Jamie Bamber is the English-American actor currently starring as Major Lee "Apollo" Adama in the SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galactica. He's worked steadily as an actor in TV, film and radio in Europe and the US. His notable roles have included Lt. Archie Kennedy in A&E's Horatio Hornblower adventures and Lt. Jack Foley in HBO's Band of Brothers.
Daily Dragon: Welcome to Dragon*Con. Science fiction is used to question the flaws of humanity but through a lens that provides accessibility to people who might not otherwise read or watch stories about race equality, gender equality, religion, or politics. One of Battlestar Galactica's greatest strengths is its fearless comment on all of these aspects of our society. Which aspects resonated most with you?
JB: At its core, [Battlestar Galactica] is a show about civilizations fouling their own beds and chewing up the planets they live on by overextending themselves by developing in ways that are questionable and that lead to their own destruction and the very destructive nature of humanity. Like all life, if put in a Petri dish, we will breed and expand and slowly kill ourselves with our own excretions after a while. And that's exactly what we're doing as a human race on this planet right now; we are pretty well guaranteeing our own destruction, and Battlestar Galactica takes that premise a step further and examines what happens after that.
I think it's a mirror that we hold up to the world. All those things you mentioned-- political situations around the world, wars we fight, enemies we create with our own blinded policies, our own prejudices, I think, the people we deem to be enemies, people we think are less than human--all these things are apparent with my character, with all of the characters have to deal with, each and every one of them. It's a fascinating show. It's bleak, but I believe it holds a truthful mirror up to the situations we face now. We as a human race all are head of this plan; we realize how desperately wrong it's been going for at least the last thirty or forty years.
DD: The downside of science fiction is that it's often categorized as a "marginal" genre. Battlestar Galactica is by far one of the best, if not the best show on television and yet doesn't have the ratings of a more mainstream series like The Sopranos. Do you find it frustrating that some people might not watch the show simply because of the label "science fiction"?
JB: Yes, of course I do. I really believe in the show. I believe in the stories we're telling. I believe that they're great characters, and it's great entertainment, too. So yeah, it's frustrating that we do have that stigma attached to us. The fact that we can call it a genre says it all, really; it's not just people, as a drama, as a series; it has to be characters. I think that's a problem that science fiction has that it will always marginalize itself by calling itself SF. It's unfortunate that we're on the SCIFI channel; we can't even get away from it. We couldn't brand the show as anything else because of the network we're on.
I also think that we're a grown-up show that demands something from the audience. And audiences, by and large, don't want to be demanded anything of. They want escapist entertainment, and that's why movies like Syriana don't do as well as movies like Spiderman 3.
That's the truth. If you're going to make grown-up shows that challenge people, then only a few people are actually going to be appalled.
Sad but true.
DD: Did you find it particularly satisfying this year when the show received Emmy nominations for director and writer, as well as nominations for the more technical sound editing and special effects?
JB: Yeah, I was thrilled that Ron Moore got the credit he deserved [for writing "Occupation/Precipice"]. That was the important one for me. So yeah, absolutely.
DD: Did you read science fiction growing up? Do you have a favorite or remember a book that influenced you?
JB: I loved George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, those amazing writers. 1984 in particular and Brave New World.
They're not books that really fit in the SF genre, they're sort of ... something else. That's the thing about the SF genre--it's always somehow a detriment; sort of condescending to be called SF for some reason.
The books that I read that are SF: I don't really realize they're SF when I pick them up. I realize it after finishing them. But I don't follow the genre.
DD: What are you reading now?
JB: I just finished reading a book called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. It's about American imperialism, sort of corporate imperialism, and the way we manipulate other economies in the name of aid. It's about selfish predatory empires, not only in America but every major civilization.
DD: From the beginning, Lee and Bill Adama have had a strained relationship as father and son. As the series has moved forward, this relationship has evolved organically, with the two growing closer at times and further apart at others. Have you used aspects of your own life, both as a son and more recently now as a father of three daughters, to add depth to the Lee/Bill relationship? Has the Lee/Bill relationship ever caused you to evaluate your own idea of what it means to be a father?
JB: Of course. The Lee/Adama relationship is a really painful one. The joy has been filtered down with so much mud over the years, and so much calamity, that the connection of father-son is lost. Occasionally you get a glimpse of what would have been possible between them. Having kids makes you think about the relationship with your own parents.
I liken the relationship to a Prince Hal/King Henry IV relationship [from Shakespeare's Henry IV], which is a role that I've played. There's a lot to that, too. It's about a son being overshadowed by a very powerful father and seeking his own direction in life, comparing, countering, questioning. It's about growing up.
