A Hour with the Battlestar Galactica Cast

Photo by Dave Nelson

The “BSG: All Along the Watchtowers” panel brought Michael Trucco, Aaron Douglas, Tricia Helfer, and Jamie Bamber to the Marriott Atrium ballroom at 2:30 PM on Friday. As cast members were introduced, Helfer showed them which seats with their name tents in front of them and Douglas filled water glasses.

The moderator kicked off the panel by noting that Bamber’s Captain Apollo was different from Richard Hatch’s portrayal, with darker edges and “daddy issues,” and asked the actor how he made the character sympathetic. Bamber admitted Apollo “was a bit of a Boy Scout,” adding that making the character likeable was tough. He described the character as being whiny for a while, a trait he tried to remedy after fans pointed that out.

An audience member asked the cast how the show had affected them and how they hoped it affected society in the future.

“It bought me a house,” Douglas quipped.

Bamber shot back, “It got you off the streets, which benefitted society, and society is delighted.” He added that Battlestar Galactica commented on the times, stimulating debate, and that it “predicted the future to an extent. Ten years on, we’re still here, you’re still here, and some of you were barely born when we were shooting.”

As the laughter after Bamber’s comment died down, Helfer said that the show was her first acting job a relevance and a career that followed. She echoed Bamber’s sentiment that they pushed boundaries with a theme of what people do to survive. The Walking Dead, she noted, involves some of the same issues of survival.

Bamber added that he first saw an iPhone while sitting across a table from Ronald Moore and “flipped out,” but its technology is now commonplace. The show touched on issues with technology, scarcity of water—“in California, we don’t have any” that were “eerily prescient.”

A fan asked Helfer what kind of motorcycle she rides. She replied that she has BMW F800 gs and is thinking of getting an x1000sr. She also has a Harley Fat Bob and often rides with Trucco, who chimed in that he has “too many bikes.” He has four, down from five because he gave away the one he bought for his wife, who never rode it. One is a Ducati, and the others are Harleys.

Douglas piped up that he rides a three-legged burro. When Bamber said he didn’t have a bike, Douglas said, “Actually, I have a Big Wheel and a Green Machine.”

The next question came to Bamber and was about his experiences filming Band of Brothers. The questioner wanted to know how being in that environment had affected the actor. Bamber responded that the experience convinced him that he never wants to be at war. He described filming the snowy Bastogne sequence. The film company went north of London and made a big area look snowy. The actors then ran through it with ordnance going off around them. Even though Bamber knew he wasn’t going to die, he didn’t know when the explosions would occur. He described the experience as “scary as hell,” noting that the real thing would be much worse. He cited a saying he’d heard, that soldiers get through these events by assuming they’re already dead. Noting that World War II presented a fairly clear conflict between good and evil, as in Star Wars, he added that he has “the greatest respect” for veterans.

The moderator wanted to know how Douglas felt on learning his character was one of the final five Cylons. “I hated it at first,” Douglas replied. He thought taking a character the audience loved and turning him into something they would hate would be a terrible thing. A conversation with Ronald Moore, however, convinced it to give the development a chance. “I couldn’t be happier,” Douglas concluded. “I am the King of Scotland.”

An audience member asked Trucco how he felt about his transition from an occasional character to an established one during season three. The actor said, “Yay. That nails it,” and said actors don’t anticipate such scenarios when they start jobs. He was hired for two episodes the first season, then for more the second season. He described an episode in the third season that called for his character and Douglas’s to plant explosives on a Cylon base, a scene he enjoyed because it put his character in the resistance. The third season, another series on which he was appearing wanted to increase his role. Battlestar Galactica also did, and his wife told him, “If Battlestar Galactica offers you a contract, you will take it.”

In response to a question about preparing for the role of the abused Six on the Pegasus, Helfer said she got suggestions of films to watch on the subject and researched PTSD with military veterans and with rape and trauma survivors. She stayed on the floor in chains between scenes. To her, the idea of a Cylon suffering an emotional disorder was “fascinating.”

