Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Mary McDonnell and executive producer Ron Moore talk about this hit series at a Hollywood screening
I have never been to a big Hollywood premiere before. I've walked by one on the way to get cigarettes, sure, but I've never been there on the red carpet, mingling with the celebs. However, I can now say I've been to a finale, a midseason one at that, for the immensely popular Sci-Fi Channel hit, Battlestar Galactica. The event was held at the spectacular Arclight CineramaDome in Hollywood, which is the best theater in town, in my eyes, and the event drew out throngs of fans and even celebrity fans of the show as well. As I was waiting for the show to start, none other than filmmaker and rabid Battlestar fan Kevin Smith and his wife Jennifer Schwallbach-Smith sat down one row behind me. Not too long after that, filmmaker Zak Penn came in and sat down right behind me. Wow. Although I didn't see him, I was told that Seth Green was there as well. Originally I was told that stars Edward James Olmoss and Mary McDonnell were scheduled to be there and at the post-screening party. While Olmoss was not in attendance, Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, McDonnell and showrunner Ron Moore were announced to an uproarious applause. Ron Moore came up to chat for a bit before the screening and started off by making the entire theater take an oath that we swear we won't reveal any of the big spoilers (and trust me, there are some big ones) before the finale airs on Friday night. Then it was time to kick back, relax and enjoy this episode in one of the best environments possible.
OK, first of all, the episode starts out with... ha, gotcha. You won't get anything from me, folks. You'll just have to wait another day. Trust me, though, it is a magnificent episode that brilliantly sets the stage for the last half leg of this whole series. After the screening, Sackhoff, Helfer, McDonnell and Moore were brought up and they answered some questions from the moderator first before opening it up to the fans. Here's what they had to say. All the spoiler-ish stuff has been omitted.
Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Mary McDonnell and Ron Moore
Mary, can you talk about the exploration of death and what that means to the human spirit? I mean, Mary, it's a phenomenal texture for your character.
Mary McDonnell: It really is. I feel that there was an opportunity to do this - well, we're still doing it - but there's an opportunity in this role to delve inside the depths of one's subconscious and one's soul and wrestle with the demons. What's beautiful about Season 4 - there are many things, the story is beautiful in terms of Laura Roslin. All of her body seems to be moving away. She seems to be expanding. Her nature is growing and I'm very grateful to these people for allowing a human being to do that. As dark and as terrifying and painful as cancer is, there's this light that's beginning to burn, that she's actually experiencing things that she never had. For me, as an actress, it's been a dignifying experience to play her. It's kind of an honor.
Tricia, the religion has been such a fascinating undercurrent throughout the show. I'm curious for you, it's very rare to find a role where spirituality and religion is that much of it. You probably get a lot of people walking up to you and expecting you to deliver revelations to them.
Tricia Helfer: Yes, but I say words that are written for me.
Ron Moore: Usually.
Tricia Helfer: That's probably the hardest question that could be asked of me, in dealing with the show and the character, because I am a bit of an agnostic. That's actually one thing that I have, throughout the show, gone to the writers, quite a few times and went, 'OK, I don't know what I'm saying. Who is the Cylon God and who is the one true God?' I don't know a lot of the references myself, so that's probably why I stick to the script exactly, because I don't know how to change it myself. I think it's amazing and it certainly has been a challenge for me in that respect and, on a personal level, made me open up my views and horizons a little bit and say, 'OK, you've been closed-minded to everything before throughout your life and maybe you need to open it a little bit and explore.' That's something I plan on working on and doing.
Ron, the show is so rooted in reality, despite all the fantastic things that happen and all the far-flung places it's filmed, the situations and the characters themselves feel like they could be happening right next to us. Can you talk a little bit about that and how important that is for the show and how you achieve that?
Ron Moore: That was actually part of the concept going in. Part of the pitch to Sci-Fi Network and Universal Studios going in was to say, lets take a different approach to science-fiction on television. Let's go in and do something that I call "naturalistic science-fiction" and let's play the characters very real, lets get rid of some of the artifice and some of the trappings that usually typify science-fiction. Let's get rid of the space hair, lets get rid of the spandex suits, lets make phones look like phones, lets make a drama that looks like a drama, that just happens to take place in a science-fiction universe. It all kind of starts with the characters. It was important to me to portray the characters as truthfully as they could. They were going through an incredible, traumatic experience in the pilot, with the apocalypse and the destruction of billions of people's lives and it just felt like, if you were going to tell that story, you had to tell it as truthfully as you could and to try to make them real human beings who were flawed in many ways. They sometimes make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons and the wrong circumstances and we have to find ways to humanize them and make them people that you want to invite in your home week after week. That was one of the guidelines and principles of the show, to make it as naturalistic and as real as possible. I want it to feel like, 'That could be me. That is what would happen if I was in that circumstance, or if the people I knew were threw into a spaceship and this set of circumstances, what we would go through.' Not the best crew in the galaxy, not the super-elite people, the misfits, the screwed-up people, the people who shouldn't get the job and, suddenly, the entire human race depends on their shoulders, you know, people like us. What would happen to them? That's sort of how it started.
