Exclusive Interview: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Star Jamie Bamber

jamie bamber apollo battlestar galactica season four
By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is back, and not surprisingly, better than ever. What better way to count down the minutes to the final season premiere than by spending some time learning a bit more about everyone’s favorite Viper-pilot-turned-courtroom-lawyer, Lee Adama [aka Jamie Bamber]? Jamie and I talked last week about what he hopes to see for his character, what he hopes fans take away from the show, and what he really thinks about the whole “Starbuck/Apollo/will-they/can-they/should-they-really” relationship.

BATTLESTAR is hands down one of my favorite shows on television and I’m so excited that it’s coming back tonight.
Jamie Bamber:
Yeah, we all are. It’s something that’s become very precious to us, and we want to see it finished in the right way.

What attracted you to the role of Lee when the series first started.
I think his entrance into the show. The way the character arrived, as a stranger aboard this Battlestar, not wanting to be there, being forced into this sort of retirement of his dad that he doesn’t get on with. It being completely about, you know, family relationships and something that we can all relate to. And then the end of the world happening and him being stranded in this world that he didn’t really want to be in. I thought that was the most fantastic premise for a character opening. This is not his life; this is not the people he’s surrounded by, all these military guys. He was probably, in my mind, about to quit the military, and here he is stranded. With the one man he didn’t want to see forever. It was just a great set up for a character, and an unusual one. In the original series, he was the out and out hero. And in this one, he is that, but he’s also less than perfect. He was very adolescent in the original, and I think I brought an adolescence to it that made it even more the case. It was that. It was purely that. And the fact, I knew I was meant to be playing Apollo, and yet I couldn’t find the character Apollo, he was called Lee Adama and it was that, we’re trying something new, and we’re trying to get away from the curse of these names, you know, Apollo, Starbuck. The way that Ron has made the world plausible, is what struck me.

jamie bamber apollo battlestar galactica season four

What are some of the favorite things that you’ve discovered about Lee over the course of the series?
My favorite thing about Lee….it’s a semi contradiction between being very contained, not showy, and yet, sort of opinionated as well. He’s a contradiction. He’s got his ideals and his principles and his conscience which have a very loud voice within him. But he doesn’t come out with it too often. He contains himself, and I think that’s a quality that I can relate to, and it’s a quality that may be lost in the modern world. We don’t have too many of those.

What was your opinion of the whole Sci-Fi genre before getting involved with the show?
I didn’t really have one. I wasn’t a fan of Sci-Fi in particular; I hadn’t been since I was a kid when I think every kid is a fan of sci-fi. I had definitely grown out of it, and I think I had grown out of it largely because it had grown quite juvenile. So I guess there was a stigma in my mind, about the title BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Mainly because it was a remake, more than because it was Sci-Fi. But I wasn’t running to be in a Sci-Fi show, it wasn’t really important to me, and I don’t think I am in a sci-fi show. I think we’ve changed what people think of as sci-fi. A lot of movies lately, I would say are sci-fi, but in a good way, CHILDREN OF MEN, these movies are about our society by kind of drawing the lines of where we’re headed, to the logical conclusion of the future, and showing us how bleak and how desperate the decisions we’re making today are. That is sci-fi but it’s also really good social and political writing. I think that’s what our show does. It’s changed the feeling of sci-fi. Sci-fi has good characters and good stories and intelligent arguments as well as just goofy, not goofy, that’s the wrong word, but just shocking the audience with how strange and weird, you know, the planets that we’re meeting every week are. That was never something I wanted to be part of, and I never have been. And to be honest, when I first got the first script, I opened the two page mission statement declaring that we are going to change everything, and it’s not sci-fi.

What’s great about the show is that there are two camps. The camp that has never seen it, and the camp that has seen it and loved. It’s not a show that people don’t like, it’s just a show that people haven’t found or haven’t given a chance.
And the reason why a lot of them haven’t – if it was a different title, if it was not on Sci-Fi, I think a lot more people would have seen. I think that’s a testament to the show. we satisfy the self-proclaimed geek and we’ve turned a lot of them from being very, very skeptical about what we were doing, trampling all over Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict’s mantles. And we’ve converted them. But we’ve also converted an audience that would never even consider watching a show called Battlestar Galactica and they’ve had to sort of raise their eyebrows and realize, hey, it’s not a bad way to go if you want to make serious drama, in a different context in the world. You’re freer to face the very biting and interesting and relevant things; more free than you would be if you were writing about a particular organization that does exist, or a country that does exist or a government that does exist. We’re able to take the best of everything and condense it into something that really is a perfect mix of drama.

