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Michelle Forbes GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Saturday, 01 November 2008

Some time a ago Marcel Damen had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Michelle Forbes, better known as Admiral Helena Cain in the Battlestar Galactica 2003 Pegasus episodes as well as Battlestar Galactica: Razor. He talked to her about how she got into the business, her role as Ensign Ro Laren in Star Trek: The Next Generation, her role on Battlestar Galactica and her her latest role on In Treatment.

First of all I'd like to thank you for taking the time for the interview, of course.

Aw, my pleasure, my pleasure!

 

actress Michelle Forbes

actress Michelle Forbes

 

You moved to New York when you were sixteen to become an actress. Where and when did you decide to become an actress? What made you decide to go to New York to do that?

Well, I started off as a ballet dancer, and I was pretty aware as I was doing it even though it was very intensive that that really wasn't the world for me, and that I probably needed another form of expression which was vocal, and I remember that world to me felt very restrictive. I remember my grandmother, my English nana, she took me to New York on a theatre tour when I was thirteen years of age. I saw a few plays on Broadway, but I was mostly riveted by a Sam Shepard play I saw at the public theatre. Everything changed at that moment. I mean, I think I had always been... As a child, I was really taken. I remember on Saturdays I'd get back from my two ballet classes, and I couldn't wait to get in front of the TV. They had the Janus Films, so I grew up on Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast and The Red Shoes and getting lost in that cinematic world in Truffaut films. Not that I understood them at that young age, but I just sort of became mesmerized by the world of cinema, and that expression. I also grew up on a lot of BBC plays that came on PBS. I was really riveted by those. So when I went on this theatre tour with my nana, New York was just overwhelming, and it was just so exciting. To be in a theatre and to see the magic that happens in that space, I just so wanted to be a part of that. So when I came back at thirteen, I was determined to go back as soon as possible. Then I went to New York: my sister moved to New York, and I went to visit her for two weeks, and I just ended up staying, and I met my agent, who was William Morris, just by an odd set of circumstances. I guess it was somewhat predestined.

 

Michelle Forbes as Ensign Ro Laren in Star Trek: The Next Generation

Michelle Forbes as Ensign Ro Laren in Star Trek: The Next Generation

 

You played Ensign Ro Laren in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Laren is a Bajoran character who grew up and was possibly terrorized by Cardassians. You played her as "a rebel without a cause," constantly pushing the boundaries, protecting Picard, following the strict discipline and rules of the Federation. Was it fun for you to play and did you feel that Ro saw Picard as a father figure?

I did enjoy playing Ro Laren very much. I think she's a fascinating character. I haven't thought about it much because it was so long ago, and the truth of the matter is, I really only did about nine episodes. It's always a little amazing to me that she left such an impression, and I think that's because the writers wrote somebody who was very interesting and complex. Yes, I do think Picard was a father figure to her, and I think that as a young girl who had no family, there was this wonderful nurturing place that she found herself in that was able to provide that sense of family for her. I think that Picard absolutely was someone who was able to give her guidance that she'd never really had.

So she has become an action figure now. What do you think? Weird or funny or honored?

(laughing) Yes, I suppose, honored. I have two now - they turned Cain into an action figure [too]. I guess it's good! It's... I don't know how I feel about it, really. It is a little weird, but it's great, too. It's very sweet. I'm flattered. I've heard a lot of people say that Ensign Ro gave them a bit of strength, and gave them a bit of guidance in their own lives. I'm not certain, that definitely has nothing to do with me, that has to do with the story and the writing, but I think that's wonderful when the work that you do or the work that you're part of has a deeper meaning, and actually touches people in an emotional way, in a deep way. That's really wonderful. So if children are playing with the little Ensign Ro character, I hope it's good and not odd. They're not pulling her head off or anything. (laughs) You know how children do, they pull off body's head, they cut the hair, so I just hope that she's off doing heroic things, not...

It's not just children playing with it. Most of the collectors are a bit more grown up now, So not all are children...

(laughing) Maybe I don't know who's playing with those things.

 

Michelle Forbes as Admiral Helena Cain on Battlestar Galactica 2003

Michelle Forbes as Admiral Helena Cain on Battlestar Galactica 2003

 

You once said you "tend to play a lot of authoritative, strong women, so initially this simply wasn't something I wanted to do. God bless them, though, for being so pursuant of me. The Galactica producers sent me a set of DVDs, because I had never seen the show either. Galactica is amazingly good and well written. I shudder to think I almost lost out on working with those wonderful people and on such a powerful story." What changed your mind to actually still do the show?

