"Marjorie Monaghan: One on One" by David Richardson
December 1997, Issue 27, pages 22-26
As the Third Age of Mankind beings in the current season of Babylon 5, Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) takes the fight to Earth, hoping to free the planet from the tyrannical rule of President Clark. Sheridan realizes that in order to succeed he must have powerful allies, and despatches Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) and Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) to the Mars Colony, where they must win the support of the planet's resistance movement, and their leader, Number One.
First introduced in the episode Racing Mars, Number One is a distant, enigmatic figure, whose real name remains concealed to those she encounters.
"She has a name," jokes Marjorie Monaghan, "but if I told you what it was, I would have to kill you!"
Monaghan is a striking figure: tall -- six foot and then some -- glamourous, erudite and entertaining. For her, the chance to appear in Babylon 5 was not simply another job, rather it was the opportunity to be involved in a television series that was drive by Joe Straczynski's intelligent and innovative scripts.
"I had worked with Claudia [Christian] before, so I had wanted to watch her as soon as I heard she was in it," the actress tells TV Zone. "The thing that first drew me to it, apart from wanting to see Claudia's work, was that from the beginning Joe had stated that this was a five-year arc, and it would be a broad tapestry. That to me was really fascinating -- the fact that he stuck by it every year."
Called to audition for the recurring role of Number One, Monaghan met with Straczynski and Jesús Treviño, interviewed in the new TV Zone Yearbook, the director of Racing Mars.
"And they hired me!" she beams. "I later found out, when I was talking to Joe, that he had known my work fro a number of years. In fact, the first time I was just offered a role without auditioning was for an episode of Murder She Wrote, and I found out from Joe that was his doing. He had seen my work, and he had requested me. I had no idea that he was even involved in that show."
Whereas most characters on television are developed clearly within the pages of a script, Number One is defined by a sense of mystery. In order to succeed in her agenda, she must remain unknown. When asked to describe this solitary figure, it's obvious that Monaghan has thought about the character in great depth.
"First and foremost she's a protector," she offers. "She's intelligent and educated to the extent that would be available to her. She has learned to become a streetfighter. Sh has seen the bloody Mars uprising, and she realizes that it's probably not the way to make a better life for people.
"These people who are into terrorism tend to be either mercenaries, and then once their war is over they will move on to find another battle to fight, or they are people who are desperately trying to create a better world. [Her] purpose is to create a better life where children can grow up and people can be educated and not just ground down in the underclass on a planet that's exploited by the corporations and drained by the taxes. That leads to a horrible way of life where people are just trudging along in the mud all the time. In order to correct that, this resistance is necessary. That's why she fights.
"She feels a tremendous responsibility to the people who are tortured every da, trying to find out who she is, and yet they don't give it away. She lives with that all the time -- that people are constantly protecting her. I'm sure that everyone she loves has been killed. She probably has a bag full of personal belongings, doesn't sleep in the same place two nights in a row, and is forever struggling for a balance. On the one hand you have the zealots who just want to start blowing things up, which she knows will not work in the long fun, and yet the Resistance has to be kept alive."
Number One's ruthlessness is clearly demonstrated in the climactic episode Endgame when, having captured Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), who has betrayed Sheridan to Clark's people, she intends to dispose of him without a trial.
"This is someone who, if traitors were discovered, they would be shot out of hand. It's very simple. When you live in that sort of extreme situation, where it is literally life or death all the time, those sorts of decisions become very clear. She would kill somebody without a second thought if they were jeopardizing the people she's protecting."
While focused and determined, Number One is also known to display very human needs and she makes obvious her intention to sleep with Dr. Franklin.
"It's one of the things that Joe has brought into his show. where you have these wonderful strong female characters," states Monaghan. "There's Delenn and Lyta and Ivanova, and they're powerful and intelligent and capable, and they're all very different to each other. Number One has a healthy sex life -- she sees someone she's interested in, and she's very straightforward about it, and there's no reason that it wouldn't be just as important a part of her as all the other parts.
