On Deck With The Chief
Aaron Douglas Talks Acting, Galactica, And The Perils Of “Onion Sandwiches”
By: Robert Falconer (HNR Senior Editor)
Date: April 21, 2004
Source: Hollywood North Report
It’s a characteristic spring day in downtown Vancouver—under overcast skies a tepid wind blows through the corridors of condominium towers, giving sway to the seemingly endless parade of cherry blossoms that line the city’s inner avenues.
I’m on my way to meet with Aaron Douglas for his last interview before production begins on Battlestar Galactica. As I stride along the city’s bustling streets, I can’t help but reflect upon how this city, which I remember so well from my childhood, has itself blossomed to become a haven for the production of science fiction film and television.
Aaron and I meet at—appropriately—a Starbucks beneath his condominium. We share a laugh at the obvious irony, and as we chat I’m immediately impressed by not only his down-to-earth demeanor, but also his jocular good nature and sharp intellect. No surprise; this is a man who appreciates everything from hockey to Shakespeare.
His unassuming nature and eclectic range of interests have doubtless served him, as Aaron’s career over the past half-dozen years has been marked by the kind of success that would be the envy of almost any Vancouver actor. From guest-starring roles on series such as Stargate SG-1 and Smallville, to performances in X2, Paycheck, The Chronicles of Riddick and- most recently- I, Robot , he has managed to find steady work in a wide variety of projects, many of them science fiction.
And perhaps that’s fitting. After all, Aaron is a self-professed fan of the original Battlestar Galactica, and-betcha didn’t know this-one of the biggest Star Wars fans you’re likely to find this side of Mos Eisley.
Robert: Tell us how you first became interested in acting.
It’s something I’ve done all my life. I did it in elementary school and high school…and about five or six years ago, my mom told me that I used to say all the time when I was a little kid that I wanted to be an actor. But I don’t ever remember that. I always remember thinking that I wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, my whole plan was to go to law school. But then I saw And Justice For All with Al Pacino, and remember thinking that’s what I wanted to do. So at some point I realized, “I don’t want to be a lawyer…I want to be a lawyer on TV.”
Robert: And have you had a chance yet to play a lawyer on TV?
Yeah. The Stranger Beside Me: The Ted Bundy Story, with Bill Campbell. I played District Attorney Baines from Florida who eventually got Bundy the chair.
Anyway, it’s funny, because I always saw film and television as something “other people did.” I never thought it was something that would be attainable for me. But eventually, one thing led to another. I started taking a weekly scene study class at the William Davis Center in Vancouver. [Editor’s Note: the William Davis Center is an exclusive acting studio run by Vancouver actor, William B. Davis, who played the “Smoking Man” on The X-Files. They only take twelve students per semester.] I got an agent a couple of months before I got out of school and never looked back. That was about five or six years ago. But I’ve been very blessed, very fortunate.
Robert: Did you begin your professional career on stage, and which sort of acting do you prefer, live theater or film?
I did a lot of theater before I even got close to film or television. I did Shakespeare and lots of dinner theater for years. But as soon as acting school finished, I started straight into film and television, and that’s all I’ve subsequently done. I’d love to go back and do a play, because I love theater, but I just haven’t had time. And you know, no one’s asked me anyway [laughs]. It’s funny, I don’t go to the parties where live theater people hang out. I’m a known, but an unknown. And I just don’t play “the game.”
Robert: Explain what you mean by “the game.”
In Vancouver, in particular, it’s very, very cliquey. The big theater companies have this notion that if you’re a film and television actor you’re not as good as the theater actors, because it’s not “art.” At least, that’s often the perception. So you have to pay your dues spending five years holding a spear and speaking one line. You know, they say there are no small parts, only small actors, but frankly, I just don’t have the time to do that. If someone offered me a major role, then I’d be prepared to invest some major time, but I can’t put everything aside to hold that spear for a hundred dollars a week. It’s not realistic for me where I am right now. And I just don’t buy into this whole notion of sitting in coffee shops, dressed in black, drinking and smoking and endlessly debating “the pain and suffering of the world,” which seems to so often be the mantra of the “artist.”