The show has become so powerful. Just the people in this room, it affects their lives. I'm wondering how it affects your lives. Do you find yourself saying, 'frack,' for instance?
Katee Sackhoff: I still like the real word.
Katee Sackhoff: It's made me realize, though, how much I used to swear. I mean, I still do, but I have nephews and nieces. I have to be a little careful these days, so I just say 'F' now, instead of 'frack' because that would just be really bad. So I say 'F-in cool' but, occasionally, nothing works like a good F-bomb.
What are those flight suits like?
Katee Sackhoff: (Looking at Helfer and McConnell) Oh, you guys can't answer. It's hell on Earth. It's horrible. Ron's like, 'Let's take them out of jumpsuits and put them in rubber.' It's the one fabric in the world that does not hold any warmth or coolness at all, so let's put them in it and throw them in a little box, but forget they're there for awhile. Let's give them water but not give them a pee zipper. (Laughs). It makes my life a living hell so I'm officially taking mine home and bronzing it. I'm going to, yeah, so thanks for that, Sci-Fi. I appreciate it.
Mary, talk about Roslin and Adama. That's become such a fascinating axis for the show.
Mary McDonnell: Well, it's been an interesting evolution and it's taught me a lesson, a great lesson about what people are capable of if they continue to have to focus outside of themselves and they continue to have to partner and find common ideas and make commitments, they end up joining hearts despite their stubbornness. I was really excited by this season, to see that these two people, despite all of that, joined hearts, and it's been thrilling. I mean, to play that, after all that lonliness (Laughs). Well, seriously, no friends, no girlfriends, let alone a boyfriend. This has been a beautiful thing for her, and therefore for me to play because Eddie is such a genius in his way and it's so delightful to play with him. It's easy. He's present, there's chemistry, there's commitment, there's power, so what's not to love, right?
At this point, the moderator wrapped up and we were shown some for your consideration Emmy clips for Sackhoff, Helfer and McDonnell, because they are really trying hard to make a presence at the Emmy's this year. The clips were pretty cool and then they came back and opened it up to fan questions, much like a Comic-Con panel. While Moore and his cast were pretty good about not giving anything away, really, there are some pretty nice tidbits in here. Take a look at what the fans had to ask this talented group.
Fan Questions For Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Mary McDonnell and Ron Moore
The finish line is in sight. Talk a little bit about the emotion of the cast and knowing it's all coming to an end. That must have been quite a time.
Tricia Helfer: Yeah, you know, it's been a long year, and I don't mean that in a bad way. When we started the season, people were saying, 'Oh, it's your last year. How are you going to get through it?' I was like, we have a long way to go yet. Now we're actually, all three of us were on set until about midnight last night in Vancouver and Katee and I are getting up at 4 AM to fly back. We're filming the last episodes right now and I think that's when it's really starting to hit all of us because, if you start too early, it affects your work. We had a cast read-through of the last script last week and there were some teary eyes in the room. For me, because we still have another month to film, it's not what's happening on set, right now, it's more, the first of everything. The first last read-through... that didn't make sense, but you know what I mean. Everybody's reacting and when we first got the script, I was on set and Aaron Douglas came up to me and he said, 'I went to my trailer and I started crying.' and Eddie started crying. I read it next morning on the plane and I didn't cry, but I felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach. It's like when you're at a movie and you can't get up out of your seat, a really heavy, emotional movie and nobody moves instead of everybody trying to get out the door fast, that's what it felt like on the plane. It was odd because I was by myself. Well, not on the plane. I didn't have my lovely... yeah, I had my own plane.
Tricia Helfer: Nooo.
Katee Sackhoff: She flies it.
Ron Moore: While reading.
Tricia Helfer: It was one of those things where I wanted to be around everybody now. I wanted to talk to everybody. It's starting to get to that place. It's an odd feeling, it's a really odd feeling and this is my first series so I don't really know what to relate it to. I just know that it feels odd. It feels great, because I'm so proud to be a part of this, but at the same time, it feels really sad.
Mary McDonnell: I concur, and I want to say that, when I read it - and I'm being very careful because I don't want to spoil it - that I had this incredible feeling of adrenaline when it was over. The reason is that I was able to, now, understand the entire saga and I got so very excited for all of you, because, I think, it started seeing all the episodes through the lens of knowing. Look, I have goosebumps now. I had this charge from it, because I saw its next future. I saw its next step into the world and I was blown away by Ron Moore. Just blown away by knowing what was said at the beginning, and where you will all find yourself. I just think it's phenomenal.
