Actress Ellen Dubin.
Once again, I have decided to open up the interview vault and revisit some of the many interviews I have had the pleasure of writing over the years and that just appeared in-print and not on-line. Today's interview is with the lovely and talented Ellen Dubin, who talks about playing Giggerota in the decidedly different Sci-Fi TV series Lexx. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
Do you remember the classic 1957 movie called Man of a Thousand Faces, the life story of Lon Chaney? Well, meet the “woman of a thousand faces,” Ellen Dubin. For almost twenty years, this Canadian-born beauty has played dozens of characters in feature films and on TV as well as the stage, from sultry to the sublime along with the silly but lovable. Her small screen roles include a gap-toothed hillbilly on The New Adams Family, an immortal on Highlander: The Raven and a rubber-clad dominatrix on Forever Knight. Perhaps her most outrageous role to date is that of Giggerota, the outer space cannibal with big hair and an appetite for all creatures great and small on the quirky sci-fi series Lexx. Its fans may be surprised to learn that it was, in fact, not the first role on the series that Dubin tried out for.
“Everyone at the audition was supposedly reading for the part of the show’s leading lady, Zev,” recalls the actress. “However, the speech we were given to read was one that Stanley Tweedle [Brian Downey] ultimately gave in the first episode. It talked about a planet where these beautiful women lived. It was very edgy stuff and I think the producers wanted that double entendre kept in to see if we’d embrace the dialogue or run away from it.
“I received the material the night before, read it and thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ I hadn’t a clue. I learnt the lines and drove to the audition the next day hoping something would come to me at the last minute. Seconds before I walked into the room I had a brainstorm. The material contained several sexual references so I decided to try something sexy but classy. I pretended that I was dreaming and having a sexual fantasy in front of everyone there. I slowly took off my shoes, laid on the floor and behaved very seductively. I wanted it to seem as if I was alone in the room and the producers were voyeurs.
“It was a long-shot but it worked,” says Dubin. “A few months later I was called back to read again. To my surprise, I was told that Zev had already been cast. An actress named Eva Habermann was playing her. However, the show’s creator [and executive producer] Paul Donovan was looking to cast a villainness named Giggerota. All I was told was that this character was really out there and over-the-top. So I just went to town. She had to be overbearing and threatening, so I walked into the room wearing high-heeled shoes to emphasize my height – I’m 5’10” – and dressed all in black to look as long and lean as possible. I did my best preying mantis imitation and two days later found out I had the job.”
Sporting an 18-foot tongue and dressed in a jumpsuit made out of human skin, Giggerota makes her debut in the first Lexx two-hour made-for-TV movie I Worship His Shadow. In it, Stanley makes the mistake of releasing Giggerota from prison, and she sneaks aboard Lexx. The poor woman is starving and has her heart set on a snack, namely Zev and Stanley. “Right from the start I had a great adversarial chemistry with Brian Downey,” notes Dubin. “It had audiences wondering, ‘Are they going to get together? Is she going to eat him? Will he kill her?’ Brian and I had a lot of fun with that. I wish I had more of a chance to work with Kai [Michael McManus]. That would have made for an interesting dynamic, the walking dead man and the liver eater. That’s what Giggerota means – liver eater. I looked it up. The producers had no idea. They named the character after one of the show’s writers, Lex Gigeroff. Boy, were they surprised when I told them!”
Luckily for Zev and Stanley, Kai manages to dispose of Giggerota before she turns them into her plat de jour, or does he? The galactic gourmand returns in the second movie Super Nova, in which, alas, she meets a fiery end. “That was a great one for me because it focused on Giggerota,” says the actress. “By then I was self-assured, cocky and totally comfortable in the character’s boots. They kept telling me, ‘Go bigger,’ and I’d said, ‘Are you sure? Don’t tell a theatre actress to go bigger unless you mean it.’ They said, ‘We do,’ so I did.
“I really enjoyed my death scene,” she chuckles. “I relied on my musical comedy background for that. My last line was something like, ‘Yes, yes, put on a show for Giggerota the Wicked, put on a show.’ Then at the very end I did a Christopher Walken. Apparently in every one of his movies, whether it’s comedy or drama, he does a little dance step. So I did a pirouette and put my arms up in the air as if I was doing a musical comedy number. Who would have expected Giggerota to do something like that right before she’s blown up? It’s always nice to surprise the audience like that."