The panel then segued into a discussion of items the cast had taken home at the end of filming. Helfer said she was a “good Canadian and took nothing,” but later said she had been given one of Six’s red dresses to promote a charity auction. She offered dinner with Six in the red dress, and Trucco joined them. “I wore the dress,” Trucco interjected.

Douglas joked that he has a Viper on a gimbal in his garage and fires it up when his paper boy comes around. He added that he has his character’s BDUs, orange coveralls, boots, six or seven sets of dog tags (his and other people’s), a pistol and “a few other things.” He also said he had brought a number of items with him for the charity auction.

Trucco has his character’s watch, which he initially thought was really cool until realizing it was a cheap, commonly available model.

Bamber announced that he had sneaked into wardrobe and stolen Apollo’s flight suit, only to have the character need it again later. He had to return it but did ultimately receive it, along with the small Viper on his character’s desk, when the series ended.

After a question about whether he preferred comedy or drama, Trucco said that he gravitates toward hour dramas although he often has opportunities with half-hour shows. He enjoyed being on Big Bang Theory, describing its cast as “so funny and talented” and his job as being to “shut up and let the funny happen around me.” He added that he was fired from his first sitcom job during the table reading. He ad-libbed, “Oh, hey,” at the beginning of a line, only to have the director yell at him and ask him whether he could read, as the phrase was not in the script. Later, when his character was to say, “Pffllt,” Trucco pronounced it phonetically. That evening, he received a call telling him not to come back the next day. He said the pre-filming run-throughs on sitcoms still terrify him.

A fan asked Helfer how she made all the incarnations for Six different and whether the different versions had anything in common. Helfer thanked him for noticing and said she treated them as identical twins raised separately. Natalie, she said, walked straighter and was less vulnerable, while Caprica was more empathetic to humans. She hoped all the versions shared strength and vulnerability.

“All of them were hot,” Douglas said.

“So say we all,” Bamber added.

Discussing the transformative arcs of their characters, Helfer noted that television, unlike film, evolves. Film has a beginning, middle, and end, which the actors know early. In television, actors may get snippets of what’s coming and sometimes not. She didn’t know who “head” Six was until she received the finale script. If she had, she might have done small things differently.

Bamber said Helfer was “dead right.” He added that Battlestar Galactica was not typical in the way it evolved its characters, contrasting it with programs where each week is a complete episode and the characters remain the same. On Battlestar, he explained, characters could change completely, sometimes in the same scene. He went on to say that his experience on the show, where actor input was welcome, taught him to fight for his character. The actors could petition the writers on behalf of their characters at the start of each season. “It was a debate, a fight, and each of us had that fight.”

At some shows, he noted, actor input is unwelcome. The show wants only what he described as part of the actor while others, like Battlestar, want everything their casts can bring to the table.

Douglas asked Helfer to tell her story about the sound guy being under the bed during a scene filmed at Baltar’s house. Helfer reminded the audience that the sound guy has a boom, a long pole with a big, fuzzy-covered microphone at the end. During this scene, the windows in the house reflected images, so it was hard to find a place for the sound guy and his boom that wouldn’t show.

Helfer was on the bed, naked, talking to James Callis, who was sitting in a chair wearing a towel. As she talked to him, she realized he was fully naked under the towel. The camera couldn’t see that, but she could and tried to avoid looking at that area. She reached the edge of the bed, looked down, and met the gaze of the sound man, who was crouching there with the boom. “I had nowhere to look,” she said, laughing with the audience.

The last question for the panel was which roles the actors would choose if they could switch with others on the show. Douglas said, “Baltar, of course.” Gesturing to Helfer, he said, “Come on, she’s sitting right there.” As everyone laughed, Helfer said she would have enjoyed playing Roslyn, noting that Mary McDonnel had done a great job, and concluding that she would like to be Starbuck. Bamber leaned out and said, “Trucco, that works for us, right?” as the audience laughed.

The panel concluded with thunderous applause.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.