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May 31, 2013

Babylon 5 - Random Memories Twenty Years later

This is what I will remember from Phoenix: sitting on the stage for the Babylon 5 panel, watching the screen with a seemingly endless list of names of our fallen comrades. Names and dates in brackets, coldly and impersonally indicating the year of birth and the year of death, framing finished lives within neat and indifferent parenthesis. It went on and on, mercilessly. When it finally ended, I felt as if a big train had run me over. The panel was supposedly continuing. But I was speechless.

We were all from different worlds, from different universes, brought together by the magnet of Joe Straczinsky's imagination.

I saw Andreas Katsulas for the first time many years before Babylon, in a Peter Brook production, while I was hanging out at Brook's Bouffes du Nord theatre in Paris, playing hookey from my French government grant at the much less interesting Comedie Francaise.

I could have met Billy Mumy in the eighties at the Intercontinental Hotel in Zagreb where he was staying while shooting "Captain America" and where I was diligently swimming at the hotel pool after rehearsals at the Croatian National Theatre conveniently located just around the corner from his hotel.
I could have met Stephen Furst in Zagreb too. He was also shooting there while I was starring in plays by Moliere and G.B.Shaw across the street.

But our paths didn't cross until Joe brought us together in a nondescript old jacuzzi factory in the middle of nowhere, in something called Sun Valley in the City of Angels where I moved from my temporary residence in New York once I got the job on B5.

"How would you like to shoot a series in California?", casually asked the casting director Mary Jo Slater while I was auditioning in New York. How would I like it? I didn't answer so I wouldn't jinx it. I guess my tactic worked.

Michael O'Hare, Goran and I were sitting on the same early morning plane from New York, drinking champagne and eating strawberries, imagining a life of luxury that might await us in California.

Michael rented a red convertible when we came to LA. He wanted to live the fantasy. We, the pessimistic Eastern Europeans, didn't quite dare to fulfill our fantasies. Cautiously, we bought an ancient Toyota and proudly owned the worst car on the B5 lot. I didn't drive and Billy took me home each night after the shoot. Although we were brought up on different continents, we found out that we shared much more than a similar taste in music.

During the pilot when the last remnants of my vanity were crushed by the masculine alien make up I had to wear, it was Andreas who urged me to remember that all acting began with masks in ancient Greece. When I was complaining of being hot under the blazing California sun, it was Andreas who told me to remember the old peasant women in "the old country", covered from head to toe by loads of thick black cloth in the middle of the summer. "The sweat cools you down", he would say and take a long drag from his cigarette between his rubbery G-Kar lips.

I first saw Tim on the stage, while he was doing a crazy monologue as Zathras. I knew immediately that this was a brilliant actor but thought that underneath all that make up was a very old man. When I saw him in the make up trailer afterwards, I gasped: what a young handsome man! We became friends almost instantly. Goran and I invited Tim to dinner. He urged us to make something "from our country". When Tim who was from Texas rang the bell, Goran had his cowboy hat on and served Tim Texas enchiladas: "My country is your country".

I wrote a screenplay. I invited two actors to read the male part with me: Tim and Rick. Rick read beautifully. He understood my writing. He said: "If I had a script like this, I would be all over Sundance trying to do something with it." I never went to Sundance. Without Rick I lost hope. Without Rick there was nobody to nudge me and to tell me: You can do it.

I miss them, the living and the dead. I miss those days of intense work and laughter and camaraderie. We the survivors will not forget.

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