I don't care how old you are, you're still growing up. We're all growing up, so that's good.
DD: Battlestar Galactica has had some quality directors: Michael Rymer, Robert Young, Edward James Olmos, who's directed two episodes, and Félix Alcalá, who's up for an Emmy for his direction of "Exodus Pt. 2" and directed the upcoming "Razor" set to air in November. What, most notably, have you learned from them?
JB: I've learned a lot from some of them, and nothing from others, I'll be honest. It's a range. Michael Rymer is a dear friend and I've learned an awful lot from Michael about the whole package, about story telling and characters. Eddie is an actor, first and foremost, so working with him is like playing around with a friend. It's lovely to have a friend at the helm who's really there for you, looking out for you. I love working with Eddie. Michael Nankin is, I think, one of our best directors and who doesn't get mentioned enough. And Bob Young. Those would be my favorite ones.
DD: One of the hallmarks of the series is the handheld camera work, producing a documentary-style feel to the production. How does it affect your job as an actor to have the camera operators right in the middle of the action?
JB: The handheld stuff, it's not obtrusive; it's quite the opposite. It just means that you always have to be on your game. There's very little occasions on the show that you're actually off-camera, doing off-camera lines, because the cameras are moving around. So the scenes have a life that's 360 degrees. So there's no down time on Galactica. Very rarely do you get over-the-shoulder set up where you're doing a close-up. There are always some cameras, there's always something going on, and it keeps the show alive. And it means when improvisation happens, when things that aren't scripted happen, they get caught and you can use them.
DD: Does it feel a little more like theatre, it that sense?
JB: It's more like a rehearsal room. It's not like a finished, polished product; it's like a rehearsal room.
DD: The visual effects are another character of the show. If you look back to the miniseries and remember what it was like to sit in a Viper cockpit, delivering your lines in front of a green screen and having to imagine what it was all going to look like, what was your reaction to the full-out battle with Galactica's firing solution sparring with the base ships surrounded by all the small ships fighting one another when you viewed the finished product for the first time?
JB: Like any kid would react who saw himself in Star Wars, having been a fan of it for a while. It was amazing to see what Gary Hudson had managed to do with those flights. Actually, there's a scene where a whole bunch of light Vipers are wiped out because the Cylons interrupt their computer systems. They just sit there, and the way they bounce into each other, the way their jet propulsion is all venting in space, I just thought it looked incredible because I hadn't seen that before. It was just a blast, and I was in the middle of it.
DD: Bear McCreary's music adds another layer of depth to the production, from the driving percussion used for the battle scenes to the Gaelic anthem sound of "Wander My Friends" [from "Hand of God"] to the classical tension of "Passacaglia" [from "Kobol's Last Gleaming," part 1]. And I, for one, was humming, "All Along the Watchtower" for a week after the season three finale aired. Do you have a favorite?
JB: Yeah, "Passacaglia," that played at the end of season one, a sort of Philip Glass motif. That one would be my favorite. Bear's done a great job. Richard Gibbs, as well, who did the miniseries who really came up with the [sound] and Bear's just run with the ball. They can't use contemporary music; they can't use all the catches that most TV shows rely on that ping at your heart strings. They have to come up with new stuff, which doesn't sound like our world, and they did an amazing job.
DD: Katee Sackhoff was originally going to be here at Dragon*Con, so I must ask one Starbuck-related question. Apollo has done everything from beating the crap out of Starbuck to shouting out his love for her, sometimes in the same episode. What's the most fun to shoot?
JB: The combination of the two. And we do it every time; kiss-punch, punch-kiss. It's a crazy relationship, and we've ridden it for three seasons now. And we're in the fourth, and Lord knows where it's gonna go. I'm sort of grateful that the show's wrapping up in the fourth. These relationships are kind of reiterative and I don't want to do them to death, literally. They're all very painful. I think she's beaten the hell out of me more than I've had the chance to beat the hell out of her, to be honest.
DD: Maybe you'll get even in season four.
JB: I doubt it.
DD: At the beginning of season three, you wore a "fat suit" to illustrate Lee's becoming, to quote the Admiral, "soft and weak." How did you react the first time you saw yourself in the makeup? Did it make the performance easier or harder?
JB: Oh, easier; I loved it. It's great, seriously, to change. As an actor, you're constantly trying to change yourself into something else to create something that's different. When you get to that within a character's life span and approach his physicality, which is an indicator of a mental state or something else that's going on, it's a tremendous opportunity. I changed his walk; I changed the way he talks; I was working on everything and it was great. I loved it. It was hard work, but I was thrilled with the results. I really enjoyed it.
