What do you think the appeal was of Battlestar Galactica?
There are certain types of stories, called archetypes, that somehow resonate with people everywhere and which are told over and over again. Battlestar was always about family. Family trying to survive against impossible circumstances always brings everybody together to watch each other’s backs, and it creates this bonding experience that so many people experienced after 9/11. Battlestar mirrors that feeling where people of diverse backgrounds, ages, bias or prejudice had to come together in order to survive.
That kind of archetypal story structure seems to really affect people in a positive way, and no matter how many times people have seen Battlestar, they seem to go back to it over and over again. I have families come to me at conventions and tell me that they’ve been watching it ever since it came on. Every year they watch it a couple of times, and they pass it on to their children. Regardless of how sophisticated our filming techniques have gotten, stories are stories, and Battlestar was this epic story of this family of mankind who struggled to survive. You can see it even now – some of the most popular series today are about watching a group of human beings having to pull together, overcome their biases or prejudices, and somehow make it through incredibly impossible circumstances.
Maybe it’s because all through history, we’ve talked about apocalypse, the end of the world, and people have an unfocused fear about “What happens if an asteroid hits? What happens if, God forbid, some horrible illness affects us?” Battlestar hits that deep nerve, and satisfies the human longing to understand how we can get through such incredibly possible circumstances.
The original was much more family-oriented. It was for the whole family. No matter how old or how young you were, you could sit down and watch the original Battlestar together.
Even with the new Battlestar, I felt that the greatest light lay within the greatest darkness, and we had greatly talented humans struggling with their demons, with their moral conflicts, and their imperfections – all the things that come when you’re in a fight for your life. The best and worst of humankind emerges when we’re in a 9/11-type situation.
I thought the new Battlestar took us into the depths of the darkness, but it also showed us our humanity, showed us the light at the end of the tunnel. It went much deeper into the apocalypse, much deeper into what we humans might find ourselves falling into, but I think Battlestar, whether it’s old, new, or even some of the other versions – Blood & Chrome, Caprica – is all to do with how would we deal with such terrible circumstances.
It always comes down to people, no matter how great the stories are. In both the new show and the old show, we had such an incredible group of people with such great chemistry. Audiences loved watching this family of man pull together, go through the ups and downs, struggle through their morally conflicting decisions and somehow find a way to survive. I think that touched people profoundly and deeply.
Fans will watch these shows in perpetuity, and every new version of them that comes out, they will buy it. Whether it’s a new updated DVD with wraparound interviews, or on Blu-ray, fans can’t get enough of something they love – and you can say this about fans of any genre, but I think fans of fantasy and sci-fi are incredibly dedicated. There aren’t enough quality sci-fi shows, and they come back over and over again to Battlestar. It tends to bring families together, and they bond around it.
The three-hour opener, Saga of a Star World, feels like a movie – and indeed that’s how we first saw it in Britain; but was there a law of diminishing returns on the production of the series, and were you always running to catch up?
We were under incredibly challenging filming circumstances. I think the problem was with sci-fi forty years ago. Nobody trusted science fiction, and so it was always a challenge to have a science fiction show stay on the air very long. We certainly did incredible numbers; there weren’t all these cable channels back in those days, so there were three or four major networks and we were getting 50-60 million people watching.
But mounting a theatrical style series on the level of Star Wars on a weekly basis, back then with the technology available, meant it was an incredibly challenging production. Yet somehow they found a way: we took four days more than was normal – we took 10 to 12 days on a show sometimes. Many times we were filming 14, 15, 16 hours a day in order to get ahead of the schedule. We were basically living on the back lot. We were filming six or seven days a week, as opposed to five, because they were trying to get these shows completed in time for transmission. A lot of time, because of all the technical challenges of this very complex production, everybody would be running in order to get everything implemented, and we actors ended up getting script changes at the last minute. The funny thing was that filming schedule forced all of us actors to bond together in order to get through it. To survive, we came together as a family, and I think that came across on screen.
It was a very challenging production to mount, and after all those ups and downs, and getting all those logistical challenges worked out, I think a second year would have been much easier than the first year. I would have loved to have had a second year.
First year shows don’t normally or necessarily do their best work. Everybody is trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, the writers are trying out different themes and seeing what the audience are responding to, and I think it takes that shakedown cruise. If you survive that, then you find the kind of show you wanted to do but couldn’t originally.
Battlestar didn’t get that second year, and a lot of it was the cost of mounting the show. ABC was a very successful network at the time, with seven of the top ten shows, and I think it was hard for them to justify a show that was no longer in the top 10 and had the filming budget and challenges that Battlestar had. I don’t think they saw the longer view back then of the show.
I was always surprised that they didn’t make more movies – the movie based on the three-hour pilot still did incredibly well – but I think that nobody really trusted science fiction back then, and didn’t realise that Battlestar was one of those unique stories that crossed all those lines. Shows about family always seem to be something that everybody feels drawn to, and love, and a show like Battlestar was unique because you didn’t have to be a sci-fi lover or a fan in order to love it because the story was about family. It was one of those shows that somehow drew a very diverse audience.
Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Original Series is available on Blu-ray on 24th November, from Universal Pictures (UK)