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The cast of Battlestar Galactica reunited Saturday at closing night of the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, and while it marked the first official reunion, those behind the Syfy drama revealed they’ve kept in close contact since the series went off the air eight years ago.
“It is profoundly different than I think what happens to a lot of casts when it’s time to run away from each other,” Mary McDonnell told the audience.
Battlestar Galactica was developed as a reimagining of the 1978 series of the same name and originally premiered as a miniseries on Syfy in 2003. The following year, the project returned as a full-fledged series and ran for four seasons, wrapping in 2009. Over its run, the drama quickly became a critical darling and went onto win Peabody and Television Critics Association awards.
Looking back on the original series, Ronald D. Moore, showrunner for the 2000s incarnation, recalled watching every episode but said “it didn’t light the fire in me,” despite his love of other sci-fi projects in the 1970s like Star Trek and Star Wars.
When he got a call in early 2002 about potentially coming onboard the reboot, Moore was hesitant after logging 10 years on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back into space again,” he said. However, Moore thought it over and rented the tape of the original from Blockbuster.
“It had completely different resonance,” Moore said of watching the original in a post-9/11 world. “I just sort of immediately thought if you did that show now, it was an opportunity to talk about the things that were happening in the world.” He then took the job.
When asked how Battlestar Galactica would be different if it launched today, Moore said the show “would take advantage of the current political situation,” but added, “It’s hard to imagine doing it today if it was just from zero.”
However, McDonnell pointed out the current administration has made some of Battlestar Galactica‘s key themes even more relevant. “We’re living in a time where the powers that be are trying to create as much difference between us as their pocketbooks will allow. With Battlestar, we have a reminder that it could go away,” said the actress. “We’re unfortunately living on the edge at the moment of the planet. Perhaps we can stop dividing each other and seeing each other as ‘the other.'”
Moore and the reboot’s stars, including McDonnell, Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, James Callis and Michael Trucco, reflected on their auditions, Olmos‘ big speech to the cast and what Moore calls “one of the stupidest things” the writers ever wrote into the show during the ATX panel. Read on for more highlights.
Olmos Initially Said No
When the actor was offered the role, “I said no at the beginning. I said, ‘Thank you very much, but I’m working,'” Olmos said. But his agent urged him to read the script anyway. “And then I read it, and I immediately said, ‘I want to be with them. Let’s do this.'”
The Female President
McDonnell never saw the original Battlestar Galactica. “I didn’t have a television. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t understand,” she said. “It was presented to me as, ‘You have the opportunity to do the reboot or the reinventing of Battlestar Galactica.’ I just giggled.” However, when McDonnell read the script, “I was attracted to these people in the first read-through,” she said. McDonnell also found the script extremely prescient to the current times, particularly with her playing a female president. “We were shooting this when Hillary [Clinton] was running [for the Senate] and it became a very timely event for me,” said the actress. “We started it not too long after September 11th, so there was a strong emotional connection for me as well.”
A Female Starbuck?
Moore said one of his first ideas was to change Starbuck from a male character to a female. “This was a moment in time when we were just starting to see women in combat, female combat pilots for the first time,” he said. “I really didn’t think it would be a thing.” However, it quickly drew ire from fans. “I was surprised and sort of like, ‘Really? People are getting upset about this?'” said Moore. “It seemed like the dumbest thing in the world. It was just kind of baffling.” However, he quickly learned to embrace it. “Yell about it, get angry,” he recalled thinking. “I need publicity.”
Sackhoff remembered being told she was “too girly” for the part. “I was told so many times that I was not right for this part,” she said. “There’s a piece of you that goes, ‘Oh, my God — I’m not right for this part.'” The actress subsequently had to audition six or seven times. “I cut my hair in the process. I took off my stilettos and eventually, I got the part.” When she learned about the controversy surrounding her character in a chat room at an internet cafe, “I thought, ‘F— ’em,'” she said.
