Aaron Douglas – Chief Galen Tyrol, Battlestar Galactica
By: Michael Flet
Date: May 9, 2011
On Sunday 8th May, Aaron Douglas, Chief Galen Tyrol of Battlestar Galactica, was good enough to take some time out from entertaining the attendees of the Starfury Invasion convention at Heathrow’s Radisson Edwardian Hotel to chat to GeekChocolate about his work on that show and the other items on his extensive science fiction resume.
Oh, god, nothing compares to working on Galactica. Galactica was six years of my life. Galactica was a regular role. The Chief was a real fleshed out character. All those other shows I was just a guest star, you pop in for one day, you sort of make up your own whole back story, and you’re usually dead by the end of the episode. Dead or in jail. Yeah, I much prefer to work on something that’s long lasting, something that continues, but they’re all fun to work on. The Canadian crews are great, and the actors are typically fun, but it’s a different beast when you’re going to work on the same show for months and years on end.
Your film CV isn’t all that different – X Men 2, Chronicles of Riddick, I, Robot. Is science fiction something you go for, or do you just have a face that makes casting directors want to put you in those roles?
I get sci-fi because that’s what shoots in Vancouver. It’s literally as simple as that. Most sci-fi is shot in Canada in Vancouver, so that’s what you end up working on.
I read that you snag support roles from helping in casting by reading the feed lines for whoever is auditioning. How did that come about?
Yeah, I was a reader for auditions, so I read the other side of the dialogue from whoever is auditioning, and so a lot of times you get to the end of the session and the director looks over and says “You know that cop role with three lines, do you want to do it?” “Sure, yeah, I’ll do it.” “Alright, that’s it.” It’s as simple as that. I get lots of work from being a reader. Built my resume on it for sure.
The last scene Galen Tyrol has in Galactica. It’s not specified onscreen, but the story is that the uninhabited island you leave for is Scotland. True or false?
It is Scotland, I made it Scotland. When I first read that, the dialogue was, the Chief was talking to Tigh and Ellen, and they say “Are you sure about this?” and he says “Yeah, I’m getting on a heavy raider, and it’s going to drop me off on an island, I found an island off one of the northern continents, it’s cold but I like the cold.” And I thought immediately of Scotland, because I’m a Douglas, and I’m a very, very fiercely proud Scotsman, or of Scottish heritage at least, and so I called Ron Moore and I said, “Are we sending him to Scotland, is the Chief going to Scotland?” and Ron said “Actually I was thinking Vancouver Island,” and I said “Can it be Scotland?” He said, “Yeah, you make it whatever you want,” so that’s when I adlibbed “I found an island off the northern continents. There’s a good spot up in the Highlands. It’s cold, but I like the cold.” So just by adding Highlands, it makes it Scotland without making it Scottish. So in my mind it is, that’s where the Chief went.
Working on Galactica must have been a very demanding and intense experience. Looking back at the pilot episode, and this is not aimed at you personally, it goes for the whole cast – you were all so young! Did that show just suck the youth out of you?
In some ways, yes. In the pilot I look like my thinner younger brother. Well, what happened was, after season one, I lost my wife to breast cancer, and then half way through season three, I am a hockey goalie, and I tore my groin really badly. So the death of my wife was a huge turning point, and I tried salve the wound with a fine scotch, and then when I tore my groin, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t exercise, so watching the Chief getting heavier and heavier is literally a product of me not being able to do anything but lie on the couch and eat. So that’s the cause of a lot of the weight gain. I’m trying to get it off now, but it’s really difficult, because my leg doesn’t work quite properly. But I’m trying.
Did you ever resent being about the only one of the regulars who never got to pilot either a Viper or a Raptor?
No, not at all, because enlisted people make the army run, they make the navy run, they make the marines run, they make the air force run. It’s all about the enlisted people. It’s about the chiefs and the mechanics and the guys who hump shit around. I have no problem not doing what the officers do because I am not a military guy, I do not have it in my background, but I know that the enlisted people are the fucking badass guys in the service. Men and women that are enlisted, they rule the world.
And the only time you ever actually made it out into space, you did it without a spacesuit.
I blew out an airlock! I remember filming that episode was really difficult, because it was about thirty five degrees outside, centigrade, so about a hundred Fahrenheit, and it was unbelievably hot on stage, and we were sweating profusely, so makeup had to come on after every single take and get rid of our sweat, so it was brutal. But I remember seeing it for the first time, I remember the visual effects guy said “Aaron, we want you to take a look at this, we’re pretty proud of it.” So I went and I watched it for the first time, just the sequence of the airlock blows, we fly out, and the Raptor catches us, and I remember seeing that and thinking “Jesus Christ, perfect!” It was so well done, it was unbelievable.
I have a buddy, Doctor Paul Abel, who works for NASA in Houston, and I called him and asked what would happen if there was a leak or you just suddenly opened a door to space. He said it would be catastrophic venting, you would go from here to out there in a nanosecond, and he watched it and he thought it was perfect. Our visual effects guys are the best guys on the planet. There’s a lot of shows and movies have tried to copy us, but the Battlestar guys really set the tone. I think for TV science fiction, and for a lot of science fiction, space battles and such, what Jurassic Park and ILM did for dinosaurs, no longer motion capture but visual effects bringing an animal to life that doesn’t exist and making it run and eat and kill things. I’m so proud of our guys. They won and Emmy and it was well deserved. I remember watching that scene just thinking “Holy god, that was amazing.”
Battlestar Galactica was conceived in a time when America was in great turmoil, with the nation polarised on a great many domestic and world issues. The new administration is not without its problems, but they are of a different nature. How do you think that would have changed the show?
Well, that’s an interesting question actually. America is never without polarising ideals and discussions and angst. How different would the show be now? Occupations, people have been occupied since we lived in caves, suicide bombers have been around for a while, people who commit suicide for an ideal have been around for a while. All the things we talk about in the show, how the themes, all of the angst, the drama, the human nature things, they’ve been around since the dawn of time, so these are universal. I think our show will stand up, in two hundred years, it’ll be just as relevant as it was when we were filming it.
We held a mirror up to society, it’s what art does, and people react to that. I don’t know how it would be different now, because we’re all eight years older, and Ron would have a different view, and a different writing style and technique, so it’s really hard to say. It’s like telling an artist to paint a specific picture, and then ten years later telling them to paint the same picture. They’re not going to paint the same thing, it’s going to be based on their life experiences, and everything that’s happened to them, and their vision at that time and whether they’re up or down or grumpy or happy. Interesting question.
Because Battlestar was so tied with that period, do you think in future years it will lose its power, or do you think it will continue to be regarded as a classic, a milestone?
Oh, I think it’ll be a milestone of science fiction, I think it’s the Jaws of it’s day, I think it’s Star Wars for TV. It changed the landscape of TV. It brought over millions and millions of people to sci-fi that normally wouldn’t watch, and see this as something viable and important, and it changed how TV is done. Sci-Fi Channel, see what they did with Stargate Universe, they tried to make it Battlestar-esque, and make it dark and gritty and real and interesting to watch, and a lot of people have modelled what they do after the show. I really think that it’ll stand the test of time, it’s one of those shows that you’ll be able to watch twenty, thirty years from now and go “Yup, it still holds up.”
Aaron Douglas, one of the Final Five, and the guy from the deck, thank you for sharing your insight with us, it’s been very kind of you.
Not at all, thanks for having me.
Special thanks to Aaron Douglas for his time, and Sean Harry of Starfury Conventions for arranging the interview. Details of upcoming events can be found at www.starfury.co.uk