"Intersections in Surreal Time" by Joe Nazzaro
December 2001, Issue 293, pages 74-77
When Babylon 5 ended its critically acclaimed run at the end of five seasons, many longtime fans of the show weren't happy. True, series creator J. Michael Straczynski played his five-year story arc out to its conclusion, but there were some who would have been happy to see their favorite characters stick around longer.
The following season, Straczynski unveiled his Babylon 5 spin-off, Crusade, which took place half a decade after the events of B5. Unfortunately, executives at TNT were less than supportive of the project, and suspended production after just 13 episodes. That might have been the end of 5 things, but the SCI FI Channel stepped in earlier this year to commission a new TV movie continuing the saga. Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers will air on SCI FI in Jannary, and act as a back-door pilot for an ongoing series. And so the adventure truly continues...
During a recent Chiller Theater convention on the East Coast, where several Babylon 5 and Crusade cast members appeared together, STARLOG took the opportunity to sit down with half a dozen of the actors and reminisce. In attendance were Jerry Doyle (better known in B5 circles as Michael Garibaldi); Peter Jurasik (Ambassador Londo Mollari); Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin); Julie Caitlin Brown (Na'Toth); Marjorie Monaghan (Number One) and Carrie Dobro, who played Dureena in Crusade, as well as also guest-starring in two episodes of B5.
STARLOG: The star of another well-known SF series -- who shall remain nameless -- was once asked if he considered the role to be a milestone or a millstone in his career. When you look back at your time on Babylon 5, which side of the fence do you now find yourself on?
MARJORIE MONAGHAN: What has really been positive for me is getting involved with these conventions and getting to meet so many fans. It has been so much fun, and I've enjoyed connecting with people and seeing them support the other work that I do. But the truth is, in the industry, they don't pay attention to SF -- unless you're on a show that runs for years and years. Even Babylon 5, because it was in syndication, honestly, nobody in the industry watched. Most of them had never heard of it, so it doesn't really seem to do anything one way or the other.
STARLOG: If the rumor mill is to be believed, you were actually up for a role in the new Star Trek series, Enterprise.
MONAGHAN: Yes, I went in twice.
STARLOG: Was that because of your marketability in the genre?
MONAGHAN: That's possible, because I've noticed that there's a girl who does a website about me, and I found out by accessing that [site] that there was much talk: I definitely had the role, I was reading for it, I wasn't reading for it. None of the rumors were true, but it was funny reading them, and flattering that anybody cared. I really don't know what Babylon 5, Space Rangers and other things [have done for my marketability]; you would have to ask Rick Berman. He would know, because he knows the SF genre, so he would know those other shows. But as far as people casting features or hour-long series, they don't really follow SF.
JULIE CAITLIN BROWN: Although we have had a few directors cross over, like Jim Johnston and Michael Vejar, who goes back and forth. I started with Mike on Renegade and then, after the first season of Babylon 5, 1 took back the name Julie, so I was now Julie Caitlin Brown. Anyway, I got called in to read for another role on Babylon 5 as this lawyer Guinevere Cory in the second season. I walked in and [casting agent] Mary Jo Slater said, "What are you doing here? We're reading Julie Caitlin Brown." I said, "That's me!" and got the part because Mike wanted me to do it. I also got the part on JAG because Jim Johnston wanted me to do it. I think if you're a good, solid actor, they do look at your SF work and say, "Yeah, we want her!" So it doesn't necessarily hinder you.
CARRIE DOBRO: It doesn't hinder, but I absolutely think it does not help you.
BROWN: Except in the genre.
STARLOG: Another obstacle that two of you had to deal with was being associated with makeup-heavy roles.
DOBRO: I've done two SF series [Crusade and Hypernauts], and I've been in major prosthetic makeup for both, and nobody ever knows who the hell you are. As an actor, it's good to know that they didn't hire you for your looks, because God knows, they don't see them, which is kind of a nice thing. Like Marjorie said, because of the crossover between SF and straight stuff in Hollywood, they don't look at SF unless you're like Picard. I don't think it helps or hurts us one way or the other.
STARLOG: It must be more difficult for women, though, where sometimes your face can be your fortune in Hollywood.
