INTERVIEW: Hail to the Chief

Hail to the Chief
By: Steven Eramo
Date: March 2006
Source: Starburst Special #74

 

 

 

 

 

Battlestar Galactica star Aaron Douglas, who plays Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol, takes time out to discuss the character’s turbulent past two years.

Aaron Douglas is all smiles as he walks into Battlestar Galactica’s Vancouver production office, and for good reason. In a couple of days the actor, who plays Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol, is getting on a plane and heading to Britain to attend a Sci-Fi convention and do a bit of sightseeing. “My ancestors are Scottish, so when I fly into the UK I tend to get a little giddy,” says Douglas. “I just love being there. This time around I’m staying an extra week and taking my brother, who’s never been, with me. He’s the proudest Scotsman you’d ever want to meet. We’re going to have a few beers and run naked around the ramparts of the nearest castle,” he jokes. “Well, maybe not naked.” The actor’s alter ego of Chief Tyrol could probably also use a drink and some R&R given all that he’s been through this season on Galactica. the show ended last year with him and some of his crewmates stuck on Kobol after their Raptor was shot down by Cylons. They spent the early part of this season on the planet’s surface where they were constantly on the run from the Cylons, and not everyone survived. When he finally made it back to Galactica, Tyrol discovered his ex-lover Lt Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii (Grace Park) was, in fact, a Human Cylon sleeper agent who attempted to assassinate Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos). The chief was then suspected of being a Cylon, and soon after his name was cleared, one of his deck hands, Cally (Nicki Clyne), shot Boomer.

“Poor Tyrol has been having a hell of a time this year,” notes Douglas “I mean, in the span of five or six days, four people died in front of his eyes, three of them pretty much in his arms. Not surprisingly, he’s kind of closed himself off and, I think, it’s internalizing a lot. Tyrol is responsible for the hangar deck as well as all his crew and he really takes that to heart. It’s important to him that he does well and watches out for those working for him. That means he has to be available for them, but the thing is there’s no one there for him. The chief doesn’t have any family left. it’s just the people he works with. Obviously he can’t talk with Boomer, and he certainly can’t sit down with Adama for a heart-to-heart. Tyrol is very religious, spiritual sort of guy but there’s not even a neighbourhood priest that he can turn to for guidance.”

“So he’s been holding quite a lot in and as a result has been having a bit of an internal meltdown. Funnily enough, around the time we were shooting Episode Seven or Eight this year, I said to David Eick [executive producer], ‘The one thing we haven’t seen is what happens with Tyrol when he’s alone’. People who are going through a rough time will tend to put on a brave face when they’re around others. However, when they’re by themselves, some people get drunk, others sit quietly, etc. In Episode Nine, Flight of the Phoenix, we get to see what Tyrol does to help him cope and I really liked that. The chief slowly starts to get himself back on track, but he’s definitely not the same person we first met in the [Galactica] mini-series. He’s a little gruffer and slightly more unforgiving than I ever thought he’d become. Tyrol is also more distrusting of people, but it’s his way of protecting himself.”

In the two-part Home, Lt Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) returns from her mission to Caprica with two surprise passengers; Lt Helo (Tahmoh Penikett), who had been marooned on the planet since the mini-series, and another Human Cylon duplicate of Sharon, who’s pregnant with Helo’s child. Her presence on board the Galactica initially evokes strong feelings of resentment in Tyrol, and also sparks some tension between him and Helo. The chief puts all that aside, though, to help Helo save Sharon when Lt Thorne (Fulvio Cecere) of the Battlestar Pegasus attempts to rape her in the Season Two episode Pegasus.

“What we shot was profoundly more graphic than what finally aired on TV,” explains Douglas. “Looking back now, I realize how difficult it must have been for Grace Park to film that scene, but she’s a consummate professional. She is always willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Fulvio Cecere, who played Thorne, is also a wonderful actor. We’ve known each other for years and it was great to finally have the chance to work with him. I thought he did a fantastic job in the role.”

