What’s it like to listen to Aaron Douglas (best known as “Chief” from Battlestar Galactica) chat with fans and tell stories for nearly an hour? Well, keep reading to find out!
This past weekend I attended SC Comicon in my [current] home city of Greenville, South Carolina. This convention has been around for several years, and it has grown exponentially since its inception – which is awesome, because I really love having a good convention “in my backyard”, so to speak. Each year they’ve had a decent number of guests, including zombies from The Walking Dead and plenty of comic artists, writers, etc. This year, however, I was extremely excited to see that Aaron Douglas was on the guest list, and I was hoping for the chance to meet him and maybe get a selfie (in my Starbuck costume, of course).
But as I was sharing a booth with my friend Tyffani Kemp, a fellow author who runs Side Street Cookie Publishing, and wanted to be at said booth for most of the partial days I was able to attend SC Comicon. Which meant that in the end I was only able to carve out time to attend Aaron Douglas’ panel on Sunday afternoon, though as it turned out I was actually very happy that I used my little bit of free time to attend the panel, because it was absolutely awesome. Most of the questions came from audience members (I asked one myself). There were some great ones, and Aaron’s answers and enthusiasm made this one of the more enjoyable panels I’ve ever attended.
First we played a little “which BSG character would you most want to have a drink with” game that included pitting the characters against each other in imaginary drinking contests. Not surprisingly (considering Aaron was running the panel), Chief won, though Colonel Tigh did take second place. I still have my doubts that Tigh could actually outdrink Starbuck, but it would certainly be a close call either way, I suppose.
Following is a transcript of what I believe were the highlights of SC Comicon’s Aaron Douglas panel! (Please note that some answers have been truncated to keep this article at a reasonable length.)
Question: What was the most difficult stunt you were ever in?
Aaron: The most difficult stunt? Well I’m kind of a chubby guy so they don’t let me do too much. […] Flash had a stunt they wouldn’t let me do where…Flash hammers into [The Turtle], they wouldn’t let me do that. And I was like ‘Come on! Really?’ and then I watched it and I was like ‘Oh! Yeah! No, Dave’s got that. Come on, Dave!’ because they put him on this huge…lever thing that is attached to his back. And he stands there and then they activate this machine that tightens this cable and it pulls him back 25 feet into a wall and like…What the heck is that?
In Battlestar we had that [scene] where Chief has that dream and he gets up on the railing and he jumps down below. They wouldn’t let me do the high jump, they wouldn’t let me do the high fall […] Insurance […] And they were like ‘Come down’. And I was like ‘But there’s a big airbag right there. It is right there.’ […] ‘No, no, you can’t.’ […] ‘Just turn the camera on. If it work’s it’ll be awesome!’
The fun stuff is like the fight scenes and stuff. The fight scene where it is Chief and Helo beating each other? In real life Tahmoh Penikett is a tough man. He is big and strong and MMA trained and he is tough. So, when you get somebody like that and he just goes ‘Go for it’ and I was like ‘All right big boy here we go.’ […]
And the boxing episode with Eddy. We had a guy…[who] developed a system where he numbered the punches. So…a jab was a one, a straight right was a two, and then there was a three and so on. And he would yell ‘Aaron, one, one, two,’ and I would know where to go and Eddy would know to dodge […] But then he leans in and I smoked him and his head goes back and I’m like ‘Ah!’ and he looks down and his eyes are closed and then he looks up and he opens his eyes and it’s like Fire Devil Mexican Dog and he is on the warpath and I’m like ‘Cut! Somebody yell cut!’ […] So, for the rest of the day we beat each other. There were couple of things where I punched him and he goes down and then I come over and he sucker punches me in the gut and then he stands up and punches me in the ear and I fall down. Take after take I kept falling down and in one take I went ‘You know what? I’m not going to go down’. Eddy must’ve read my mind because instead of missing me he punched me in the ear and I was like ‘what was that?’
So, towards the end of the fight where he’s in the corner and I’m wailing on his body, half of the blood was makeup and half of it was blood. But we beat each other. It was so much fun. I was sore for days.
Q: The writers of the show, they didn’t let you know you were in the final five. Did you talk to them about that? How you felt?
