Interview: Dirk Benedict

An interesting character talks Battlestar, The A-Team, and… politics…

battlestar-gallatica-original-dirk-benedict-as-starbuck-image-2When BSG was brought back in 2004 it proved to be a huge success but, of course, you were not a part of that. How did you feel about this?
There is a long history to that – in fact, I was sent a script by one of the show’s producers and I saw how they were going to re-imagine the series. I wish I could say I was surprised but I wasn’t. The new Battlestar Galactica is female driven – like so much television nowadays. But I was originally going to play Starbuck at the age of 50. I was going to be the guy who trained all the new Viper pilots in the show and it was going to be a continuation of what came before. I thought it was quite wonderful and I was really looking forward to it. But then new people came into the Sci Fi Channel and they went ahead and did what they did. I do not really have any feelings one way or the other about the new show. It is just a sign of the state of television today. Like I said, Battlestar Galactica is now told from a female perspective. Our show was male-driven.

It sounds as if you have a real problem with the direction they went in…

No I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t care. I just worry about all of the bad television that is being produced. But people kept asking me the same question: “Mr Benedict, what do you think about the new Starbuck?” So, finally, I wrote an article called ‘Starbuck: Lost In Castration’ in which I mentioned that you cannot have the same character I played in a television show today. He is a misogynist and he smokes cigars. He drinks and he looks at women and he wants to take them to bed. Now how would that fit into the new Battlestar Galactica? I am sure the producers looked at our series and thought, “What the hell should we do with this guy? Oh I know – we will make him a girl.” It is a joke. The new show is all about despairing. There is no hope in it, whereas the old Battlestar Galactica was religious and spiritual and hopeful. The new one is dysfunctional, you know? It is about how things are always going wrong and bad things happen to everyone. The new show reflects the world today. Times have changed and, sadly, you cannot have my Starbuck in the current climate.

However, the old Battlestar Galactica still has a cult following…
Yeah but, just like The A-Team, the show wouldn’t be popular in London, LA or New York. It was only when you go out to the blue collar types… The working people liked it but not the posh folks. Not the elite. It was the working class who could get behind the character.

Do you wish the old Battlestar Galactica had run for longer? Or do you think it ended at just the right time?
Oh no, I think we had a lot of life left in us. But the good thing is that they wrote the part of Face in The A-Team based on what I had done in Battlestar Galactica. But, other than that, playing Starbuck did not help my career one bit. Quite the opposite – suddenly I was known as this politically incorrect guy and that spilled over to real life. It was the same with The A-Team funnily enough. We never got invited to any Hollywood parties. It was because we were from ‘that show’. This was during the Reagan era and Mr T played Santa at the Whitehouse for two Christmases in a row. He was the only black man I know who voted Republican. We were all conservatives on that show, which was unusual for Hollywood. There was no one saying “Do you need to smoke your cigar all the time? Must you fire your guns so much?” Do you know that the teacher’s union tried to get our show off the air? They started a writing campaign because they thought we were too violent. At parties liberals would come up to me and they would whisper, “I watch Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team.” But they didn’t want anybody to hear them say it.

Funnily enough there is a long-running rumour that they are going to re-make The A-Team as well… [NOTE: Obviously, this interview was conducted quite a while ago]
Yeah, but how can they? The A-Team was probably the last truly masculine television show. It was just guys – and it was guys doing guy things and talking like guys. We didn’t get emotional and speak about our feelings. We certainly didn’t kiss like they did on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Can you imagine The A-Team if they smooched after every scene? But you see that on Friends, right? It is horrible how television has gone…

And to think you seemed like such a gentleman when you appeared on Celebrity Big Brother…

I tried not to be a gentleman (laughs). I think they edited me to keep me in the house because everyone else was running away! But I am glad I did it because I was the last guy to smoke on television. I smoked my cigars every bloody day. People probably hadn’t seen that since the days of Battlestar Galactica. There is so much political correctness now… I’m going into politics now. That is my main interest…

Dare we ask what you are going to do?
I want to run as the conservative governor of Montana. I grew up there – as a cowboy and on ranches. The only business I know anything about, except for show business, is ranching. My childhood was riding horses, branding and herding cattle and stacking hay and stuff. I want to keep government out of people’s lives. I don’t vote Democrat. They want you to get a free house, free car, free college education, free healthcare – oh no, you don’t need to pay for any of that. Ridiculous!

Okay, so moving away from that hot potato for a second – let me ask you about your very first journey into sci-fi. You played the lead in a great monster movie from 1973 called Sssssss where you are transformed into a King Cobra. Care to share some memories about that?
Sure, it was my first Hollywood movie and through doing that I met guys like Robert Redford and Paul Newman and got to hang out at a lot of parties. I thought it was kind of interesting. The make-up was by the people who did the Planet Of The Apes movies – Dan Striepeke and John Chambers. They also came up with the idea – it was their pet project. It was quite exciting at the time; I was on the back lot, they shaved my body and they put scales on me. It is a pretty spooky story – my girlfriend is trying to rescue me but she fails and at the end I’ve completely changed. I slither off the doctor’s table and get killed. I wish more people would mention that film…

This article originally appeared in the print edition of SciFiNow, issue 25 by Calum Waddell. To buy a copy of the magazine or subscribe, go to www.imagineshop.com, or call our subscriptions hotline on +44 (0) 844 844 0245.