Giggerota becomes Stanley’s worst nightmare when she returns in his dreams for the second-season episode Patches in the Sky. “That was a bizarre one,” says Dubin. “Up to then Giggerota always spoke in the third person, which gave the character its pomposity. Suddenly, in Patches she had these long, philosophical speeches. I liked that because now she wasn’t just this grunting Neanderthal-like character. She actually had thoughts. I relished this episode because I was able to speak, and fans really seemed to enjoy that. I also loved the scene with the bong pipe,” laughs the actress. “I mean, Giggerota stoned. She was nuts anyway. Talk about a double whammy.”
Bringing someone “back from the dead” is not uncommon in the world of sci-fi. However, Dubin did not expect Giggerota to return again. The actress had no idea that Lexx producers had something else planned for her. “I received a call one day about a third-season episode, Girltown, and a new character called Queen,” she explains. “Apparently, the writers were going to reincarnate old characters into new bodies, but they’d retain some of their former characteristics. The concept was very sketchy at first, but then we talked about it further. Queen would have Giggerota’s aggressive sexual traits, only she’d look different. I told then, ‘Sign me up. I’ll do it.’
“Originally, they wanted Queen to be very Cleopatra-like because the story had an Egyptian setting. However, I said, ‘I’d like her to be really wacko.’ So I modeled her on two Shakespearean characters. She was a cross between a deranged Lady Macbeth and Ophelia on drugs. There I was wearing a spiked collar and a black ‘Cher’ wig and sitting in a bathtub shaped like female genitalia. The sad part is I had no idea about the tub! One day I happened to turn around when I was stepping out of it and said, ‘Oh, my God! What did you guys create?’ All the time I thought the crew was laughing because they thought I was funny. In fact, it was because I was sitting in the middle of a woman’s you-know-what,” jokes the actress.
Unfortunately, the Queen was electrocuted in her bathtub, but that did not stop producers from bringing Dubin back again that season in flashbacks for the story The Beach. This past August, the actress made her sixth Lexx appearance in the fourth-season episode Stan Down. “I had a 25-second cameo and played a Miami real estate agent named G.G. Rota,” she laughs. “She had big hair, lots of jewelry and was dressed in a tiger outfit I bought at a Los Angeles store for six dollars. In Stan Down, my character learns she has been named Pope. It seems no one in Rome could decide on a new pope, so they looked in the Yellow Pages and pointed to a real estate agency. It just happened to be G.G.’s. If audiences thought Queen was weird, wait until they see me as the Pope.”
As a child, Lexx’s perennial bad girl had no desire to become an actress. Instead, she trained as a ballet dancer, but a knee injury ended what was a promising career at the age of nineteen. “After that, I enrolled in the University of Toronto and began thinking about my next move," says Dubin. “I took an acting class just for easy credits and ended up becoming involved in a children’s show. It seemed as if acting might be my niche. Little by little, I started doing dinner theatre and then musicals. One day, I realized I was flying by the seat of my pants on stage, so I began taking more acting classes. I continued doing theatre, everything from Eugene O’Neill to Shakespeare and even British farces where I’d run around in my underwear being funny.”
Dubin made her entrance into the TV world playing a battered teenage hooker in an episode of the Canadian crime drama series Nightheat. “I was so excited to be on that set,” she says. “At the same time, I was really nervous. I felt very self-conscious because I was wearing fishnet stockings, hot pants and high heels. Everyone was incredibly supportive, though. The wonderful Mario Azzopardi directed the episode, and, sadly, I haven’t worked with him since. I saw him recently and he said, ‘I still remember your performance as a teenage hooker. You were so sweet and moving.’ That meant so much to me, and still does.”
Baby on Board, Cold Sweat and Tammy and the T-Rex are just a few of the feature films in which the actress has appeared. She has also worked on several made-for-TV movies and guest-starred on such programs as Forever Knight, Due South, First Wave, Relic Hunter and Earth:Final Conflict as TV reporter Shelley George in the episode Interview.
“That was a difficult episode for me dialogue-wise,” says Dubin. “I had a great deal of scientific preamble concerning the Taelons that my character had to talk about. Unlike emotional speeches, which are no problem for me, this type of material doesn’t come from the heart. So I really had to work hard, but I enjoyed that challenge. I thought it was a well-written episode and certainly for me one of my more memorable TV roles.”
The actress had to take golf lessons in preparation for filming her latest guest-spot on Lexx for the fourth-season episode Apocalexx Now. She can also be seen as Auntie Beast in the upcoming Disney mini-series A Wrinkle in Time. Dubin has no idea what her next role will be, but hopes it will be as different as possible from her last. To her, variety is definitely the spice of life. “If I can continue to play a diverse range of parts that are challenging and exciting then I’ll be one happy gal,” she says.