The Other Starbuck
Park recalled it was down to her and Sackhoff for the role of Starbuck. “When I was told I got Boomer, I was pissed,” Park said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Who the “f” is Boomer?'” Subsequently, it took a while to figure out her character was a Cylon. “I just hadn’t realized because I wasn’t reading for that and I probably wasn’t picking up on the clues,” said the actress.
A First-Day Kiss
Helfer had been acting professionally for about a year when she got the gig, and recalled the nerves she had the first day on the set, particularly when it came to shooting a steamy scene with Callis. “He was getting nervous. I was getting nervous. We were both sweating,” she related. “I finally said, ‘James, there’s a basement, let’s go downstairs.'” One thing led to another and “I just planted a kiss on him,” Helfer said. “Genuinely it was a really good move, because we were both really self-conscious,” added Callis. “It’s a thing about trust, and I think that was what helped us and helped us establish that relationship.”
Trucco remember originally auditioning for the role of Apollo. “Rumor has it that I got initially, initially not very close at all,” he said with a laugh. “I wrote in my journal, ‘This is the greatest television show ever made.'” In season two, the actor came onboard for what was originally supposed to be a two-episode arc. “Something incredible happened: The majority of the people f—ing hated my character, and I think that fueled Ron,” Trucco said. Interjected Moore: “He’s coming back now.” Trucco also remembered the early days of internet chat rooms, saying, “People said horrible things.”
The Admiral’s Speech
When shooting the initial miniseries that led to the series, Callis recalled the speech Olmos gave to the entire cast in which he foreshadowed the show’s success. “The show’s going to go for five years. Every episode is going to be like a movie. Keep your powder dry. We’re in here for the long haul. You are not to make fun of this,” Callis said Olmos told the cast. “Nobody needs to take this as seriously as we do.” Looking back, Callis called it a “galvanizing” moment: “At the time, you don’t realize how important something like that is.”
Six’s Big Moment in the First Episode
Helfer’s Six killed a baby in the first episode, specifically by cracking its neck. “The network didn’t want it in there,” said the actress, but she believed the moment added “depth” to her character. “To me, that was a very integral moment of showing that this other side, you’re very quickly going to learn that this, the other side, this, the evil side, has some sort of empathy.”
However, because of that moment, Helfer’s sister never watched the series because she had given birth shortly before. “It was just a hard thing, the crack sound,” she recalled.
The Evolution of ‘Frak‘
While muttered once on the original series, it became a popular (and frequent) part of the reboot. “I just said this a brilliant opportunity to say ‘f—’ over and over again,” recalled Moore. “This is just a license to kill, so I’m just going to do it over and over.”
The Big Debates Behind the Scenes
“When I pitched it, I could have done anything. They really don’t care. ‘You can do whatever you want with this’ was the attitude,” Moore remembered. However, that changed once the series was in full swing. “All the big-ticket items we never fought about,” he said. “We fought about stupid things. We fought about how much blood you’re going to show, how many pilots you’re going to kill. … Is it too dark? Is it too depressing?”
Another concern of the network was the show’s serialized nature, which is why many of Battlestar Galactica‘s early installments are stand-alone episodes. “Serialized TV was really unusual and frowned upon and networks didn’t like it,” Moore related. “The network was terrified that people would watch them out of order.”
Starbuck’s Death (Kind of)
When asked about her favorite moment, Sackhoff recalled getting the call from Moore and David Eicks that her character was going to get killed but then brought back. “‘We’re going to kill you but we’re going to bring you back, so don’t worry,'” she said. “So I went to Mexico for a couple episodes, but the problem was I was lying to everyone.”
Moore interjected: “This is one of the stupidest things David and I did in the entire run of the show.” Sackhoff eventually told Olmos, who then told the entire cast at a magazine shoot she wasn’t really dead, “and I felt like such an asshole.”
Meanwhile, Moore recalled, “We’re getting calls in Los Angeles saying they’re really upset. You don’t understand. People are really freaking out that you’re killing [her],” particularly Olmos. “Eddie is walking around saying this is death of the show. … It just spiraled completely out of control.”
The rousing reunion ended with a spirited chant of the show’s signature catchphrase, “So say we all,” led by Olmos.
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Robert De Niro