INTERVIEW: Galactica Duty

Galactica Duty
By: Mark Phillips
Date: November 2005
Source: STARLOG #340






Recognize Aaron Douglas? You should. He’s flying high aboard the Battlestar Galactica.

“Excuse me, but … are you the actor on Battlestar Galactica?” asks a young, petite woman, who’s a little nervous and shy. “Yes, I am,” smiles Aaron Douglas, who’s sitting at a Vancouver restaurant buzzing with lunchtime activity. “I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your work. It’s a really good show.” the woman says. Douglas is genuinely pleased and — after a few minutes chatting — the young lady happily walks off.

“I’m surprised. That doesn’t happen often,” says Douglas, who plays Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol on the Battlestar Galactica series. “Last year at the San Diego Comic-Con, I walked around and nobody knew me. The only time I got mobbed was when I was with Grace Park [Boomer]. People would run up and push me out of the way to get to Grace, thinking I was just her manager!”

Things may change now that Battlestar Galactica ranks as one of cable TV’s highest-rated programs. And Douglas admits that, initially, he wasn’t keen on a remake of one of his favorite shows. “I first thought, ‘Listen the original was great, don’t redo it.’ But after speaking with [writer-executive producers] Ron Moore and David Eick and reading the script, I realized it was a complete reworking and they had done a phenomenal job.”

He was honored to be considered for a part in the series, but originally, it was not as Chief Tyrol. “Casting director Coreen Mayrs brought me in to audition for Apollo in November 2002,” explains Douglas. “I didn’t get the role, but in January I got the callback for Lt. Gaeta; there was me, Alessandro Juliani and somebody else up for Gaeta. Ty Olsson, who ended up playing Captain Kelly, was going in for Tyrol.”

“During the final callbacks, director Michael Rymer remembered me from when I auditioned for a pilot. He liked me for Lt. Gaeta, but they gave it to Alessandro, and for the right reasons. He’s fantastic in that role.”

Olsson was picked for Captain Kelly, which meant Tyrol was still uncast. “I was left the odd man out,” says Douglas. “In the casting sessions, they had this open space above Tyrol’s name, and as they were looking through this stack of actor photos, they were going, ‘We need someone for this secondary character, Tyrol,’ Somebody had seen my photo and said ‘How about Aaron Douglas?” Mike replied, ‘Great, he would be perfect.’ So they fished my picture out and stuck it on the wall above Tyrol’s name”


Ultimate Sacrifices

Tyrol has come a long way since his bit player status at the project’s start. “In the original draft of the mini-series, the Chief had 10 lines,” notes Douglas. “But I’m a big ad-lib guy, even when I don’t have any lines. So on day one, that’s what I did. By the second day, Mike and David pulled me over and told me, ‘You aren’t written into this scene, but we want you to go out there and say something.’ So I did, and David said, ‘That’s great!’ They asked me to do more scenes, and I ended up with 14 days of work. It’s also a credit to the writers, because by episodes three and four in Season One, they got in tune with the character and I didn’t need to change anything.”

The Chief has had his share of memorable scenes — from lighthearted to horrific — during both the mini-series and weekly series. In the mini-series, pilot Sharon “Boomer” Valerii and the Chief get into a quiet side room — still arguing — and proceed to rip off their clothes in a frantic make out session. “Grace is wonderful to work with, a very professional, bright lady — and a good kisser.” he winks.

When 100 young rookies are trapped in a bulkhead raging with fire, Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) orders the bulkhead doors closed and its emergency hatch blown, which will send the rookies into space. Tyrol desperately argues that he only needs 40 seconds to get them out safely, but Tigh refuses, saying the rookies training will ensure they put on protective gear in time. However, 88 people end up dead.

Regarding that dramatic and devastating scene, Douglas remarks: “Mike Hogan is a tremendous and intense actor. He’s like Eddie Olmos [Commander Adama]. They’re so good, all you have to do is listen and respond to them. For that scene, Mike Rymer shot a very intense close-up of me. I had to react to Tigh’s decision, and I gave it everything I had. Three hours later, they came back and said they were gonna shoot it again, with a different angle for my close-up.”

“Well by that time, I had been laughing and joking about other things, so I had to recapture and zoom back to those ‘these men are gonna die’ emotions. I pulled Mike Rymer aside and said, ‘You can’t do this to me! You told me I was done for the day. I’ve been thinking of golfing and going out tonight, and now you’re bringing me back into a scene where 100 people are about to die! That’s tough to do.” But Mike told me they would use the best take, regardless of the camera angle, and it worked out fine.”

