Captain Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.
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 Lisa Ryder, who talks about helping save the universe as Captain Beka Valentine in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
Whoever coined the phrase “blondes have more fun” must have been thinking of Lisa Ryder. It’s been over three years since the actress began her stint as Captain Beka Valentine on the hit syndicated Sci-Fi series Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda and she’s still having the time of her life. On this August morning, Ryder has just come out of hair and make-up and has dashed back to her trailer to get into her “Beka gear.” She can hardly wait to return to the set, though, to sit down and chat about the fourth-season story that she and the rest of the show’s cast and crew have just started filming, Spider’s Stratagem.
“I’m finding this episode really interesting. Let’s just say that something comes over Beka and she definitely makes a decision for the worse,” laughs the actress. “We’ve spent the past three seasons asking, ‘Is Beka on Dylan’s [Kevin Sorbo] side or not?’ And she’s had to work hard to prove her loyalty. Well, in this episode she decides, ‘Screw it! I’m not on your side. What do you think of that? In fact, I’m just plain evil.’ I think that’s quite an ‘out there’ choice for Beka. Also, when you make a choice to be evil and adopt that screw-it mentality it gives you a whole new perspective on things and, dare I say, a slightly more twisted sense of humour.”
In Andromeda’s year three cliffhanger Shadow Cast by a Final Salute, Tyr (Keith Hamilton Cobb) betrays Dylan and the rest of the Andromeda crew in an effort to advance the Nietzschean cause. His treachery opens the door for a host of other alien races to move in and contribute towards the unraveling of the newly reformed Commonwealth. At the end the story, Tyr leaves the Andromeda to assume his place as the new leader of the Drago-Kazov pride. Fifteen minutes have elapsed when we next see our heroes in the show’s fourth season opener Answers Given To Questions Never Asked. The episode reunited Ryder with an old acquaintance.
“Our guest-star was Nigel Bennett, whom I’d worked with on Forever Knight,” she says. “Actually, we were both on the series but never had scenes with one another. It’s funny, when we were filming that Andromeda episode I had a feeling of déjà vu and thought, ‘Lucien LaCroix and Tracy Vetter are finally getting together.’ I’m sure it will please those Forever Knight fans who may have always wondered if my character and Nigel’s ever did meet up. In fact, I ad-libbed a line that loosely makes reference to that at the end of the scene. I hope they keep it in. It was a treat for me to see Nigel again and finally work with him.
“The episode we shot right after that [Double or Nothingness] was a lot of fun for me to work on as well. Beka gets ‘high,’ not on [the drug] Flash but on an hallucinogen that Rommie [Lexa Doig] accidentally releases into the air supply. It makes my character paranoid as well as a little hostile and it’s not long before she starts hallucinating on the bridge. I laughed a great deal while we were doing that one. Of course, there’s also the episode where Beka hog-ties an 18-year-old young man. That was hilarious and very much ‘old school’ Beka. I think her line afterwards was something like, ‘Two minutes – I used to be able to do that in 30 seconds.’ It was as if the spirit of Ethlie Ann Vare [former series co-producer and executive story editor] suddenly invaded my dialogue. Although there hasn’t really been any Beka-centric stories so far this year there has been something special for her to do in almost every episode, and I’ve enjoyed that.”
It’s no secret that Vare was a stanch supporter of Beka. Many of her first and second season scripts, including The Ties That Bind, The Pearls That Were His Eyes and Be All My Sins Remembers, contributed greatly to the development of Ryder’s character. After three seasons, the actress is more comfortable than ever walking in Beka’s boots. In Andromeda’s fourth year, she hopes to re-examine those areas of Beka’s life that are familiar to her and audiences as well as explore new facets of her personality and background.
“You’d think, for example, that my character’s problem with authority figures would be sorted out by now, but it’s not,” notes Ryder. “That’s revisited this year due to the nature of the Commonwealth changing. Back in season one there was no Commonwealth and we were re-building it together. We had a common cause and Beka got on Dylan’s side because of that. Now it all seems to be falling apart and with it the reason she’s with Dylan. There’s a civil war being fought within the Commonwealth and the Triumvirs, who are the ruling body of the Tarazed Congress, come in and sort of take the reins.”
