Hail to the Chief: Interview with Aaron Douglas, Battlestar Galactica’s Chief Tyrol

Aaron Douglas, ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol, is not a fan of remakes. If something is really great to begin with, he thinks they should just leave well enough alone. No doubt that sentiment was echoed by many fans of the original version of the 1970s cult science fiction show. But, as Douglas explains to Carole Gordon, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is different. “I don’t think the original ‘Battlestar’ had the run it deserved,” Douglas says. “I certainly don’t think the writers brought the story to fruition. And combined with that they were going to re-imagine it, I thought ‘Okay, it will be different enough; it will be that in name only’.”  Not that he doesn’t understand fans’ concerns about taking such a beloved show and giving it a new, and in some ways controversial, twist. “I was a little bit torn,” he admits. “I understand people’s frustration and anger but, for me, it’s like ‘Lord of the Rings’. ‘Lord of the Rings’ was such an amazing series of books, and really to do them justice the movie needed to be 47 hours long! You just have to see that they are two separate entities along the same theme – let them stand on their own and say that they are both great for their own reasons.”

Douglas attributes the international success of the re-imagined show to the strength of the writing, the excellence of the acting across the board, and the topicality of the show’s storylines. “It hits a lot of themes of what’s going on in the world right now, particularly in the US, and puts a little bit of a spin on them. It reflects what’s taking place and people can identify with that. It’s sci-fi genre, but it’s really a human drama; it just happens to take place on a spaceship or a planet that’s not called Earth.”

Douglas’s character has been in the thick of the action from the start. He has fought the Cylons, fallen in love with one and had nightmares that he was a Cylon. This might not sound much like human drama, but the themes echo those of conflict, relationships and psychological demons that plague characters in most drama, whatever and whenever the setting. “I really like the Chief,” Douglas says with enthusiasm. “If somebody said, ‘Which character would you like to play?’ I would probably pick him. He’s a blue-collar guy who just works really hard, is especially loyal to his friends and family and to his workers. He has his flaws and his foibles but they’re not borne out of any sort of narcissism. He’s not an egomaniac. He’s just doing the best he can and he makes mistakes and pays for them and he’s repentant.” He finds that the character strikes chords with fans of the show too, particularly those in the military. “When I run into military people, a lot of them say, ‘He’s just like a Chief that I’ve served with, or I am serving with’ and they really appreciate the fact that it’s so real. That’s what I really like about him.”

The character’s relationship with Cylon Sharon definitely falls into the category of “mistake”. But is Tyrol really over her? “Yes,” Douglas says, “in that he is able to function and able to see her without it affecting his day-to-day life so much. No, in that I don’t think anyone ever gets over that depth of love and betrayal. I think if he lived another hundred years, he still would have some lingering effects of it. But as time goes on he certainly isn’t dealing with it every day; it’s sort of at the back of his mind now.”

Also at the back of Tyrol’s mind is the fear that he might be a Cylon, a storyline explored in the two-part season two finale ‘Lay Down Your Burdens’. The episode featured veteran actor Dean Stockwell as a priest, Brother Cavil, in whom Tyrol confides his nightmares. Douglas was thrilled to be working with Stockwell.

“I’m sitting there across the table from a guy who’s been doing it for 63 years,” he says. “I was just like, ‘You’ve been doing this since you were a kid!'” Douglas’s talent for mimicry kicks in and he gives a pitch-perfect impersonation of Stockwell’s gravely voice. “‘Yep, seven years old! Seen more than you will ever see!'” Even though Stockwell in his long career has played opposite all the great names in the movie world, Douglas says that he didn’t act the big star – and he came in completely prepared.

“He was the [b]nicest[/b] guy,” Douglas says with admiration. The scenes between Tyrol and Cavil in episode 19 were all shot in one session, but this didn’t faze Stockwell.

“It was twelve, thirteen pages of dialogue and he had it all absolutely down, he was totally ready. I said, ‘So you have been doing this for ever.’ He said, ‘There’s four people on the planet that have been doing this as long as I have and I’m one of the four. There’s me, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Blake.’ I said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good company because two of them are completely insane!’ He laughed and said, ‘Which ones are you talking about?’ It’s amazing – the guy’s just an absolute icon. So, yeah, that was a real treat for me.”

At the end of season two, Tyrol is about to become a father and is helping to settle the new colony – until the Cylons turn up yet again to enslave the colonists. Season three picks up the story a few months later.

Without giving too much away, Douglas says, “We’re just dealing with the Cylon occupation and Tyrol is really a centrepoint for a lot of that story of dealing with the Cylons and trying to get away from oppressive occupiers.”

“This is the best season ever!” is too often the PR refrain going into a new run of any show. Yet Douglas is convinced that, in ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ case, the writing and storylines really are stronger than ever.

“I was saying last year when we were shooting, those of you who liked season one, wait till season two, because it will blow your mind. Season three so far is just unbelievable. The first two scripts I sat down and I couldn’t move. My phone was ringing, people were bugging me and I just completely blocked everything out because I got so involved in reading these first two scripts. It’s ridiculous how good these first two scripts are.”

At this point, Douglas doesn’t know precisely what is planned. But he is confident he can trust the writing team to do right by Tyrol. Well, he trusts them on all but one [b]small[/b] matter.

“I don’t push them, I don’t really bug them. The only thing I ask is ‘You’re not killing me, right? I don’t die do I?’,” he says with a laugh. “I have the promise that I’m not going to die until at least episode 17, after that they won’t tell us anything!”

Douglas considers this role has enabled him to do his best work so far in his career, because of the quality of the storylines he has been given.

“They’ve really given me juicy meaty things to do and they let me ad lib and improve and do all the things that are my strengths so I am fiercely, fiercely proud of this show and my work on this show. It’s really well received and to be a part of it is an honour, so I’m thrilled.”

Douglas also has a small role in the up-coming movie ‘Butterfly on a Wheel’ as a desk sergeant at a police station. He plays a scene with Gerard Butler and Callum Keith Rennie (Cylon Leoben on ‘Battlestar Galactica’), who Douglas refers to as “one of the most talented guys I’ve ever met”.

Aside from occasional movie roles, Douglas likes to spend his time away from ‘Galactica’ travelling, playing hockey and golf or reading. He’s also a big hit on the convention circuit. What does he get out of attending these events?

“Oh, every convention I go to is a real treat,” Douglas says with conviction. “I love going to them. I think I’ve been to England four or five times for conventions. I love meeting the fans, and then sit around and have a beer and talk about the show or talk about life or whatever. They are the neatest people. They are so sweet and warm and welcoming and yeah, it’s an amazing group of people to hang out with. They are all there for a good time and it’s just a good laugh. Ask the people that go to the Wolf events, I’m always the last one out of the bar, so I must be having fun!”

That fun – the result of a life-changing decision – started the day he married his (now ex-) wife. At the wedding reception, he announced that he was quitting his job and going back to acting school. An amazing set of coincidences had come together at that event to present him with an omen.

“Here beside me was my wife, Deborah Kerr, and sitting at the head table, there’s my father, Michael Douglas, and his girlfriend Linda Hamilton, so I said I [b]have[/b] to be an actor! The universe is telling me!”

Sort of his own personal – and very special – remake.

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[img]http://mysite.orange.co.uk/carolegordon/images/1-picture2.jpg[/img]

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Season three of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is due to air on the Sci-Fi Channel in October 2006.

© Carole Gordon 2006

Aaron Douglas: http://www.aarondouglas.biz/

Battlestar Galactica: http://www.scifi.com/battlestar/

CPO Galen Tyrol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galen_Tyrol

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