scene, but our characters didn't interact. So we didn't get that opportunity.
You went on to play Lorraine Prescott in the 80's on Falcon Crest. Can you tell us how you got that part?
I think it was seven auditions. Seven auditions! And every audition the room would fill up with more and more and more people. The last audition was with Lornzo Lamas, and then I got the part.
The show also had Terry Carter and Ana Alicia who were both in the original Battlestar Galactica series, and well as Jonathon Frakes who later went on to star as Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Do you remember what it was like working with those three?
I had no idea that they were in the original Battlestar Galactica?
Terry Carter and Ana Alicia were.
I had no idea.
Ana did one show. And Terry was main cast (of Battlestar, 1978).
My character really didn't have much do with those characters they played. We were probably never really on set together.
There were several beautiful women working on the cast (of Falcon Crest) including yourself, like Anne Archer and Morgan Fairchild. I was wondering does it get catty when you put such beautiful women who are used to being the center of attention together in the same room?
Anne Archer, I remember working with her, and she was never catty. She was lovely; beautiful and lovely. I did not meet Morgan Fairchild. The other women shall remain nameless, but I found it extremely competitive. It was my first experience of this nature to be vilified and not know why. [It was] not that comfortable of an experience. Maybe they were taking their roles to heart, I don't know.
Your career is varied across such shows as Falcon Crest, LA Law, Nash Bridges, and Battlestar Galactica. Do you have a preference for the genre or type of show that you do? Or does it just depend on your role in it?
That's a good question. (ponders) To date my favorite experience has been Battlestar Galactica because of the character. It's so character driven, and I adored playing such a flawed, ambitious, hungry, passionate, dysfunctional woman. I don't necessarily consider Battlestar Galactica science fiction, only because it's such incredible drama. It just happens to take place in space. It just happens to take place in the future. But science fiction, and I certainly don't mean to offend any fans, science fiction seems like fantasy. There is an element of fantasy, but Battlestar feels very real to me. It could happen to us, it could be us. It feels very close to home.
To answer your question I would say I enjoy working in drama. I haven't had the opportunity as much to work in comedy, although I would really like to go there. Yeah, I love working in drama and I would like to explore comedy.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh on Battlestar Galactica 2003
Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, how were you approached for the series? Did you audition for the part of Ellen?
I did, and I hadn't seen the mini-series, and I wasn't familiar with the show. I was on vacation in Toronto, visiting my mum for the summer, and my Canadian agent contacted me, sent me the sides. I'm like "What is this?" I then had to go put myself on tape in some studio, find a UPS thing, and send the tape from Toronto to Vancouver. I didn't know what I was auditioning for, but I thought "Oh this juicy, this is fun." I didn't know, but she seemed like a raucous kind of character. So I just threw myself into it, like you do when you are not given any information. And it was just me and a camera, and I drive off to (editor's note: name of town withheld for privacy) to the cottage. Two days later my agent in Vancouver called me at the cottage and tells me that I got the offer. I didn't know what he was talking about because I had been dealing with my Toronto agent at the time. I was like "What are you talking about?" and he goes "Battlestar, you got the offer", and I was like "What?" So I had to get to Vancouver pretty quickly, and as I was getting myself ready, my Toronto agent explained to me that Eddie James Olmos is staring, and that Mary McDonnell is staring, and I am like "Really? God this is amazing." Then I get there and find out that Eddie is just amazing, and he embraced me, and I find out that he is directing. I was like "You're directing the episode?" and I also found out that Eddie really fought for me. He fought for me. The producers wanted another actress that had a lot of TV Q(ualifications). Actually they wanted Lucy Lawless to play this role, but I read somewhere that she has a fear of playing wives, that they are dead end roles. I am afraid I have to prove her wrong on that. (laughs) Ellen Tigh was not a dead end role at all, she was such an amazing character. Lucy passed, I guess, and I got the part. But Eddie was a real champion of mine and he really, really pushed for me.
Well we certainly appreciate his pushing.
