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Convention Report: BSG Burbank - Day 1: James Callis and Tricia Helfer

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Day 1 - Saturday August 26th (continued)
Caution: Contains some season 3 spoilers.

Session 2 – James Callis and Tricia Helfer

First, I’ll be shallow and declare that Tricia is just gorgeous. And I really like her darker blonde hair. It’s much more attractive on her than the platinum-blonde wig they make her wear on the show. And even in flat shoes, the woman is an Amazon. I’m glad I wimped out and chose not to get my photo taken with her. It’s also readily apparent that Tricia is nothing at all like the steely-cold seductress she plays on the show. Tricia has a very relaxed air about her and she hardly ever stops smiling. It’s hard to believe for someone that beautiful, but she really does present herself like the friendly neighbor from next door.

And James Callis. I think the beard is even a little bushier than it was at Comic Con last month. Baltar has gone a long time without shaving. And his hair is even longer than Tricia’s. It looks like he’s bundled up for cold weather (in August in LA?) in a heavy jacket, but he may have been the smart one. They’ve gone overboard on the air conditioning and the convention room is really rather cold!

James and Tricia offer a warm greeting to everybody... and thank goodness the emcee has made himself scarce this time. James tells everybody that the steamy sex scene between Baltar and #6 in the mini-series was actually the second day after they first met. (How’s that for an introduction? “Hello. Nice to meet you. Let’s get naked now with the cameras rolling.”) And at Tricia’s request, we dive right into the Q&A.

Were Tricia and James cast because of their mutual chemistry? During the casting process, it took so many hours and Tricia was paired up with so many different actors she actually can’t remember exactly who she auditioned with and she was certain that she wouldn’t get the job. James had to come back for multiple casting sessions, but he does remember seeing Tricia the first time when he was taking a cigarette break, and thinking, “Wow!” ... though he wasn’t actually paired with Tricia during the audition. James did a brief pantomime about trying to play the audition scene in a conference room and having to speak the lines toward the casting director instead of at the actress playing #6. Then by the time he was finally done, went home, and waited a day or two for the phone call, he didn’t even want the job anymore. (kidding of course!)

How do they get themselves into the mindset necessary for such darkly emotional scenes? James related that the script doesn’t always in itself contain the words sufficient to spark the emotions that they need to portray. James suggests that just reading the newspaper can help inspire sufficiently dark emotions, especially since BSG is often lauded for how it reflects the darkness of our very own culture. It’s not a fun process and can be exhausting, but it’s not really difficult to reach that emotion when you simply reflect upon the darkness of the situation that they’re playing.

Since James and Tricia have both played different variations of their characters, do they have any favorite versions? Tricia chooses Gina as her favorite, and the character came at a time when she was getting a little frustrated that #6 was just doing the same thing week after week. Gina was such a departure as a character and gave her a lot to research for the character. James devilishly declares that he enjoys all of Tricia’s characters. Tricia relates that she’s complained to him many times about how difficult it is to be in a scene while not really being in the scene. She frequently has to hide out of sight or be ignored by everyone but him. But finally with the Baltar in Six’s head, James was going to have the same experience and he did indeed find out that it’s not easy.

Now that Caprica Six is reunited with Baltar, is he still seeing the Six in his head in season 3? Is Baltar imagining 3-ways? James grumps, “No.” Tricia confirms that the #6 in Baltar’s head hasn’t made an appearance since Caprica Six arrived on New Caprica.

Does Tricia get confused with all the versions of Six that she plays? No. She considers the militaristic Six who fought Starbuck to be the “base model” and all the others are just slight variations from that same base. Their various jobs and the amount of interaction with humans accounts for the variations in the personalities.

