ECCC: Battlestar Galacticast Live Episode
Claudia & Silvia
March 16, 2019
Admin Note: This is a transcript of the live panel, not questions and answers word by word. With the help of my friend Silvia, we put together our notes watching it live and made the highlights from it. There is no video.
What is Battlestar Galacticast?
Battlestar Galactica star Tricia Helfer and TV writer/journalist Marc Bernardin do an episode-by-episode rewatch of Battlestar Galactica in its entirety, diving deep into the themes of the award-winning sci-fi classic and revealing behind the scenes details that only a true Battlestar Galactica insider like Tricia would know. In addition, the podcast will welcome members of Battlestar Galactica’s cast and crew into the airlock to share their memories of making the groundbreaking series. (SYFY Wire)
THE LIVE PANEL
On March 16, 2019 at Emerald City Comic Con, Battlestar Galacticast aired a live episode with guest Mary McDonnell, who portrayed President Laura Roslin first on the miniseries and then onto the series.
The live opens with Marc Bernadin introducing guest Mary McDonnell as “your President and mine” and when Mary enters the stage, she makes a joke about being ready to announce her candidacy for the 2020 democratic primary, which makes Tricia sure to know who she will vote for.
Tricia explains how Galacticast dissects the cult show episode by episode and informs the audience that they’re about to tape the final podcast for season 1 and that on this special live episode they want to explore the topic of responsibilities and, with Mary present, focus on Laura Roslin’s responsibilities to the fleet and Mary’s responsibilities to herself as a performer.
On what attracted her about the BSG miniseries script considering how diametrically different it was to previous television shows she had worked on (e.g: ER and others)
Mary was not familiar with the original series, because at time she was in New York doing theatre and did not have a television, so when she was offered the script she laughed thinking about Stands with a Fist, her character in the Oscar winning movie Dances With Wolves, in space. As she read through the script, she was amazed with the potential of it and the magnificent writing of complex women and all characters.
The one thing she admit asking Ron Moore was how long Laura Roslin would be on the show as the pilot revealed some pretty disconcerting news for the character and she was assured they Laura would stay until the very last episode.
On having trepidations knowing the job was going to bring her out of the country and so far from her family who stayed in LA.
Mary was worried about being away from her children as this would have been the first time they would be staying in Los Angeles, while she was working away from home, but as her kids were teenagers by then, it was easier for them to understand their parents job.
On her responsibilities as one of the most longevous actors of the cast
In the very beginning of the series Mary had felt very isolated from the rest of the main cast, because Laura Roslin was on Colonial One while the others were shooting scenes on the Galactica set and it wasn’t until they started to bring Laura onto the ship more that she started to feel part of the cast. She did not feel like she needed to offer advice to them because they were, although young and new to acting, full of great potential and had a good work ethic..
Tricia continues saying that what was most important to her, as one of the new actors on set, was not only Mary’s insights on the world of acting but especially her friendship. She then tells the story of what occured in one episode where she was told by a director of photography that she looked bad in a scene and Mary took her aside and encouraged her not to think about what she had just been told and to not believe those words. It was a very important moment for Tricia.
On showing the differences between the President of the Colonies and the President of the United States and where she took the inspiration for the role of Laura Roslin as such a powerful and charismatic leader.
Battlestar Galactica was shooting around the time of the primary of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama which, in Mary’s opinion, was an important moment in history for women to have a woman standing there ready to embrace such a pivotal role in politics. From that political climate, Hillary Clinton and all the other women in politics, Mary took the inspiration and understood how a woman in power carries herself, but it’s to Ron Moore that Mary gives the final merits for the spectacular character that is Roslin, because he understood Laura needed to find something in herself that she had never seen.
Tricia also highlights the importance of Mary’s character going through so much in her life and how strong she was, and how she was able to take the make incredibly hard decisions that in the end brought to the salvation of what remained of mankind. The destruction of the Olympic Carrier is the perfect example and to Mary it represents the exact moment in which Laura understands she needs to put aside her needs and ideals in order to be presidential and support her cause of salvation.
On Laura Roslin being a very moral character who, at the same time, did a lot of immoral things and how Mary, as an actor, managed to balance these two things, making sure the audience still could sympathize with her character while she is doing something horrible.
