Queers and Battlestar Galactica
By Matthew Breen
Last week at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, the producers and cast of Battlestar Galactica gathered at the William S. Paley Television Festival for a screening of the first part of the two-part season finale (the second part of the season finale airs Friday, March 10). At a private reception following the screening, we caught up with the very sexy Jamie Bamber (Commander Lee 'Apollo' Adama), the fantastic Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin), and bombshell lesbian-icon-in-the-making Katee Sackhoff (Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace).
As Lee Adama, sexy, buffed Brit Jamie Bamber is responsible for quite a feat: keeping many gay men home on Friday nights'no doubt thanks to his shirtless scenes in the futuristic co-ed locker room. Seen previously in the U.K.'s Horatio Hornblower series and in Band of Brothers, Apollo is Bamber's first sci-fi role.
Out: What did you think about taking on this role?
Bamber: When I read that it was a remake of Battlestar Galactica, I had this sphincter-clenching, butt-tightening, remake-itis reaction. But the quality of the writing was so great I got over that quickly.
Out: What do you think of your gay fanbase?
Bamber: Well, I'm flattered about it. Amazed. I'd heard there was a gay following, but didn't know much about it until recently.
Out: Do you approach a sci-fi role differently than you would another type of role?
Bamber: No, it's just like a costume drama to me. There's the military aspect to the character, so it's like Band of Brothers in some ways.
Out: What about the special effects? Are you often working on a green screen background? How does that affect your performance?
Bamber: It's just like theater. One has to pretend. There's quite a lot of green screen with [the fighter planes]. You're working with a blank canvas, and that's a challenge I enjoy.
Out: Tell me a little about your experiences with sci-fi conventions. Those are some intense audiences.
Bamber: It's something I never knew existed before. At first I was really scared and didn't know why I was there! But it's nice to know that the show has such strong appeal.
Mary McDonnell plays Laura Roslin, the former Secretary of Education who is suddenly thrust into the role of President of the Colonies when 12 home colonies of humans are destroyed. She is the one actor for whom the role was tailor-written.
Out: Mary, you're fantastic on the show, and incidentally, I loved Donnie Darko [in which McDonnell plays Jake Gyllenhaal's mother].
McDonnell: Thank you'and isn't Donnie Darko a fantastic movie?
Out: One of my favorites! Do you draw on any actual political figures for inspiration for President Roslin?
McDonnell: I didn't draw on anyone in particular; instead I draw on the feeling of unpreparedness, a woman thrust into power. I was very excited to play a middle-aged woman who discovers power.
Out: It seems to me, especially in recent episodes, that your character parallels Hillary Clinton in some respects.
McDonnell You know, I thought of that for the first time watching this episode [the first part of the season two finale]. I love Hillary Clinton. I wonder if that was something I was waiting to do [with the character] until I was ready.
Out: Roslin seems like Clinton in that she's a progressive who has to take some more right wing'type actions because of political circumstance. In a recent episode, Roslin has to outlaw abortion to promote the survival of the species.
McDonnell: I still don't want to think about [that episode]. That was much harder than [shoving Cylons out of the airlocks]. Instead of taking an action involved with survival, this was about taking away rights. This is not really [Roslin's] way. It goes against everything she believes in.
Out: Are there ways in which you see yourself as similar to Roslin?
McDonnell: I see myself close to her when I am inside the moment and I am trying to take an action toward survival. You do want to be with me in an earthquake. I like taking responsibility for people. My emergency response kicks in and I take charge. Like at Roslin's swearing-in ceremony, I could relate to her thinking, Dammit, someone's got to do this. I share that with her. There was a funny article in the Boston Herald'well, my husband made it funny'that looked at the styles of the two TV women presidents [the other was Geena Davis as President McKenzie on Commander in Chief]'and it compared McKenzie to Clinton and Roslin to George Bush with intelligence.
[Out's interviewer can't help but make a face.]
McDonnell: That was my reaction too! But then my husband said, no, you're not like an intelligent Bush but like Hillary Clinton but with better legs.
Out: You do have dynamite legs.
McDonnell: Thank you! It comes from my years as a water ballerina! I was a young Esther Williams!
Katee Sackhoff surprised the audience of die-hard sci-fi fans when she admitted that when she landed the role of Starbuck she had never seen the original series. Before beginning taping, her father, a military man and a fan of the original, suggested she give it a look. He didn't mention that the first Starbuck was a man. Sackhoff and a friend sat down with a bottle of wine and watched a rental copy of the original. 'I thought we must really be drunk because they're talking about Starbuck. Where's Starbuck? So we rewound it''
Out: You know you're becoming a lesbian icon, right?
Sackhoff: My lesbian fans are my favorite! It's extremely flattering to have a strong female following, both straight and gay. A lot of my friends are gay men, but even when I'm out with my boyfriend [in the gay neighborhood near her home] these fabulous queens will come up to me and tell me I'm fierce. And women too'the real deal, some that look like they could beat up my dad!
Out: I think a lot of gay fans'men and women'like the gender parity in the Battlestar world. Both men and women participate equally in the military, politics. Did that appeal to you in regards to this role?
Sackhoff: Yeah, and I'm the best fighter pilot! It's a respect thing, and I like it. I think women are just as strong and well-suited to the military role. I think we're more emotional in general, so we're more trained to rein in our emotions. We hold on to it better.
Out: I noticed a team of bodyguards had to line the front of the stage as you and the cast exited the screening. The fans actually rushed the stage!
Sackhoff: Yeah, it's crazy, and the sci-fi conventions are surreal. Unfortunately I now have to be a little more guarded around fans of the show.
Out: You said in the Q&A that you didn't know much about Battlestar. You said, 'Let's face it, I needed a job and wanted to shoot a gun.' The other cast members thought that was a riot.
Sackhoff: I know! In all the conventions we've done, we've never been asked about the casting. It was great to hear each others' stories.
Out: You are a kick! Thanks for chatting with us.
Sackhoff: My pleasure, and, oh! You've got to see the finale. It's going to totally blow you away!