Does Baltar... the genius doctor (and terrible president)... ever learn anything? He learns things all the time, but he typically subsequently forgets everything he’s learned. One reason is simple common human nature, to keep repeating the same mistakes despite the best intentions to “never do that again.” Baltar is also reminiscent of the tragic Greek Sisyphus, (James briefly had a Freudian slip with the word “syphilis”) who was doomed to always be trying to reach for something that always kept moving out of reach. And it’s also because the writers just like seeing Baltar having to scramble to cover his ass.

What was it like for Tricia to film the cat fight with Katee? Tricia thought it was “awesome.” Tricia describes herself as a “tomboy” and she trained hard with a kickboxing sensei, while Katee trained with a boxer. Katee got the brunt of the fight and most of the bruises. James pointed out that he and Jamie Bamber both made a point of being on-hand to observe that day... “Can’t imagine why...” and described the location as a rancid, rat-infested dump. They did the entire fight themselves except for the drop over the edge. When they came back to continue the scene for season 2, Tricia had to lie still on the freezing, filthy floor of the place in her skimpy costume with rats scrambling by her head, though James declared that it was actually Jamie she heard scurrying around next to her.

Does it make it easier or harder for them to have what many consider the most dynamic characters on the show? Tricia is just plainly flattered to be receiving praise for her work on a show that has such a depth of talent in the cast. She speaks very highly of James as a learned, studied actor who is incredible to work with and a great contrast to someone like her who is relatively new to the craft and essentially flying by the seat of her pants. James thinks that one of their key strengths on the show is the unique nature of their relationship, and that nobody else on the show has anybody that they confide in. Only Baltar and Six really express what is going on inside their heads. He thinks that most of the people on Galactica are very lonely, and though Six isn’t really physically present (or at least she wasn’t before season 3), she’s more of companion than anyone else has. Everybody else has this fear that anybody they speak to could turn out to be a Cylon agent; Baltar doesn’t have to worry about that, because he already knows his companion is a Cylon.

Whose side is Baltar on these days? His own? The Cylons? Baltar’s loyalties are actually something that James uses to track the progression of his character from self-absorbed scientist who is in total denial that he’s in any way complicit with the destruction of his people and his only cause is his own survival. In season 2, he wants to ally his loyalties and side with humanity but he’s being pushed by circumstances toward the Cylons. Finally, he finds himself forced to play on both sides and being torn apart by it.

Who’s the better kisser? Ben Browder or James Callis? Tricia has had a lot more experience with James, but they’re both such lovely guys that it’s hard for her to compare. (Okay... can I give it a try then? Please?)

Did James worry about being typecast in scifi when he took the role? Before BSG, James was being recognized for his silly but fun role in “Bridget Jones’ Diary”, playing Bridget’s gay songwriter friend, who was relying on the legacy of his one hit song to get laid. Then he got the script for BSG and saw the role of womanizing Gaius who in the audition scene was going to be in bed with one woman and caught there by another. So typecasting seemed unlikely. And now that the show has delivered such a depth of scenes and emotions he thinks typecasting would be very difficult to do.

Is Tricia going to continue modeling? She thinks she’s getting too old to continue modeling. (The whole crowd groans!) She made a conscious choice to evolve her career from one stage into another and pursue new experiences. She is still hosting “Canada’s Next Top Model” and does occasional photo shoots for promoting BSG, but that is the extent of her modeling career now.

Which past story has most affected you? Tricia chooses Gina. It was such a departure for her at the time. Women who have been through that kind of experience have communicated to her that her performance rang very true for them and that feedback as well as the research she did in advance are things that have really touched her. At one point after filming a scene she actually did break down and start sobbing, and James responded by coming up and hugging her for a few minutes. James was also particularly moved by filming the scenes with Gina. He said that it didn’t even feel like acting or that there was a camera present. The crew was especially quiet and reserved through the whole process and it felt very real. But Gaius is also apparently in for a hell of time in season 3 and some of it has affected him very deeply, though James declined to provide specifics.

