Tahmoh Penikett has had guest roles on shows such as Smallville, Stargate SG-1, and most recently, The Killing, among others. He is perhaps best known as Paul Ballard on Dollhouse and as Karl ‘Helo’ Agathon on Battlestar Galactica. He took a couple minutes to talk with the Daily Dragon.
Daily Dragon (DD): You have some pretty intense fight scenes both on Dollhouse and on Battlestar Galactica. How long does it take to choreograph that versus how long it takes to film?
Tahmoh Penikett (TP): It can take awhile. Joss [Whedon] was really efficient with our opening scene in the first episode of Dollhouse with my muay thai scene. They had a really well-respected fight choreographer on set that day, and our key stuntman, Mike Massa, brought him in because he’s really good with karate stuff. But he’s more karate and I’m more muay thai. So we had this fight scene sort of worked out and…we worked together and we came up with a way better scene. I wanted some dropping knees, some elbows in there. You got to understand, though, that there’s not a lot of time to do it. They don’t understand, they just want to shoot. So they just give you blocking and in between that you’re just trying to work it out. It’s always on the fly and unfortunately, on most shows, the fight scenes are what’s sacrificed. When they’re cut down, every single time, they get shortened. So, we went in there, we shot it, and I think that scene, we shot in the morning. We were done by lunch.
DD: I know that you have a martial arts and a boxing background. I assume that level of physical control is really important when you’re trying to film these scenes and not actually hit someone.
TP: It’s everything. It’s all about that. To be honest with you, I’ve been scared more than a couple times doing fight scenes with guys who don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve seen it, doing a fight scene where they’re throwing a punch to my face very closely and I know they don’t know how to pull their punch and they don’t know the range. Even with people who know what they’re doing, people still get hurt. We accidentally hit each other. I had a situation where I was shooting this thing and this guy, every time he threw a punch, it was coming within centimeters of my nose. And I was even moving out of the way within the shot. Finally I just had to approach the head stuntman and say, “Hey, you’ve got to get him to pull that punch more. Use the camera for the angle. He’s coming way too close because if he breaks my nose, I’m going to have to knock him out.”
DD: What did you think of the switch for your character from Dollhouse adversary to Dollhouse insider?
TP: Huge switch, but you understand his motivations. He’s trying to save the girl, right? He’s very torn, very conflicted when he has to make that switch. He’s wondering how he can work within the company to further his cause and still at the same time appear as though he’s taking care of his job, getting the girl out safely, and then also possibly taking it down. He’s got so much going on in there. And he also knows that the heads of the Dollhouse are fully aware of that fact. So they’re both kind of working together while working against each other. It’s a very interesting dynamic. But it was good to play. When you’re working with actors like Olivia Williams, it makes life so much easier. I love sharing scenes with her because she’s just awesome.
DD: Is Joss Whedon an evil genius?
DD: What’s it like for you when you see someone costuming as one of your characters?
TP: It’s awesome. I love it. It’s so flattering. I’ll never forget coming to my first Dragon*Con and seeing a Boomer and a Helo before anyone was officially making the costumes and you could buy [them]. They had just done it themselves. You could just see how much work they had put into these costumes. They looked awesome! I just thought it was the coolest thing.
DD: What’s your favorite part of Dragon*Con?
TP: Honestly, the people. It’s very carefree, it’s got its own spirit, this whole thing. Sometimes you go to cons–especially new, bigger ones–they’re kind of soulless. They’re really lacking something, and they’re not personal. It’s missing the history of Dragon*Con, the parties, the spirit of it. There’s something that’s unique about it, and everyone is having a kick-ass time. I’ve always had a great time here.
DD: Thank you so much for your time.
TP: You’re very welcome.