In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, actress Lucy Lawless, currently starring in TV's Spartacus: Vengeance, talks about playing D'anna Biers, a reporter with a secret or two to hide in Battlestar Galactica.
During wartime the military and its actions are under constant scrutiny by the media. That’s true in the real world as well as in feature films and on TV. In the second season Battlestar Galactica episode Final Cut, Fleet Service News reporter D’anna Biers comes aboard the Galactica along with her cameraman to shoot a documentary about the men and women who risk their lives daily to protect the civilians who survived the Cylon massacre. When casting the role of the hotshot journalist, Galactica executive producer David Eick looked no further than former Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless.
“David was actually instrumental early on in my career,” notes Lawless. “He was a co-producer on Hercules and took part in the decision to spin off my character of Xena into her own series. David first contacted me when they were casting the Battlestar Galactica pilot and asked if I wanted to play a role in it. I explained to him that my children were too young, and that for the moment I was done with high-concept projects. I also wasn’t up for going back to the one-hour episodic lifestyle.
“A few months ago, though, David phoned me about the D’anna Biers role. My youngest had just turned three and I’d been working more, so it was the right time for me. Fortunately, people are still interested in hiring me, and the character of D’anna is such a good one that I’d have been a fool to turn it down. To top it off, Galactica is a hit show. It’s so difficult these days to create and sell a TV series. David had been part of that with Hercules and Xena and now he’s captured lightning in a bottle for a third time with Galactica. I’m so happy for him and honoured that he wanted me to be a part of it.”
Long before she decided to pursue an acting career, Lawless, who was born in Mount Albert, Auckland, New Zealand, thought she might perhaps follow in the footsteps of a certain TV pathologist. “I used to watch Quincy M.E. when it was on late at night, and it looked like it would be interesting to have a job where you cut up dead people. Of course, I kind of did that as Xena, but then again she cut them up before they were dead. She just didn’t get it,” jokes the actress.
“On a more serious note, when I was younger, my friend Michelle and I would do plays. My mother did quite a bit of public service work and she’d ask us to put on shows at old folks homes. That’s how the acting started. It’s really the only thing I’m good at, other than perhaps being a mum.”
The actress begins to chuckle when asked about her first time working in front of the camera. “I was 18 and it was in a TV commercial where I had to wear a bathing suit, sit in a deck chair and sell a trip to Hawaii or something like that. I made $3,000 New Zealand dollars and ended up with roughly $1,300 after agency fees, etc. I bought a one-way airline ticket and with $500 in-hand went off to explore Europe. Talk about wanderlust.”
Lawless appeared in a handful of movies as well as on TV doing guest spots and even regular roles in two series, Funny Business and For The Love of Mike, before she got her big break with Xena: Warrior Princess. “There was so much range with Xena,” she recalls. “I did everything from drama to musicals and even slapstick comedy. It was wonderful. I loved going to work and hanging out with the crew, who, like all crews around the world, was made up of creative, fun and hard-working people.”
Just like Xena, the character Lawless plays on Galactica is that of a tough, independent, determined woman. D’anna Biers’s assignment aboard the Galactica is a result of her interest in an incident that unfolded aboard Gideon, a sister ship, where a team of Galactica marines opened fire on a group of civilian protestors, killing four and wounding 12 others. She has a definite agenda, and this puts Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and his people in an awkward position.
“They’re very tense because D’anna is about to do an expose on their lives and this massacre that took place,” explains Lawless. “Each of them is on-edge when speaking with her, and is at risk of falling over that edge and exposing themselves to her. It’s such a blast playing someone who everyone else is intimidated by, and yet D’anna is really just like them, a human being. All these characters are extremely real. Galactica may be a high-concept show but there’s nothing cartoonish about the characters.
“So it’s extremely naturalistic and I relished every minute of it,” continues the actress. “I got to work with almost the entire cast, all of whom care a great deal about their roles. One of my favourite scenes is between me and Katee Sackhoff [Lt. Starbuck]. Her character does not like D’anna at all, which is understandable given that my character plans to film a piece damning Galactica and its crew’s part in what she’s calling a massacre.
“Starbuck is working out in the gym with a punching bag when D’anna walks in dressed rather fashionably. She looks like a woman who’s stepped out of a palace in contrast to Starbuck and everyone else onboard the ship. So D’anna begins filming the lieutenant, putting her under the microscope so to speak. My character is pretending to be incredibly urbane, but underneath she’s a woman who’s this sort of vicious animal. Starbuck, on the other hand, appears on the surface to be vicious, but deep down has a tender heart of gold. So it was a lovely ‘standoff’ between these two strong-willed women.”
As well as working with the Galactica cast and crew on Final Cut, Lawless was thrilled to be directed by award-winning film/documentary maker Robert M. Young. “I’ve seen some of his work and was blown away by it,” she enthuses. “Robert has such a wealth of experience with regard to humans and how we interact with one another. I venerate his brand of humour, given everything he’s seen in the world, not to mention his wisdom, youthfulness and open-mindedness. He is truly one of God’s gems.”
At the time of this interview (late August) the actress was in New Orleans shooting the CBS-TV movie Vampire Bats. Earlier this year, she completed work on a film entitled The Darkroom in which she plays the mother of a boy who is haunted by visions of a murder. That was followed by a stint on the Seattle stage in a production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. “That just rocked my world,” says Lawless. “Before I went off on my film and TV trek, it was my dream to work in the theatre. So this was one of my most exhilarating experiences ever.”
Looking ahead, if the opportunity arose would Lawless like to reprise her role on Galactica? “We’re talking about that right now, in fact,” she says. “I would love it. Again, it’s a wonderfully juicy part and I get to work with an awesome cast and crew in the beautiful city of Vancouver. What more could anyone ask for?”
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