Gordon Michael Woolvett as Seamus Harper 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. In today's interview, Canadian-born actor Gordon Michael Woolvett talks about playing the intergalactic Mr-Fix-It Seamus Harper in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
Most actors usually try to find something they have in common with their character in the hope of making their performance all the more believable. This was easy for Gordon Michael Woolvett, who portrays the wisecracking, spanner-spinning, tool-toting engineer Seamus Harper on the syndicated sci-fi TV series Andromeda.
“I love computers and I especially enjoy tinkering,” says the actor. “In fact, before I became involved in the show I was building a hovercraft. I’d downloaded the schematics off the Net, bought all the materials, and was about to send away for a two-stroke vertical shaft [engine] that could go eleven miles-an-hour on land and one or two miles-an-hour on water. I was going to take it out to Nevada and drive it around the desert, but my plans had to be put on hold.
“Fortunately, I’m able to live out my dreams vicariously at the moment through my new favorite TV show from the UK which is called Junkyard Wars. My wife [actress Michele Morand] and I were out to dinner recently with Robert Hewitt Wolfe [Andromeda co-executive producer] and he told us about it. On this show, two teams are sent into a junkyard and are given the task of building a certain item out of whatever they can find. What could be cooler than that? You’ve got to see this show. It’s awesome. I think they should invite me to come on as a guest judge. What do you think?”
Although it is hard to imagine another actor playing Harper, it may surprise some Andromeda fans to learn that Woolvett initially passed on the role. “When casting began for the show, my wife and I had only been living in Los Angeles for a year after moving there from Canada,” he notes. “I had just gotten my green card and the idea of going back home to do a series didn’t appeal to me. Also, at the time, I was signed to a holding deal with CBS, which if I never do again is just fine with me. Basically, you’re paid not to be available to work for anyone else. You’re committing yourself to shows that don’t even exist yet, as opposed to auditioning for ones that do exist and, maybe, getting a job.
“Luckily for me, the producers of Andromeda were having a difficult time finding an actor to play Harper that they could all agree on. So when they asked me a second time I said, ‘Sure, I’ll be happy to come in and read.’ While I was at the audition, I began talking with one of the executives at Tribune [the company that produces and distributes the show], Seth Howard. He and I really hit if off, so much so, that I wondered whether or not he was my long-lost brother. After that, they looked at my demo tape and a short time later I received a phone call offering me the part. Michele and I had three weeks to pack up and move to Vancouver so I could start work on the program.”
Born on Earth, Seamus Harper grew up in a refugee camp laid waste to by genetically enhanced Nietzscheans and the Magog, who use human hosts to incubate their fetuses. As an adult, Harper joined purple-skinned Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram) and a peace-loving Magog named Rev Bem (Brent Stait) as one of the crewmembers aboard the salvage ship Eureka Maru, commanded by Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder). “Because of his upbringing, my character has a dark side that shows itself only when he’s in dire straits. He also has this great fury in him,” says Woolvett. “In our first season finale Its Hour Comes ‘Round At Last, Harper and Tyr [Keith Hamilton Cobb], join forces to do some things you wouldn’t except my character to be doing. It’s pretty neat.
“You know, it’s taken me practically a year to get to the point where I can actually describe Harper,” continues the actor. “I could play him but I couldn’t tell you who he was, until now. Harper is Bugs Bunny. Bugs has that sarcastic, wily, real smart-ass side to him. He’s always trying to foil someone. Conversely, he’s got this mean streak in him, and when he gets angry, he gets really angry. There are also moments when he commands sympathy from the audience and you feel sorry for him. I think that’s Harper in a nutshell.”
Harper and the crew of the Eureka Maru are ecstatic when they discover the High Guard warship, the Andromeda Ascendant, which had been missing for three hundred years. After freeing the vessel from the edge of a black hole, they go aboard and prepare to salvage her. To their surprise, they find Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo) and the ship’s artificial intelligence, Rommie, (Lexa Doig) still very much alive. Before Harper and his friends realize it, they and a Nietzschean mercenary, Tyr Anasazi, agree to join Dylan on his mission to bring order back to the universe and restore the System’s Commonwealth government.