Have they done any other projects lately? Tricia has been very busy in her spare time, but sadly I can’t recall the names of the movies or TV guest spots that she’s filmed aside from “Canada’s Next Top Model”. James has a movie coming out in October, I think called “One Night With the King” that he filmed for three months in India.

Does Tricia play Caprica Six differently than the Six in Baltar’s Head? Yes. And she also wanted to make Caprica Six different from the other Six we had been seeing on the planet (the one hunting Boomer and Helo in season 1). The Six in Baltar’s head is more of a caricature and somewhat less “real”. Caprica Six was further “altered” by the downloading process itself, seeing her “life” flash before her eyes as she is reborn, and realizing that maybe humanity didn’t deserve to be annihilated. Caprica Six is subsequently less sure of herself, and seeing Boomer’s reaction following rebirth made her step back and question things further.

Is Baltar ever going to be found out? James believes that Baltar can’t actually be a whole person until he actually has faced some retribution. Constantly running from something and living in perpetual fear of the truth is no way to live. When Baltar is finally unmasked, he thinks they’ll be doing him a favor.

A fan informs James that she caught him in “Jason and the Argonauts” on the hotel television earlier. (Funny story time. It’s a pity that it can’t possibly read as humorously as it was in the telling, even if I could recall all the details.) He auditioned for another movie, “101 Arabian Nights” that was already in production. His audition consisted of pretending to shoot an arrow and feeling utterly ridiculous, but he was offered the role... only to find out when he arrived on the set that he was cast because his hair and build were a perfect match from behind for the stuntman who had already been used in filming some of his scenes. When he later auditioned for “Jason and the Argonauts,” he saw that it was the same producer who had previously hired him for his hair and he made sure to poke fun at it during the audition, which apparently won him the role.

How did Tricia prepare herself to play Gina? She did extensive reading and research into Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as well as rape victims. She liked that although the Cylons are stronger than humans, they can still suffer physical pain and psychological trauma. When it came time to film the scenes, she actually wanted to be chained up in way that it was physically painful so that she could experience the reality of the situation and she didn’t get up and relax between takes. The set is usually a fun and boisterous place, but that day everyone was very quiet and supportive to allow her to get into Gina’s headspace. Even in the retelling, Tricia starts to get a little choked up.

Did they ever discuss with James whether or not he would use his own British accent or switch to an American accent the way that Jamie Bamber does? He did try to modulate his voice in his first scene, playing up Baltar as the suave but conceited scientist during his interview on Caprica, but he was encouraged afterward to keep it more natural and relaxed to enhance Baltar’s image as the hapless dupe. And there is the stereotype that in an American production an English accent = bad guy.

What do James and Tricia do to stay looking so great? James’ regular regime involves smoking and donuts. The only things that keep him fit are chasing after his children and looking at Tricia. Though apparently, there are specific directions for his character in season 3 that Baltar hasn’t been eating much recently. Tricia again declares herself a tomboy-jock. She recently finished a 20 mile river trip, with a five mile run at the end.... but that was an accident and they had farmers out looking for them after dark as they got chased by horses and bulls... anyway long story, but Tricia was leading the pack (so maybe she needs a GPS for Christmas). She hikes. Does Pilates. Weight training. Yoga. I’m getting tired just hearing the list. Suffice it to say this girl works out a lot... and it shows.

On BSG the good guys are flawed, and the bad guys have virtues. Tricia likes that fact a lot and she likes #6. She recently defended Six to her husband, proclaiming that Six is really doing what she believes is right. She likes that Six is strong both mentally and physically, but that Gaius has a way of making her a pushover sometimes. She just appreciates that the Cylons are complex and multi-faceted beings. Baltar was never conceived as a cold, calculating man and one of the things that James tries hard to show is that Baltar has warmth and compassion. He is used as a benchmark on the show in a way, that although he can be incredibly self-serving, even he feels upset about certain things (such as the manner in which Gina was treated) and if something bothers even him, then it must be truly significant.

