INTERVIEW: Chief Among Men

Chief Among Men
By: David Bassom
Date: December 2005
Source: Dreamwatch #136






Season two of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA has seen Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol facing betrayal, pain and loss – and actor AARON DOUGLAS couldn’t be happier.


Aaron Douglas has absolutely no complaints about where Battlestar Galactica is taking his character in the second season of its quest for Earth. “For me personally, it seems like the longer the show goes on, the more really cool stuff I get to do,” explains Douglas, who plays the Battlestar’s resident engineering wizard, Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol. “In the mini-series, Tyrol was a really small, ancillary character. He originally had about 15 lines in the script and was just supposed to be this guy in the background who brought some life to the ship. But [writer/executive producer] Ron Moore liked what I did with the character in the mini-series and started to write more for Tyrol, and he found him interesting to write in the sense that he was a blue-collar worker/everyman type character. I think that had a lot to do with Tyrol growing into a much larger role.”

“During the course of season one and now this year, I’ve grown to feel vital to the show,” he notes. “I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen to Tyrol after season one, but season two has just been a wonderful experience for me. They just keep writing more and more really great stuff for me to do. I’ve had a few episodes where it’s been the Tyrol story, and I really feel valued and appreciated by Ron and David [Eick, executive Producer].”

“Having said that,” he adds playfully, “now watch me get killed at the end of the season!”

Dressed in casual civvies and sporting a decidedly un-Tyrol-like small earring on his left ear, the cool, relaxed and extremely likeable Douglas really isn’t kidding about his character’s contribution to Battlestar Galactica’s second season. Picking up from season one’s cliff-hanger ending, the opening episodes of season two have seen Tyrol fighting for his life on the planet Kobol and facing accusations of being an undercover Cylon agent just like his former ‘secret’ lover, Lieutenant Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii (Grace Park). As the season has developed, Tyrol has also been forced to face the deaths of several people close to him and has struggled to come to terms with the arrival of a second Cylon Sharon and her lover, Lieutenant Karl ‘Helo’ Agathon (Tahmoh Penikett).

“I’ve definitely taken a much more active role in the storylines this year,” reports Douglas. “The first three episodes were really action packed for me. I was just running around and getting shot at and shooting back! They were my chance to do Saving Private Ryan. And then when Tyrol got back to the ship, I got to do some great scenes with Michael Hogan where Colonel Tigh suspects me of being a Cylon. It was very cool to do that because I think Michael is one of the best actors on the show – he’s a fantastic actor and a great guy.”

“Tyrol’s relationship with Sharon has been interesting this season,” he continues. “I was fully behind Ron’s decision for Tyrol to split up with Sharon, as I knew that would give us a lot to play with. So at the start of season two, Tyrol is pulled out of his denial about Sharon being a Cylon and he’s shocked to find out about her attempt to kill Adama. I had a really cool scene with Eddie [James Olmos], where Commander Adama talks to Tyrol about his relationship with Sharon and asks Tyrol if he could really love a machine. That was fun to play.”

“It’s also been interesting to explore Tyrol’s feeling towards Helo when he returns to the Galactica. Tyrol’s nose is put out of joint and it makes him angry, although he doesn’t really know what he’s mad at.”

After playing a key role in several second season episodes, Tyrol takes center stage in the season’s ninth instalment, Flight of the Phoenix. Written by the show’s executive story editors, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, Flight of the Phoenix follows Tyrol as he attempts to build a new ship from scratch.

“Episode nine is basically the Tyrol Show,” says Douglas with a grin, “Tyrol goes a little mad and crawls into the hangar deck one night and starts building a ship! It’s very cool.”

“Bradley and David write the best stuff for me. Those guys are unbelievable. I worked for six of the eight [shooting] days on that episode, and I got really immersed in it. And Michael Nankin, who directed the episode, shot it in sequence, which was great.”

The US Sci Fi Channel’s premiere of Battlestar Galactica’s second season went on hiatus in September following the broadcast of its 10th episode, Pegasus. The remaining 10 episodes of the season are in production at Canada’s Vancouver Film Studios, and will debut during the opening months of 2006. With shooting set to wrap in December, Douglas is excited as the show’s viewers about learning what the rest of the season holds for Tyrol and his crewmates.

“I don’t really know a lot about what’s coming up in future episodes,” he states. “David Eick has told me a few little things, but I generally find out things for the first time when I get the script for a new episode.”

