Friday, January 22, 2010

"Caprica" is No "Galactica"

Tonight is the much-anticipated pilot of "Caprica," the "Battlestar Galactica" prequel that tells the back-story of the creation of the first cylons. But don’t expect another dark, post-apocalyptic, spaceship adventure. "Caprica" is more like "Dynasty" gone super high-tech (and without the '80s cheese). The series follows two families — the Graystones, who are pioneering major technological advances and the Adamas, helmed by Joseph, a lawyer with underworld ties and the dad to "Battlestar's" future commander.

In a somewhat unusual marketing plan, the pilot has been available in advance of tonight's TV airing, through,, and other online outlets. So we joined the legions and jumped the premiere gun with a sneak peak. If you missed it in cyberspace, the TV premiere of the extended pilot is tonight, January 22 at 9:00 pm on Syfy.

The plot drew us in from the first hologram-induced scene, and the fact that it stars Eric Stoltz doesn't hurt. As if our DVR's weren't working hard enough, now we have another show to add to the ever-growing recording list. We spoke with series Executive Producer David Eick (from the team behind "BSG") and one of the series' stars, Paula Malcomson, who plays Stoltz's wife.

Here's what they have to say about why this show is different from "Battlestar," playing an unsympathetic character, and gaining a female audience for a sci-fi show.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about making a show and the intention to make the show different from "Battlestar Galactica."

DAVID: I think we're very intently committed to the idea that this show stand on its own, that it not in any way feel like an echo or a descendent or an extension of "Battlestar Galactica." You'll note that the title is not "Battle Galactica Caprica" it is simply "Caprica." And the relationship that it has to "Battlestar" is purely inconsequential. It's kind of in an Easter egg sense fun for the fans and audience that followed "Battlestar Galactica" but if you never saw a lick of that show it will have no impact on your ability to really get involved in and relate to the characters and the drama we're doing on this show.

Q: David, in "Caprica" you're dealing with a lot of the same themes that recurred through "Battlestar" — religion versus science, faith versus knowledge. When is violence right? And who or what constitutes a terrorist? How do you translate these themes from the microcosm of "BSG" to the macrocosm of twelve colonies from a dozen planets?

PAULA: I'm really glad this question is to David Eick and not (David Milch), we'd be here for about a week. My God.

DAVID: Exactly because my answer is, "Huh?" I don't know. No, I’m kidding. It's really simple. Nothing is different. Which is to say whether you're telling a story in the realm of a combat-rattled spacecraft where everyone is battle weary and desperately hoping to survive or in an environment like "Caprica" where we're in a much more terrestrial world that feels more accessible and is perhaps more vast and expansive. The focus on the story is still all about character. And so whether the theme in question happens to be what kind of moral values are necessary for technological advancement or to use your example what is the nature of the human soul. Those themes still get explored on a very pointed specific point of view level in terms of those themes coming from character.

And character is always where we start our story. And like "Battlestar" I would say "Caprica " is not terribly plot-driven. There are wonderful yarns and threads wrapping around episodes and through episodes but ultimately I think the audience for "The Sopranos," for "Mad Men," for "Grey's Anatomy," for "The Shield," and "The Wire" and the kinds of shows that really are about delving into character are going to be the audience for "Caprica."

Q: David, how much impact did female viewership play in not setting the series in space or relying heavily on space scenes?

DAVID: Most of the people I spoke to about "Battlestar" in terms of the fan base were women so the empirical demographic breakdown of the audience is something that I just choose to keep at bay and not pay a lot of attention to. So I never really think in terms of gearing a show towards a particular audience. In sort of general terms, do I recognize that fact that perhaps a female audience might be more inclined to watch something that deals in story from a sort of soap operatic kind of melodramatic terms and without the accompanying visual sort of ghetto and spaceships and outer space? Sure.

It might have more accessibility to a female audience just because of that generalization. But I don't know, I mean, and certainly that was never a motivation for not setting the show in space. The motivation to not set the show in space was to make it as different and unique from "Battlestar" as possible.