BROWN: That's why I turned down Babylon 5; that's why I couldn't stay with it. The bottom line was, they weren't willing to protect my investment. I was 32 years old at the time, I had just come from doing the lead in a Broadway musical and I had a good agent. Yes, it was wonderful that they wanted to put me in a series, but they were going to cover me with a ton of makeup that was not going to help my career and that could potentially harm my face. They can also sue you for breach of contract if you come back and say, "I have to get out of this makeup!" So I asked for a medical out. I said, "If I bring evidence from a doctor that I'm having skin damage, I would like you to let me out of my contract," and Warner Bros. Said, "No." But that was their prerogative. They had parameters about the role, and so did I, so I couldn't do it. That didn't stop me, though, from going back and doing it occasionally.
DOBRO: My makeup changed three times on Crusade. I had three different prosthetics and three different hairstyles, but Hypernauts was worse, because my makeup on Hypernauts covered my head all the way to the back of my neck. That was major wear-and-tear on my skin, but you know what? They got me every skin product that I asked for on Crusade, and they were very good about not using too much glue. It was only a little piece on my forehead, so it was not a big deal for me. On Hypernauts, I worked every single day, and that was rough on the skin. But if you really work with them, they'll use less glue and do less scrubbing -- they just use a very gentle brush -- although I did get Detachol [an adhesive remover] in my ear and had to be rushed to the emergency room. I woke up the next day and I was bleeding out of my ear, which is something they don't tell you on SF shows: If you take this role, you're not going to be paid much money -- and you're going to bleed!
MONAGHAN: I was involved in a kid's morning show that involved prosthetics, and I knew [Star Trek makeup supervisor] Michael Westmore, so I went to him and said, "Look, I'm thinking about doing this thing. If I do it, what should I ask for?" because I knew he understood what the deal was with prosthetics. I asked him what I should expect and what I should require in my contract if I decided to do it. I decided not to do it, for many reasons, but there's plenty of stuff that you just don't know going into [a makeup role].
BROWN: She's so beautiful, she always gets to be a real chick! After doing Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation, I knew exactly what was coming. I was terrified when I saw how much makeup there was going to be on Babylon 5, with the full-face mask, the head cowl and the skin not breathing, but here's the thing: SF roles for women are usually some of the best-written roles on television. It's hard enough to get good roles for women in any genre, but in SF, they tend to be strong.
MONAGHAN: I especially found that with Joe's women. They're strong, they're competent, they're intelligent, they're women. They're not trying to be guys and they're all very different. Look at Lyta, Delenn, Claudia Christian's role [Ivanova] and Julie's and mine -- they're all completely different, and yet they're all very strong, cool, feminine women.
STARLOG: Carrie, you were a series regular on Crusade, and Richard guest-starred in an episode. Did you find it very different from Babylon 5?
RICHARD BIGGS: That one episode ["Each Night I Dream of Home"] was definitely different. The atmosphere, the energy was very different. It was a small ship and a small crew, and they were all by themselves going from place to place; it felt really fightknit and enclosed. Crusade felt like a much smaller space, whereas Babylon 5 was just huge. Everywhere you went, you could see different aliens and different rooms. It just felt bigger, and the energy was much more frenetic.
DOBRO: There are many reasons for that. If you take a show that has been on for five years, with its own success rate, there's a certain relaxation and camaraderie and all this wonderful stuff, and then you do the spin-off, which has its own problems and pressures, and yet we had 90 percent of the same crew.
BROWN: But didn't you lose a day in your production schedule, from seven to six days?
DOBRO: No, it was always a seven-day shoot [per episode]. It was six the last year of B5, and then they went back to seven days on Crusade.
MONAGHAN: That completely baffled me. I've done some hour-long dramas, and every single show I've ever done shoots in eight days and barely gets by. Babylon 5 shot eight hours a day for seven days, and got it done-it was amazing.
[Jurasik arrives, followed by Doyle. Baby pictures are exchanged, and the conversation is momentarily derailed as Doyle talks about his recent foray into politics.]
STARLOG: Jerry, are you looking to get out of acting?
JERRY DOYLE: I dig politics, man. Don't get me wrong. I love the business. I got to work with these people for six years, and I made good money, good friendships, traveled around the world. That doesn't happen often. But I'm not going to sit around and wait for something to happen. What is it that they say? "I'm now too old for the parts I used to be too tall for."
STARLOG: When you got the job, you had just gotten into the business, so you were really a stockbroker-turned-actor. Are you now becoming an actor-turned-politician?
DOYLE: Yeah, I'm going for the hat trick. Wall Street was the money, Hollywood was the glamour and Washington is the power. I like getting involved in stuff that I think really matters.
PETER JURASIK: In terms of overall career, that's what it's all about: trying to stay happy, passionate and excited about what you're doing.
