Tracy Scoggins as Captain Elizabeth Lochley in Babylon 5.
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, the always charming Tracy Scoggins talks about taking command as Captain Elizabeth Lochley in the popular Sci-Fi TV series Babylon 5. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
Life has never been dull for Tracy Scoggins. Whether modelling swimsuits on a sun-drenched tropical isle or playing a television character which has lived for hundreds of years, she does everything with style and panache. When TV Zone last spoke with the actress she was getting ready to embark on her greatest adventure yet having just been cast as Captain Elizabeth Lochley, the stalwart commander of a troubled space station on the Turner Network Television science fiction series Babylon 5. Having recently completed a full season of episodes and two made-for-television movies, Scoggins looks back fondly at her work on the program which began with just another audition.
“I’d read for the part that Shari Belafonte eventually got in the [second] Babylon 5 movie Thirdspace. So that was the first time I presented myself to the producers, which was actually several months before the whole Lochley thing came about,” recalls Scoggins.
“Obviously, the fact that they asked me to come back and read for a part on the series meant that they must have liked something that I did in the previous audition or at least saw some potential there. I must tell you, though, that it took a half-dozen or so auditions altogether for me to nail the role of Lochley and it was pretty much business as usual. What happens is that there are a lot of women the first time you go and gradually the field gets narrowed down. So at the last two auditions, I believe, there were four or five of us left and I was lucky enough to be chosen.”
The Lochley character was created in response to the controversial departure of Claudia Christian who played Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova for the first four seasons. When she and Babylonian Productions failed to reach an agreement on her contract for the latest season Ivanova was written out of the series and Lochley was brought aboard. Although she is playing a totally different role, did Scoggins have reservations about joining the show because of this?
“None, and, you know, I recently addressed this issue with a group in Atlanta [Georgia] and I have to say the same thing I said to them because it’s so true. The one thing we, Tracy and Elizabeth, have in common is a tendency not to concern ourselves with things that we absolutely cannot control,” she says. “I can’t determine people’s preferences but what I can do is use my energy creating the most watchable character I possibly can. Notice I didn’t say amiable. In the beginning I purposely didn’t make her that likable because I think there were different steps to go through in her development. So I feel my responsibility was to create a great character and then let the people decide.
“I see very few similarities in the two of us, Ivanova and Lochley, except that we’re both in the military. Well, we also both have green eyes, brown hair and are five-eight-and-a-half, but that’s all,” jokes the actress. “Ivanova has her own way of doing things and so does Lochley.”
When Commander John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) is chosen as President of the Interstellar Alliance he selects Captain Elizabeth Lochley, an Earth Force officer, to take command of Babylon 5. Lochley arrives on the station at the start the show’s fifth-season opener No Compromises. She immediately gets to work to secure Babylon 5 against the threat of an assassin who plans to kill Sheridan during his inauguration ceremony. Like her character Scoggins got right down to work her first day on the set.
“I was in every scene and in every frame just about with a whole lot of dialogue,” she recalls. “Luckily for me, I think, one of the things we shot that day was the audition scene that I’d already done several times with Jerry Doyle [Michael Garibaldi], so that was a breeze.
“Everyone was so warm and welcoming to me,” continues Scoggins. “Having Janet Greek as the director was a real boon to the whole creative process. Because she’s such a strong and efficient woman it helped me to have her there molding the Lochley character with me. Believe me, I’m not saying that a guy couldn’t have done it just as well but I feel that it was an aid for me to have her there. When a woman decides to become a director or even a high-ranking officer in the military it’s really a foray into a man’s world. Maybe not so much in the twenty-third century but I have to go with my own personal observations in today’s world. So my character identified with her in that respect as well.
“When Lochley first arrives on Babylon 5 she shares a certain mistrust about her situation, much like the people on the station do about her, you know? I think that any time you go into an arena where you don’t feel completely safe you put up walls and try to hide your true self, but as time passes Lochley is more willing to show her soft underbelly. Not that my belly’s soft, let me tell you,” laughs the actress.
“Something else I feel really helped define my character early on were the fireworks between her and Garibaldi,” adds Scoggins. “I think it’s human nature to clash occasionally with those people with whom you have the most in common, so I like the way their relationship developed. It went from complete distrust and constant disagreement to a certain acceptance and then an understanding and, finally, a friendship, and I think that’s very real, especially in a working environment.”
