This following Roundtable Q/A conversation with the cast of Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers is the original manuscript of a feature written for Titan Magazine’s Dreamwatch Magazine and published in the March 2002 (Issue #90) in edited form. In the Press section of this website you’ll find an Adobe PDF of the original presentation.
Alex Zahara and Gus Lynch
Meet the Cast of Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers by Frank Garcia
When J. Michael Straczynski got the green light to write and produce Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers “To Live and Die in Starlight” for Sci-Fi Channel, one of his first decisions was that he wanted to hire a fresh-faced, unknown cast in all the important roles. Audiences are given an extra opportunity to accept the actors as their characters and therefore are able to fall “into the universe” with greater ease. With four members of the cast delivering their performances under elaborate prosthetics makeup, the illusion of a fantastic, futuristic universe is cast in a sharper light.
Inspiration to have this following conversation with B5 Legend of the Rangers cast members was borne out of a housewarming party. Actor Alex Zahara had just purchased his first home and he had invited his friends to celebrate the occasion. This sparked the notion of a roundtable chat with the films’ cast. However, “talking shop” and partying was not a good mix. After considerable juggling of everyone’s personal schedules, a separate appointment was quickly set for three days later. Actress Jennie Rebecca Hogan (Nafeel, a Narn), was unable to attend because of an audition. Actor Todd Sandomirsky (Tannier, a Minbari) appeared briefly, but he too, had to leave before the conversation began. And mid-way through the chat, Dean Marshall had to leave for his own audition.
This conversation took place on October 23, 2001 in Vancouver, Canada where the film was shot.
Ultimately, six members of the cast sat down for an entertaining, thoughtful and revealing conversation that graphically displayed the strong bonds forged between the actors as a result of their shared experience in having made this film.
In this roundtable chat the cast introduce themselves, and they discuss their work on the latest chapter of an intergalactic saga that just may be Babylon 5’s second television series spinoff.
To capture all the voices, professional grade audio recording equipment was brought into Zahara’s living room and as four microphones hovered in the air, Dreamwatch snatched every word and all of the laughter.
MEET THE CAST
DREAMWATCH MAGAZINE: I would like to begin with a three-part first question. I’m here to introduce you to a U.K. audience so tell me your name, what role did you play in Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers and then tell me why did you become an actor? Was there a pivotal moment in your life that led you to making a decision to enter this profession?
Warren T. Takeuchi: I’m Warren Takeuchi, my character is Kitaro Sasaki, navigation, communications and translation specialist aboard the Liandra. He’s a very earnest character. He’s intelligent and very good at his job. He’s military but also a cheerleader, as everyone will see when they actually see the movie. He’s a guy that you would feel extremely confident that he would carry out his job properly.
[Being an actor] actually was something that I never aspired to be. Star Wars was actually what got me really interested in the business. I was a huge fan and saw it 13 times when I was about 10 years old.
Directing is actually where I want to go but I thought, ‘Try acting!’ and go from there. It wasn’t a huge dream to become an actor. I just fell into it.
Enid-Raye Adams: My name is Enid-Raye Adams and I play Firell, who is the healer. She’s a Minbari, she doesn't have the finest of bedside manners; and is a bit shy, a bit aloof, and definitely more willing to explore the spiritual side of the need to heal, rather than the physiological.
I actually fought becoming an actor: I did it all throughout elementary school and my mom was an actor and had no money for babysitters, so she took me to rehearsals. I sat there, watching her up on stage, fell in love with it and proceeded to spend the rest of my life deciding against becoming an actor, because you never make any money, and there's no stability in it, and finally in university, every single day I woke up wanting to be something new until I finally said "Screw it, I want to be all those things, I might as well play them.” I’m an actress against my will, dammit!
The reason why I got into acting, I really do believe that it chose me. I think my first performance, I was six years old, me and my brother got up in front of the school and sang ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ in our pajamas. From then on, I never acted again until I was 18 or 19. I always wanted to do it [acting]. I wanted to be a scientist, and failed miserably, so I decided to try it out. Everybody was really disappointed I went into acting
Why I got into acting? I don’t have any other marketable skills!
Bernard Cuffling: I’m Bernard Cuffling and I play [Minbari] Sindell. All I remember was that during the audition there were two characters I went for, and then they decided to combine them into Sindell. I think since two characters became one means I played higher echelon to everyone else.
Alex: He’s the leader of the Grey Council. He does all the Grey Council business.
Bernard: What I loved about it was the power!
How did I get into acting work? I had two very bad vices as a young man in London. I was a gambler and I was an actor, and neither of them paid.