Oh thank you! So do I.
In the mini-series there is a picture shown of Ellen and it's actually a picture of David Eick's wife. Were you aware of that, or did you find that out later?
Well I pretty much found out everything on the fly. As soon as I landed, I was given the script and a ton of information. I was given all of the DVD's that they had shot so far to watch. And I was given that information, that it was a picture of his wife.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh on Battlestar Galactica 2003
Speaking about your character, she has been compared to Lady McBeth in the fact that Saul was in the line of command but doesn't have any real ambitions to go any higher, and Ellen tries to do anything she can to move him up. The fact that Ellen's actions, whether it's her adulterous relationships or her bad advice to Saul, always ends up hurting the fleet more than anything. That leads many people to think that she's a Cylon, but I think that's a little too obvious. But the question remains: Is she trying to do the right things, but keeps making things worse?
Well, my goodness. (ponders the question) I think Ellen has functioned in a two-fold manner. For herself, first, she's a civilian trapped on this ship with nothing to do, with a tremendous amount of energy, and passion, and ambition. I have always played her that she loves her husband. Otherwise it would be this ridiculous caricature of a relationship, but it wasn't.
So I think, I have always played her as a woman who truly loves her husband, but she is bored, she is ambitious, she needs to be busy and she has nothing to do on that ship. So I think some of her tactics were to stir things up just because, and she enjoyed the attention. I don't think Ellen was the most mature woman. But I think she really did want her husband to be more powerful, and that position for Ellen would have suited her fine to be the wife of someone more powerful. She would love to be in the spotlight. She would be thrilled to be seen as a woman of importance. Things for Ellen were going nowhere, and when this opportunity came for a better life, so they thought, on New Caprica...See I have to play her truthfully, and her desire to move to this planet with her husband was really, truly to have a life together, that they just haven't been able to have. And she wanted to do right by him, and create a beautiful home, and have a beautiful life together, and be together, and celebrate together. When the Cylons took over and they captured her husband, the only power that Ellen could use against the Cylons, or to help her husband was her sexuality. That was her weapon; that was her strength. She was willing to sacrifice herself to free her husband. And she was willing to risk her life to free her husband. Bottom line is that is how much Ellen truly loved her husband, and who Ellen really was, but we didn't really get to see that part of her because she had no reason to really be useful on the ship. And her alcoholism got in the way, and her needs got in the way, and she acted out on the ship.
Let me back up on series, one of the first thing that happens when she comes on the Galactica is that she ends up flirting with Lee Adama and Gaius Baltar which annoyed her husband. Was this part of her immaturity that she needed attention from other men?
She wasn't trying to make her husband jealous for any reason, or was that part of it?
Well I don't think Ellen really walked around with an agenda, like "I'm going to hurt my husband's feelings again and again", I just think she was also coming off of...You know they had not been together for a long time. She had probably been very out there, and flirtatious, and loose, and a free woman, and she's back on the ship, and she hasn't reigned in her behavior yet. She never did a very good job of really reigning in her behavior, but she didn't intend to hurt her husband. She wasn't malicious like that. She's a woman-child in that respect, [she's] very selfish.
Ellen then tries to make friends with Tom Zarek in the episode Colonial Day. Was the purpose of that to help her husband or herself politically?
I think the way to help Ellen was to motivate her husband. It's again two-fold. She would have loved to have boosted her husband's position so that she could boost her own position. I don't know what Ellen would be just standing on her own. I don't think Ellen had enough confidence to take over the ship herself, as much as she would like someone in front of her to control, and to inspire, and to be the front man. I don't know if Ellen would have the confidence to take on her own dreams and ambitions.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh on Battlestar Galactica 2003
In the episode Final Cut we see Ellen tied up when Hammerhead tries to get revenge on Saul for an incident on Gideon where Saul ends causing shots to be fired leaving 4 people dead. After that scene we don't see a lot of Ellen on the Galactica aside from bar hopping on Cloud 9. Did being held hostage and almost getting her killed cause her personality to shift that she was not trying to be with her husband or do you think it affected her character?
