|The new Battlestar
Galactica brings a completely new Baltar – one who is light years away from
the traitorous villain featured in the original show. British actor James
Callis reveals all to Sharon Gosling.
For decades, he was known as the treacherous human who willingly betrayed his own people to the Cylons. But viewers’ perception of Baltar will radically change with the arrival of the new Battlestar Galactica mini-series.
We’ve gone in a different way with the character,” notes the ‘re-imagined’ Baltar’s real-life alter ego, James Callis. “Baltar in the original was wonderfully portrayed (by the late John Colicos), but he was a pretty creepy guy. He was just a downright baddie. In this one, we’ve gone a different way, which I think gives me some more scope, really. He’s deceived by a Cylon who looks like a human being (Number Six), so I get to play things as if on some level it’s not Baltar’s fault. You can’t blame the man for falling in love with this drop-dead-gorgeous woman!
“I don’t believe anybody is born bad, and I certainly don’t think Baltar was born bad,” he continues. “He just made a dreadful, dreadful mistake. He doesn’t want to be involved in the wrong, but is. And it’s one of those vicious circles, because it’s something he can never really escape. I’d like to keep you guessing so that you don’t know exactly what he’s going to do next.”
THE RISE AND FALL
Baltar’s relationship with the Cylons and his motivations aren’t the only things that are different in the new Battlestar Galactica. The character’s background and subsequent development have also been radically reworked for the mini-series.
“At the beginning, he’s doing very well,” explains Callis. “He’s a celebrated scientist, he’s won many awards and he lives a sybaritic (hedonistic) kind of lifestyle. You see him being interviewed, talking about how he wants to carry on looking into artificial intelligence, and learn that there’s been a ban on researching that because of the Cylon Wars. It’s fun to be Gaius Baltar, with his rock-star life and all of that stuff. He’s a bit like one of those men who looked at the Titanic before it set off and said it was absolutely unsinkable!
He has a huge learning curve to go through, because suddenly the fate of the planet is his fault. He’s implicated in mass genocide. And on one level, maybe he did know something was wrong, but he didn’t know the implications.
“Personally, I think he had no idea. It’s his sexual folly that has brought him to this place.”
After his ‘sexual folly’ has given Number Six access to vital information about the Colonies’ defense systems, Baltar discovers he has an additional problem. He is haunted by strange visions of Number Six, which he later learns are being generated by a Cylon device implanted in his mind.
“She becomes a chip in my head,” reveals Callis. “I’m really the only one who can see her, so I think that I’m going mad. In some respects, I suppose I am!”
Both Baltar’s attempts to keep his role in the downfall of the Colonies and his visions of Number Six a secret put the scientist in an awkward position once he boards the Galactica, as Callis explains. “He’s rather hamstrung. On one hand he wants to help, but on the other hand he can’t tell anybody the information he knows. Otherwise they’ll find out that in some way he’s been traitorous. So he has to keep his cards very close to his chest. And the closer you keep your cards to your chest, the more you can get paranoid, because you can’t tell anybody else how you feel, and so the more numb you become. It’s the most dreadful thing in the world.
“I think from there you get to the point where somebody trying to be in control of the situation will do almost anything to survive.”
While the Baltar of the original series loyally served the Cylons, Callis feels that his character has no such allegiances to the metal menaces. “He’s not on the Cylon side at all,” states Callis. “There are very few people as human as Gaius Baltar, because he’s just trying to survive and that’s it. Surviving means getting out of the Cylons’ way. The fact that he’s been having a relationship and he’s now got a chip in his head and Number Six is appearing to him – there’s not a lot he can do about that! He’s just looking out for himself. In some big way, he’d like to be on the goodies’ side.
“He’s just the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he’s desperately compromised. So whenever he wants to be good, he can’t be as good as he should be, because there are some things that he’d have to say that would give him away. So he’s caught in a groove of his own.”
RAISING THE STAKES
A rising British actor whose credits include Bridget Jones’s Diary, Jason and the Argonauts, Victoria and Albert, Soldier, Soldier and a guest appearance in Relic Hunter, Callis first encountered the original Battlestar Galactica as a young boy. “I was about nine,” he recalls. “I very much enjoyed it when I was younger. I remember the theme tune and I remember all the characters, so it obviously made some kind of impact!”
Despite his familiarity with the original series, Callis was attracted to the remake by the chance to play a more unpredictable and surprising version of Baltar and be a part of a project that, he feels, viewers will connect with even more than the original.
“The stakes are now a lot higher. It’s going on in front of your eyes. It’s not a documentary, but the way that it’s shot, you will be mesmerized by it,” he explains. “What we’re trying to do is make it more real. The world has changed so much since the 1970s, since that version of Battlestar Galactica came out. Our whole worldview is different. Untold tragedies have been shown on the media – we’re all involved now. In a moment you can see it on the news, and you’re part of it. We’re all kind of implicated. And I think the gravitas of understanding that there are things within the universe that are so destructive is worrying.
“One of the things we have as humans is a form of compassion for each other. Even the youngest of us feel for other people – we feel people’s pain and we feel their happiness. In this mini-series, we’re about to be wiped out of existence. So I think that there’s a lot of people who’d be watching this and thinking, ‘I wonder what I would do if I were in their situation? How wonderful that so-and-so has expressed a form of compassion when they’ve got so much else on their mind! How great that somebody can give another human being some warmth!’ So I think it’s a revealing look into our psyche.”
James Callis’ excitement over what viewers can expect from the new Battlestar Galactica mini-series is matched only by the fun he’s had working on the project.
“I enjoyed the whole process,” he declares. “I enjoyed being in Vancouver, which is very beautiful. I haven’t been in Canada before. And I think that any actor would be very happy to act with Tricia (Helfer, Number Six). She’s magnificent! I looked forward to doing every scene with her, and I suppose my favorite scene that I’ve shot is the one where I’m caught in bed with another woman. I thought it was funny, the idea of being caught out like that and having to lie through your back teeth.
“It’s exciting because these kind of elements are not in every sci-fi show, and that makes it different.”
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