What probably won’t work out fine is the future relationship between Tyrol and Tigh. “Tyrol doesn’t like or trust Tigh because Tigh’s a drunk,” says Douglas. “For instance, in one scene, Tigh is obviously hammered as he’s making some life-and-death decisions. That disturbs Tyrol. He doesn’t like weakness. He won’t tolerate it in himself, and he certainly won’t tolerate it in other people.”

One of the few bright spots in Tyrol’s life is Sharon, but when there’s a suicide bomber on Galactica, paranoia runs rampant. Who is a Cylon collaborator? The key to uncovering the culprit is finding out who left a hatch combing open, allowing the bomber access to explosives. Unfortunately, a romantic rendezvous between Tyrol and Sharon occurred around the same time, and Tyrol risks his career to protect her from the investigation. He later realizes the compromises he’s making and ends their relationship.

“That was a great scene, because it was so hard for him to break up with the woman he loves,” says Douglas. “Tyrol is still in love with Sharon, but he’s angry over covering up to protect her. His friend Socinus [Alonso Oyarzun] took the fall and went into the Brig instead. Tyrol’s pride and forthrightness were hurt. In essence, he says to Sharon, ‘I had to sacrifice my integrity for this relationship with you, and that’s unacceptable. I won’t have that happen again, so we need to end this.’ “

“But Tyrol is also suspicious that Sharon could be a Cylon, despite her protests to the contrary. It’s a case where he’s blinded by love and thinking, ‘No, she can’t possibly be one of them.’ And yet when the President announces that the Cylons have taken the form of humans, Tyrol spins around and looks at Sharon. That wasn’t in the script; I just did that on impulse. So, yeah, deep down he sort of knows. I’m still begging the writers to let Tyrol kill Sharon. To break up with her is one thing, but to kill the woman he loves and show Tyrol’s sense of betrayal, hurt and anger would be cool to play.”


Crew Loyalties

Engulfed by all of this mayhem, what exactly motivates the beleaguered Chief to get out of bed every morning? “That’s a great question.” comments Douglas. “I think it comes down to the pride of the uniform, the pride of what he does and the loyalty to his people. I really connect with this character. Tyrol is quite a bit like me. He gets up and does the job because there are people relying on him and he can’t let them down. And he has such profound respect for Adama that he would die trying not to let Adama down. I would like to explore more of their relationship, since Tyrol is sort of Adama’s eyes and ears among the non-officers.”

Douglas himself has faced some pretty grueling situations on the show. In “Six Degrees of Separation,” Tyrol has to inspect a captured Cylon Raider, which was brought back to the hanger deck by Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff). To evaluate the ship’s interior, Tyrol climbs through what looks like rotten spaghetti. “It was like crawling into someone’s innards,” smiles Douglas. “That stuff was mostly latex and K-Y jelly, and it was disgusting. Those interior shots of the Raider were done out at Baltar’s house, where he and Number Six [Tricia Helfer] get together. It’s a gorgeous house on top of a cliff.”

“The inside of the Cylon Raider was set up in a black tent — on the house’s driveway — and they told me to get inside. Then they dumped all this slimy goo over me and I had to crawl through that thing. The stuff was getting into my eyes, and I was trying to move all this goop out of the way, and then they would yell cut and we would have to do it again, Then more goop would be dumped on me, so it would look like fresh slime. It was hot, sticky and gross.”

That was only half of it. “At the end of the day, I was soaked head to toe with K-Y jelly and — because we were on location — everyone was starting to pack up and leave,” Douglas continues. “So I headed to my trailer to change, but then decided I was gonna get out of this goop first, because I didn’t want to get my street clothes all messy. I walked over to the hair and makeup department, but nobody was there except for an AD loading up stuff, so I asked, ‘Where are they?’ And he answered, ‘They left, They got a ride back to the studio.” I said ‘You gotta be kidding — look at me!’ “

“I went back to my trailer, put my clothes on, with the jelly goop dripping all over me, and I was really mad! As I walked to my car, all of the crew guys were looking at me very quietly, because they knew I was ready to explode. It was an hour’s drive back to my home, with the makeup and jelly crusting on my face and hair, and then I had to take a two-hour shower to get that stuff off me. I’ll tell you, the makeup people heard about it from me! But hey, it was one of those [once-in-a-lifetime] experiences. I’ll try anything once.”

Douglas — who has also appeared in such genre TV fare as Smallville, Stargate SG-1 and Andromeda — finds his Galactica shipmates much more enjoyable to act with than K-Y jelly. “Eddie is a real prankster,” he laughs. “In the scene where I talk to Adama about how Tigh killed all those rookies, we filmed the master and his close-up before lunch. After lunch, they were going to do my close-up. Well, Eddie ate this garlic, onion and sardine sandwich for lunch and didn’t brush his teeth. He returned for my close-up and said, right into my face [Douglas does a gravelly impression of Olmos’ voice], ‘He’s the EX-O of this ship, don’t you forget that! Return to your post, Chief.’ Eddie was only inches away from me, and his garlic-onion-sardine breath was burning my face. My stomach was retching, and I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna get you, you SOB!’ So I have some really good stuff in store for Eddie for Season Two!”