Aaron: Yeah! Because they kill people so much. You get the script and you flip it over and you go from the back. You look for yourself and you go ‘Yes! I’m alive’. But then they wouldn’t tell us anything because they didn’t want spoilers getting out. This is sort of like the infancy of the web, and blogs, and social media. Like you couldn’t keep a secret like that now. So, they didn’t tell us until the day before we started shooting that episode. But I knew. That was December. We were shooting that episode, every week we would get-together on the weekend, cast, writers, directors, whoever’s in town and we’d go to somebody’s house and have a potluck. Everybody brings a bunch of food and we’d stay up till five in the morning drinking seventeen bottles of wine […] So [one time] I went…and I see these papers lying around. We were shooting at that time, episode twelve. ‘Oh! These are outlines for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty of season three’, and then I get to episode nineteen and so, I kind of see what it is about, grab the sheet and go into the bathroom. I must’ve been in there for a while.
And I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t flush them because then he would know. So, I did what any 10 year old would do [and stuffed them under my shirt]…I open the door. ‘Hey! What’s going on? What’s under your shirt?’ and then I remembered that it happened exactly the same way with my Dad. ‘What have you got under there? Aaron, you’re not supposed to read these.’ […] ‘How much do you know?’…Nothing!…and so he says that I can’t tell anybody. So, from September to December I couldn’t tell a soul […] Finally the day happened and I’m sitting in the read through just waiting for them to give us the extra pages and I was like ‘I knew it!’ and Hogan’s like ‘You knew? Why didn’t you say anything?’
And I [called and asked Ron Moore] ‘What are you doing? You’re taking this character that fans love and turning him into this thing that they don’t and I just don’t get it.’ And then he talked to me for ninety minutes. He talked me off the ledge […] And he was absolutely correct. So, that’s how I found out about [it]… But then it was like ‘Who’s the last one?’ and none of us knew […] And we were like why is Kate back? Are we doing a flashback thing? And then we found out and that was really cool.
Q: What was your favorite episode to actually film?
Aaron: I really liked the Blackbird episode because I finally got to do something with Mary. And we shot that in chronological order and I remember them saying to go to the construction shop because they’re making you a Blackbird. So, in the beginning of the show it is just a frame and then it has this and then it finally has everything but the skin, and then they had the last one with the skin. So, I walk in the construction shop which was much larger than this room and it was like five Blackbirds in a row […] And at the end of that episode getting to finally stand there and have a conversation with Marry, who is just an unbelievable human being and an amazing actress […]
Tara: You’ve been on iZombie and X-Files recently, and I think a couple of other shows…what’s been your like favorite guest spot on these TV shows? Because you’re kind of awful on iZombie and I was like ‘No!’
Aaron: That was fun! I don’t often get to do that kind of stuff but that was a lot of fun. I could hear the producers and the director giggling from […] And then they come in and I go ‘Did do good?’ and they’d be like ‘Go again. Just do it’…there’s this sports radio show […] And there’s this one guy on the radio who is basically that guy so, it was really easy. I was like ‘I’m just going to be Dave Pratt and I’m going to do this while filming this thing.’
Once Upon a Time was a lot of fun, other than being in the makeup chair for three and a half hours. The Flash was great. That’s [a really well-oiled machine] and that cast is really sweet and the crew is really sweet. It is nice to jump onto someone else’s show because the train is flying and you just have to jump on the car and instantly get going with them. When it is your show you’re kind of laid back and wandering around… Sometimes you have TV shows that are very welcoming and other times it is just like they don’t care that you’re there. That was X-Files. They just didn’t care I was there […] And I did a pilot for Bravo last year called ‘My so-called Wife’ which is Paul Adelstein, the super handsome guy from Girlfriends Guide to Divorce…he pitched his own show. So, him and Adam Brooks created this thing called My So-Called Wife and it just got picked up to go to series last week. So we start shooting in May or June, I hope. As long as I don’t get recast. That was a lot of fun.
The Strain was good in that they just let me do whatever I wanted to do. And I just took the script and said what I wanted to say. But it was 27 below outside at night and I was wearing a suit and it was gross. I was so cold.
Q: Are you kind of bummed that the door has been closed on The Flash?
Aaron: But has it?
Q: Because Turtle is one of my favorite villains from The Flash.
