We caught up with James Callis at the annual SF Ball to talk to him about Battlestar Galactica, his luck with the ladies, and Tricia Helfer…
Words: Josie Reavely
Are you put off by having to attend sci-fi conventions like this one?
No, not at all! Fantasy is very important in all our lives. You need dreams, you need R&R and I think that the genre allows you to go there. Sci-fi fans demonstrate a great understanding of the universe and a generosity of spirit that is potent and powerful; the more there are, the better!
A lot of sci-fi features messianic figures and we reckon Gaius kind of fits the bill in some ways. Would you agree with that?
I would, yes! Gaius definitely fits in there. You know, with the long hair and the beard – some people would say he looks like Jesus. Well, Jesus or Saddam, I’m not quite sure! I’d imagine a ‘messiah complex’ makes the individual believe that somehow, through them, the understanding of the world will be worked out. And it’s a huge piece of narcissism, in that sense, isn’t it? To believe that you, out of the millions and millions of people and animals, you, personally, are the divine being… you’ve gotta think a lot of yourself! Yes he has that, I think it’s fair to say. If he was less confused he might be more dangerous but he’s constantly being sidetracked by one thing or the other; whether it’s a beautiful woman or somebody wanting to cut his head off, he can’t quite focus on that thing, and I think that in the coming season, at least, this is going to be developed more.
Do you think there’s a danger of BSG becoming a little too dark?
I guess with all of the terrorism and war and everything on the news at the moment, there is a danger of having too much sadness and despair, and that’ll make people turn off. But the thing about BSG is, we’re not just a show interested in entertaining, we’re interested in subverting politics. The premise of our show is the same as the premise of the Seventies’ show – the only difference is that after the world’s blown up we don’t go to the disco planet! The darkness of BSG when I watched it as a kid was what hooked me – it was different, because the goodies didn’t always win. So I’m proud to be a part of the remake and I’m glad that they’ve managed to maintain that darkness, but it’s balanced with hope.
Are there any aspects of Gaius’ character that appeal to you, ways you’d like to be more like him?
Woah, yeah, I’d love to be brilliant like that, I’d love to be a genius, and, you know, I’m really not [Laughs]. What else? In the show, they make Gaius very lucky with the ladies. Not that I’ve been unlucky, but I think he’s luckier than I am! [Laughs] He has a certain, interesting way about him… I guess he’s a bit shitty. And that bad boy thing is quite attractive – I think – to women. I’m not like that, and that’s probably why I’m less attractive. His sexy/careless attitude is something that’s been totally foisted on me by the writing, by the producers, that’s not something I’ve brought to the show, they’re like: “we’re gonna stick you with Tricia, we’re gonna stick you with Katee, we’re gonna stick you with whoever…”
He’s quite hedonistic really, isn’t he?
Yes! I think that he has been a real pleasure seeker… and he’s still seeking pleasure! And he’s so self-serving. He does something despicable, then two minutes later, he’s all remorseful and confused again and you feel sorry for him. I really wanted to explore his humanism and show how multi-faceted people can be. The fact of the matter is, we’re not doing Happy Days! This season is darker than anything I’ve been involved with before and I’ve loved every minute of it!
Do you like the direction the show’s heading in, or is there anything you’d change?
One of the mistakes, I think, is that we showed everything about the Cylon world, and the kitchen sink, immediately! The story could have been told better, and the tension could have been held if we’d seen less. One of the huge strengths of the show initially was that you never knew who they were, what they could be like, and so the whole show had this amazing atmosphere. To suddenly show them, the way they’re walking around the base ship and whatever… When we were making it, it felt less exciting, because it was less threatening. It’s like a horror story, and horror works when things are implicated, but you don’t necessarily see them. When I was speaking to Ron [Moore] about it, Ron just looked at me and went “Why don’t we have these conversations before we make the thing, James?! Of course that’s the way we wanted to do it, of course… and we’ve already written the whole thing and it’s too late now!” [Laughs] But I think that tension is ratcheted back amazingly towards the end of the season, and we go from, as it were, holocaust, and we’re heading steadily towards apocalypse, by the end of this season. You’re gonna see some shocking stuff pretty soon… Baltar… a lot happens to him, let’s put it that way! And it’s not fun!
Have you ever found playing the bad guy a bit consuming?
Yes! But I had some great advice from my father who was just like, “You know what James, save the acting for the job.” That’s it! It’s hard to do sometimes, but it’s dangerous if you don’t.
There’s a lot of speculation about Gaius being a Cylon…
He does struggle with that thought himself, but he can’t possibly be a Cylon – that wouldn’t work, if he’s running around feeling guilty, only to turn out to be a machine! But I think part of him wants him to be… in the same way that someone wants to belong to a fashionable gang or cult, that is! He doesn’t feel connected to his fellow humans so he wanders around like a fish out of water, wanting to belong.
Speaking of Cylons, you spend a lot of time acting with Tricia Helfer, is it difficult doing those scenes where she’s not there and you basically have to talk to yourself?
Only in terms of eye-line, trying to remember exactly where you might be looking. It’s one of those things that’s quite fun to do.
Finally, the all-important question: What’s it like kissing Tricia?
To kiss someone as beautiful as Tricia is lovely. She’s my friend. You know, they made us kiss on the first day on set – a brilliant way to break the ice! I was trying to be gentlemanly, so I went over and said: “Listen, I don’t want you to be embarrassed, I’m a man, you’re a lady, this is just acting”. Tricia just looked at me and said: “You can do whatever you do buddy, but I’m going for it!”