[caption id="attachment_3279" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paula Garces as Paula Morales on Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
If you have to go to work, it helps if you like your job, and that is definitely true of Defying Gravity's Paula Garces. It is only the middle of what looks to be a long day on the show's Vancouver set, but the actess is still full of energy and eager to talk about her involvement in the series. Her character of Paula Morales is part of an international team of eight astronauts who, after five years of intense training, set off in 2052 on a six-year journey to explore our solar system onboard the spaceship Antares. Besides her duties as mission payload specialist, Paula is also transmitting daily status reports back to school classrooms on Earth. It goes without saying that she wears a lot of proverbial hats, and Morales could not wait to try on every single one of them.
"My character is obviously of Latin descent, although we haven't specified exactly from where," notes the actress, who is back in her trailer after a quick visit to make-up in preparation for her next scene. "Paula is also a scientist and a pilot as well as extremely religious and conservative, so she's constantly having to deal with conflicts between her faith and science as well as religion. On top of that, Paula is experiencing the various difficulties that I think anyone in real life would be faced with if they were travelling in space and separated from their family and friends for an extended period of time. She's in charge of a space classroom as well, and when you lump all that together, Paula can occasionally be a little bit off-putting because she's quite misunderstood by those around her.
"So she needs to be a number of different people at the same time. Paula has to be bubbly and smart along with cute and charming so that the kids back on Earth will listen and actually learn something from her. At the same time, she has some dark issues to deal with and, again, is conflicted, which sometimes ticks off the people she works with. So it's been really interesting to see her develop, and I've been very lucky as far as the writing. The show's producers/writers have given me a great storyline that I can wrap myself around and lose myself in. It's a lot to do, but I love it and I hope I'm doing a good job.
"This part is full of layers and, again, I'm thrilled with the fact that my character is not only a scientist and astronaut, but also someone of faith. At the beginning I was wondering how that would work, but in researching the role I discovered that several astronauts are religious, specifically Catholic, and have even taken communion up in space and things of that nature. There is so much I can play with as Paula, including the fact that she's petite and cute and sometimes doesn't get taken very seriously. Yes, there are still stereotypes that she has to fight against, even in the not-so-distant future. It only goes to show that everything changes, and yet some things remain the same."
[caption id="attachment_3280" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paula Morales holding "virtual class" with her students back on Earth. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
Like most acting opportunities, Garces was sent the pilot script for Defying Gravity by her manager, and as soon as she began reading it, she became enamored of the Paula Morales character. "That can sometimes be the kiss of death for an actor," she says. "We get sent so many scripts, a lot of which aren't very good. So when a good script does come along, you fall in love with it, but you don't want to deal with the heartbreak in case things don't work out.
"I actually flew to Toronto to audition for the role with Michael Edelstein [series executive producer] and David Straiton, who directed our first episode. I was very nervous, but David read with me and said, 'Don't worry, you're totally rocking it.' As soon as I heard that, it kind of gave me the confidence that I think the role needed. I also feel that was something that James Parriott [series creator/executive producer] needed to subsequently see from me in-person, too, because prior to this they had just watched a tape of my work. Once that saw that confidence, though, I think that's what made them decide, 'OK, maybe we should give Paula Garces a shot at this role.' So I really have to thank David for saying what he did to me during my audition, which is not typical. You usually don't know that early on whether or not they like you. Sometimes I think I'm totally awesome during an audition, but I guess I stink because I don't get the job," jokes the actress. "Other times, I think I blew it and I get hired. It's a crazy business, but in this case I'm delighted that things worked out the way they did."
Although Garces' audition jitters soon became a distant memory, those butterflies in her stomach returned, albeit briefly, when filming began on Defying Gravity's opening episode. "I think we were all terrified because it's such a big show," she says. "We had to establish the ship and the outer space elements as well as our characters' training and them being astronauts and so forth. Then there were the technical elements, including getting to know the sets, dealing with green screen and the wire work, the latter of which is necessary with any scene where there is zero gravity and our characters have to 'float.'
"So that was all pretty daunting simply because there was so much foundation for us to lay, and if you don't do it right away and grab your audience's attention, then they won't give the series a chance. Having said that, I think our first episode stands on its own and hooks you into our story and all its wonder, which includes hope for the future and finding answers to the unknown.