Aaron: You just need to write to them and say bring Turtle back […] Yes, absolutely I would love to come back […] The Fendrake character from Once Upon a Time may or may not come back. I’ve got a house to pay for.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Aaron: My Mom says that when I was really little I would say I wanted to be an actor. But I always thought I wanted to be a lawyer. So, my whole path in high school was to be a lawyer. […] I wouldn’t be a very good lawyer. ‘What do you mean I have to sit here for sixteen hours and write things and read?’ […] When I was ten years old, we were visiting friends somewhere, and they sat down to watch the Al Pacino movie ‘And Justice For All’ and I snuck down to the stairs and watched it…They didn’t know I was there. And I thought that’s what lawyers do. And I was like ‘I want to be a lawyer’…No, you want to be a lawyer on TV. That’s what it is. I finished high school. I was a floor layer for four or five years. Then I started working for a sports nutrition company because my background is [in] sports. And then I started talking to a guy. I was doing his diet at this gym and I asked him what [he did] and he said he was an actor […] It wasn’t until I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight I started to go to a scene study class and in one of the sessions the teacher, who was also the artistic director of this thing, took me aside and said I was really good and [had I] ever thought about doing it as a career […] This is William B. Davis. He’s the Smoking Man on X-Files, and he set up his own school. And he said, ‘We have a full-time program. I’ll hold you a spot if you want.’ I talked to my wife at the time and quit my job. Got a job at a restaurant…And that was that. By the end of the year I had an agent and started booking stuff right away. I came into the game this late but got up to speed.
Q: How it is different voice acting on Watch Dogs?
Aaron: [It’s] motion capture and voice over. When they do motion capture they put you in this giant leotard and this body does not look good in a giant leotard. And where you have a bend they have these balls that glow, just a little smaller than a Ping-Pong ball… And they have these forty-eight infrared cameras that go all the way [around the room]… And it is just constantly recording you. You have a helmet with this little thing, the size of a silver dollar, and it has twenty-four infrared cameras on it that map your face. It’s just like acting. You’re doing the same thing on set but they don’t shoot a master and close-ups and you don’t have to do it over and over again because the cameras are getting you from every angle […] We did that in Montreal and it was four years of going back and doing a couple of days and going home and then going back […] We’re waiting for the next one. They’re doing a Watch Dogs 2, and that character Jordi, they’re talking about him having his own game.
Q: Are you writing [and starring in] a project called Infrared?
Aaron: Yeah I wrote it. I’m not going to star-star in it. I’m just giving myself a small role.
Q: What can you tell us about it?
Aaron: It is a story about eight high school buddies, in their late thirties, and every year they go off into the woods and do a two week hunting trip. And this particular year four of them get there early and two of them get there the next day, and the other two on the next day. But when the two on the second day arrive [the first four] guys are gone and they go looking for them and they go down the trails where they have infrared cameras set up and they’re looking at the cameras and realize that something very bad has happened to the four friends. And then something very bad tries to happen to these two and then it goes on. It’s like the Predator meets The Grey. That’s how I kind of explain it. It is a bunch of dudes being dudes […] Yeah I’m really looking forward to it. I had optioned it to a studio in Los Angeles that wanted to make it but they had some really weird ideas about casting that I didn’t like. So now it has reverted back to me and I’m just going to bring it back home and I’m just going to stunt cast it with a bunch of Syfy guys. So, I’m hoping to get myself and maybe Tahmoh […] Recognizable faces from different shows, because I think fans would get a kick out of that.
Q: Have you ever voiced for other shows or video games, just like voice acting?
Aaron: I have but I honestly don’t remember the names of [all of] them. That’s how much of a gamer I am. Yeah, it is on my IMDB page. And people are like ‘I saw you in this,’ and I’m like ‘I wasn’t in that,’ and then I go oh! Yes, I was. What is wrong? I’m losing entire pieces of my history!
Q: [Back to Battlestar Galactica]…the original miniseries. They were impressed by your acting and then they expanded [your role] for the main series, right?
Aaron: Yeah! The Chief really didn’t have much to do in the miniseries in the script. But then we have these scenes where I’m on the hanger deck bossing people around but I don’t have any dialogue. So, I just got up there and started yelling at people. Telling people to pick that up and move it over there. And the producers are going like what is happening and the script supervisor is like ‘He doesn’t have any words. What is he doing?’ But David said this is great […] What really sold it was that scene in the mini-series where [the Admiral]…makes an announcement and I’m supposed to say something and David Eick goes ‘What would you say here? You need to say something.’ And I did and from there on David said ‘I love you. You are my go-to guy. Say that again.’ So, yeah a lot of my stuff was ad-lib. And apparently Chief was supposed to die like early season one […] And they just let me keep talking.
Q: I was wondering with your writing, novels and screenplays, how are you structuring it? If ad-lib is something you’re fond of how are you, are you doing structured scripts? Or are you kind of laid back?
Aaron: I would always let the actors have fun if they can. They’re some actors who don’t ad-lib, that can’t ad-lib, and then there are actors who ad-lib way too much ::coughs:: James Callis ::coughs:: But if you hire the right people and they’re really good at getting the point across and putting it into your own words…say what you need to say. If it’s a word or phrase that alludes to something coming up, or a throwback to something, I would go ‘I just need this line but you can mash around everything around it […].’