Do the final 5 have model numbers, and if there are 12 Cylons and 12 Gods, are there any direct pairings between the Gods of Greek mythology and the Cylon models?
Ron Moore: Katee?
Katee Sackhoff: Back to you, Bob.
Ron Moore: The final 5 do not, in fact, have numbers. The pairing of the 12 colonies and the 12 Gods and the 12 tribes and the number 12, while there's the certain repetition of the numerology in the show, there's not that direct correlation that you're asking about.
Katee, which part of Starbuck have you liked the most: the renegade pilot, the captive on New Caprica or the possible savior of the Colonial Fleet?
Katee Sackhoff: I like it when she's drunk, it's fun.
Katee Sackhoff: All of them, for different reasons, because they've allowed me to explore the different sides of her. I really enjoyed the stuff on Caprica, being held, because I loved working with Callum Keith Rennie. I think he's such a great actor and he really pulls the best out of you. I like the drunk renegade because you can really do whatever you want. That's really fun. She's got a different swagger. They've all just been fantastic. I actually really like the emotional side of her, when I get challenged, which I have in this second half of this last season, been challenged emotionally. It's been difficult, it's been very difficult. I keep calling my loved ones and going, 'Why am I depressed? I'm not a depressed person.' Then I realized that it's because she's so depressing right now, it's actually... I think I need Zanax or something. It's been difficult, so I don't know which side of her I like the best, but that was a really long-winded answer to say 'All of them.'
Mary, do you mind if I write you in for my vote for President?
Mary McDonnell: Only if I can have Hillary as my VP.
Ron, I know you're extremely busy with this final half of the season, but are we going to get some podcasts after the end?
Ron Moore: Ah yes, the podcasts. It hasn't been a good year for podcasts, for those of you who follow these things. I've had many technical difficulties. I'm actually going into the studio tomorrow and doing two podcasts in a row, with an actual professional microphone and we'll get those out to you as soon as we can. I'm missing four, I believe, and I'll do two more after that. I'm sorry that they're not there on time, like they used to be, but yes, there will be podcasts and scotch and smoking and all that.
Katee Sackhoff: I wanna hang out at the podcast. That sounds like a really good time.
Ron Moore: Yeah, you'd like it.
The final episode, was the idea written in your head when you wrote the first episode, and how much of it has changed in the course of the show?
Ron Moore: I did not have the final episode in my head when I wrote the first. I sort of had a general idea where the show was going to vaguely, sort of end up, but I didn't really think in concrete terms about the end of the series until midway through the first season. I started thinking in broader terms like, 'What is this journey?' All of this has happened before and it will happen again. What does that mean? Who is Number Six in Baltar's head? What is the connection between where they're going? I didn't tell you all of this the first season, but that's what I was thinking. Then it was just random thoughts in the writers room and just kicking things around periodically but it wasn't until last season that I started thinking, 'OK, we're going to get to this point by the end of the show,' and I had a couple of vague character endings in my head. Then as we got into this season and we went on the writers retreat and we broke down the arc of the last season and we started talking about what is the end. We had a general idea on what that was and we focused on the first half of the season. Then, after the writers strike we all came back and we just started talking more and more about the finale. We sat in the room for a couple of days and the first day of breaking the final episode, it was very frustrating. It wasn't working and I kept getting caught up in the wrong plot in my head, I was getting annoyed with myself and the writers in general and my wife and my children and cats and anything I could lay my hands to beat.
Ron Moore: Then I went home and took a shower and I had this epiphany. I was concentrating on the wrong thing, I was concentrating on the plot and not the characters and I went back into the writers room and I wrote, 'It's the characters, stupid." on the top of the board and we all kind of took a step back and started talking about what mattered to us about the show. What do we care about, as writers? We're all deeply invested in these characters and these stories, but it's been long hours in these rooms, talking about these people and their lives and what matters in their lives that made them the human beings that they are. Then we just started talking about the characters and what they're endings were going to be and how they got to that point in the journey. Once we got to that conversation, then the finale just really started to click and we started to realize what it was. I just saw it. That's going to be the end of the show. It just flowed and writing it was great. We have high hopes of how the show is going to end.
Why did you make humans believe in multiple gods and Cylons believe in one single god, and not vice versa? I was wondering if there was a point you were trying to get across with that.
Ron Moore: That kind of grew throughout the development process of revamping the original Battlestar Galactica. In the original Battlestar Galactica, there were all these names borrowed from Greek and Roman gods. Apollo and Athena, the signs of the zodiac, so this nomenclature was kind of built in to the structure of the old show. When I wrote the mini-series, the first draft didn't have much to do with religion in it. It really wasn't a strong theme. It was actually one line that Number Six said in the scene with Baltar. In the middle of the scene I just had her say, 'God is love.' I thought it was an interesting thing for a robot to say. I didn't really know what it meant, I didn't have any context for it, I just thought it was cool and I just wrote it.