MAKING BABYLON 5 - THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS
Dreamwatch: Who can summarize the Legend of the Rangers’ storyline?
Gus: Well, first of all, there’s this guy named Tirk...
Alex: It's "classic sci-fi.” It opens up a whole new chapter in the Babylon 5 world.
Warren: The Legend of the Rangers story is about the beginning of our careers. It’s truly our story.
Gus: The pilot is a prologue to a huge story. It’s all possible that the audience is going to be left with more questions than answers at the end which is great! You’re going to meet them all for the first time and be thrown into a whirlwind of events. I’m looking forward to it as much as anyone else, to see what things are a red herring, what things are going to come back later and be really significant.
Dreamwatch: What memories do you have of the first day of shooting?
Bernard: I went into makeup and Andreas had been there for an hour, and he looked tremendous with his yellow, and his red eyes, and it put me into total unreality. I was very nervous but when they put the makeup on, it was like I was hiding behind the mask which was great for an actor. I felt very confident.And then I looked in the mirror when they finished, and it was a work of art! The strange thing is that you felt you just couldn’t let them down now! So I felt very confident. But I think it was the mask and I'd never worn makeup like this before. It was fascinating! And the fantasy started to take over.
Gus: I was worried, “So I’m going to be the big guy behind the mask, and the makeup does all the work.” As soon as I got it all on, I worked on it. I went back to my trailer, I looked in the mirror and made my faces and everything reads! It was amazing. When I cocked an eyebrow, you see the eyebrow go up. I grinned, I frowned. It all reads! It was not a hindrance at all! It was a tool and it worked out for the best.
Dreamwatch: What it was like to walk on the set for the first time?
Alex: I walked on stage - not in character, I just went for costume fitting – and the ship wasn’t even finished yet and I was like, “Holy beep!” I just couldn’t believe it! It blew me away, I was like, “This is incredible.” What’s presented onscreen is what we’re gonna get, and that stage, that setting… you put the costume on, you put the makeup on, and you walk on the set, and it’s just like you’re in the womb of creation.
Gus: It’s a lot less filling-in-the-blanks that we had to do as actors, and I can’t tell you how much that helps. If I don’t buy it myself, standing here, how am I gonna sell it to those people?” That was not a concern, as soon as you walk on the bridge of the Liandra. And the bridge layout is something, It’s really cool, it’s a communal table, a communal console that the executive crew sit around so they’re facing each other. I can’t remember the last sci-fi thing I saw where people were looking at each other as they were flying the ship, instead of looking forward at the screen in front of them.
Bernard: When I went on the set, it was very simple, there was a circle of black drapes and grey carpet, and I was in a monk’s robes, and then suddenly, seven of the Minbari appeared and seven shafts of light, and it was so simple, and it was so effective, visually, and certainly as an acting complement, it helped me enormously. I was amazed. It didn’t cost millions, but it looked and felt tremendous.
Dreamwatch: Does anyone have interesting anecdotes about working with Andreas Katsulas?
Alex: We were just sitting on the makeup chairs one day and we’re just talking away, yakety-yak, blah, blah! And I turned to Andreas and said, something about, blah blah, and he said [voice gets quiet], "Actually, if you don't mind, I'm working..." and here we'd just been going on about drivel. Andreas came up afterwards and said, ‘You know, it wasn’t meant to be anything other than just to let you know, I was working.' and I said, ‘Yeah, I know,’ but still I felt like, ‘Oh, shit!’ because he’s got pages of dialogue. Being that long at makeup, you just want to distract yourself, but I took that note from him, to make use of that time. I went into myself and I tell you, I think my performance was better because of it. I spent time going into makeup and staying quiet, usually I was being chatty because I felt so repressed by putting the makeup on and I couldn't move or blink and I was always playing around just to stay mentally and emotionally active. After that, I went inside and seriously I think my performance went up a step or two because of that. I thank him for that. I felt privileged to be with him.
Bernard: I found Andreas very charming, and incredibly supportive. It's easier when you have one or two lines, but when you have speeches, you've got to concentrate, and he would come up to me and just say a few things, and I would say a few things to him. Absolutely charming man.
Enid-Raye: He always called me a big spitfire, because I couldn't be more opposite from my character if I tried: I'm a troublemaker. He just said, "You're a spitfire aren't you, you're always getting yourself into trouble." I didn't get to do many scenes with him, but whenever... remember the one on the bridge? [chorus of approval from the others] Holy dyna! Like, I'm talking as a person who's never watched Babylon 5, at all, and in walks this fellow, and he just makes the scene come to life. He simply walks in and he makes your character be exactly as your character should be under those circumstances. It's amazing to work with an actor like that.