DD: Your on-screen roles have seen a steady line of promotion in rank, from lowly midshipman, to fourth and second lieutenants, to captain at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica. In the second season, you were promoted to major, then commander, and with the loss of the Pegasus, you're once more Major Adama. Did it hurt to lose the Pegasus and your first real command?
JB: It was sad, you know. I loved the leader, the commander stories. It was the culmination of that father/son arc where son becomes father and gets to that moment where you realize...
DD: Where he saves the dad, for a change?
JB: Yeah, but also just to realize that it's sustaining. The day you first become a dad, and you think about your own dad, what that felt like when he first became a dad. You realize that you've become the journey that you've been on.
DD: And when you experience those teenage years when you think your dad's a jerk and then all of a sudden you're the dad.
JB: You think, the cycle of life, it's a tragic thing that we don't have the knowledge we do at the beginning that we do at the end. That was all good stuff.
The promotions and the demotions, and I've been through a few demotions on the show as well. It's kind of crazy. I guess I'd better do a series about an admiral who ends up a midshipman; he goes backwards. He just gets bombed down every single time. That would be interesting. [laughs]
DD: One of the most memorable lines of the series is Adama's speech during the decommissioning ceremony in the miniseries. Adama says, "Sooner or later the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore." With this season being the last, and Ron Moore and David Eick stating that Battlestar Galactica will have a proper ending (i.e. no spin-off movies, etc.), how will your life be different when you walk away from this project that you've been a part of for four-plus years? Which co-stars will you miss the most?
JB: Oh, the people: the crew, the cast, the writers. I know I will see the individuals again, but it will be this sense of being part of a team and a family, and you'll know that your lives are different. We'll see each other in a social context in another way. I have no doubt that I will be friends with Ron, David, Eddie, Mary, James Callis, and everyone from the show. But we just won't have that together, which is sad, that that will go.
DD: After Adama's speech, Colonel Tigh's response is, "You are one surprising son-of-a-bitch." This element of surprise has caught me as a viewer on more than one occasion and is a powerhouse component of the series. Do you read each new script in a perpetual state of shock?
JB: When they're good, yeah. When the scripts are not so good, it's a perpetual state of yawn, and it does happen. We go through some repetitive beats on the show, and I guess you have to do that to really define characters as types. But yeah, when the writers are at their best and when the acting is at its best, it's always surprising. That's the time when the show is doing the right thing. There is nothing safe or comfortable in the post-apocalyptic world that Galactica is capering through. It's a very good thing to have read.
DD: The writing for Battlestar Galactica is spectacular, in my opinion, as tight and engaging as television series like Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing, and Joss Whedon's Buffy, Angel and Firefly. Do you think you've been a bit spoiled by the brilliance -- that perhaps you might find it harder to work with similar quality material in another endeavor in your future?
JB: Definitely. I've been spoiled; there's no doubt about that. I see it already. I pick up scripts all the time I've [been] a guest star on TV shows, and nothing comes close to the experience I've had on Galactica. Short of working with Aaron Sorkin, I don't really expect to have any of them top it. I'm a big fan of Aaron Sorkin, and if I get to work with him, I can probably [stop].
DD: In your interview at MegaCon in February 2007 with Joel Cooke, you stated your aspirations to move into writing and producing. Once Battlestar Galactica wraps, will that be one of your immediate goals?
JB: Yeah, absolutely. I've learned so much from watching these writers and producers work. I don't think I'm being too arrogant by thinking that they're not so different from me. I would like to follow in their footsteps and try and come up with the kinds of stories; I'd like to develop material, [and] I'd like to explore every creative avenue that this industry affords. Tell stories to challenge people. I think that's the most important thing for me is to challenge people, to make them think about the world in which we live and the people that we are. And if I can do through story telling.... There's so many other ways of doing it. You can do it in politics, you can do it in journalism, you can do it in painting; you can do it by opening a restaurant and making a point about the world. The career that I'm in, being an actor, telling stories, I would love to explore that from every angle, explore my own abilities
DD: Are you jotting down notes now, for your writing, when you have the opportunity?
JB: Yeah, all the time. I'm reading to write and writing to read.
DD: This is your first Dragon*Con. How do you feel about the atmosphere?
JB: It's amazing; it's huge. [He looks up at the lobby atrium of the Marriott.] I was blown away by the size of these towers. It's like a city, and there's three of them. It feels like I'm in Caprica, actually, with these lifts flying down, the elevator is kind of a capsule on the outside of the inside of the building. It's kind of futuristic in itself. And the people are great. It's been amazing.
DD: Thank you very much for graciously giving of your time with us today, and we hope you enjoy the rest of the convention.
JB: Thank you very much. I'm glad we got to do this.