INTERVIEW: Hail to the Chief

Hail to the Chief
By: Steven Eramo
Date: December 2005
Source: TV Zone #196






It’s been a tough year so far for his character of crew chief Galen Tyrol on Battlestar Galactica, but as actor Aaron Douglas tells Steven Eramo, he’s having the time of his life on the hit Sci-Fi series.

Whoever coined the phrase ‘Good things come to those who wait’ must have been thinking about Aaron Douglas. Having taken the minor role of Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol in 200’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica mini-series, the Canadian actor reprised his role in the 13-part weekly series the following year. As the show’s first season unfolded, the character of Tyrol became a more integral part of the story. When he wasn’t busy keeping Galactica’s Vipers ready for battle, the chief carried on a secret romance with Lt Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii, who was, unbeknownst to him, an unwitting Cylon sleeper. By the end of the first season, Tyrol and the crew of his Raptor were stranded on the planet Kobol and fighting for their survival against the Cylons.

“Tyrol is a very strong, realistic kind of guy,” says Douglas. “There are a few things about him that are a little bit funky and quirky, but that can be said about almost anyone. You can really identify with the character, which is what a lot of viewers tell me. Most people say that they like Tyrol because he’s sort of an everyman. He’s the one who gets dumped on all the time and yet you can always count on and trust him.”

“This season I’ve taken a bit more of an active role insofar as talking with David Eick and Ron Moore,” he explains, referring to the series’s executive producers, “about my character as well as to our show’s military technical advisors because I want to get it right. We get so many comments from people in the various armed services that our show does a great job of mirroring military life, despite it being set in the future and in Outer Space. I want to make sure I maintain that sense of realism in my performance.”

As Galactica’s second season begins, Tyrol and the other Raptor survivors are trying to stay one step ahead of their enemy. At one point, Tyrol, Cally and Tarn must return to the crashed Raptor to get medical supplies to save Socinus, but are ambushed by a Cylon patrol.

“Scattered and the second episode, Valley of Darkness, were shot as one story and directed by Michael Rymer,” explains Douglas. “It was exciting to come back to work after hiatus and head out on location to Widget Park and Clevland Dam, a rainforest just outside of Vancouver, both of which play as Kobol. We had a mix of all types of weather and it felt good to be out of the studio as we didn’t get to do much of that last year – at least I didn’t.”

“Two of the most challenging scenes to film were when the Cylons find us and Warren Christie’s character, Tarn, is shot and killed. We did both in a single afternoon, which was tough for me, physically. I picked Warren up and fireman carried him probably 35 times that day and by the time we wrapped I was wiped out. We actually shot Warren’s death scene last that day. Time was running out and we had about a half-hour to do it. So it was a matter of, OK, this spot looks good. Pick Warren up, run around this tree and put him down over there. To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to finish in time, but we did. Although it was a bit of a rush, when I watched the producers’ cut it looked really good.”

Tyrol and Cally manage to destroy the Cylon patrol and return with the medical supplies, but Socinus’s injuries are too severe and he dies – the medications were needed to ease his passing. As the story continues, a rescue party is dispatched from the Galactica, but Kobol’s Cylon garrison has set up a missile battery to shoot down any ships. Crashdown has a plan to take out the Cylon weapon, but Tyrol has his doubts, and Baltar takes matters into his own hands.

“That episode, Fragged, was directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, who was Steven Spielberg’s AD [assistant director] for his last eight films , excluding, I think, War of the Worlds,” says Douglas. “So when you watch this episode it has that sort of Saving Private Ryan feel to it. One of my dreams as an actor is to do a Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan type of project. I’ve mentioned this to several people and someone must have told David Eick, because during our last hiatus he said to me, ‘Wait until you read the script for episode three; it’s your Saving Private Ryan.'”

“We had such a blast filming Fragged and running through the forest and being shot at. The Crashdown scene happens so quickly onscreen but it took us a day to film because of all the different camera angles. Initially, we all thought it was going to be Tyrol who shoots Crashdown, but it ended up being Baltar. Once again this season, someone dies in Tyrol’s arms. First it was Tarn, then Socinus, and in this story, Crashdown. Acting-wise, it’s difficult emotionally to have to get to that place day after day. Ironically, while we were filming the first two episodes of this season, I was dealing with someone in my real life as well as Tyrol’s dying. Fortunately, Michael Rymer is a great director and great friend and he helped me get through that period.”

As if Tyrol hasn’t been through enough, when he and the others get back to the Galactica in Resistance, the chief is accused of collaborating with a Cylon – Lt Boomer – and being a Cylon as well. He’s thrown in the brig and interrogated by Colonel Tigh.

“That scene with Tyrol and Tigh was the first time Michael Hogan and I had been left in a room to yell at each other,” jokes Douglas. “Seriously, I think Michael is an amazing actor and it was my pleasure to finally do a scene with him, and a tough one, too. I threw myself out of that chair at least 30 times when Tigh supposedly hit Tyrol, so I was pretty bruised by the end of the day.”

“In the same episode there’s a scene where Baltar injects Tyrol with a drug that almost kill him in an effort to force Boomer to tell him how many other Cylon sleeper agents are in the fleet. From episode 12 of last year right through the first half of this season, my character has had the crap beat out of him. So in this case it was nice for a change to lie on the floor and watch everyone else do their thing,” chuckles the actor.

Douglas didn’t get much if a chance to relax, though; a chance comment to the series’ producer led to his role in episode nine, Flight of the Phoenix, being expanded considerably.

“I happened to remark one day to David Eick that when people go through horrific experiences in their lives, there comes a point where they have to find a way to deal with it,” says the actor. “They might cry, go sit in a room by themselves, or immerse themselves in their work or a hobby. David said, ‘That’s absolutely true,’ and we both agreed that was one thing we hadn’t seen Tyrol do yet.”

“In episode nine, the fleet starts to run out of ships, including Vipers; Tyrol is doing what he can to resolve this problem and is getting yelled at by the people from above, while those working for him are only half-listening to him. So he goes off, collects a bunch of scrap parts, and starts to build a ship of his own.”

“We were still filming episode seven when I got home one night to find a script revision for number nine waiting for me. I read it and it was wall-to-wall me. I immediately fired off an e-mail to the writers, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, as well as David thanking them for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.”

Along with Galactica, Douglas recently appeared in the feature film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and can be seen in the upcoming Mike Binder movie, Man about Town. In late August, the actor was back on the Galactica set with the rest of the show’s cast and crew to start work on the latter half of the second season. “It’s all good,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they have planned for Tyrol in these upcoming 10 episodes.”


Love and Loss

After being roughed up by Colonel Tigh and suspected of being a Cylon in Resistance, Tyrol is once again put through the emotional wringer at the end of the episode when Boomer is shot by Cally and dies in his arms. “That was a tough moment for both me as an actor and my character,” says Douglas. “With Tyrol, here’s this woman that he loved, albeit she was a Cylon and deceived him, and he has to watch her die.”

“For me, the hardest part of filming a scene like that is maintaining the shock of the initial gunshot. By that I mean your brain knows exactly when that shot is coming as well as what’s going to happen next. So as an actor you have to try your best to appear completely unaware that this person is about to be shot and die. That’s the only way to convince viewers that your character never saw it coming.”


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