“The relationship between my character and Dylan is an interesting one. They are the two people aboard Andromeda with the most first-hand knowledge of Earth, and yet are so unlike,” explains Woolvett. “Harper and Dylan are from totally different worlds. Dylan lived during a time in the Commonwealth’s history when life was good. It wasn’t the same for Harper. So I liken Dylan to a Roman gladiator or Roman [High] guard, while Harper is a peasant. As much as Harper’s loyalty lies with the Maru’s crew, and, in particular, Beka, he still has a great deal of respect for Dylan. Granted, my character’s respect is easy to override when it comes to his own needs,” laughs the actor.
While not officially Andromeda’s engineer, Harper becomes its general handyman and caretaker. He quickly proves to Dylan – and the audience – that he is the MacGyver of outer space. Give him his tool belt and a roomful of spare parts and he can make just about anything. In D Minus Zero, he presents Dylan with a Footprint Magnification System (FMS), which makes a small ship look like a bigger one. Then, in The Banks of the Lethe, the caffeine loving, techo-wizard perfects a device that sends Dylan into the past where he is reunited with his former love Sara (Sam Sorbo). By far, though, Harper’s greatest achievement is when he gives Rommie human form in To Loose the Fateful Lightning.
“Of course, Harper’s main reason for building a body for Rommie is that he’s in love with her,” says Woolvett. “Unfortunately, although she is grateful to him for doing this, she cannot return his affections. What a punch in the gut for my character, but it’s a disappointment Harper has to learn to live with. There’s still a great deal of good-natured flirting between the characters – well, it’s really more on Harper’s side – and I think it makes for a wonderful dynamic with him and Rommie. This type of unrequited love thing has been done before on lots of other TV shows. It’s easy to do and it’s very easy to do wrong. On Andromeda, we’re having fun with it. We don’t beat it to death, and the viewers seem to enjoy watching Harper lust after Rommie every now and then,” he chuckles.
“What I truly like most about working on this show is the cast. In the beginning it was like, ‘Wow, it’s terrific being on a Gene Roddenberry show. The sets are great, the effects are cool,’ all that stuff. However, as time passed I saw the characters start to develop into ones that I’d actually want to watch. I believe that strong characters are the basis for a successful TV series, and Andromeda definitely has its fair share. There’s a real mix of people. Every time Harper is paired with another character it’s a chance for me to try something new, and as an actor I find that quite gratifying.”
Trained as a theatrical actor from the age of eight, Woolvett was twelve when a TV and feature film agent took him on after seeing his performance in a production of Oliver! The Ontario native made his feature debut playing James Woods’s and Gabrielle Lazure’s son in the 1985 Canadian movie Joshua, Then and Now.
“Talk about being in awe,” he recalls. “I spent a month-and-a-half in and around Montreal shooting a movie with all these big-name actors. When James Woods and Alan Arkin, who also starred in the film, got together they pretty much did their own thing, and the director, Ted Kotcheff, just kept the cameras rolling. I was like, ‘Wow, you don’t even have to follow the script.’ That’s probably the last job where a [script] writer actually liked me,” jokes the actor.
Act of Vengeance, Bride of Chucky and Shadowbuilder are some of the other movies in which Woolvett has appeared. On the small screen, he has worked on a number of made-for-TV films as well as guest-starred on such shows as PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, FX: The Series, Silders and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. The actor was also a series regular on Mysterious Island and Mission Genesis. When asked about his most difficult role, Woolvett says it was Ricky in the 1995 Canadian movie Rude.
“It was a montage of stories about growing up in the ghetto, and dealt with everything from drugs to racism to homophobia. There was a scene in which my character along with a bunch of other guys beat up a friend because he’s gay. Those types of scenes are tough for me because I have to reach deep inside myself and do and say things I really don’t want to.”
Fans of this talented and affable actor can look forward to seeing him in two upcoming films, The Highwayman and Clutch. In March, Woolvett and the rest of the Andromeda cast were back in the show’s Vancouver studios to begin work on the show’s second season. The actor will soon be adding “father” to his growing list of roles. He and his wife are expecting their first child. “Now that is sure to be my toughest role, and the most rewarding one,” he says proudly.