INTERVIEW: Taking Charge Of Tyrol

Hail to the Chief
By: Sharon Gosling
Date: April/May 2006
Source: Battlestar Galactica: The Official Magazine (#4) Yearbook






Actor AARON DOUGLAS looks back on a year full of pain, darkness and small triumphs for Chief Tyrol.

Chief Tyrol started and finished his second year of fleeing from the Cylons stranded on a planet – but in between, the mechanic has travelled light years, emotionally as well as physically. Dealing with the revelation that his former lover Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii was a Cylon, to having her die in his arms after being shot, would have been enough to push anyone over the edge, and after being sentenced to death by Admiral Cain and rescued by Commander Adama, the Chief spiralled into depression and anxiety. Aaron Douglas takes a look back at a year in the life of Battlestar Galactica’s resident mechanic.


It’s been a highly emotional year for the Chief – not least with the death in his arms of his former lover, Sharon Valerii. Was that difficult to film?

It was a tough experience all year because in the first five episodes, I think three people die in the Chief’s arms! And then Boomer dies. So I found myself being in the headspace of every time I come to work, somebody has just died, is dying right now, or is about to die, so dealing with that was tough. That scene was difficult to shoot. It was a little loose on set that day – some of the crew and the background were goofing off, so I had to ask them politely to shut the hell up! But we reeled it in and it turned out well. I think it worked.


One of the most explosive aspects of this year for Chief Tyrol was meeting up with Helo again, played by Tahmoh Penikett. Did you enjoy that storyline?

Everything with Helo has been building for a long time, because he’s been on the planet, and they didn’t even know that he was alive until half way through this season. And Galactica Boomer was dead – for Tyrol to find another one was very surreal and also bizarre for Helo. It’s funny, you’re on the same show with a guy for a year and a half and you never see him except for when we go to cast parties, and you realize, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, you’re on the show aren’t you?’ [Laughs] So it’s nice to finally get to work with Tahmoh, because he and I are good friends, but we never get to hang out on set. So it was good. We’ve had some one-on-one scenes which are always good, when there’s nobody else around, just sort of play with the other person. It’s very cool.


As you mentioned, with the return of Helo came a second ‘Boomer’. That must have been very confusing for the Chief, who had seen the Sharon he knew die just a few days previously.

I didn’t realize they were going to get her pregnant. There’s that scene with Adama in episode five where Adama says to him, ‘Did you lover her?’ And Tyrol says ‘I’m not really sure.’ ‘Either you did or you didn’t, regardless of anything.’ ‘Yeah, I thought I did.’ And Adama says ‘Well, you can’t love a machine, can you?’ So, I think that the Chief, the fact that she’s pregnant and going to have a baby makes him see her in a new light and not just as this machine. There are aspects of humanity to her, and that’s very confusing. The Chief’s a very religious guy, and he’s sort of street-smart bright, but I don’t think he’s analytically intelligent. He goes by his gut, and is a heart-on-his-sleeve type of person. So it’s all difficult for him. The whole world just come crashing down, and Flight of the Phoenix really deals with the Chief having a freak out.


Flight of the Phoenix is a great episode for the Chief, which sees the differences between Tyrol and Helo finally coming to a head. What did you think when you first read the script?

I remember I got home from work, and we were shooting episode six or seven at the time. I got home and there was a script waiting at my door. It was late, but I sat down and thought, ‘Oh, I’m just going to have a look at it anyway.’ So I started to read it and I was dumbfounded, absolutely blown away. I wrote a quick email to Bradley Thompson and David Weddle who wrote that one and thanked them for it. They’ve written lots of great stuff for me. I was absolutely moved and honored to have so much stuff given to me to do. it went through different rewrites and some strange permutations, but I think it came out really well, and it was great working with Michael Nankin, I think he just tells such an amazing story. He’s a great storyteller. So I was very proud of that episode, I thought it turned out quite well. It’s one of those ‘stand-alones’, where you could just watch it [on it’s own]. It has the beginning, the middle and the end, and wraps up nicely. A story of hope and sweetness – it was great.


There’s also a fantastic fight scene in Flight of the Phoenix, between Tyrol and Helo. How was that for you as an actor?

It was fun – very abusive to the body [laughs]! We were black and blue for days. It was a six-hour shoot, doing it again and again and again. They only used the stunt man for one thing for him, when the Chief picks Helo up and dumps him on his back. We did it once or twice [with the stunt double] and the rest of the time Tahmoh did everything. He even tried that one a bunch of times too, but they just didn’t want him falling on his back. So that fight scene was a lot of fun, but it was very exhausting!


Did the episode teach you anything new about the character?

I think I realized that the Chief is a little bit less forgiving than I thought he might be at the beginning. It’s interesting, he’s very much like me: I’ll trust you and you’ll be my friend, but if you screw me once, you’re gone. My friends use the term, ‘You’re dead to me.’ [laughs]. It’s like that – cross him, and you’re dead to him, that’s it, you’re out. I think, particularly with Cally, it really took a lot for him to come round. Understandably, too, because she shot Boomer. But even with the others, there’s no begging or pleading or cajoling, it’s just, ‘OK, that’s it, you’re out and don’t come back later when you suddenly want to be back on board again, because it’s not going to happen.’ So that would be the thing that I learned about the Chief.


The other thing that was surprising about that episode was the Chief’s decision to name the stealth ship Laura, for President Roslin. Where did that come from?