First of all, before I begin that, I would like to correct something. I was misquoted there. I said "authoritative and severe women," because I think, unfortunately, this word "strong," as in "strong female character," and "strong women," they never say that in regards to men, you know. Every woman I know in life is strong, and both men and women, our strengths are equal to our weaknesses. Our vulnerabilities, I should say. Our strengths are equal to our vulnerabilities. That's very important - not "weakness," but "vulnerability." I think in general, you always have to be careful: when they write these "severe women," they tend to be very one-dimensional. I really try to steer away from that. Or, if I get one of those one-dimensional roles, you work so hard to bring other dimensions to them, to make them real, to find the vulnerability.

What changed my mind was - they sent me a lot of the press clippings. I saw that in so many papers and all throughout the media it existed as one of the top ten shows of that year. When I put in the DVDs, I didn't have a clue as to what was going on because it is such a complex story. I just knew that I was compelled emotionally, absolutely immediately. Without knowing what was happening, I was still compelled, emotionally compelled, by each of these characters, and wanted to know more. I knew that something very deep was happening. I knew that I really wanted to be a part of that, and I didn't see any weak performance in the group. I was blown away by the acting and the writing, and I thought, "I would be an absolute fool to not be a part of this in even the smallest way."

So you're done with Battlestar Galactica. Your character was killed off, and then they phone you and say, "Hey, do you want to do Cain again?" How big of a surprise was it for you that you had to play a killed-off character again, and how were you approached? Had you already been approached before your role ended on the show?

No, no. When I left the show, I just left the show, and it felt like just a wonderful experience to do those three episodes in such a tight, beautifully written, sophisticated piece of storytelling. I was happy with that alone. When they asked me to come back, I was obviously thrilled, and a little confused. But I was thrilled because it's a company that I can't just say enough about. The ensemble of actors, of course without a doubt... I love each and every one of them, they all have so much integrity, and I'm honored to have worked with each of them. The crew is phenomenal. The producers, and Ron and David, I have so much respect for, so I was beyond thrilled to go back and work with them.

 

Michelle Forbes as Admiral Helena Cain on Battlestar Galactica 2003

Michelle Forbes as Admiral Helena Cain on Battlestar Galactica 2003

 

Your latest work is a new series, In Treatment. Jamie Bamber already talked about it and said it was the best show on television right now. You play the character, Kate, who's an angry and cheating wife confronting a husband who doesn't understand her. Do you like to play that kind of character? Can you tell us a bit more about the show?

In Treatment is a very unique show. I think it was an emotional show. It's based on the Israeli series, and it is a five-night-a-week, half-hour dramatic serial about therapy, and about a therapist. You see each of his patients throughout the week, Monday through Thursday, and then on Friday he goes to see his therapist, played by Dianne Wiest. The therapist is played by Gabriel Byrne. It was like doing a one-act play: we filmed a one-act play every two days. It was very intimate, very intensive. I was also shooting [Battlestar Galactica:] Razor at the same time, so what was interesting about that is I was playing Cain, and a character named Kate, and there were two Ginas involved in both of them. They just couldn't have been more different, these two characters. I think anybody who's reading this article will know exactly who Cain is, but Kate is a woman smack dab in the middle of mid-life crisis, completely unsure of herself [with] zero self-esteem. Not knowing... All elbows and limbs, as far as her emotional life and her directive in her emotional life [are concerned]. I loved playing Kate. I loved playing these two completely different characters at the same time, because I don't often get to play a character like Kate. Once again, the ensemble of actors - there's not a bad one in the bunch. I don't know how I've gotten so fortunate to always work with such amazing actors, but I'm very fortunate indeed.

 

actress Michelle Forbes

actress Michelle Forbes

 

What are your future plans? Anything coming up?

Right now, I don't know. I'm sitting here in Germany and I've got so many things, both personal and professional, that are sort of up in the air. I have no idea where I'm going to be or what country I'm going to be in. (both laughing) Even next week! It's a little frustrated for someone like me who needs to have things planned out, but it's also very exciting because there's a lot of opportunity there right now in many different areas of my life. I'm hoping... I've been speaking to someone about doing a play in London, so I'm really hoping to do something like that. I'm always looking to widen my horizons and to do something I haven't done before, so my next challenge, my next goal is to get my feet on that West End stage.

Okay! Thank you so much...

Aw, thank you, Marcel, thank you, it was so nice to meet you.

 
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