There were some scenes that were cut, I believe, unfortunately. There was maybe one scene that showed her a little more vulnerable, or maybe I'm mixing up my shows. I don't know what Ron's (D. Moore) character arc in that respect was, to go from being held hostage or tied up to bar hopping. I'm not sure. I'm not clear. I think something was cut, but I can't remember.
You were talking about when they went to New Caprica and Ellen was trying to set up a new life there. We know that Saul had spent a year on board the Galactica until Adama more or less kicks him off the ship and tells him to go be with his wife. What we don't know is exactly how long had Ellen been on the planet, if there was a relationship problem that she left, or if she had just left a few weeks before setting things up for her husband. Do you know anything about the timeline involved or why she went without her husband?
My understanding of that was that we agreed that I would wait for a year for him on the ship and that we went down together.
Yeah, that was my understanding.
Well it could have been that she was on the ship for a year and we just didn't see the two of them go down together.
Did you see him go without me?
We saw him appear on the planet, and then he finds Ellen and it looks like they are reuniting and happy to see each other. And that's when they walk in to see Aaron Douglas' speech as Chief.
Right, oh, I could be wrong, but I assumed we'd come down together, and then we just sort of came together in that scene, but not just having come from the ship. I don't know, I don't know. I can't remember, I'm sorry.
That's all right. After the Cylons take over the planet Saul gets thrown in jail, tortured, and loses an eye, and Ellen appears, and as you said, sleeps with one of the Cylons to get him released. In that scene, if I talked to Dean Stockwell, would he say that would be a fun to scene for him to shoot?
(Big laugh) I hope so! I would hope so! I spoke with the producers, he spoke with the producers...This wasn't a love scene, like it would be between Katee Sackoff and Jamie Bamber, or Tricia [Helfer] and James [Callis]. This was not about two people making love. This was about Ellen wanting to, you know... For her character she is sleeping with the enemy, she is sleeping with Hitler to free her husband, the hardest thing a woman can do.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh and Dena Stockwell as Cavil on Battlestar Galactica 2003
And that was the one asset that she had that she could use to help her husband?
Yes, that is the only reason she would do anything like that, in this case. So, for Cavil, the Cylon, god only knows what was going on in his mind or his experience. But for Ellen, she just wanted to puke, but had to pretend that she was his mistress, and she was pleasuring him, and it was all to try use him to set her husband free.
Later on Ellen steals a map of the meeting place for the people coming down to the planet and turns it over to the Cylons. We are stuck wondering whether at that point she is working with the Cylons to try keep her husband from getting thrown back in prison because they're keeping a close tabs on him, or if she's working with the Cylons on her own behalf. Can you tell us which it was?
No, she didn't want to work with the Cylons, she wasn't working with the Cylons. My take on it is that Cavil basically said he was going to kill her husband if she didn't provide them with some information. Again, she was caught between a rock and a hard place. If she didn't provide the Cylons with something from the insurgence, they were going to pick-up Saul and torture him or kill him. If she did give the Cylons information, she would be betraying the man she loves and her fellow humans, but the alternative was far worse for her to bear. She couldn't be responsible for her husband's death, and she had gone so far to get him out. I think for her she crossed the line mentally, spiritually, and emotionally that she knew some people were going to get hurt, but she would do anything to protect and save her husband.
So for all the work she did to get him (Tigh) out of prison, she couldn't just let him get thrown right back in?
Unfortunately Ellen finally dies when Saul gives her a poison laced drink as a punishment for giving up the map. That was a bit harsh, don't you think?
What did you think when you read the script?
Uhmm...Well I got the news when I called the producers to talk with them about the love scene with Dean Stockwell (Cavil). They told me over the phone, and it was very, very, very hard to hear. It was very hard to hear. It's like a bad dream, I just wanted to wake up.
Oh, I understand.