[caption id="attachment_3281" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="All smiles inside the Antares' lab. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"The thing is, I see this show as being less Science Fiction and more Science Fact. It deals with things that are happening now in the real world with regard to space travel and how it's likely to change or improve over the next 40 or 50 years. That's a huge undertaking because you have to keep things real. You can't be like, 'OK, we're going to magically teleport ourselves to that planet.' Everything has to be thought out and make sense. So our first story really gives you a taste of what the relationships between these people are like and what they'll be facing in their next six years together on this extraordinary mission that I believe humankind would one day want to take."
When it comes to relationships, perhaps the oddest one onboard the Antares is between Paula and theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor). The two formed an unexpected bond during training, specifically during medical training when a man under the influence of an unusual drug died in front of them. Since leaving Earth orbit, "Wass" has taken pot shots at Paula's religious beliefs, and at one point even accidentally injured her, but despite this there remains a connection between them.
"Now that I've watched some of the footage, I find Paula and Wass to be the 'youth vote' on the ship if you will," muses Garces. "As for the actual reason why she feels connected to him, I believe it's because she finds Wass brilliant. At first he comes across as a slacker, and I think Paula sees him as a waste of talent. My character is someone who works hard and is very disciplined, so she doesn't quite get the whole slacker mentality. However, what Paula eventually comes to realize is that this is just Wass' way of dealing with the isolation of space and being on this mission, which is actually a pretty smart way of looking at things.
"As these two characters have their conversations and debates, because they have quite a few debates on science and religion, Paula sees that underneath all that information and 'I don't care' attitude, Wass has a huge heart. And I think vice versa, he admires how disciplined she is. He begins to realize that maybe he should worry about Paula and try to give her certain [scientific] information that perhaps she's a little too stubborn to see because of her faith."
[caption id="attachment_3282" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Moments before an unfortunate accident that nearly ended Paula's involvement in the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
Coincidentally, one of Garces' favorite Defying Gravity moments is with her and Dylan Taylor. "I love doing wire work, and there's a scene between Paula and Wass where a section of the ship loses gravity," says the actress. "As tricky as it was doing the wire work, there was a great deal of humor in that scene. I don't want to spoil it for those who might not have seen the episode yet, but one of these two characters isn't a very good astronaut when it comes to floating, but I'm not going to tell you who," she teases.
"That scene was so funny and realistic, because if you stop and think about it, astronauts are human beings, right, and not robots. Once they finish whatever tasks they're supposed to do in a day when they're up there in space, they have to live their lives. So they're working out, eating, sleeping, reading, acting silly, whatever, and I think this particular scene with Paula and Wass helped bring out the human side of what could happen to someone up in space who's not accustomed to being in zero gravity. The special effects in the scene are incredible and how we shot it was really cool. It was done in a very different style and we used a bunch of tricks that I didn't even know about, so it was a great learning experience as well."
The eldest of two sisters, Garces grew up in New York's Spanish Harlem and was raised by her mother, who encouraged her interest in the arts. "I had braces when I was 12, and by coincidence I met this agent at a dinner party that my mom gave," recalls the actress. "She thought I was cute and said to me, 'Come see me when you get your braces off because I think you can make some money doing TV commercials.'
"A year later that same agent came to our house again and she asked me, 'Why didn't you come see me?' Later on, my mom asked me to at least make an effort to go see this woman because she was her friend, so I did and ended up getting five auditions, including one with [producer/writer/director] Martin Scorsese. Of course, I had no idea who he was, and when I got home from the audition my mom asked how it went. I told her it was OK and that I spoke with some guy whose last name sounded like Spacey. My mom called her friend to find out more, and this woman told her, 'Well, first of all, your daughter was auditioning for Martin Scorcese, who is directing a public service announcement about drugs, alcohol, teenage sex and AIDS. It's going to be shown in theaters nationwide and, oh, by the way, she got the job. Paula is super-funny, down-to-Earth and was the only one who was completely honest and kind of told him [Martin] off.'