Q: Obviously with "Battlestar Galactica" there are going to be a lot of fans that will more than likely watch the show. How do you feel the show will draw viewers in that are not so familiar with "Battlestar?"

DAVID: Well as most people who know me might say I'm certainly not beyond arguing with my network and we have spirited debates and discussions about all aspects of the creative process. But one particular area in which I completely genuflect and am in complete awe of what they're able to pull off is in publicity and marketing. I think they're the best in the business. And so the real answer to your first question is a marketing answer — which is you draw viewers to the show by making people aware of it by your marketing muscle and by the kinds of things we're doing right now. And so I've never been anything but completely confident and absolutely relieved to have the team that we've got at the network in those categories.

I think the question about how do you keep them once you get them there has to be to make the show rich and compelling and to measure up to what we often, I hope, achieved with "Battlestar" just from a qualitative standpoint but without the baggage and without having the audience feel like any heavy lifting is involved from the standpoint of knowing or understanding or being a fan of "Battlestar Galactica." And so the answer is hopefully we're telling great stories really, really well and that's the thing that's going to keep the audience. But in no way are we relying on the "Battlestar" faithful to support the show.

Q: When you did "BSG" you guys talked about how the plot evolved organically instead of having everything mapped out in a direct direction. Based on your experience there have you changed that? And if not, why have you stuck with this mentality?

DAVID: Yes, you're talking about the mentality of, "screw planning let's make it all go along?" Yeah that's just called laziness. There's no mystery to that. Actually I will tell you, Ron Moore and I had a number of discussions about this very early on.

We had come from very different backgrounds in terms of how writers' rooms are run. On "Star Trek"… presumably the outline process takes place in the room; it's very precise, very detailed. There's not a lot of jazz or improvisation invited or tolerated. And it's just kind of an almost military-like environment.

That's not to say that the work is any less good it's just that it was run with that level of discipline and structured parameters. On shows that I worked on — I worked a lot with Shaun Cassidy — I've worked with other writers and producers in a variety of different capacities and there was a much looser environment where young writers were encouraged to come up with stuff and contribute and you might throw stuff out in this season. And of course, you might somehow find something brilliant. The downside is sometimes you can't find your ass with both hands and you have an episode that doesn't work.

And so I think we really wanted to sort of combine the best of both of those environments. And when it came to how the writers' room is run on "Battlestar" and then later "Caprica" which was to have a structure, have a large picture plan usually concocted over a few scotches between me and Ron in the off season.

And that would be delivered to the writing staff and then everyone was encouraged to improvise and add and subtract and change and go crazy and just sort of create an environment where there are no bad ideas. And then if we lost our way we'd circle back. So it really is a combination of running a tight ship and yet really allowing for a lot of improvisation and changes on the fly purely with the intent of having the best ideas.

PAULA: That's also applied on set with the actors as well. It's really happened there also in terms of being able to kind of loosely deal with the script so when a surprise or something interesting comes up we've had the luxury to be able to follow that instinct. Like the other day I had a scene where I just decided for the good of the show it would be an excellent idea to slap Eric Stoltz. And so I did — for the good of the show, certainly.

DAVID: Of course, that's for the good of the show.

PAULA: It's really the only way to work as far as I'm concerned otherwise there are no surprises. I think one of the directors said to me the other day, "I never know what you're going to do." And I said, "No, neither do I." And there's just something amazing and beautiful about that. And hopefully it works.

Q: Paula, it seems like your character has a lot of really tough moments to play. And she makes a lot of choices that might make her unsympathetic in the eyes of a lot of viewers. How did you struggle with portraying that?

PAULA: It's definitely something that occurs to you in the back of your mind but as an actor you have to sort of set aside your own judgments in terms of whether the character is good or bad necessarily as I think being a good actor is sort of understanding the complexity of the human psyche and also knowing that we are none of us perfect.