Q: If you could play any character what character would it be?
Aaron: I would love to do a period war film, a World War II film […] A Hugh Hefner story […] I don’t know […] Maybe Game of Thrones would be good, but not in the winter [place]. Something that films down in Italy. I can be Littlefinger’s extra hairy cousin!
Q: When you were doing Chief it was almost like you had a familiarity with military background and stuff, was that in your family somewhere?
Aaron: No, my grandfather fought in the Second World War but he never talked about it. I’m from Canada so I think the East Coast Army has the gun right now […] I’m a big history buff and a big war history buff. So, I understand systems and ranks. But we had technical advisor, a retired US Army Ranger […] He took us on a boot camp. Three days and he put the enlisted over here and the officers over here and he made us march and do all this stuff, an obstacle course, and ‘this is how you stand and this is how you walk’. When we were on set he would come up and say ‘You wouldn’t wear it like that…’ We wanted to make it right. The whole thing was about getting it right. I asked questions and questions to get it right. I called Ron one time, where in Season two [we were on Kobol] and [Racetrack is] telling the Chief to do something and the Chief is like ‘No, no, no’ and she finally steps up to him and goes ‘Yes, sir,’ and salutes him and walks away… I said, ‘But wait, I think [I’d be] mad enough not to salute [me] there,’ and Ron’s like ‘No, no. It is called the F-you salute.’ You’re out in the middle of everything, and the bad guys are watching. Whoever gets saluted is the highest-ranking guy. You don’t want to be saluted when they are trying to pick out who’s the guy they need to take down. […] So, it was the little things like that [that] we tried to get right. […] There’s another thing where the Chief grabs [Apollo] up against the wall. [Apollo as an] Officer absolutely outranked [Chief] but [the Chief] can get away with such things […] These little things I think add a bit of reality.
Q: They did the shoot off with Blood and Chrome – were they thinking about doing any more?
Aaron: Blood and Chrome was supposed to go on for a while but then for some reason the network didn’t like it and they sort of killed it. It wasn’t supposed to ever see the light of say but then someone leaked it online. (I know exactly who it was.) And then they had to put it out. But unfortunately it had to go away. That would’ve been a very cool thing. Someone at Universal is trying to get a movie together but I don’t know if it is us or the old guys or some new guys. I don’t know if they’re going to reboot it, which I find weird because we just finished. Might as well do Lord of the Rings while you’re at it because that’s been off the air for ten years! So, I don’t know what is going on. But it’ll be fun. I don’t think I would want to pick up from the end. It would be cool to pick up from the middle [maybe]…
Of course Aaron Douglas being Aaron Douglas (and awesome to boot), he also included several funny stories from the BSG set throughout the panel, and I’ll leave you with two of those, because hey, everyone needs a good laugh once in a while!
First, he talked about a personal joke he had with Nicki Clyne (Cally): “I found a screw on the floor one time […] in the mini-series. I walked over to Nicki Clyne and I just put it in her hand and [asked], ‘Do you want it?’ and [she was] like ‘Sure, absolutely I do.’” Apparently this went on for the rest of the show, and to this day it still makes Aaron laugh. “It was so juvenile,” he admitted. “‘Do you want to screw?’, ‘Absolutely.’ […]
And at the very end he left us with one hell of a story, warning us that it was “a little blue” before launching into it: “Normally when you have a wireless mic on set it is a mic with a cord that goes down to a pack [the] size of a cigarette pack, which you can clip on your belt or your boot. […] They try to put it where it’s comfortable. I like to put it on my boot or wrap it around my ankle. So, they come to you and tell you to drop the wire down your undershirt, down your pants. In the jumpsuit it would come out of the leg through a hole into a breastplate thing, and would sit in one of those little pockets.” (At this point he gestured to his chest.) “In the jumpsuit I always like to do it like Superman.” (Aaron mimes tearing open his shirt like Clark Kent.) “The first time I did it I was late getting on set and other people were standing, the cast, the crew, and stuff. I’m talking to somebody and the sound guy gets on his knee and he starts lifting up my pants and his head is right about here.” (Aaron gestures to his…umm…hip area, haha.) “And I just kind of paused like ‘Oh! That shouldn’t have hit something.’ I wasn’t wearing any underwear and I was like ‘That shouldn’t hit something warm and flesh like’, and I kind of look down and the sound guy is like ‘Uh!’ […] Everybody’s head turned around and [they’re] staring at me […] So, if you’re wearing overalls and they need to wire you, put some shorts on, folks!”
Not bad advice there, right?
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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