“I think people are going to be surprised by where the Pegasus storyline is going,” he says of the Pegasus/Resurrection Ship two-parter, which reworks the popular original series adventure The Living Legend. “I’ve been blown away by how everyone has been geeked up by episodes 10 and 11, and I know the producers have some interesting plans for the Pegasus. I don’t think the ship’s necessarily going to go away at the end of episode 11.”

Douglas’ work on Battlestar Galactica represents the highpoint of a busy acting career that began just five years ago. A native of New Westminster, Vancouver, Douglas first tried his hand at various occupations ranging from salesman and marketing officer to sports nutrition rep, before deciding to focus on a career in acting. After studying at the William Davis Center for Actors in Vancouver (an education he funded by working as a waiter between lessons), Douglas quickly started to crop up in such local film and TV productions as Taken, Smallville, X-Men, Stargate SG-1 and Dark Angel. More recently, the popular character actor has also played brief supporting roles in the likes of I, Robot, The Chronicles of Riddick, Catwoman, White Noise and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Douglas first became involved with Battlestar Galactica in 2001, when the show was set to be revived by X-Men director Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto. As a childhood fan of the original series, Douglas quickly made it known that he wanted to be a part of Singer’s planned continuation TV movie.

“A casting director I know was in negotiations to do the continuation,” recalls Douglas. “I told that casting director, ‘Look, I have to be on that show! I will work for you for free for a year! I’ll do anything. I’ll be a Cylon metal toaster!’ I really wanted to be a part of it, because I was a fan of the original show. But I never heard anything after that, because that project just went away.”

Nearly a year after the cancellation of Singer’s TV movie, Douglas got a second chance at working on Battlestar Galactica when Moore’s mini-series remake entered pre-production. Douglas’ initial audition for the role of Captain Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama brought him to the attention of Director Michael Rymer, who invited him to read for the part of Lieutenant Gaeta and then Chief Tyrol. Although Tyrol was initially meant to be significantly older than Douglas, the role was reworked to suit him.

Since signing up for the Battlestar Galactica mini-series and its subsequent weekly series, Douglas has been allowed to develop Tyrol into a tough, first-class engineer whose gruff exterior hides a heart of gold. “Tyrol is, first and foremost, a mechanic who really loves his job,” notes Douglas. “He always wants to do a good job and make everyone proud. He has a bond with his guys, the Deck Gang, but he also maintains a distance between himself and them because when you are in charge of a group you need that distance.”

“Tyrol is like the dad of the Deck Gang, and I’m like the dad of those actors in real life,” he adds. “We’re all friends in real life and I think you can see the affection between us on screen.”

As Chief Tyrol is an entirely new addition to the Battlestar Galactica franchise, Douglas has been spared a lot of the controversy surround Universal’s decision to commission a remake of the show rather than a continuation. However, he’s fully aware of how some fans of the original series have objected to the dark, reality-driven reinvention of the once grandiose, fantasy-orientated sci-fi franchise.

“That still pops up every now and again,” he reveals. “I occasionally get people coming up to me pissed off that Starbuck is now a woman or complaining about some other change, and I always go, ‘Well, I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do about that. If you don’t like it, change the channel – or go for a walk.”

“The thing is, you shouldn’t really compare the two shows, They’re both great for different reasons. The original show has such a magical, wonderful appeal, but it couldn’t do a lot of things we can do in the new show, Our effects are better and the original show had that usual, larger-than-life sci-fi genre acting, whereas we don’t do that. The new show is really well written, well produced and well acted.”

“When season one started, I remember thinking to myself that if I wasn’t in the show, I would watch it. And I’ve gotta say, I think season two is even better than season one. It’s fantastic.”

With the bulk of his work on season two nearly complete, Aaron Douglas is clearly enjoying every moment of his time aboard Battlestar Galactica. And he hopes that Chief Tyrol survives the Cylons’ pursuit of humankind for several seasons to come.

“I feel very blessed to be a part of this show,” he declares. “The cast and crew are great, we all get along really well and have a lot of fun and laughs, and the show itself is fantastic. This is the first time I’ve been a regular on a series, and I could be stuck on some terrible TV show where I was feeling lucky to be working steadily but hating the show and feeling that I was missing out on better things, but that’s really not the case on Battlestar. I just love working on this show.”

“Eddie Olmos has joked that we should be ready for the 15-year run, but if that happens, I’m there!” he admits with a laugh. “I’m having a blast.”


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