I mean how could they kill off Ellen? It just felt like there was so much potential with Ellen, and there is no one else like Ellen on the ship, or in the universe! So it's like she brought such color, and strife, and you know, trouble. She was a great foil. So I couldn't believe that it was happening, but you know, it happens in this business. My character was offed and it helped facilitate Saul's character to a darker place, unfortunately.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh and Michael Hogan as Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica 2003
Well we have seen him in later episodes going through Ellen's underwear, so I think he is in a pretty dark place.
Have you been watching the series since that episode?
Oh yes. I love the show, I am a big fan of the show. I'm so proud to be a part of it and so proud to be a part of this. It's like a historical event, you know. I am part of something that is so huge. And for me it's wonderful to check in with the Battlestar Sci Fi forum, and listen to the fans, and how important the show is to all of you. It touches my heart that my character has had such an effect on the show and on the fans. As an actress you kind of work in a bubble. You go to work, you do your thing, and you go home and live your life, and then Friday nights millions of people turn on the television and they invite you into their home, and into lives, and into their psyches, and into their feelings about the show and the characters. It's a big deal to be invited into someone's living room every Friday night and into someone's life. I am very proud to be a part of this and to have really meant something on such a special show.
You talked about the potential that Ellen had. Can you tell me about where you saw her character going had she lived? What Ellen hadn't explored yet?
Well, that's a really good question. (ponders the question) I think if Ellen had gotten Saul out of prison and had helped to facilitate their escape in some way, that she could show Tigh her worthiness. To offer herself to the Cylons was an act of redemption and to have Saul see that in her and to forgive the past, to really try and start over. I would have loved to have seen them try and start their life over again back on the ship. But then slowly I think Ellen's, you know, core issues would come up again. She would start drinking again and the troubles would start again. I think that would always be her demons. She would be struggling with her demons, but I would have liked to have seen Ellen try to be a better, more moral woman, but to slip. It's like if someone is an alcoholic and they try to get sober, and they behave for awhile, they really do make strides, but then they slip and they drink, and they get into trouble, and they fall back into their old ways, I mean she's a civilian. I'm not a writer. I don't know what these guys would've come up with, but I would imagine her demons are what everyone loves about her (laughs). And ultimately she was tragic, there was always something tragic about here.
I think that Saul is going to be a lot more dull without Ellen in the picture.
That's what they say, that is what a lot of fan mail is saying.
The year that happened between the events in Season 2 and Season 3, they've been going back to show flashbacks. Can you tell us if we'll see Ellen in any of those flashbacks in future episodes?
The only flashback I've shot aired last Friday (Unfinished Business). That's it. I haven't filmed anything else. And I don't know the sequence of stories that are coming now. I don't know if they're filming more flashbacks, or if they are in current time. When you're dead, you're dead! (Laughs)
Well not always on this show, you can always come back as a Cylon.
That's true. There's of course always room for something to happen, for Ellen to come back. Which is my dream, I'm not ashamed to say.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh on Battlestar Galactica 2003
You wouldn't mind coming back as a Cylon?
Oh I don't think she should come back as a Cylon. I just think they should find her on New Caprica, all dehydrated (laughs) with a really bad ulcer, and there just wasn't enough poison to kill her. But maybe the Cylons found her, and maybe they've got her in captivity.
Did you ever talk with the producers or writers about your character, that you thought Ellen should have gone in a different way then what you had?
I didn't talk with them about going in a different way. They were very final about it, and I think I was so traumatized at the time. I just couldn't believe that I was filming my death scenes, you know.
What I mean is, throughout the series, if you thought Ellen wouldn't act a certain way, or wouldn't say things a certain way, would you talk to the writers or directors and say Ellen wouldn't say this or do this?
Oh. (ponders the question) No, basically I took what they gave me and I ran with it, I really did. I loved what they gave me. And I would talk about how far do you want this character to go? They said they first saw her as Lady Macbeth, but we don't want her to be so [over the top] so bring it down to be more human and fallible. But I really took what they gave me and ran with it.
I heard that there are some practical jokers on the set. Do you remember any practical jokes that happened?