STARLOG: Do any of you find that your priorities have changed since B5? Peter, you've moved away from California.
DOYLE: And he's working more than ever!
STARLOG: Richard, you've become a husband and a dad. Have your priorities started to shift?
BIGGS: The business is not as important to me as the balance. I have other interests and I'm not totally consumed by my career.
DOYLE: You don't judge your day by "Did I get an audition or a call-back today?" You come home now and your son is there. [To Peter] What a lucky kid Ben is. You guys wanted to have kids forever and it didn't happen, and he gets adopted by these totally cool people who love him. Being adopted, I appreciate that.
JURASIK: It sounds like we should adopt Jerry! There's nothing that I love better than being a dad. It's completely satisfying in every way.
DOYLE: Plus, you were smart enough to put your money away. We managed to save a few bucks, but many actors don't get that shot at building up a nest egg and having the ability to look at other options. They're still waiting for that first break that gives them some money in the bank. Maybe if we weren't comfortable and didn't have other things in our lives that were exciting, we would still be saying, "I've got to get that audition! I've got to bust that door down!" Maybe that part of it is gone. At least we're not Robert Downey Jr.!
BIGGS: That's what we have to do: We've either got to get on a reality show, or we've got to get arrested. If you're on Survivor, you're going to be seen.
DOYLE: Look at the business today: People are coming off reality shows and getting movies. I know actors who have been trying out for reality shows, because that's the way to get a gig!
BIGGS: Do you know what happens when you get kicked off Survivor? You're on David Letterman and The [Early] Show. Do you know what it would take for me to get on those shows? I would have to hang out with Robert Downey Jr. or get on a reality show!
STARLOG: What brings you back to these conventions? I find it hard to believe you're flying across the country just to make a couple of bucks.
JURASIK: I came up because I get to see these guys again.
BIGGS: It's funny, most of us live in the same city, but we rarely see each other. So we know when we go to these conventions, we're going to have a good time, we're going to see each other and laugh and talk and maybe make a little money.
BROWN: I remember when Richard's wife was pregnant and I went to a gig with him down in Virginia, and the man had to hire a U-Haul to get all the presents home for his new baby. And Jerry is running for office, so you pump the flesh wherever you have to.
DOYLE: My website got 1.3 million hits during the last campaign. It didn't equate to the 73,000 votes I got, so I guess people were typing, not voting. But now, that's a way of getting the message out.
BROWN: I've got other things going on that give me freedom: I can write, I can produce, I sent a script that I wrote for a new series to Peter, Richard and Jerry. It's all about freedom. Conventions are also about freedom. I bless the fans every day.
JURASIK: We were also talking about different priorities, and with family, it's true, you're hard-pressed not to do conventions. My wife says to me, "Go, get out of the house! What are you sitting here for?" I'll just hang around with Ben, so she wants me out of the house.
STARLOG: Does it feel strange, knowing that new fans are still discovering Babylon 5 for the first time?
DOYLE: It's a different base of people finding the show now [on the
SCI FI Channel, DVD and VHS], but I can't name a
person in the B5 Universe who has gone to conventions and treated the fans poorly. B5 people truly appreciate the fans for what they did for the show and for us. We go [to cons] because they have many benefits, but we go there knowing that the fans are the reason we're there. I've seen people from other TV shows and you want to say, "Hey, if you don't want to be here, then
don't come!" That's why I diss William Shatner every time I get chance. I tell the fans on stage, "Why do you let him treat you like this?" If Shatner wasn't Captain Kirk, he couldn't get a job making Whoppers.
STARLOG: So Galaxy Quest is starting to look more familiar?
BROWN: Oh, they knew what they were writing!
DOYLE: Absolutely. I saw myself in some places in that movie. Galaxy Quest would make a great series. Babylon 5 would still be a good series -- we could do free-standing episodes and a broader arc. We would be in our eighth season right now. The show worked -- why do you take something off the air that works? How many TV shows never see season two, much less a sixth? [To Peter] What was the show where they came in while you were shooting, asked what scene was up and shut it down?
JURASIK: That was Bay City Blues, a big show. They just came in and pulled the plug. "You've done the master, no coverage. We'll just close it down. Everybody go home!"
DOYLE: We could still be going with Babylon 5, and the fans would be getting some good quality TV. I just call it like it is. Joe wanted to tell his story, but when you're riding something that works and you have 125 people on the crew working too, you don't walk away from something like that!
Thanks to Elizabeth for the transcription job and the accompanying photo!
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