A fan now asks Tricia to slip into character and say something to James as #6. After a few seconds to compose herself, Tricia complies, morphing her voice into Six’s sultry tone and saying the name, “Gaius.” The contrast is almost startling. Then with James blushing and the crowd applauding, #6 plants one on him and they practically end up in the same chair. James comments that to be an actor you have to be very brave.

Any funny behind-the-scenes stories they can offer? James offers one memory of filming the mini-series where they had to come back and film a pickup shot of the love scene. Basically he was told that he and Tricia just had to show up and take their knickers off for a quickie. James said he’d unfortunately been indulging in donuts lately, so he kept angling to put Tricia between him and the camera. The scene where Baltar confronts Shelly Godfrey also came to mind. The bathroom stalls apparently aren’t very deep, and Tricia is so tall that when James crashed open the stall door, he smacked it right into Tricia’s knee and the door came off the hinges. They continued filming with James holding the door up. She was standing in subsequent takes.

Have they ever been at odds with the director about a scene? Tricia recalled the rebirth scene in “Downloaded.” It was such a pivotal experience for Six that Tricia was very intent on making sure it was fully played out. At the time they filmed, however, the director wanted to save time and do the run-through with her stand-in immersed in the goo instead of Tricia. Tricia pushed back and insisted on doing the full rehearsal herself, and her other castmates in the scene later thanked her for that because it showed all of them what she planned to do when the cameras finally rolled. It turns out that Tricia had actually separated a rib filming the fight scene with Lucy Lawless the day before she had to climb into the goo, so the rebirth scene really was quite painful for her. James said that it isn’t so much that they’re at odds with the director at the time of filming, but he and all the cast members regularly contribute and have frequent dialogues with the writers while a story is being developed, especially at the table read where a script is first run through by the cast. Changes are frequently made based upon their input at that time.

Does Tricia ever have a problem with the nudity required of her on the set? She has no problem with it at all. She doesn’t walk around naked on her own, but after a successful 10 years of modeling she is very comfortable with her body and where it’s in-character on a closed set, disrobing isn’t an issue for her. Although, there was one recent case filming season 3 where the location was more public than anticipated and Tricia pushed back and declined to take off her clothes in that setting.

Do they have any rituals that they go through before filming a scene? When she needs to get her energy level up, Tricia hops up and down. For darker scenes, she typically has to go off by herself away from the noise and bustle of the crew. James said that in a scene it’s typically one person’s task to be emotional, and somebody else’s task to be the foil. The person who has the emotional task is frequently hiding away in solitude before a scene, while everyone else is kicking back and having fun on the set. James typically prepares himself by going out for a smoke break and loading up on caffeine. He has also found that to play a scene where the character is exhausted, you yourself can’t be exhausted. (Not a method actor then huh?) Acting requires energy, so performances are always better when the actor feels well. (So, he did NOT stay up for 5 days straight before filming ‘33’)

Why do they think the mini-series was picked up for a regular series and were they surprised that it did? Trica says they’re on the air today because we all watch it. She and James both signed on for the series back when they signed on to do the mini-series. He relates that at the time he spoke with an attorney to possibly renegotiate the duration of the contract for a shorter term and the attorney cut him off. All of his other clients would be asking him how to renegotiate for a longer term. “Listen James, get with the program!” Neither of them anticipated that the show would turn out to be such a huge critical success, and it’s turned out to be far better in quality than they imagined. He’s very proud to be a part of it, and glad now to have the longer term contract.

Is it a fun set to work on? Practical jokes? James claims that everyone is very professional and they don’t really have practical jokes going on. Though recently for the first time in three years he pulled something screwy on camera because he had a brain fart and no one knew what to make of it. Tricia agreed it’s a fun set to work on, and the cast does spend their off time together on occasion.

Really a fun duo, and it’s easy to see that they play off of each other very well. After a brief break and another fan video, it’s time for the final guest of the day.

Ronald D. Moore

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