On January 22nd, 2010, the long-awaited Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica premiered on The Syfy Channel. A few days before, series co-creator/executive producer David Eick and cast member Paula Malcomson, who portrays Amanda Graystone, spent some time on the phone speaking with myself as well as several other journalists about the series. The following is an edited version of our conversation. Enjoy!
Can you talk about the intention to make Caprica different from Battlestar Galactica, because it definitely has a whole different feel to it.
DAVID EICK - I think we’re very intently committed to the idea that this show stand on its own, and that it not in any way feel like an echo, a descendent or an extension of Battlestar Galactica. You’ll note that the title is not Battlestar Galactica Caprica, but simply Caprica. The relationship that it has to Battlestar is purely inconsequential. It’s kind of in an Easter egg sense of fun for the fans and audience that followed Battlestar Galactica. However, if you never saw a lick of that show, it will have no impact on your ability to really get involved in and relate to the characters as well as the drama that we’re doing on Caprica.
People can pretty much watch Caprica in a lot of different places other than on the Syfy Channel, such as on-line. Is that part of your design or does that come from the network?
DE - Well, it was a network design, but I believe – and I’m not certain about this – that it’s a release strategy or a distribution strategy that other networks have tried as well. I think Glee may have done something like this where the pilot premiered and after a period of time went by, the pilot re-premiered as a launch to the TV series. So I think in a multi-platform universe as it were, where people are consuming dramatic material on their televisions, DVD players and the Internet, it’s really kind of smart and ahead of the game to figure out new and unorthodox ways to launch a TV show. But, yes, that was definitely the network’s call and we were happy to get onboard. In fact, it gave us an excuse to spend even more money on the pilot, and the version that ultimately aired was sort of tricked out with a bunch of new shots and visual effects as well as a couple of scenes we even re-shot. So it’s been worth it all around.
Paula, it seems from watching the first few episodes that your character has a lot of really tough moments to play, and she makes a lot of choices that might make her unsympathetic in the eyes of a lot of viewers. I’m wondering how you struggled with portraying that and making her a likeable character?
PAULA MALCOLMSON - It’s definitely something that occurs to you in the back of your mind, but as an actor you have to sort of put aside your own judgements in terms of whether your character is necessarily good or bad. I think being a good actor is sort of understanding the complexity of the human psyche and also knowing that none of us are perfect. So it was tough and I did think about it, particularly that many people would perhaps find Amanda unsympathetic. I just really tried to tap into the character’s loss and pain as well as the fact that she has made mistakes and then go from there, you know?
DE - I would also add that I don’t think in the sort of canon of this show or shows like it, that there’s a tremendous amount of concern for what I would call old-fashioned television tropes-like sympathetic characters. I think audiences want challenging characters and ones who are neither black or white but somewhere in the middle and who are going to challenge the audience’s expectation in every way. One of the reasons that Paula plays her character so well is that you’re never quite sure what to expect from her. And there are times when you expect her to maybe lose it, but, in fact, she completely holds it together and vice versa. I think that’s human and real and part of what I think is the hallmark of the show.
David, how much impact did female viewership play in not setting the series in space or relying heavily on space scenes?
DE - Most of the people I spoke to about Battlestar in terms of the fan base were women, so the empirical demographic breakdown of the audience is something that I just chose to keep at bay and not pay a lot of attention to. So I never really think in terms of gearing a show towards a particular audience. In more general terms, yes, I do recognize the fact that perhaps a female audience might be more inclined to watch a story that’s more of a soap operatic kind of melodrama and without the accompanying visual sort of ghetto and spaceships and outer space. Something like that might have more accessibility to a female audience just because of that generalization. But that was never a motivation for not setting Caprica in space. The motivation was to make it as different and unique from Battlestar as possible.
David, when you guys did Battlestar Galactica, you and Ron Moore (Caprica co-creator and executive producer) talked about how the plot of the show evolved organically instead of having everything mapped out in a specific direction. Based on your experience, have you changed that creative process, and if not, why have you stuck with that mentality?
DE -Ron Moore and I had a number of discussions about this very early on. We come from very different backgrounds in terms of how writers’ rooms are run. On Star Trek - and I heard all this third hand and cannot confirm any of it – but presumably the outline process takes place in the room. It’s very precise, very detailed. There’s not a lot of jazz or improvisation invited or tolerated, and it’s almost a military-like environment. That’s not to say that the work was any less good, it’s just that it was run with that level of discipline and structured parameters. I’ve worked with other writers and producers in a variety of different capacities and there was a much looser environment where young writers were encouraged to come up with ideas and contribute. You might throw some suggestions out, and you might find others brilliant. The downside of that is you would sometimes have an episode that didn’t work.
So I think we wanted to sort of combine the best of both these [writing] environments. When it came to how the writers’ room was run on Battlestar, and then later on Caprica, it’s about having a structure or large picture plan usually concocted by me and Ron during the hiatus. That would then be delivered to the writing staff and everyone was encouraged to improvise and add and subtract and change and go crazy and just sort of create an environment where there are no bad ideas. If then we lost our way, we’d circle back to where we really wanted to go. So it really is a combination of running a tight ship and yet allowing for there to be a great deal of improvisation and changes on the fly, purely with the intent of developing the best ideas.
PM - That applies on-set with the actors as well in terms of loosely dealing with the script, so when a surprise or something interesting comes up, we have the luxury to be able to follow that instinct. It’s really the only way to work as far as I’m concerned, otherwise there are no surprises and it’s boring, you know? Just the other day one of the directors said to me, “I never know what you’re going to do,” and I said, “Neither do I.” There’s just something amazing and beautiful about that, and hopefully it works.
Paula, could you tell is a little bit about how you first became involved in Caprica and about your audition process for the role?
PM - I met with Jeffrey Reiner, who directed the pilot, and I hit it off with him. He’s very smart and a huge film buff, so he just seemed like the kind of director I wanted to work with. So it was first of all responding to the material, and then meeting Jeffrey. I initially auditioned for the role of Sister Clarice, but Jeffrey wanted to see me play Amanda. I was hesitant about that, though, because I didn’t know if I could play that character. I was frightened of that, and I realized that that was a really good thing. Then I met David and Ron and everyone else involved. I think was the first person they cast, followed by Esai Morales [Joseph Adama], Eric Stolz [Daniel Graystone] and then Polly Walker [Sister Clarice], so I was delighted with the people who I’d be working with.
David, with the first season of the show almost wrapped, what maybe have you enjoyed most so far about bringing the Caprica story to life?
DE - Well, the biggest and most pleasant surprise was the one that we sort of didn’t allow ourselves to dream could happen, which was to get as lucky as we did with this [acting] ensemble. That phrase about you’re only as strong as your weakest link really applies when you’re dealing with an ensemble cast. And so we were very fortunate to have such strength across the boards from such established and well-recognized actors like Paula, Polly Walker, Esai and Eric, combined with people like Sasha Roiz [Sam Adama], who were going to be brand new to an American audience and are able to hold their own. Those are things you can’t plan for, you just have to hope. We got together in Lake Tahoe way back in January of last year to start breaking stories, so it wasn’t for lack of planning when it came to aiming to make the show good in every way that we could control. But as hard as you might work on casting and such, you just never know until you get there, and we just got incredibly lucky with our cast and crew as well.
As noted above, photos by Chris Haston and Joe Pugliese and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!