“As for the [attempted rape] scene itself, I was surprised at the reaction it garnered from certain fans. Some people even went so far as to ban any further discussion about the re-imagined Galactica series from on-line chat groups. They were like ‘OK, that’s it. We’re only going to talk about the old Galactica show from now on.’ That just amazes me. I remember a Star Trek episode where there was an insinuation of a rape and no one freaked out. Another Sci-Fi series did the same thing and it didn’t get the reaction that Galactica did. Sadly, rape is something that happens in the real world and it’s a credit to our show’s producers and writers for tackling such an issue.”

While fighting with Lt. Thorne, Tyrol throws the lieutenant into a bulkhead and accidentally kills him when Thorne’s head slams into an exposed bolt. Tyrol and Helo are, subsequently, arrested and taken aboard the Pegasus where they are put on trial by Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) and convicted of murder. In the following two-part story, Resurrection Ship, Commander Adama is willing to go to war with the Pegasus in order to save his two officers from being executed. The original script for this episode had a scene involving his character that Douglas felt slightly uncomfortable with.

“I thought, ‘The chief wouldn’t do this. It’s just not him,’ and I voiced my concerns to [director] Michael Rymer,” recalls the actor. “He agreed with me, so we changed it to focus less on Tyrol and more on the other people in the scene, and it worked out much better.”

“There’s another scene in this episode where Helo and Tyrol are in the Pegasus brig and one of the Galactica officers come by to brief them on what’s going on. It was written one way, but we then played it in a completely different way. Basically, I did something and Tahmoh, as well as the other actor, picked up on it and we just ran with it. I thought it turned out good, and Mike Rymer like it, too, which I was happy about.”

Helo and Tyrol are eventually released from custody and are soon back on board the Galactica. Since then, life has been pretty much status quo for the chief, but Douglas isn’t complaining. “I had my big episode this season [Flight of the Phoenix],” he says, smiling. “Every so often I’ll get a good Tyrol story or a cool Tyrol scene and that’s all I need. With such a big cast, the writers have to spread the material around, which I totally understand. Tyrol has a fair bit to do in this season finale, and, of course, there’s always next year to look forward to.”

 

PHOENIX RISING

In Flight of the Phoenix, Chief Tyrol decides the best way to deal with the recent upsets in his personal and professional lives is to focus all his pent up emotions on something positive. So he starts to build a new stealth fighter, the Blackbird.

“This was a fun episode to do,” says Douglas. “The director, Michael Nankin, is a gifted storyteller. We actually shot the story in chronological order, which is rare for episodic TV. However, Michael wanted to do it that way so that we’d have a clear vision of what was really going on. Most times you’ll be doing a scene where, for example, your character kills someone, and then the next scene you film is one that takes place before he killed the person. That’s when you often end up thinking, ‘I might have done things differently in the previous scene had I known this one was going to play out the way it did.'”

“This story also gave me the opportunity to finally work with Mary McDonnell [President Laura Roslin]. She and I had been asking the writers for a scene with Tyrol and President Roslin, so they came up with this neat exchange at the end of the episode that sort of tugs at your heartstrings.”

 

STAMP OF APPROVAL

Since he first began playing Tyrol back in the 2003 Galactica mini-series, Douglas has tried to make his character as believable as possible to viewers. His efforts have paid off, especially with a certain group of fans. “Men and woman serving in the military will come up to me and say, ‘Tyrol is just like a chief I work with or worked with,’ and that’s really nice to hear,” says the actor.

“People have commented to me about how certain Sci-Fi programmes and even military ones will almost always focus on the officers and those at the higher levels. It’s not often that these shows talk about the guys down in the trenches or in the lower decks who get the job done.”

“I think everyone in Star Trek: The Next Generation was an officer of some kind, and then you’d have let’s say, Ensign Ricky, who would beam down to a planet with the Away Team, but never come back. Tyrol is the same type of guy, but somehow he’s managed to stick around.”

 

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