Robert: You mean, it’s one thing to develop a pseudo-martyr complex over the ills of the world; lamenting it over a latte, and quite another to roll up your shirtsleeves and try to actually do something about it?
Yeah. I mean none of us are saving lives or delivering babies here.
Robert: And obviously film and television pays much better.
Oh, astronomically so.
But in terms of whether I prefer live theater or film, I don’t prefer one to the other. I think they both have their merits, and they’re both just so extraordinarily different with entirely different energies. For people who have never done theater, it’s a difficult thing, because you have to be focused for an hour-and-a-half to two hours, whereas in film, if you shoot more than a page-and-a-half all at once, that’s a pretty long scene. And if you screw it up, you just stop and go back to the beginning of the line. In theater, if you forget a line, you’re standing there like an idiot until someone prompts you, or you jump ahead a scene, or you ad-lib.
Robert: What was your first professional TV acting role?
The first role I ever booked was as Moac in Stargate SG-1.
Robert: What are some of the advantages of auditioning in Vancouver, as opposed to LA?
First of all, Vancouver’s home. I grew up here and my family lives in BC. I love it here and I will always have a house here.
I’ve tested a few times in LA for some stuff. In fact, this was my first pilot season in LA. The thing with going to LA is that nobody knows you. They know your resume and they see your demo reel, but it’s basically starting out again. Right at this moment, I can’t do episodic television there, because I don’t have papers and they can’t hire me on the spot—so they need a three-week lead-time. Obviously, everybody here in Vancouver knows me. And once you get your resume to a certain point, it’s like you’re in that “top six” and you get brought in to audition every single show.
Two of the local casting directors, Coreen Mayrs and Heike Brandsteatter, have been beyond wonderful to me. They’re my biggest fans and I love them dearly. If they suddenly need to add a character to a production, they’ll just call my agent and say, “Hey, is Aaron busy? We need a third cop to say these two lines.” They go to the director and say, “You don’t need a whole session; this is your guy.” I get a lot of the small stuff in features just like that.
So for me, that’s definitely an advantage to being in Vancouver…once you get to that point.
Robert: I know you’ve appeared in other genre television projects, from Stargate SG-1 to Smallville. How did Battlestar Galactica differ from some of the other genre pieces you’ve done here in Vancouver?
Galactica felt like a really big TV show or a smallish feature. The difference I felt with this was that because it was a mini, they gave themselves—although Michael Rymer might disagree—a great deal of time to shoot. Battlestar took fifty plus days to shoot essentially four episodes of television, which you would normally shoot in about 32 days. They took more time to get it right, and you could sense immediately that it had more of a gritty, realistic feel.
Robert: When you say you could sense it was more gritty and realistic, are you saying that as a television viewer watching the miniseries, or as an actor taking part in the miniseries?
Both. Michael Rymer wanted it to feel very, very real and underplayed. He talked about it from the very beginning of the shoot. True, honest and flawed.
So that was the main difference between Galactica and shows like Stargate or Andromeda.
Robert: You’ve obviously seen the first script. Can you tell us if you’re in episode one, and—in very broad terms—what sorts of perils you and the fleet will be facing from the outset?
I’ve glanced through it, but haven’t read it in detail so can’t really tell you much. I can tell you I’ve only got four lines in the first episode, and that the series picks up pretty much directly from where the mini left off.
Robert: If you had your druthers, what sort of personal story arc would you write for Chief Tyrol in season one? Where would you like to see him professionally and emotionally by the end of the first season?
I’d kill him off in episode two so that I can do other things [laughs]. I’m kidding, obviously. I’ve seen the story arcs, so I sort of know what’s coming, and though some of it I expected, a couple of things I didn’t see coming at all. They’re very cool, and I must say Ron’s got some great, great ideas! I’ve had some really terrific response from people in the military telling me how true the role seemed to them, so most importantly I’d like to maintain the realism and the “truth” of the character for those people watching.
Tyrol is a flawed “everyman,” and I’d like to see him struggle with his inner demons. I’m also hoping he’ll run into the higher ups, because he’s that guy who can’t climb the ladder anymore. He’s an enlisted man, so he’ll never be an officer. I think a little head butting with his superiors would be fun.