No, who is the practical joker?
I hear that Katee Sackoff and Aaron Douglas were practical jokers on the set.
Oh, I didn't work with them. I had very little to do with them. I was stuck in Tigh's quarters with my fabulous Michael Hogan, who I love and adore.
Can you tell me what it was like to work with Michael [Hogan]?
Fascinating! I never knew what was coming from him. He would explode, he would mumble, he would moan. He was such a wonderful actor, a brave actor. We had just divine chemistry and trust. It was absolutely a joy to come to work to see him. He was absolutely a joy to work with.
Did you feel that he made you a better actress by working with him?
Absolutely! Absolutely! Definitely go up a notch, you know. It was so great. From the moment we started working together it was like, this is good. And the very first scenes we had together was the drunk scene at the table. Where we were basically were ripped for hours shooting that scene acting like new lovers that had rediscovered one another, and we had just met. When we established that, it was like we can do anything together: We can slap each other, beat each other up, make love, laugh, get drunk, giggle, cry, scream, I mean we did everything (laughs).
I think there was a lot of slapping and making love that went hand and hand with that couple.
Absolutely, yes there was.
Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh and Michael Hogan as Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica 2003
Is it difficult to act drunk when you do it for so many takes? Do you get slap happy? How do you portray that?
Oh we did. We got completely goofy at the table. I think for that many hours you just go into an altered state. That was like an 18-hour day of acting drunk, you just go into and altered state. There were a couple of times when I lost it at the table and I just started laughing and laughing and laughing and couldn't quite pull it in. Eddie [Olmos] was just lovely and let me ride it out. But it was great.
What was it like working with Eddie [Olmos] as a director?
He was terrific.
Was he an actor's director?
He was for me. First of all he just infused me with Galactica, like everything Galactica, and everything on the ship, and all these characters, and the emotional state of all these characters, and the physical state, and what everyone has just been through. He pulled the story right up to the current day for me so that I had something in my gut to draw from. I had just got the job and he was terrific, he was gentle and clear and firm. He guided me very specifically yet he gave me all the room in the world to be, and create, and discover. I'd love to work with him again as an actress, and as my director, and as my costar.
Can you talk about what he was like working with as an actor, his presence?
Eddie is a mixture of this delightful energy, yet this formidable authority. He has this magic in his eyes, and his face, and his smile. He dances when he smiles, his face just lights up. Yet he commands the room when he walks in. He doesn't have to say a word, he just commands the room.
Is that something you have to be born with?
I think so. My father had it. He would just walk in the room and people would just turn and look and go "OK". And Eddie has the same thing.
What about Mary McDonnell? What was she like?
Mary is absolutely wonderful. She's smart, she's so bright. To me she is such a beautiful woman. She holds - I am not sure this is going to translate - she holds the female energy so beautifully in her portrayal of the president. Meaning she's not putting on a set of balls, so to speak, to be the man to run the ship. She really holds her femaleness and also is very formidable and commands the room. But she stays fully female and I love that about her.
What about James Callis?
Oh my gosh, what to say about James. He's just exquisite. He's wonderful to watch and wonderful to work with. He's very mercurial. He can slide up and down the emotional scale. He's just seamless, and extremely bright and brave.
(Laughs) Are you going to make be go through all of them?
No, this is the last one.
I loved working with Jamie. It's funny, I really think that the cast, everybody is so smart. It's such a bright cast and to work with really smart actors is such a joy because you are dealing with not just lines that are coming out of someone's mouth, but these huge characters. And Jamie, I didn't get to work that much with Jamie except for the very first scene where I really got to torment him. It was a lot of fun trying to torment him, trying to seduce him, trying to crack him up.
OK, do you have any future projects lined up?
Well the Lifetime movie that I did with Kevin Sorbo just premiered a little while ago. And right now I am up for a couple of things that I am waiting to hear on. So I can't talk about them.
OK, well we look certainly look forward to seeing you in other things.
Thank you so much
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