"Joe said that someone told him recently that wherever women [in fiction] are self-confident about their sexuality, they tend to be bad -- they tend to use that as a weapon of sorts. I think that's unnecessary. That's not the case with real women, so why should it be with fictional women?"
Despite appearing in several episodes, Monaghan is only every seen on Mars, and she worked with just four of the principal actors -- Richard Biggs, Jason Carter, Patricia Tallman and Jerry Doyle. She describes them as "a lot of fun", and claims that the whole studio made her feel very welcome.
"They made me feel very much a part of what was developing." Monaghan continues, "Jason is hysterical. At the end of one of the episodes [Atonement], he and Richard are going off to Mars in that transport and he sings that song... The man knows hundreds, possibly thousands of pieces like that -- be they songs or poems... He knows them by heart, he spouts them backstage. He's hysterical, and very clever.
"Richard Biggs was terrific, wonderful to work with. It's nice when you work with people who are open as actors. As you begin to rehearse, you really work off of each other, which doesn't always happen in episodic television, because when you come in as a guest star there's so little time. But we really connected. And Pat Tallman is wonderful."
Aside from one sequence in Endgame, where Number One joins an assault on the Mars defences, all of Monaghan's scenes took place in underground tunnels.
"We were shooting the first two episodes over four days," she recalls, "and towards the end of that time, we realized 'There are no chairs on Mars!' Every time we did a scene we had to stand up. That just became a sort of joke: 'This is Mars. There are no chairs -- just dirt and rocks!'"
Although she has worked extensively with special effects on other shows, Monaghan's only experience of CGI on Babylon 5 was for the scenes in which Captain Jack (Donovan Scott) is revealed to be under the influence of one of the Keepers, the small, parasitic creatures with the ability to control a host's mind.
"They used a puppet when he was in the large cave with all of us," she explains, "and then when he was in the [transport tube], that was digital."
Shooting effects work can often slow down production in the studio; has Monaghan ever found the time they take to be a laborious process?
"I must say I have never been on a show as efficiently run as Babylon 5," she insists. "There's very little sitting around for anything, which is quite refreshing. But I enjoy the technical work as well, because you're a part of creating this whole world and these pieces are a part of what makes it so real. I enjoy the process of how it will come together. I've done a lot of Science Fiction before, so I know how those things work and fit in. I do love seeing the graphics that they do -- the Mars exterior. It's pretty amazing how close they've gotten to the actual Mars!"
Number One Return?
Whether Number One will return in the fifth season remains to be seen. Monaghan is ken to reprise the roll, and she will reveal that the characters survives the fight against Earth's military forces.
"Whenever I got a new script, the first thing I do was flip through and see if I was still alive at the end!" she laughs.
Away from Babylon 5, Monaghan has appeared in a wealth of television series and films, although she is certainly not exaggerating when she claims to have done a lot of Science Fiction. Indeed, her first television role after moving to Los Angeles was a guest role in Quantum Leap, playing Edie Lansdale in Season Three's One Strobe over the Line.
"I was fortunate in that I had a lot of scenes with Scott Bakula, who was just incredible to work with," she enthuses. "I had a wonderful time."
Genre fans may also remember Monaghan from the ill-fated Space Rangers, a lively romp that lasted just six episodes in 1994. The actress played the regular role of Jojo, a space pilot who was light years away from Number One.
"She was a bit of a loose cannon," Monaghan clarifies, "and not interested at all in being a commander. She was a seat of your pants pilot, and just loved that. She was very sure of herself, but out to have fun."
Monaghan admits she was very disappointed that Space Rangers was so short-lived.
"It was a lot of fun. It was a wonderful cast, and the executive producers were terrific too."
How does she feel the series compares with Babylon 5?
"For the most part they were more straightforward," she summarizes. "The situations were very different... Space Rangers was more of a straight-out action show."