When Laura had to choose between destroying the Olympic Carrier and saving it, the ultimate decision became her dilemma and she had to live with it for the rest of her life. So Mary made a rule about never losing focus on the dilemma, which allowed her to shape a character that had to make difficult and controversial choices while making people understand why she had ultimately made that particular choice.
On having to play morally dubious situations (for instance airlocking people)
Mary says that she had been very surprised at first and could not understand how her character could airlock someone, but then, as she dug deeper into the story, she understood it was a device in war and it led her to rationalize the act of violence and focus more on her aim of saving humanity.
On setting a line not to cross even if it’d mean the salvation of the human race
After diverting a little from the topic and making an impression of her phone conversation (in character) with Edward James Olmos, Mary replies, and I quote “I think she would have never killed him, Adama”.
On whether she thinks that shooting the series now would be more or less difficult, since Battlestar Galactica started shooting right after 9/11, which set an important thread for the development of it
According to Mary, it would be much more difficult now so much has happened since 2011 and what humanity is going through now is different from what was going on while BSG was being shot, which started from a tragic event and got into a definite narrative to show a potential future built on the hatred of ‘the other’.
On how they managed to keep a light mood on the set through the development of such heavy topics and situations
Mary mentions how funny James Callis is and how she’d hear Tricia laugh every day. Everyone on the cast was actually very casual and funny, which was important to keep the mood high. Both Mary and Tricia share a few stories on giggling on set.
On what Mary thinks is Laura Roslin’s legacy now
In Mary’s opinion, her legacy is about bringing elements like intuition and femininity into the patriarchal power without abandoning it. Laura kept the intuitive as a part of the decision making progress without ever abandoning her feminism believes and her feminine. Up until that point in television history, very few characters showed that femininity and power were not a trade off and that they could exist in the same person at the same time. Laura brought her feminine to power instead of abandoning it. In her career, Mary has come across female characters in a position of power, written as “the guy”, where writers disregarded the fact that a woman would not say, do or think that particular thing in the script, but that did not happen with Ron.
On the people they did not get to work with and wish they did
The character of Laura Roslin was very isolated from the rest of the main cast, for instance Mary would be in L.A. for several week, then quickly go back on set to shoot a few scenes and then go back to L.A., so Mary wishes she had had more time to work with any of her fellow cast members. Tricia agrees with Mary since she had mainly interactions with James Callis.
On which was the thread or the connection that made “All along the watchtower” the signal connecting each season
Mary thinks it was picked by Ron Moore simply because he liked the song and had probably discussed it with Bear McReary who was in charge of the soundtrack.
On a possible connection between Laura Roslin and other powerful female fictional characters in Marvel, DC, Star Wars…
Mary admits not knowing enough about characters from those worlds to answer the question, but knowing a few women from Star Trek, she feels Laura would have connected with some of them.
On making of Battlestar Galactica today with the same scheme and how it would be different than 15 years ago
Mary repeats what she had said before and adds that in a fictional world in which each individual is the hero of their own story, it is important to match it with the idea of inclusiveness and tolerance. Today it would be a greater and more complex job to do.
On transitioning from the mini-series to the series as an actor and keeping the sense of crisis and drama all along
Tricia explains that when they had to transition from a two parter to a whole show, it was up to the crew to make sure that each actor understood the importance and the depth this or that scene had. So they would talk to them a lot prior shooting. Mary also adds that shooting in a very sensitive time (post 9/11), they were already coming out of a trauma as a civilization, so from that personal trauma you learn to move into the narrative through the reality.
On the show having a varied representation of wonderful, powerful and strong female characters who never got to play scenes together and whether this situation was a thing of that time or whether it still continues in their careers
According to Mary, separating women on Battlestar Galactica was not an intentional thing but more trying to inspire a sensation of truth in the world as it evolved. She admits having struggled with that and the fact that Laura Roslin never really had friends, which was explained to her as a side effect of being the President. As the story kept rolling she understood and saw those female characters evolving into isolation and perhaps it was all part of the basic idea of the show.
This was the last question that concluded the panel after which both Marc and Tricia thanked people for coming and SyFy and also Mary for joining them in conversation.