Michael Nankin Interview
By: Marcel Damen
Date: June 6, 2009
Note: This is a snippet of an interview with MICHAEL NANKIN where he mentions AARON DOUGLAS / CHIEF TYROL. To read the full interview, click HERE.
I did that with Aaron once too. There was this scene in Ties That Bind where he’s having problems with Cally. Where he’s sitting with Cally and their child Nicky. There’s a long, long, long scene about him saying, “No, I’m not having an affair with Tory.” It was like the same information over and over again. We shot that one silent as well and ended up with a mix of some of the dialog. It’s a great technique because then in the calmness of the editing room, you can sort of pick and choose the important lines instead of in the fog of war when you’re on the set. Especially with that particular episode because the baby we used never stopped crying once for a second. (laughs)
That’s hard, yes. (laughs) Michael Rymer also said that Aaron did a lot of improv. They never did the actual scenes according to script. He improvised a lot.
Yeah, well it was interesting, there was a period of time where the writers were getting very upset because it was starting to get away. It was starting to get out of hand, the amount of improvising. Because the writing is awfully damn good on that show. It’s dangerous to think that you can improve it every time when you’re on the set. Sometimes things seem great on the set and then they’re really not. They’re not thought through. And yet getting these actors together and actually putting them into a situation can also, you can also find better things to say. Usually it’s saying less than what’s in the script, rather than saying different things, is what makes it better. Because these faces in the situation are just so eloquent. The real test of the writing is its structure, so by the time you get to the scene the behavior of the people really tells you a great deal of the story. You find you don’t have to say everything that’s in the script. A lot of times things are put in – the process is – these writers are really good. They generally don’t overwrite. But once the network and the studio get involved, they’re always asking for – their fear is that things aren’t clear enough. So the writers are always adding explanations, or people saying things that they ordinarily would not say to each other, just to assuage the fears of the network that the audience isn’t going to get what’s going on. Then you get to the stage and all those lines just stick out like a sore thumb. You usually don’t – you realize you don’t need them. Then the network is fine when they see the show because they realize that that idea is being communicated anyway without having said it.
What actors do you particularly like working with because they always surprise you?
Well, I mean you know, the entire Battlestar cast is in that category. (laughs) I’ve had a very – I’ve had a wonderful experience with Katee Sackhoff. I’ve directed two or three episodes that really feature her story and really, really demanded that she stretch as an actress. You know Katee is not a trained actress, she’s just a natural. I’ve never known quite how much she prepares, I suspect it’s not that much. She just throws herself in the moment and her instincts in the moment are just fantastic. When we did Maelstrom, which was a journey into the psyche of Starbuck, Katee and I just went – we got – it was a very intimate experience. I saw her dredge up things from her own life and inject it into the character in ways that were – I was filled with respect for her and her courage and her ability to just go anywhere. We had a great, great rapport on the set. And then you’ve got Mary and Eddie who just can do anything. I love Jamie Bamber. People don’t immediately go to him when you talk about the actors in Battlestar because he’s subtle, he’s such a subtle actor. But his instincts are just rock solid, I love working with him. Tahmoh’s able to show the audience who he really is. Helo is just Tahmoh because he’s able to just become completely transparent through the character and just reveal himself. Aaron’s great you know. Oh and Michael Hogan! Michael Hogan is amazing. (laughs) To do two seasons with one eye and still communicate everything that he did. There was a moment where I was shooting close ups in the CIC of everyone reacting to Starbuck’s death. In that moment, I changed the style of the show because we shot it just very – we put the camera on a tripod – because I was getting into this very, very emotional moment. I wanted the series to feel different in that moment. So we stopped with the hand held documentary style. I just shot them very classically in that moment where they all realize she’s gone forever. Michael Hogan does this thing where he just, he doesn’t really emote? But he dies with her on screen. You see the life just run out of him. It’s an incredible moment of acting. Who have I left out?