A great deal about Lochley’s past is made known as the fifth year unfolds, especially in the episode Strange Relations which reveals that she and Sheridan were married briefly several years ago. It is because of the time that they did spend together, however, that the commander knows that he can still trust Lochley. Viewers also discover that the captain was once stationed on an outpost on which a rogue telepath murdered two of her crew. This could explain why she is hesitant to grant a group of rogue telepaths refuge in “No Compromises.” Lochley is reunited with her dead childhood friend Zoe (Bridget Flanery) in Day of the Dead and when faced with A Tragedy of Telepaths she contacts old acquaintance Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig) for assistance. Scoggins is delighted with her character’s story arc and is grateful to Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski for playing an active role in Lochley’s development.
“If fans like me he made them like me,” she says. “JMS, for the sake of saving some breath, has a certain sixth sense about people. When I was a kid I used to be obsessed with the phoenix legend and how it had sort of manifested itself in completely unrelated cultures. I used to draw pictures of the birds and I even embroidered some on a pair of Levis.
“I remember skimming through one of the first Babylon 5 scripts [Strange Relations] I received and there’s a scene in which Lochley is wearing her flight helmet. On the outside of it is an insignia of a phoenix. I immediately phoned JMS and said, ‘OK, you must have talked to either my mother or my friend Martha from high school. Which one was it?’ He told me, ‘No, I just thought that would be appropriate for Lochley.’ How weird is that? It’s not something I had ever mentioned before in an interview, so he couldn’t have read it on the Internet or anywhere else. It was something that I hadn’t even thought about in years.
“JMS really thinks about his characters,” continues Scoggins. “It’s no secret that I, Tracy, am a confirmed junk food junkie and he allowed me to make Lochley that, too. He must have really enjoyed writing that into the scripts because whenever Lochley’s eating she’s chowing down on some really disgusting high-fat food.
“In River of Souls [the third Babylon 5 movie] there’s a scene in which Lochley comes in holding this ridiculous fast food thing with a silly straw sticking out of it. She says something like, ‘They make the best beefburgers on the station. Not that I’m the least bit deluded that there’s any beef in this, but if it tastes good you don’t ask questions.’
“JMS also knows I’m a very athletic, open-air kind of person, so the art on the walls of Lochley’s quarters is of outdoor scenes from places on Earth that she misses. I even have my own family photos in her office and JMS had them put athletic trophies in there, too. It’s little things like those that make you feel really at home in a character and I think the viewers pick up on that.”
One of the more interesting aspects of Lochley’s character is the fact that she is Sheridan’s ex-wife. Married couples have been living and loving in outer space ever since Doctors John and Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space, but there were no ex-spouses aboard the Jupiter 2. The fact that Sheridan handpicked Lochley to replace him and Ivanova proves that there is no animosity between them with regard to their past relationship. As for the commander’s new wife Delenn (Mira Furlan), Scoggins promises there will be no catfights aboard Babylon 5.
“I think there’s a strong mutual respect and an undying trust that exists between Lochley and Sheridan,” explains the actress. “As was said in the text of the show they were just too much alike, both having dominant personalities, to last together in marriage but as friends they are perfectly suited. Sheridan knows that in a pinch he can count on her to do the right thing by him both professionally and morally.
“With Lochley and Delenn you’ve got two strong females with very distinctive personalities. I don’t know that the viewers ever noticed it but I personally had a little fun with just silly small things during shooting. The first time I meet Delenn in Sheridan’s office in No Compromises I give her this up-and-down glance, sort of the once-over, which I think is what any ex would do when looking at the new Mrs. Sheridan,” she chuckles. “I like my scenes with Delenn a lot and I feel she and Lochley also respect each other, albeit it far more distantly.”
When looking back on all of the episodes she appears in Scoggins is hard-pressed to choose a favorite. She prefers to talk about some of the more memorable moments from her body of work on Babylon 5. “I like the defining welcoming scenes with Lochley,” notes the actress. “I also enjoy the first time we see her with Lieutenant Corwin [Joshua Cox] and he says, ‘Well, not everything will go into a report, captain,’ and I tell him, ‘Then the report is incomplete.’ I think that says a lot. I love how Lochley stands up to Sheridan and more or less tells him that she won’t be his ‘yes-woman’ or his little puppet but then says, ‘Sir,’ trying to end the conversation with a modicum of respect.