[caption id="attachment_3283" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="Having previously worked together on another series, Paula Garces and Malik Yoba (Ted Shaw) are reunited on Defying Gravity. Photo be Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"My mom was like, 'Oh, my God,' and after hanging up the phone she immediately educated me on who Martin Scorsese was," laughs Garces. "He's the reason I got my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card, and from there I was lucky enough to get work on most of the New York-based TV series including Law and Order as well as New York Undercover with Malik Yoba [Ted Shaw on Defying Gravity], Oz and The Sopranos. I got my big break when Jerry Bruckheimer cast me in Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Following that I did a soap opera [The Guiding Light] for three years, then [the feature films] Clockstoppers and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and I just carried on from there."
On TV, the actress is perhaps best known for her performance as Officer Tina Hanlon on the crticially-acclaimed FX series The Shield. "Every single day on the The Shield was a wonderful challenge," she says. "I was only supposed to do one episode. From what I remember, the producers were auditioning very muscular women for this particular role, and here I was this tiny little thing. However, I thought, 'The easy route for a female cop would be a big, muscular, in-shape, tough looking woman. But what about the female cops out there who don't necessarily look intimidating, but who are still street-smart, know they can kick ass, and have an intuition about them that would be an asset on the streets as far as fighting crime.'
"So that's how I spun it, and I think they saw in my audition that I would be good next to this big guy, Michael Jace [Officer Julian Lowe], who ended up being my partner on the show, and the dynamic worked. After that first episode, they asked me if I would continue as a recurring character, and the next season they invited me to be part of the regular cast. It was a fantastic program to work on and, of course, after they established my character, they took great pleasure in having this cute little girl run through the streets, beating up bad guys with a baton, and cuffing them," laughs Garces. "They gave me all this nasty, gritty material, and I think the show's writers enjoyed seeing the expression on my face when I'd first read the scripts. It's that quality and high standard of writing that keeps you on your toes and interested in your job. It's the same on Defying Gravity."
As the actress approaches her 20th year in the business, Garces has not become at all jaded about the work, and has no intensions of falling into that trap. "I still get a thrill out of booking a job," she enthuses. "You study your lines, go into the audition room, bear your soul and hope that they like you. I don't know what it is about us actors, but we're desperate for other people to like us and reward us for just memorizing our lines. So when I get that phone call from my agent or my manager saying I got the job, it's such a high for me. It's the best phone call you can get as an actor."
Steve EramoDefying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilm Productions in association with the BBC, Canada's CTV and Germany's ProSieben. As noted above, all photos by Sergei Bachlakov or Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
[caption id="attachment_1717" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="Actor Michael Papajohn. Photo taken on-location by Dimitri Halkidis (UPA) at The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs, CA; men's grooming by Barry/The Salon at The Beverly Hills Hotel; wardrobe by John Varvatos"][/caption]
Michael Papajohn has one of those faces that is instantly recognizable, especially to avid moviegoers. A veteran stuntman and talented actor, he was kicked in the jaw in Charlie's Angels, fell out a window to his death in Spider-Man 3, and was even pumped full of lead courtesy of a gun-totting Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard. During the past 20 years, this former college baseball player has appeared in dozens of TV as well as feature film roles and can currently be seen in four major motion pictures. Having worked with director McG on Charlie's Angels, the actor was offered a role in Terminator Salvation, where his skills as both an actor and a stuntman served him well.
"I play a renegade, I guess you could call him, who has been surviving in the desert for three or four years and has probably had a bit too much radiation," jokes Papajohn. "He encounters this beautiful woman, played by Moon Bloodgood, and in that scene my character tries to have a relationship with her in one way or the other.
"My experiences as a stuntman absolutely came in handy with this job. That's one of my assets and I always try to play to my strengths in this business. I come from an athletic background, so I love physical roles, and I think directors like to work with me because I feel comfortable handling the dialogue along with the physicality of a character. So they don't have to cut away to a stunt double. I mean, if I was directing a movie, I would love to be able to hold a shot for the entire time instead of worrying about cutting away and putting in a stunt double. Believe it or not, after we filmed the fight scene for Terminator, they brought us back to make it even more violent and intense."
[caption id="attachment_1724" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Papajohn and Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website."][/caption]
Papajohn was pleased to be directed once again by McG for this film. "I know when walking onto his set, that he's going to be passionate about the work and he also gives his actors a lot of freedom to play," says the actor. "When I worked with McG on Charlie's Angels, he took me aside right before a scene I did with Cameron Diaz and said, 'Hey, Papajohn, film lasts forever, so have fun.' That freed me up insofar as my acting. When I subsequently showed up on the Terminator set in New Mexico, I brought that story back up to him and said, 'I've always remembered that and use it on every movie that I do.' All actors have their own ways of doing things, but I know that if I'm free in my body, then I'm free to play as an actor. Again, having an athletic background I work with my body and am always in tune with it, so that was a valuable piece of advice."