From a high-tech future to reconstructions of the past, Monaghan has also guest starred in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, playing the holographic Viking Freya in Season One's Heroes and Demons. A showcase for Robert Picardo, the story found the Doctor entering the Holodeck in order to save the ship from an alien life-form.
"I was under 30 pounds of big pointy hat!" she exclaims, remembering the uncomfortable costume. "Robert Picardo is a terrific actor, a lovely man. We had great fun. Actually I met Patricia Tallman doing that, because she doubled me for one quick thing. But when we met we didn't know -- because we were both under 30 pounds of fur and cloaks and swords! It was really very funny, because we realized it after we had been working together for a couple of weeks on Babylon 5."
In addition to an episode of The Pretender ("Michael T. Weiss is remarkable.") and a guest role in Deadly Games (in which she played a murderous orthodontist's nurse -- "I shot hypodermics at people!"), Monaghan has also shot a pilot episode for a new Science Fiction series, The Osiris Chronicles, for CBS. Set in the distant future, the show also stars Rod Taylor and The Visitor's John Corbett.
"I found it fascinating," Monaghan claims. "It's set in the future after the breakdown of the enlightened paternal federation of planets -- sort of similar to the federation in Star Trek. The notion is that the governing body had been set up and running for several hundred years, and then due to factionalism within it just started breaking down. The galaxy is in a new dark age, interplanetary travel has broken down. There are some interplanetary ships working, but for the most part each planet has gone back into its own. Individual planets have control over several planets, and each one is different.
"The Osiris is the name of a ship, and because of one incident where a child is kidnapped and people come together to try and get her back, they discover this big horrible problem growing, and in order to combat it they have to put back together a new republic.
"I play this character who is this sort of mysterious warrior, who in the beginning in under a vow of silence. They re-imagined the character after they cast me, as opposed to what they were looking for initially."
To date, The Osiris Chronicles remains unscreened, and has been through several re-edits and re-shoots in the hope of a series being commissioned.
"I heard a couple of months ago that they were re-doing it again," the actress declares. "I've no idea what's happening."
Monaghan finds it ironic that she has made a living as a performer. As a child she was shy and retiring, a studious bookworm who was devoted to her homework. She moved into acting after appearing in shows at High School, but her interest in reading has never waned. Now she hopes to develop her writing skills, to the point that she can submit scripts for television shows.
"I would like to write for Science Fiction," she reveals. "I'm training on existing shows and then at the spare time developing my own ideas on the side, and that will be a process of developing the ideas through working on them."
When TV Zone mentions that Joe Straczynski is planning to commission writers for Season 5 of Babylon 5 and the forthcoming Crusade, a glint forms in Monaghan's eye.
"That would be nice," she smiles.
Although Science Fiction is perhaps currently the most popular genre in television and films, few media critics or studio executives take it seriously. Invariably it is still seen as 'kid's stuff' -- an attitude that Monaghan finds frustrating and baffling.
"To me most Science Fiction is about allegory and mythology," she reflects. "A lot of mythology deals in transformation, people on a path to learning new things. We live in a time where there is factionalism and chaos in many ways, and a sense that we're on the cusp of new things, and mythology can help us through transitionary phases.
"When it's done well, Science Fiction has so much to say to people. It's archtypal storytelling, and I find int completely baffling that people think it's for children. If it's not done well, then yes -- it just becomes silly stories. But if you at Joe [Straczynski]'s work, it's a tapestry of all sorts or different forces and changes and people going through various processes and civilizations coming together and moving apart, which is the history of our race.
"I enjoy Science Fiction, so I am always happy to do it. I think part of it is that in Science Fiction I find [the kind] of strong, interesting, intelligent female roles that I enjoy doing and people ask me to do. You find more of them in that genre that any other television I've encountered. [And producers] need someone who's powerful, intelligent and different, and I am those things.
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