“Her scenes with Garibaldi in the mess hall where she states her case in front of everybody are pretty powerful. I think it’s a very defining and significant moment for both those characters. I love her interaction with Zoe in Day of the Dead because it allows the audience to see my character’s vulnerable side. There’s also this touching scene in Wheel of Fire in which I don’t really say anything but just watch as Sheridan’s ship leaves. I know that I, Tracy, felt a lot because it was the last day of filming and I think it sort of bled into the character, both literally and figuratively.”
According to Scoggins it was easy to become caught up emotionally in a scene such as this because the cast and crew on the program cared about each other. “Working on the show was a rare and wonderful experience for me on so many levels,” she says. “It’s such a different kind of set to work on than some of the other shows where I’ve been a regular or a guest-star, and that’s a lot of shows. With this cast and crew - and I can really make a blanket statement here and feel completely accurate - there’s a kindness about everyone and a real intelligence. I mean, in between shots we’d play Mindtrap or people would play chess. It was a very bright set to work on and everyone was always prepared and behaved professionally and I think the quality of acting speaks for itself. You can see that but you don’t know necessarily what’s going on behind the scenes. There’s a lot of giving and I wish I’d seen more of it in the past [on other jobs] and I hope to see more of it in the future. You could really get spoilt being there.”
Production on the show’s fifth and final season wrapped at the end of March but after a brief respite everyone involved was back in front of the cameras filming two new Babylon 5 movies. In the first, River of Souls, the Soul Hunters, immortal beings who capture and preserve souls, have returned and are searching for an ancient relic stolen from them. Lochley must not only prepare for their impending attack but also deal with the thousands of enraged souls that the thief inadvertently sets loose on the station.
“There’s not much I didn’t love about working on that movie,” enthuses the actress. “Once again Janet Greek directed. I was very, very heavily in the script and I got to work with Martin Sheen [the Soul Hunter]. I enjoyed the action, although they’ll definitely be a clip on the blooper reel. There’s one scene where Lochley’s running down the hall and has to toss a thermonuclear grenade into an area that needs to be destroyed.
“I did it so well in rehearsals and looked really tough. So when it came time to shoot the scene I threw the grenade, it bounced off the sides of the door, went, ‘Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing,’ and bounced back towards me. At this point I screamed like a woman and ran the wrong way, as if it were a real grenade,” she laughs. “I turned into Betty Boop for a second. Of course, the first word I heard before ‘Cut’ was ‘Print!’ OK, that’s saved for posterity!
“Working with Martin Sheen was wonderful. I remember when I was a teenager he did a television movie with Linda Blair called Sweet Hostage. That film had a real strong effect on me. It was such an interesting story and I thought he was just so sexy. Not trying to sound like John Hinkley, I told him that I had been a fan of his for some time and that I really enjoyed his work in that particular film. He then told me about this young man who had also seen him in a movie, The Execution of Private Slovik, and that his performance inspired this person to become a public defender and to fight for people’s rights. Well, his influence on me wasn’t quite so noble. I told him that all I could think about was getting kidnapped by a sexy older man. So we had a lot of laughs.
“Martin had this two-and-a-half-to-three-page monologue for his first scene and, let me tell you, he didn’t miss a syllable, even after having been in makeup since four o’clock that morning. We were all just uncommonly impressed by him. He would constantly entertain us on the set by singing Frank Sinatra songs. Of course, this was before his recent family problems involving his son Charlie, but he’s dealing with that situation very admirably and is taking a proactive role in trying to fix it. He’s an exceptional actor and human being.”
After a two-week break in May Scoggins returned to work to film the second movie, A Call to Arms, which is the lead-in to the Babylon 5 spin-off Crusade. “That was such a whirlwind,” she recalls. “They packed all of my scenes into just two days, which was OK because I spent that time working with Bruce, Jerry and Jeff [Conaway, Zack Allen]. In River of Souls I have such a great character arc and get to experience a variety of circumstances and emotions. It really is a dream for an actor. ‘A Call to Arms’ was challenging but not on the same level.”
Prior to the start of filming on both films Scoggins and Jerry Doyle along with J. Michael Straczynski had the opportunity to meet thousands of Babylon 5 fans at several shopping mall tours organized for the West Coast of the United States. The actress is touched by the overwhelming show of support she and Lochley have received from the viewers.
“Some people have said, ‘I wasn’t sure about you in the beginning but then you got me.’ That’s been a common response,” she says. “I think they had doubts as to Lochley’s true allegiance. They also weren’t sure if they were going to like anyone besides Ivanova, but everyone’s comments about my performance have been both flattering and positive, so I’m very pleased.”