From radioactive renegade to estranged parent, Papajohn plays Cal, the father of Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Although his character never appeared in the first Transformers film, there was a history established in the movie between father and daughter. The actor made sure to use that to his advantage when trying out for the 2009 sequel.
"My acting coach, Larry Moss, taught me a great deal about biography," notes Papajohn, "so when I auditioned for this movie it wasn't about how many lines I had in it, but rather my character's background with his daughter, their experiences together and how he felt about her. I worked very hard on that, and when I showed up on the set, I was able to look at her [Megan Fox] and, without saying a word, you know that our characters are related. Cal has been in prison and hasn't seen his daughter for a long time, so he has all sorts of questions for her and I enjoyed playing the ups and downs of that relationship.
[caption id="attachment_1727" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Papajohn in the 2005 film The Longest Yard. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website"][/caption]
"Like McG on Terminator [director] Michael Bay also allowed me a lot of freedom with my work. He gave me some good dialogue choices on the set and also the chance to improv with Megan, which was fun. It's been interesting to be part of such big blockbuster franchise-type movies like Transformers as well as Terminator and Spider-Man. The best part for me now, though, is that I have a 14-month-old son and it's exciting that I can actually share all these experiences with my family, which means a lot to me."
Hot on the heels of Terminator and Transformers, Papajohn worked on Land of the Lost, a big screen version of the 1974 Saturday morning live-action children's series. "When I first saw the set I couldn't believe it was a soundstage because of the big redwoods and water," he says. "If you've seen the movie, you know what I mean. Brad Silberling is a cool director and just a real pleasure to be around and work with. They actually asked me to come back on the very last day of shooting to do some CGI [computer-generated image] work with a green screen When I walked onto the stage, I had the opportunity to watch Will Farrell [Dr. Rick Marshall] ride a 70-foot dinosaur and whip it like a rodeo star. Now that was something to witness," enthuses the actor.
Rounding out Papajohn's summertime film appearances is his role of an FBI Techie in producer Jerry Bruckheimer's 3-D movie G-Force. In it, a specially trained squad of guinea pigs is dispatched to stop a diabolical billionaire from taking over the world. "It's a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, so naturally when we filmed this military-type scene there was plenty of action," he recalls. "They did a close-up shot following me and there were explosions and all this other stuff going on behind me. When I watched the playback I thought, 'Wow, it really looks like there's a war going on in the background.'
[caption id="attachment_1734" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Michael Papajohn. Photo taken by Dimitri Halkidis (UPA) on-location at The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs, CA; men's grooming by Barry/The Salon at The Beverly Hills Hotel; wardrobe by John Varvatos"][/caption]
"I play a good guy in the film and I don't get killed. This is something that I'll be happy to show my son one day, and to top it off it's in 3-D, so I can't wait to sit on the couch with him, put on the 3-D glasses and watch it together."
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, the actor graduated from Vestavia Hills High School in 1983. Two years later, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers, but instead of signing with the team, he accepted a baseball scholarship to Louisiana State University. In 1987, the cast and crew of Everybody's All-American came to Baton Rouge for location shooting, and, while still attending college, Papajohn was chosen to play Dennis Quaid's stunt double in the movie. He had no idea that this would forever change his future.
"As a baseball player, whenever I made a game-changing play I would get a high. When I doubled for Dennis for the first time, [director] Taylor Hackford said, 'Action!' I did the stunt, hit my mark, and they said, 'Cut,' well, I experienced that same type of high,'" says Papajohn. "I'll always be grateful to Taylor Hackford for staying true to his word. At one point, he pulled me to the side - I was 22 at the time - looked me in the eye and said, 'Hey, Papajohn, you're an athletic guy and you're very well-liked on the set. I think you should pursue a career in this business.' Not much later, when I decided to do just that, I phoned Taylor, he took my call and then hooked me up with some quality people in the industry to kind of watch over me.