Gus: Best alien actor ever, in the history of sci-fi television! Keep your Spock, keep your Worf, keep all that stuff. G'Kar: Best alien actor.
Dreamwatch: What's it like working with Joe Straczynski?
Alex: Coolest guy I ever worked with in my life. I continue to work with him on "Jeremiah" now [as a guest star]. The most approachable, generous, giving, nice... respectful, all around great guy. He's a guy.
Enid-Raye: He's like this silent force that walks around. For the first couple days of shooting, he was taking pictures, and I'd forgotten what he looked like from the audition, because it had been such a long period of time so I'm watching this guy, and he's taking these photographs, and he came up to me and very quietly said, "I hope you don't mind that I've been taking pictures, I don't want to get in your way." And then he proceeded to share with me a few gems about my audition and how pleased he was about it.
Warren: At the cast read-through, one of the first things he said was that he has an open-door policy for anyone who wants to come up to his office. Joe really means it, he welcomes it. Originally my character's name was Li Chen, which is obviously Chinese, and my background is Japanese, and he was respectful enough to accomodate my ethnicity, to change the character's name to Kitaro Sasaki. He came up to me after the cast read to see if I was okay with the name. Just the fact that he changed it, out of respect... like, thanks Joe.
Enid-Raye: When Myriam [Sirois, as Sarah Cantrell weapons specialist] was up in the harness [Sarah floats in a VR-environment], and she was so sore the next day. She was a trooper up there tirelessly working in her scene, and the next day, Joe brought her a fruit basket. That's the kind of guy he is.
Dreamwatch: What's the most memorable experience from working on this film?
Warren: I'm just honored being around this exceptionally talented group of performers, crew and production.
Enid-Raye: I had not met any of these folks before, and all of a sudden here we were, and from day one it was like I was working at a family reunion with all my favorite cousins. We all hang out together now, months after we finished filming. Dylan and I email, Myriam and I email back and forth. It's amazing.
Aside from the actual filming... when we walked into that convention [NW-B5 Gathering at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC, May 2001], which was a small two or three hundred person convention, I was flabbergasted by the fan response, I was not prepared for that, and I still can't get over it.
Gus: If anybody had any doubts about how much this project meant to so many people, they were all dis-spelled if they came to the Gathering, that hammered it home. And to be able to get a reaction like that while we were working on the thing. I hadn't been online with all the sites and stuff. I watched Babylon 5 at home in my living room, alone, so it had never really been put in perspective. I had never been surrounded by two or three hundred other Babylon 5 fans before, and that was a special feeling.
Dreamwatch: How was the final day of shooting?
Bernard: I did the last day. What says a lot about this was to come into this on the final day with this positive atmosphere, people know exactly what they doing and doing it very very well, with no tension, no frayed nerves or people shouting. You know you've walked into something that's quite amazing. It was like a family reunion. From my knowledge of working in the business, these things don't happen that often. I think it's tremendous. It has such an enormous feel of success about it.
Enid-Raye: A friend of mine, John Murrell, a playwright said to me when I was in college, “You know, what we do is work. Sometimes you gotta pay the bills, and hopefully you get to be better at your craft. This is a job and only one in about every five or so projects is magic.” You define magic in your own way, and it sits with you in your own way, and this one… magic.
Gus: One in five?! I would say one in fifteen.
ON BABYLON 5, THE ORIGINAL SERIES
Dreamwatch: When Legend of the Rangers came up, did anyone here not know anything about Babylon 5?
Enid-Raye: I did not know a thing.
Warren: Me neither!
Gus: I would say I was a fan. I wouldn't qualify myself as a hardcore Babylon 5 fan, but I had seen it.
Enid-Raye: I had never watched it. My folks in Calgary were definitely huge fans of the show. So I called them and said, "I've got an audition for this thing," and they were like, "WHAT?!" and then when I found out several weeks later that I got the part, they were so excited. I called them up, and I mean, unlike every other project I’ve ever done, they’ve always been really supportive, but when this one came up, all of a sudden they were not their age anymore. They were ‘Whooo!’ Minbaris were their favorite characters. Anytime I had any questions, I just called them.
Dean: The rest of us went straight to our computers to do some research.
Alex: I heard there were 30,000 websites worldwide for B5. Joe [Straczynski] told us that and I go looking and yeah, there’s like 30,000.