“So our allegiances are being questioned. Tyr’s leaving has to be dealt with as well and our loyalties to him are stirred up. On top of all this, the writers seem to be placing a huge emphasis on The Abyss. We’ve met him before. He’s the creature with the glowing red eyes. Most of the evil in the universe originates from The Abyss and this is how they’ve personified that threat. The Abyss is more or less infecting the Commonwealth with its evil and Beka is, I guess, tempted by it. Specifically in what ways, I don’t know - yet. How do you like that for a teaser,” chuckles the actress.
With all the anarchy going on around him Dylan can use all the help he can get when dealing with the Triumvirs and trying to restore some semblance of order to the galaxy. To that end, Steve Bacic’s character of Telemachus Rhade, the commander of Tarazed’s Home Guard, joins Andromeda as a semi-regular. Ironically, Telemachus is a direct descendent of Gaheris Rhade (also played by Bacic), Dylan’s former first officer and the one who betrayed him back in the show’s pilot episode. Having him onboard grates on Beka’s nerves to say the least.
“Telemachus is an academy guy and a decorated officer,” explains Ryder. “He shows up on our ship in a very exciting episode and Beka doesn’t trust him. Dylan, on the other hand, welcomes him with open arms. Telemachus is one of the Tarazeds [ancestors of Andromeda’s original crew] and he and his people pretty much worship Dylan. I think Beka still harbours a lot of problematic feelings towards Nietzscheans and, in particular, Tyr. Even so, she doesn’t want Tyr to be replaced so easily by Telemachus. Beka also doesn’t want to take a back seat to this new guy, who actually outranks Dylan on Terrazed. So there’s some conflict between the two of them. To further complicate things, Beka had a romance with Gaheris in an alternate reality story [An Unconquerable Man]. This doesn’t exist with Telemachus but that’s not to say there still isn’t some sexual tension.
“We recently did an episode where we find out some information about Beka’s mother and Telemachus is there to witness that. She ends up taking him into her confidence but hasn’t done that with anyone else onboard. In doing so, Beka has in a way made herself vulnerable to him. Again, I think her outlook has been colored by her relationship with Tyr so she’s giving Telemachus a really hard time. He brings out the worst in her but conversely it creates a wonderful chemistry as well.
"I love when a new element is introduced to the show. Sometimes as an actor you can get somewhat complacent playing the same role. So it’s neat every now and then to ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?’ in a scene. Steve Bacic challenges me to do that. He’s been in so many of our episodes and has become like an old friend. Steve is quite a gregarious person so it’s easy to get to know him. He’s still figuring out how he wants to play his character and along the way he’s getting us to think more about our performances.”
Just as Beka is trying to get used to having Telemachus around, Tyr returns briefly in a two-part story Soon The Nearing Vortex and The World Turns All Around Her. Needless to say, Beka would rather he had stayed away. “As we all know Beka is secretly attracted to Tyr,” says Ryder. “For a while she was torn as to whether or not she should side with him or do what’s honorable and stand by Dylan. Here, Beka’s loyalties are yet again tested and the situation gets a little bit steamy.
“It was lovely to have Keith back. I didn’t realize how much I missed him. He’s such a good actor, especially when you’re doing a scene with actual conflict and stakes as opposed to just space doubletalk. Keith is really into that. After all, you can only do a fight so many different ways. I honestly feel that audiences are more interested in tuning into a TV show every week to see what’s going on with the relationships. As an actor that’s much more satisfying to play.”
Although she was a seasoned actress prior to becoming involved in Andromeda, Ryder has still learnt one or two new things about her craft while playing Beka. “Having come from the theatre, my instinct has always been not to be ‘too big’ when performing for the camera,” she says. “However, if you’re really connected emotionally to the scene then there’s no such thing as too big. I mean, being addicted to Flash was over-the-top acting but I felt a connection, so when I watched those scenes I thought they actually worked. If I can have a few more moments like that this season it’ll suit me just fine.”