Tricia Helfer: That's why I don't know.
Ron Moore: I got this note back, actually, from a network executive who's no longer there, Michael Jackson, no relation, gave this note and he said, 'That's a fascinating thing for Cylons to say. You're already doing this thing that has certain allegories to terrorism. Why don' t you play that more.' I thought, 'More religion. That's a note I don't get very often,' so I will just run with it. It fit in really nicely to the show. I just really thought that was really intriguing. It wasn't done with a larger message or plan about what the show was trying to say, it was just interesting material that I thought was fertile ground to keep telling more stories.
Mary McDonnell: Can you imagine what it was like being directed by him?
Mary McDonnell: I just wanted to bring that up, for those of you who don't know, Ron Moore made his directing debut this season, and it was really thrilling. He was excellent. We were really quite happy about it.
I was just wondering if you could talk about - and it's OK if you can't - the literary references. The Cylons seem to be Bob Dylan fans and I think Baltar quotes Shakespeare and how does that fit into the reality that we've seen so far?
Ron Moore: All will be revealed.
You mentioned a couple of years ago that there was a prequel series. Is that still in the works?
Ron Moore: Not only is it in the works, they're shooting it as we speak. Caprica is being shot in Vancouver right now. Jeff Reiner is directing it. He's one of the directors on Friday Night Lights. Dailies look great. I was up on the set last week. It's very cool, the cast is tremendous, Eric Stoltz and Essai Morales headline the cast. We have high hopes for it. It's a two-hour back-door pilot. We have great hopes that it goes to series and it's a very different piece. It's not this show. It's a different mood, it's a different flavor, it's a completely different concept for a series that lives within the same Galactica universe and we'll just see what happens.
Mary McDonnell: I snuck out of Battlestar the other day, in my nightgown with my IV and I went over to watch Caprica. I, first of all, scared them, because they didn't know who I was, this mad woman with a nightgown and an IV and then they said, 'Mary!' I sat there and watched and it was absolutely thrilling. They were beautiful and adorable and it was startling to watch. I just wanted to share that because we all feel, I don't know, we all feel paternal.
Katee Sackhoff: I was just going to say that they all kind of treat us like their parents. It's very interesting.
Ron, when did the idea to turn Starbuck into a chick really pop into your head?
Katee Sackhoff: I like that she's not a woman, she's a chick.
Ron Moore: That Starbuck chick. It was literally one of the first things I thought of. I got a call from David Eick in January or February of 2002 saying Sci-Fi was looking at someone to do a take on Battlestar Galactica and was I interested. I had just come off of 10 years on Star Trek and I wasn't sure I wanted to go back in space again, so I said to give me a weekend to think about it. I got the original pilot and started watching it and thinking of the possibilities. That first weekend I was thinking, 'What would I do with this?' and what changes would I make to make it more interesting. One of the first things that just popped into my head was what if I made Starbuck a woman. Then that character becomes different because the classic duo was Apollo and Starbuck in the original series. They were both men and Starbuck was the rogue and the rapscallion the gambler, chasing the girls, smoking the cigars and still the best pilot in the fleet and Apollo was his straight-arrow friend. It worked fine for that show but I didn't know what else to do with it because it was two guys. You've seen that played a bunch of times and the second I thought, 'What if Starbuck was a woman?' it just opened up the possibilities to me and I started seeing a different series and the series really pivoted on that moment. I realized that there was a lot I could do with these characters if I really started tearing it apart and bringing it back together and I wasn't afraid to mix and match and keep the things that I thought worked, discard the things I didn't think work but still maintain this idea of what Battlestar Galactica was and to be true to the premise. So yeah, it was one of the very first things I thought of.
Of course, what would an event in Los Angeles be without an after-party, and this Battlestar event was no different. One of the things I always forget about the Arclight is that they have a full-service bar right in the theater and that's where they had the after-party. I was told there would be "interview possibilities" at this little soiree, so I asked one of the PR people if I could get on a list, or whatever, for that. Unfortunately, the lovely Katee Sackhoff and the lovely Tricia Helfer (if you think they're beautiful on the show, in person... wow, you have no idea...) were set to fly out at 4 AM and their stay at the partay was a brief one. Sadly, Mary McDonnell and Ron Moore were unavailable for interviews as well, so I had a few free drinks and called it a night... a quite wonderful night at that.
That about wraps up my Battlestar Galactica event report from Hollywood. Drinks, celebs, advance screening, Q&A and some amazing scenery, if you know what I mean. It was quite a night, my friends and I'm glad I could share it with you. Of course, make sure you tune in this Friday at 10 PM ET to the Sci-Fi Channel for the midseason finale of Battlestar Galactica. It's a doozy, folks, trust me. Peace in. Gallagher out!