But, yes, it was tough and I did think particularly that men would find perhaps this character unsympathetic. And I just tried to tap into the loss and the pain and the fact that she has made mistakes and go from there.

DAVID: Yeah, I would also add that I don't think in the sort of canon of this show or shows like it there's a tremendous amount of concern for what I would call old-fashioned television tropes — like sympathetic characters. I think audiences want challenging characters and characters who are neither black or white but are somewhere in the middle that they're morally gray and that they're going to challenge the audience's expectation in every way.

I think the character that Paula plays and one of the reasons that she plays it so well is that you're never quite sure what to expect from her. And there are times when you expect her to maybe lose her shit when she completely holds it together and vice versa. And I think that's human and real and that's part of what I think is the hallmark of the show.

Q: Paula, we all loved you, not just in these first three episodes of "Caprica" so far but of course "Deadwood" as well. Outside of the fact that you're probably spending more time on a soundstage, how is this experience with "Caprica" different from "Deadwood" for you?

PAULA: Oh God, in a million ways. And we're not spending so much time on a soundstage believe it or not. This show is very heavy in locations. Last week were in the middle of a forest on horses with fires lit shooting in the middle of the night. And that's not uncommon. It's sort of been an incredible odyssey this show.

What made ["Deadwood"] an easier show in a lot of ways was we were contained to one set, the writers, the producers, everyone was there on a ranch working together. And this has been more spread out so there's obvious challenges.

This is a longer run, too. I've never done a series of as many episodes. We had twelve and I think it's interesting to have to find a second wind and a third wind. But what that serves to do is just creates deeper and deeper characters.

You approach the work in the same way always. And in a lot of ways there's been a lot of freedom here to feel as though almost anything is possible on this show. Like if we take a turn somewhere we can end up going down another road. It's been quite an organic process and as was "Deadwood" obviously. I think that was really one of the signatures of that show is that it felt like a living organism and this does too in a lot of ways.

Q: Paula, what it is about the role that you found really challenging?

PAULA: It was a very strong pilot. I knew that these guys write very well for women. And this was a role that I didn't know how to play so I wanted to do it. I really didn't know. I sort of had to be talked into it because I thought it was so far from me in certainly superficial ways. But when you really get down to the work it's kind of amazing how much you do find in everyone and in the human experience. What we have in common and what connects us. So it's always an interesting thing to do to take on a new role because it's going to reveal to you levels of yourself that you weren't aware of. It's kind of frightening.

Q: Paula, could tell us a little bit about how you first became involved in "Caprica" and maybe about your audition process?

PAULA: Yeah, I met with Jeffrey Reiner who was directing the pilot. And I hit it off with him certainly. He's very smart, he's incredibly well schooled in film, a huge film buff. And he just seems like the kind of director I wanted to work with. So it was first of all responding to the material, then meeting Reiner. I auditioned for Sister Clarice initially and Reiner wanted to see me play Amanda. I was trepidatious about that because I didn't know if I could play her. And I was frightened of it. And I realized that was a really good thing. And then I met David and Ron and everybody else involved and then I think I was the first person cast and then Esai and then Eric and I was delighted with the men that I would be accompanied by and then Polly.

Q: David, looking now with the first season of the show almost wrapped what have you enjoyed most so far about bringing the "Caprica" story to life?

DAVID: Well the biggest and most pleasant surprise was the one that we didn't allow ourselves to dream could happen which was to get as lucky as we were able to get with this ensemble. That phrase about "you're only as strong as your weakest link" really applies when you're dealing with an ensemble cast. And to have such strength across the boards from established and well-recognized actors like Paula and Polly Walker, Esai and Eric, combined with some real newcomers, some people who are going to be brand new to an American audience and to have them hold their own. And then to discover brand new talent like Sasha Roiz who plays Sam Adama, Joseph's brother, who in almost no time we were able to start building episodes around him because he was a strong discovery. Those are the things that you can't plan for you just have to hope.

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