3:56pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Battlestar Galactica' Would Be "Fundamentally Different" Today, Cast Says at Comic-Con Reunion
In the lore of Battlestar Galactica, there was always something special about the number five. For 2017, two other numbers have pinged on the DRADIS: two and 25.
For the second time this year, creator Ronald D. Moore and members of the Battlestar Galactica cast reunited together on stage to look back on the modern science-fiction classic. First appearing at the ATX Television Festival earlier this summer in Austin, the BSG crew joined forces again Thursday at San Diego Comic-Con, with cast members including Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mary McDonnell (President Roslin), Grace Park (Boomer), Tricia Helfer (Six), Michael Trucco (Anders), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo) and Aaron Douglas (Chief). David Eick joined Moore on the producing side. The reunion coincides with Syfy's 25th anniversary, an occasion that led to the network's rebranding and recommitment to the sci-fi genre.
The panel kicked off with a video montage highlighting how pervasive Battlestar Galactica has been in pop culture since the series first arrived — references in Family Guy, Portlandia, The Office and more — before an announcement that a marathon of every episode of Battlestar Galactica will air on Syfy this September. Moments later, the panelists came out to talk about the origins of BSG.
"The original Battlestar had this very dark idea at its core: the holocaust of the human race. The heroes of the show were the survivors who ran off into the night and were pursued by their enemies. If you took that premise seriously ... you would have a unique piece of TV," said Moore, about how the show was crafted in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "We tried to stay true to the premise of what it was."
In terms of the show's overarching plot, Eick weighed in on the idea of having a plan for the story versus evolving their ideas as the series professed. "We wanted enough of a plan to give everyone in the writers room a sense we knew where we were going," he said, while still leaving doors open for certain big reveals, including who the final five Cylons were. Moore described the writers room as having an "improvisational style," one that "built a structure while allowing specific aesthetics to emerge," according to Eick.
Asked about unexpected plot twists, McDonnell joked that she expected there would be a mall ship on the show, so President Roslin could have more than one suit. On a more serious note, she said the biggest thing was waiting to find out which characters were Cylons.
"That was a lot of tension," she said. "Emotional tension. Flat-out tension."
Aaron Douglas, who was one of those actors who became a Cylon, recalled the dramatic story of how he found out he was a Cylon. Production was underway on the 11th or 12th episode of season three, with three months to go before shooting the famous finale in which Chief, Anders, Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Tory (Rekha Sharma) discovered they were the final five. At a party, Douglas accidentally stumbled upon a script that revealed his fate. He was forced to keep the secret for three months.
"We finally get to the episode when we're going to shoot this," he said, "I talked to Ron on the phone for an hour and a half. He said: 'Have we done right by you so far?' 'Yes.' 'Do you think we know what we're doing?' 'I do.'"
On the subject of playing multiple roles, Park said it was easy at first to play only two different versions of Number Eight: "As I started making more characters, it got so confusing. I realized I had Boomer, Athena and the General all at the same time. It got confusing. I was lucky I had two characters we could flesh out over a number of years, so they felt three-dimensional."
Helfer weighed in on the same subject, as she had her hands full with different versions of Number Six. She recalled that before the series began, the writers sent out character bibles filled with backstory details to each of the actors. Helfer only had four words to work with: "The machine is woman."
"Eddie Olmos gets three pages of backstory," she joked, "and I get: 'The machine is woman.'"
Helfer spoke about one of the versions of Six, Gina, who suffered from PTSD, and was adamant about showing how even robots can suffer from victimization. "That was the first character where we could take a departure."
Eick praised Helfer for having almost no credits before Battlestar, except as a corpse in CSI: Miami, a pilot guest appearance and an indie movie. "In other words, nothing," said Eick. "Talk about throwing an actor into the deep end of the pool. It was miraculous for her to emerge as she did."
McDonnell weighed in on President Roslin's political leanings, and how at the time it interacted with President George W. Bush's administration: "Knowing that Laura wouldn't be this extraordinary compassionate liberal, and instead getting used to what had to be done, there was a slow letting go of a feeling that this was going to be fun. It started becoming very hard and isolated. One of the biggest things I felt while developing her was isolation."
"In order to save people and be very clear about it, you don't get the luxury to enjoy your own visceral responses to life," she continued. "You have to decide moment to moment how many people will die and how many people will live, and what's the end game. The end game was life."
Both Penikett and Trucco weighed in on their characters existing mostly in isolation from the greater series. For his part, Penikett was simply grateful to return to the show after an ambiguous fate in the four-hour miniseries that served as the veritable BSG pilot. Trucco's debut as Anders, on the other hand, wasn't as warmly received, recalling what he would read on message boards: "People are specific when they get mean. It's one thing to go: 'That frakking Anders character sucks.' But when they use your name, and they spell it right..."
Trucco said that his increased role was largely due to Moore wanting to stick it to the haters. He put it succinctly: "You don't like Anders? Watch this, mother-frakkers!"
Speaking to the show's occasional bouts of comedy, Moore said writers "naturally like to lighten up certain scenes," stressing the importance of listening to the tone of one's cast.
"James Callis who played Gaius Baltar really changed the direction of that character toward humor," he said as an example. "When I wrote him initially in the miniseries, he was a lot of things — sociopathic, brilliant, arrogant, etc. — but I never thought he was funny. James brought a sense of humor to him. And we started writing toward his sense of humor." Moore and the writers would take that same approach to all of the actors who showed signs of being comically inclined.
The panel then turned to questions from the audience. Trucco was asked about Pyramid, the sport that was invented for the series. He told a story about how he and his cast members were forced to invent the way Pyramid was played pretty much on the spot. He said James Callis would be the best person on the cast to play the sport if it existed in real life.
On their regrets about their time on Battlestar, Helfer offered: "I never got to say 'frak.'" She then delivered a very enthusiastic "FRAK!" to the crowd. Douglas said he wished he spent more time on "the Cylon sex ship, like James did."
The panel was then asked how Battlestar would be different if it were on today and interacting with the present political moment. "The crazy unqualified captain," Eick joked. "Colluding with the enemy would apply."
"It would be fundamentally different. We wrote the show and made it at a very specific time in the country's history. We were reflecting what was going on through a science-fiction prism," said Moore. He added that the show would need to take an approach that isn't "obvious," one that finds empathy for things that seem unworthy of empathy.
At one point in the panel, the conversation turned toward the subject of Richard Hatch, the original Starbuck from the first Battlestar Galactica series, who eventually joined the rebooted series as political prisoner Thomas Zarek. Hatch died this year.
Moore recalled meeting Hatch during a convention before the show's relaunch, where Hatch made it clear that he wasn't necessarily a fan of Moore's vision, in the most polite terms possible. After initial hesitation, Hatch accepted the role of Zarek, and the rest is history.
At the panel's conclusion, Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) appeared via video message (his second one of the panel), in order to pay tribute to Hatch, "one of the closest members of our gang." After issuing words of love and support for his late colleague, Olmos encouraged the crowd to make their appreciation of Hatch known with three rousing rounds of four familiar words: "So say we all!"