And I really want Tyrol to discover that Boomer is a Cylon and have to kill her! As an actor that would be a very cool thing to play. The love of the woman, the intense betrayal. The conflicted sense of “maybe I can change her, maybe she’s not really evil…”
Robert: By your own admission, you were a big fan of the original series. Are you excited that Richard Hatch is scheduled to appear in episode three of the new series?
Oh yeah, absolutely! In fact, I just found out he was to appear when I read your email a couple of days ago. I’ll be very interested to meet him.
Robert: Aaron, I’m going to turn the rest of this interview over to our readers, several of whom emailed HNR’s FLIGHT DECK with questions for you. We got a lot of queries, but for the purposes of expediency, we selected ten of the most interesting and provocative.
Koenigrules: Hi Aaron. With respect to your character, Chief Tyrol, how will it be expanded from the miniseries? And what problem or problems will immediately confront Tyrol in his role as Chief aboard the battlestar Galactica?
Koenigrules. I know him, and I think I know his real name, too! Well, that’s really a question for Ron Moore. As I said before, we pick up directly where the mini left off; we’re still running away and nobody’s been sleeping for five days. My character is just really trying to pull everything together for the first couple of episodes.
And again, as I touched on before, I do think that at some point the relationship between Tyrol and Boomer will have to be dealt with. And I hope he gets into a fight with Colonel Tigh!
The Hampster: Aaron, is Grace Park a good kisser? And what kind of kisser do you think she’d say you are?
The Hampster…? I love these handles!
Grace Park would say I’m a sloppy kisser [laughs]. Honestly, you don’t really think about it when you’re doing a scene. It’s not like a romantic thing. You’ve got a hundred people around you and the cameraman saying, “Tilt your head a little more to the left cause we can’t see your face.” It’s mechanical; there’s no spontaneity at all. You’re both worrying about whether or not you’re on your mark, if the camera’s picking up the light, and how to position your body for the scene.
Grace is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met…a fabulous and very, very bright woman. And with all apologies to her fabulous boyfriend, Phil—who’s a great guy—I would have to unequivocally say that Grace is a great kisser.
Henry Ortega: Greetings from Japan, Aaron. With the miniseries to play on the American Forces Network, April 12th for US service members and their families stationed overseas around the world, is there a special message that you would like to convey to them? I know that you’ll be a big hit among the enlisted folks as many feel that your portrayal of Chief Tyrol will just ring true with them—plus any man who could win the heart of a stunning lady like Lt. Boomer is sure to win over tons o’ fans… Keep it real and best of luck. “Break a leg” on the series!
Marine Corps Community Services…
Proudly serving our troops overseas!
That’s awesome…that’s the coolest thing ever! Wow! Well, first off, let me say that Grace got paid a lot of money to fall in love with me [laughs]. I had nothing to do with that.
I don’t completely understand the military thing, and I think it has mostly to do with being a Canadian. We’re just not brought up with that superpower sentiment. That said, I have an inordinate amount of respect for people in the military. I think they are extraordinary…amazing, amazing people. It’s so cool that military people are getting on the bulletin boards and saying “thank you” to me. And it really is a testament to a number of key people on our production team who strive to create as much reality as possible.
Honestly, people who write in with remarks like the above are the real heroes and celebrities of the world. I’m just pretending. If somebody shoots at me on set, I don’t actually die. I’m not putting on a flak jacket and throwing myself in front of some child who wandered out into the middle of a firefight. Those people aren’t being shot at with a camera, they’re being shot at for real. They literally put their lives on the line, and I cannot applaud them enough. Thank you, Henry.
Atomicgod1: Hey Aaron, what was it like working with Jennifer Beals on The L Word? Is she as pretty in person as she is on TV?
Jennifer Beals is a beautiful woman, just gorgeous. I had a very small scene with her, and I can tell you she’s very sweet and wonderful. We only had a couple of hours together, but that’s when you find out what people are really like, because often performers will think that the guy who only has two lines is really not worth much. But Jennifer was a tremendous lady.
StrykerOne: Aaron, do you think Ron Moore will write a story this season where you learn that Boomer is a Cylon sleeper agent?