Gus: It’s funny, a good friend of mine and I, we really get into the sci-fi. We used to joke, ‘Well, some day you’re going to get that weekly gig with Babylon 5 or Farscape or something like that.’ Hopefully, some day, it’s going to happen!
Dreamwatch: Who can give me an interesting analysis on why is Babylon 5 successful?
Gus: It’s sci-fi for fans of the written word. If you look at all the other shows, or just about all the other shows... even the ones that can approach Babylon 5 in terms of quality in special effects and performance. They’re all very episodic. Most sci-fi shows, you watch the cast get into trouble for 45 minutes and then they spend seven minutes getting out of it. Babylon 5 is a much bigger payoff. It’s epic in scale. For me, as a sci-fi fan, this is the science fiction TV show I’ve always been waiting for. It’s a five year arc that required dedication from the fans and you get paid off for it. There’s nothing like it in television. The only other thing I’ve seen that’s like it, discounting soap operas, was a show called Murder One. You followed one case for a season. To me, there’s nothing I like more than 3,000 page of an epic sci-fi or fantasy novel and you get that visualized with Babylon 5.
Alex: The people who tune in, the fans that I’ve met and talked with online, they’re far more literate. They read, are more educated, they appreciate the written word. They’re not “action fans.”
I started taping all the shows on SPACE channel [the Canadian science fiction cable network] Luckily, I got in at the beginning. I watched almost all five years in the last six months! In the proper order! I went away for vacation, and I programmed my VCR to tape the shows. I actually used two machines as a backup. I watched three or four a day. And I loved it! And really, as you say [to Gus] it really pays off!
Gus: Throw in Harlan Ellison as a consultant and you don’t get any better than that in the world of science fiction. Harlan is the best of them!
Bernard: I would say, as a newcomer to this, as Gus and I said about the writing, that as an actor usually when you look at a television script, you get as far as the fifth page and then I just look at my scenes!
Bernard: For me, it was very clever and visual. It was very individual. I didn’t know anything about Babylon 5 and I was fascinated by this and I didn’t need to know Babylon 5. This does stand on its own.
Enid-Raye: I had not seen any of the episodes and I only had the script itself, preparing for the audition. And that is a testament to Joe’s writing that when I went to the audition, I went in with my take on it and he did just that much [tiny] of a tweak, asked me to do it again, and I felt like it propelled me completely into this character.
Alex: I did almost the same thing; I walked in and had my take on it, via the writing. I went in, did my thing, Joe did the little finger-under-the-temple, and then... ‘Cut!’ done, cool. And that was it. He told me later he knew in the first fifteen seconds that I was going to be in it. I thought, ‘Aw, cool!’
Dean: [Joe Straczynski] sees his characters to walk in through the door and he hopes they can act.
Dean: “In the Beginning” was the one that started the whole Babylon 5 story. I’m beginning to watch that one.
Gus: “In the Beginning” is probably the second best Babylon 5 movie ever made.
Alex: I’ll tell you about Peter Jurasik, he looked like someone that just stepped right out of a Chekov play.
Alex Zahara and Gus Lynch
CURRENT PROJECTS AND ... THE FUTURE
Dreamwatch: What are your current projects, and what are your hopes and dreams for your future as an actor?
Warren: I think that’s it, I would feel completely fulfilled taking on my own projects. But as an actor, I like the action, and I love the science fiction; things like The Matrix is really intriguing for me. I try to shy away from the really heavy drama.
Enid-Raye: My goals have always been the same: I just want to be a working actor, making a living at my job, getting to be a better actor as I go along, always finding my way into interesting stories, playing interesting characters. Sometimes there are going to be smaller roles, some will be bigger roles, and I just want to stretch this career well into my 80s and find a way to be a character actor and always do that.
Gus: I just wanna keep working; I mean, the ideal I guess would be to one day get to the point where you have some kind of say or control over what projects you do. The dream is to not have to take every project that comes along, and right now, honestly, I take everything that comes along. I’m a mercenary, I just want to keep working, want to keep it rolling. And I’ve been able to do that. I did an Outer Limits, titled “The Tipping Point,” and I’m in the middle of shooting an episode of Dark Angel.
Enid-Raye: I’ve got Slapshot 2 coming up. I did an episode of Breaking News. I don’t know if and when that will air. And I’m always courting theater, independent theater that pays you maybe $50 for the entire bit, but is so fantastic, you can’t say no to it.
Gus: There’s a whole group of us in the cast that, one of the reasons we’re hoping the series goes is so we can afford to go back to theater in the off-season. I don’t wanna miss a plug opportunity, cuz I didn’t get to tell you everything I’m doing. I’m in that new movie, Suddenly Naked. I’m working on a film version of I Spy with Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy. What else? Most Valuable Primate 2.