There was no connection between the Chief and the President, and Mary and I had been bugging them for a year and a half now that we wanted to do a scene together, because we never see each other. They had never met up until where she walks up and says, ‘Are you the Chief?’ It’s not in the script anywhere, we don’t know who came up with the idea, so I’ve taken credit for it. [laughs] I think it’s the idea of doing something sweet for Laura and it’s [about] hope. the audience knows that she’s dying and she doesn’t have much time left. We just thought it would be something sweet and I think it’s totally appropriate. I think it’s the best thing they could have done, better than making up some abstract, random name. And there’s the history [between them] now so it’ll be interesting to see if the writers do anything with it.


You mentioned the Chief’s relationship with Specialist Cally (Nicki Clyne). What to you think about the connection between those two characters – does the Chief feel responsible for her because she’s so young?

The Chief feels responsible for everybody on the deck. He knows that the buck stops with him, and if someone’s lost, if someone is killed, he absolutely bears the brunt of it. He takes it on completely. She’s young but she’s also inexperienced, but it wouldn’t mater if somebody’s older. Cally and the Chief do have this big brother-little sister thing going. It’s funny, because it’s just like Nicki and me in real life! He feels really betrayed that she shot Boomer. But there was probably a point where he thought that he’d shoot her himself. He’s embarrassed because she’s a Cylon and she fooled him, and there are multiple deaths she’s possibly responsible for. But ultimately, I don’t think he wanted her dead. So for Cally to come out and do that … the guy’s been betrayed by two people in his life that he thought were the closest people to him. And he just doesn’t know how to reconcile that.


Despite that feeling of betrayal, the Chief still intercedes with Adama on Cally’s behalf.

Well, she could have been put to death, or she could have been locked up forever, stuck in a prison ship with all those dirtbags. He doesn’t know what Adama’s going to do with her. She walked up and shot a member of the crew, and the fact that she was Cylon maybe lessened it a bit, but still you can’t have people running around shooting people on the suspicion that they are Cylon – even though we knew for sure she was. So he went to Adama to plead his case. Ultimately, he’s still responsible for Cally. Cally’s got nobody else. Her family’s gone; she’s only got the people on the flight deck, and none of them can go up and talk to Adama.


The second half of the season sees the Chief in some ways having to deal with what he’s gone through, because it begins to eat him up, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s interesting because I told David [Eick], ‘The only thing that we’re missing so far, particularly in the first ten episodes, are those quiet moments’. He’s someone who has just gone through a world of shit for two or three months, is with people and is trying to move through it and be upbeat. But there’s still times where you just sit at home alone, and turn off all the lights. What happens then? What does the Chief do? Some people cry, some people but on music, some people get really drunk, some people go to bed, some people just sit silently and stare for hours at the darkness. So what does the Chief do? Because he’s really internalized. I think Flight of the Phoenix reflected that. That was the Chief going, ‘This is all I’ve got, and I’ve got to keep going.’ And then it’s just taken to the next thing [in the second half]. In the first half he’s just down on the deck, plugging away. It’s a lot to ask a head mechanic, to pick up a gun and start running around shooting and killing, and saving lives. I like the idea of him not reaching out to people, but finally finding that one person that he feels somewhat safe with, that he can talk to. Chief has a bit of a nervous breakdown and thinks he’s a Cylon. So he goes and sees a priest, and the priest says, ‘No, you’re not a Cylon, just trust me,’ and it’s revealed that the priest is actually a Cylon. And now I’m stuck on a planet again. Every cliffhanger, Chief’s on a planet! [Laughs].


NAME: Chief Galen Tyrol
RANK/DESIGNATION: Chief Petty Officer, Galactica flight deck

CAREER HISTORY: The son of a priest and an oracle, Tyrol has served on battlestars since he was 18, and can take apart and put together almost any craft. he served for many years under Adama, to whom he is intensely loyal, and even restored Adama’s old Viper as a gift to the “old man”.

When his illicit affair with Sharon led to a crewman perjuring himself to protect the Chief, Tyrol broke up with her out of guilt and a sense of duty. He joined the recon mission to Kobol and as a survivor stranded on the planet, did his best to guide his superior, the inexperienced Crashdown, on how to keep the party alive. He personally euthanized one wounded man rather than let him die slowly; and when Crashdown threatened to shoot the terrified Cally, Tyrol mutinied and drew on Crashdown.

Returning to Galactica, he was arrested as a Cylon collaborator because of his relationship with Sharon, until her death and Adama’s recovery put him back on the duty roster.

To distract himself from personal troubles, Tyrol decided to build a fighter out of salvaged parts, a project which became a morale booster for the entire crew. The prototype ‘Blackbird’ fighter became an invaluable tactical weapon because it’s carbon sheathing made it into a stealth craft.

When Tyrol learned that Admiral Cain’s officers routinely abused their Cylon prisoners, he and Helo attacked Cain’s “interrogator” accidentally killing him to protect Sharon from rape. Both men were court martialled and sentenced to death by Cain, but after her murder they were released and returned to Galactica. Tyrol visited the brig to make sure Sharon was all right, then turned away, leaving her to Helo.

PERSONAL DETAILS: Tyrol’s only lapse from military protocol has proven to be his heartbreak: his illicit affair with his immediate superior, Lt. Sharon Valerii. Though he broke off the affair because others were disciplined for covering for them, he never stopped having feelings for Sharon, even when she was exposed as a Cylon who tried to kill “the old man.” Enraged at first, he mourned her murder and shared his grief with Adama. The arrival of the second Sharon was especially painful and confusing.


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