[caption id="attachment_1735" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Papajohn up at bat in For Love of the Game. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website"][/caption]
"Now years later, all these great things are happening with my family as well as my career and it's because of him. I get chills just talking about it. I don't mean to sound cheesy or anything like that, but when I stop to think about it, I'm doing what I love to do and it's because of someone who maybe saw something in me and stayed true to his word. It just foes to show how powerful words can be, especially when they're backed up with action."
Titanic, Starship Troopers, The Waterboy, Enemy of the State and Starsky and Hutch are just a few of the movies in which Papajohn worked as a stuntman and/or stunt double. It was after playing Tucker Kain in 1994's Little Big League that he decided to make the jump from stunts to acting. "That's not an easy thing to do in this business," he explains. "I continued taking acting classes and studying with various teaches in Los Angeles, but I kept hearing about [acting coach] Larry Moss. I tried to get into his class but it was proving impossible, so I called his assistant and told her that I just got a really good role in a Denzel Washington movie and wanted to meet with Larry privately.
"That afternoon I went to his condominium, walked in and said, 'Hi, Larry.' He said to me, 'Hey, Michael, congratulations. Let's hear about your part and start working on it.' I admitted, 'Larry, I didn't get the part. I just wanted to meet you and talk about acting.' The two of us then went on to have an hour-long conversation that totally changed my life. He told me things I had to do and I did them. Larry is also a man who stays true to his word. It was another moment in one's life when you look at someone and trust in whatever they say."
[caption id="attachment_1738" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Papajohn stunt doubling for Adam Sandler in The Waterboy. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website"][/caption]
One of the actor's most memorable film roles is Dennis Carradine a.k.a. The Carjacker, who he played in the first Spider-Man movie. Much to the actor's surprise, he was asked to reprise the role in Spider-Man 3, but this time around there was more to the part than even he imagined.
"Grant Curtis [Spider-Man 3 producer] called me to say that they were bringing me back in the movie, but he wouldn't tell me anything else," says the actor. "Three weeks later, my wife Paula and I were at a charity event and I saw [writer/director] Sam Raimi. I asked him, 'Is it true, Sam? Am I coming back?' He said, 'Yes, you're coming back, but you can't tell anyone.' I said, 'I won't. What's going on?'
"Sam said, 'We're going to show that your character didn't kill Uncle Ben [Cliff Robertson].' I looked at him and said, 'You mean I've been carrying that on my shoulders for four years and you're just telling me now.' Then I looked at my wife and said, 'Hey, honey, now we can have kids,' and Sam just about busted a gut laughing," chuckles the actor. "Working on Spider-Man 3 was awesome, and it was the first time that my wife got to sit on-set behind the monitors with Sam Raimi and watch me work."
[caption id="attachment_1741" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Playing a baddie in Spider-Man 3. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website"][/caption]
Besides his film roles, Papajohn has guest-starred on such TV series as Without a Trace, The Shield, CSI:NY, The Unit and Castle. His fans can look forward to seeing him in an episode of the HBO cable series True Blood, which is in its second season, and the made-for-TV movie Dark Blue. The actor is also a documentary filmmaker, and his most recent project spotlights his friend and former NFL player Bo Eason. "Bo wrote a one-man show called Runt of the Litter, which he took to New York," says the actor. "What I want people to see in my documentary is the work involved in properly putting on a show for the theater while having to deal with everything from rejection to family members getting sick along the way. Larry Moss directed the stage show and both he and Bo opened their lives up to me. I shot over 200 hours of footage over 10 years and we've just started the editing process."
Looking back, Papajohn has no regrets about trading in his baseball bat and pursuing his dream to become an actor. "I love what I do, and I know so many people that may be in a business or make a lot of money, but they don't love their job," he says. "And I know, too, that when I'm hired to play a part, it's not about me, it's about telling the story and me making the best [acting] choices to do that. Also, it's really gratifying to know that I can help tell a story that can change a person's life. Believe me, I don't say that arrogantly, but rather as a way of pointing out just how powerful storytelling is. It's terrific to be a part of that and, in the process, affect people in a positive way."
To find out more about Michael Papajohn and his career, check out his official website @ www.michaelpapajohn.comSteve EramoAs noted above, all photos either courtesy of/copyright of Dimitri Halkidis or courtesy of Michael Papajohn's official website, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!