Maybe I should change my handle to, “PunchHerInTheFace” [laughs]. I honestly don’t know when it’s going to come out, but I think that eventually it has to. An idea that I thought would be really cool would be if Tyrol found out Boomer was a Cylon and tried to explain it to everybody, but nobody believed him. So he kills her, but when he goes back to the CIC, there’s another Boomer there. Tyrol slowly loses his mind—he keeps killing her, she keeps showing up—until finally everyone thinks he’s gone nuts and they throw him in the brig for a couple of shows.
Gregger: Hi Aaron. Great job, by the way! What was it like working with Edward James Olmos? Thanks.
Eddy is a great guy. I had a huge amount of fun with him. Going into it I had no idea what he was like. I had never met the man before, but had certainly watched Miami Vice when I was a kid and had tremendous respect for him as an actor.
He’s a very down-to-earth guy. We’re actually very much alike as actors…ad-lib, improv, and every take is different.
But let me tell you, he is a big prankster…a big practical joker. For example, right in the middle of a take he’ll suddenly do something that is so…strange. It catches some people off-guard and they don’t do well with that, but I do very well with that. I only needed one take to realize that he was going to jerk me around a little bit. So I just threw it right back at him and from then on it was huge fun.
I remember we had this one scene—the forty-second scene where I’m pissed that my shipmates have been vented into space—we shot the master, shot both sides, and we were to come back for closer coverage…after lunch. So we go away for lunch, come back, and pick it up over my shoulder for Eddy’s close-up where he steps right into me. Well, son-of-a-gun…I can’t even watch it now because that sense-memory thing kicks in and it sends chills up my spine. Over lunch Eddy had some kind of fishy, onion-garlic sandwich—it was unbelievable—and when he stepped into me for the scene, it was like my face was suddenly on fire. It was unreal, I felt like my face was going to melt! Now, I don’t know if he meant to do it, but it felt like he did. He’s that type of guy. But I’m going to get him back…oh, ya.
MorpheousAddictForever: Aaron, have you ever performed in a Shakespeare play?
Yes. I’m a huge Shakespeare fan. I played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing and Henry Hotspur in Henry IV, Pt. 1.
Robert: Did you have a favorite amongst those roles?
I think Mercutio was my favorite. But you know, there’s one performance I did where the director cast me as both Theseus and Oberon in A Midsummer-Night’s Dream. Obviously they don’t share a scene together, because the interpretation was that one’s fantasy and one’s real. So I’d have to run off, change, and then run back on. That was great fun.
Loretta: What’s your all-time favorite science fiction property?
Oh, Star Wars, unequivocally. I am such a huge, massive Star Wars fan. I own all the stuff. It’s one of the go-to movies for me to take to set. You can put it on at any point in the film and just pick up from where you left off—even if you haven’t seen it for a while—and still enjoy it.
Spanner: Fans can be pretty hardcore. Do you find sci-fi fans a little overwhelming?
I have not been doing this long enough to make that judgment. I’ve gotten maybe a dozen pieces of fan mail over the past six months. Kristen Kreuk—Lana Lang of Smallville fame—has the same agent as me, and Kristen gets a couple of boxes of fan mail per week.
Robert: Well, she is a little cuter than you.
Oh, she’s unbelievably beautiful! And she’s the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet. But she also has a successful leading role on a hot show, and she deserves every single second of it.
But to the original question: ask me in a year.
Colonel Carter: Hey, Aaron! This series is phenomenal, and your part really brings home the grit of the flight crew! Do you think Tyrol still holds a grudge against Colonel Tigh, and do you know if that story thread will be picked up this season?
Oh, I hope so! The beginning of great drama stems from conflict, and there’s terrific opportunity there, since Tyrol has never been in this situation before. Tigh and Adama fought the Cylons forty years ago, but Tyrol has never really been in live action—it’s always been rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.
Nevertheless, I think Tyrol still sees in Tigh a very flawed and weak man who perhaps made an alcohol-induced decision when he vented those crewmen into space. So Tyrol is still wondering: was that absolutely necessary? I think that Tyrol and Starbuck see the same Colonel Tigh, even though Adama sees something else in him.
Robert: Aaron, I want to thank you for asking our questions before you step back into Chief Tyrol’s shoes this week.
It was fun…thank you!