Alex: Just working on Jeremiah, a recurring role called Ezekiel, a few auditions going on, nothing else really major. I’m in Beggars and Choosers, it’s on air right now. Couple other things, have a movie coming out with James Spader, called The Stickup, coming out in January, I play a nice supporting role in that as a sheriff’s deputy. Like I said, always want to be a working actor; that was my goal. If I can be a working actor, make my living at and not have to do anything else… hey, I’m a happy man, I’ll be happy the rest of my life… as that continues, not if.
Bernard: I’m going into stage, doing My Fair Lady. I did TV after Legend of the Rangers, and I don’t usually see myself on television, but I really liked it, it was called Everything That Rises. Unfortunately I think they’ve pulled it because I think it’s about a plane crash. I would love to do more television work, because I’ve now got into that vein where I have a lot of respect for television actors. So many stage actors say, “It’s not really acting,” but it damn well is.
Enid-Raye: Every now and then you do, in television, get a really good story where you are not just a day player, but you’re a character who really gets to contribute to the telling of the story. In that sense, that’s every one in five, and in TV, one in multiples higher than five. But you do get them, and if you can tell that story, find the emotion, the depth within yourself and challenge yourself, you’re lucky.
Bernard: I used to have a correspondence with John Gielgud, and he wrote me once and said about movie acting, “It’s so staccato,” as opposed to stage acting which is, you start at eight o’clock and you finish at ten-thirty, and no-one interrupts you, and that’s the joy of stage acting. But he also said, “The great thing about camera acting is, there’s the take: if you get it wrong, you can do it again.” And he had enormous respect for that, and he thinks that’s a great finished product. So I think that for a stage actor, it evens out, that’s why I respect the camera enormously now.
Enid-Raye: And then there’s that other punishing craft, which is not really a craft, but luck of the draw, is stand-up comedy. I’m a sometimes-comic and everytime it gets really dead and slow, I guarantee you, you will find me up stage doing comedy, and the reason for that is because I will have spent a month sitting on my sofa talking out loud to myself, because there’s nothing going on. So it’s feast or famine in TV land.
SCREENING LEGEND OF THE RANGERS AND.. THE FUTURE
Dreamwatch: You had a cast screening of the film; how were the results?
Alex: Warren and Myriam couldn’t be there for the first viewing, and Joe arranged a second screening for them, and I came by so I got to see it a second time, and it was better. It was better because of a couple things, little bits of editing, some extra CGI stuff… it was a better film.
Warren: There was probably only one note from the Sci-Fi Channel…
Gus: More Tirk!
Alex: Your sister [Enid-Raye’s sister] watched the film as well and the story stood alone for her. For a teenage girl, who’s not traditionally a sci-fi fan, Joe asked her on the spot, “Hey, what do you think?” and she said, “Awesome!”
Enid-Raye: See, I drag my sister through a lot of my stuff and she normally is very supportive, and it’s like, you drag a person on the set and the first five minutes its “Wow! Really exciting!” and then “Where’s craft services, I’m bored as hell,” you know? So I took her to the viewing of the movie and at the end of it, Joe asked her what she thought and as a teenager, a young girl who’s into hip-hop, you know and she really liked it. It was really cool and she always enjoyed the characters.
Alex: That’s what I think is the strongest thing. If a 16 year old girl, not a traditional sci-fi fan, enjoyed, enough said.
Dreamwatch: If Legend of the Rangers is picked up as a televisions series, are you preparted to commit?
Gus: It’s more a matter of, can Joe commit to my price.
Bernard: I don’t know whether my character’s going to continue in any more episodes, but the casting agent said to me, “Did they kill you off?” and I said “No,” and she said, “Well then there’s a chance.”
Alex: He’s leader of the Grey Council, he’s coming back, at some point or another.
Enid-Raye: I just hope it goes. It’s been so much fun working on it. As far as the fan base out there had their way, it would go. The movie stands alone, but it would just be wonderful…
Dreamwatch: Thank you very much, I entirely appreciate your time and your memories. Now it’s my job to share this with a British and international audience.
Gus: It’s your job to make sense of all this!
Enid-Raye: Yeah, I don’t envy you going through these tapes, we’re a bunch of chatty Cathy’s…
Special Thanks to Alex Zahara for making this conversation possible and for generously providing the location and to Matt Ion for the audio recording, photography and transcription assist.
Copyright 2002 Frank Garcia