Heroic Duties

Action is one of the keynotes of Battlestar Galactica and, in the two-part first season finale, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming,” Tyrol and his comrades find themselves spiraling down toward Kobol’s surface after their Raptor is hit by Cylon fire. The exciting crash sequence literally rocked the actors. “They put the Raptor on hydraulic jacks, so the ship could jump and move, like being in a boat,” says Douglas. “Buckets of the candy glass were supposed to fly at us when the ship’s windows break, and they told us, ‘When you hear the words “window smashes,” be sure to close your eyes!’ But when the guy dumped the buckets in front of the air mover, it shot the candy glass at us like a cannon!”

“In the back of the ship, there was a door with metal bars and a big arch, and at one point, James Callis [Baltar] stood up and cracked his head on the metal arch, cutting his head open. He collapsed and was knocked out cold. They got him up, dragged him into a tent and started giving him first aid. He passed out again, so they called an ambulance and the whole production shut down. During this horrific event, I, of course, was making jokes with him the entire time!”

Callis recovered and, as the last episode wrapped, the big question was whether the series would be back for another year, “It was weird to walk off the set that final day, not knowing if Season Two was going to happen,” says Douglas. “Some of the younger people were like, ‘Hey, I’ll just go onto the next thing,’ but my heartstrings were being tugged. I realized this could be the last time I get to touch a Viper or stand on the hangar deck. I walked around all of the sets, with a beer in hand, and went, ‘You know, just in case … this is goodbye.’ So when they picked it up again, I was thrilled.”

Douglas is aware that many fans of the original series were upset over the new show. “We experienced some of that last year at Comic-Con,” he says, “after the mini-series aired and some people gave Ron a bit of, ‘Why are you doing this and that? You aren’t respecting the original show.’ I feel you can enjoy them both equally, Don’t try to compare them. The old one is great and it will always be great. The new one’s great too, but it isn’t the original. We’re 25 years later — the world has changed, TV has changed. If you tried to put this version on TV in 1978, the heads of the FCC would have exploded. If you don’t like this version of Galactica, fine, don’t like it. Change the channel. No one is forcing you to watch it.”

To the fans of the series, Douglas is both courteous and genuine. “These people are the reason the show is on air and that I have a job. I’ve worked with hundreds of big-name actors, and some are just total asses. In those cases, the first thing I do when I get home is phone all my friends and family and say, ‘So-and-so is a complete ass. Don’t go see their movies anymore, and tell everybody you know.’ My friends are actors too, and we talk about who we’ve worked with. It would kill me to find out that there were five dudes sitting around a table saying, ‘Yeah, I met that Aaron Douglas guy and he’s the biggest jerk I’ve ever met.’ I’ve told my friends to punch me in the head if they ever see me being rude to a fan. There’s no greater compliment than someone saying, ‘Thank you for your work.’ I’m not delivering babies or saving lives. We’re actors getting shot with a camera’ we’re not getting shot with an M-16.”

Speaking about the letters he has received from people in the military brings up real emotions in the actor. “I’m not a military guy, and I don’t understand that superpower ‘might is right’ attitude,” he reflects. “I’m a Canadian, and I wasn’t brought up that way. But I respect the military. They’re amazing, phenomenal human beings, and when they send me letters like, ‘You’re just like this chief I know on the battleship I worked with in Vietnam.’ I get very emotional.”

“It’s the greatest compliment I can ever receive, and much of that is testament to Ron Blecker. He’s an ex-U.S. Special Forces Army Ranger, and he’s the military technical advisor on our show. Whenever we have a military issue, Ron or one of his guys advises us. I have so much respect for him. He’s an amazing human being, with an incredible life history, The reason that all of the military stuff on our show is so believable is 100 percent attributable to Ron and his guys.”

“I’m really sorry for interrupting you but … you look familiar,” a tall blonde waitress cautiously tells Douglas. “Are you on TV?” When STARLOG informs her that Douglas is Chief Tyrol on Battlestar Galactica , she grins and exclaims, “I knew you were someone! My husband loves that show.” Douglas is gracious and amused. Only 30 minutes earlier, he had stated that recognition rarely happens. Now, it’s two in a row.

The waitress returns to the far side if the room, whispering excitedly to two co-workers. Bits of her words leak out: “Actor … TV … Chief … Galactica …”

It’s all part and parcel of being aboard the Battlestar Galactica. And while this interview may be over, for Chief Tyrol — and actor Aaron Douglas — the adventure is just beginning.


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