What are some of your favorite episodes or storylines from over the years?
There are so many that I really enjoyed. I really enjoyed making ‘Black Market’ in Season 2. It’s not my favorite episode when I watch it back but I really enjoyed making it, just because I was in it a lot, and that’s a challenge in itself, trying to carry a story. I really enjoyed the finale of season 3, the courtroom scenes, taking Lee into that unexpected environment, and to hear his voice really unleashed for the first time. I enjoyed ‘The Captain’s Hand’ in Season 1 very much. I enjoyed the penultimate, I’m sort of telling you too many of them right now. There are some very recent ones that we’ve shot in season 4 that I’m most proud of, more than anything. The first half finale, and the second half, I just think is our best work as an ensemble.

Without giving anything away, can you tease what’s coming up in the fourth season?
The fallout from the last. The fallout from Baltar being acquitted, the fallout from four new Cylons being discovered. The fallout from Starbuck being alive, and everyone trying to make sense of what that is. There’s a lot to recalibrate after the end of the last season. I haven’t actually seen the first few episodes we shot; I’ve only seen the midseason cliffhanger and the beginning of the second half of the season. They’re incredible. They’re really incredible. From my character, expect very little viper work, and a lot more shirt and tie stuff. For everyone else, expect the unexpected.

Who are some of your favorite character besides of Apollo?
My favorite and I think is almost everyone’s favorite, is Colonel Tigh, watching Michael Hogan’s work. He’s a real theatre actor that brings a broadness to the character. Everyone can do a Colonel Tigh impression in about two seconds and you know the character, by his laugh, by his guttural sound. By the way he over pitches almost every line in that military way. The way he stands. I think Hogan does an incredible job. I think the whole cast. I can pin point things that I really like. I love watching James Callis work. I find Baltar repellant in almost every scene, and yet disarming at the same time and I challenge anyone to come up with the combination.

Another thing I think is great about the show, and I really do say this to whoever will listen – you can’t find a weak link in the cast.
Yeah, well that’s very gracious of you. I always think if you can’t find the weakest link, it’s probably me, but if you said then I take that as a compliment. I think there are certain people to thank for that, obviously, we were well cast. More than that, Eddie and Mary have really set the bar from day one. We knew we were involved in a serious piece of work if these two actors were taking it very seriously. In any other situation, I can imagine showing up and watching two actors who have accomplished great things throughout their career, and they were really just taking a paycheck on his one. And that was really not the case. Eddie was very intimidating. And I think he meant to be, I think he meant not to get too close to anyone on the miniseries. He meant to scare the hell out of us all to perform it as well as we could. He let us all know that he was watching every single daily, and every single piece of work that we had done. Nothing was getting past him. We all wanted the affirmation of his approval. I’ve never seen another actor do that to anyone before, but he did it to me, and to everyone on the show.

Getting into the final season a bit – do you know by now who the final Cylon is?
I do.

What kind of reaction do you think the reveal is going to elicit?
I’m reluctant to say because we’ve got a couple of fantastic reveals. I don’t want to reveal them or by saying you’ll be shocked, maybe rules out certain characters, and I don’t want to do this. This season, there has been an extraordinary effort to change the way we do things so that none of the stuff leaks. I’m sure it will still leak, but it’s going to leak later, and to fewer people than it has before. We’re going to keep this very tight-chested. Sometimes, I’m not even allowed to take scripts out of the room. This is something that is really new to us. People don’t get scripts, people don’t get sides anymore, and we’re really trying to make a conscious effort and I think fans would appreciate it.

I agree – I think that people enjoy the show more when they don’t know what’s coming. Because then they do enjoy the big reveals, and they sit there thinking “what the hell just happened?”
Yeah, I mean, there’s always that sort of side of a lot of people, that they like to be the first. Like with the I-phone, and share the fact that they got it. There’s a side of people that like to show off “I’m closer to the show than you are” and I understand that, too. If it does get out there, you know that it’s going to be spread; it’s not gonna be something that people sit on. I’ve no doubt that it will get out there. Hell, we sent out screeners in advance to the press, I’m sure 1 in every 5 of those goes somewhere online. I can promise you that the fans will not be disappointed with what we’ve come up with.

jamie bamber apollo battlestar galactica season four

I want to talk about Kara and Lee for a minute. I’ve heard Katee has said that she thinks Kara is only happiest when she’s miserable. What is your take on the duo?
The way I play it is that there’s a complete fascination from Lee towards Starbuck/Kara, and he will never shake it. It’s not something that’s ever going to go away. It’s something that is so complex and so laden with so many layers of forbidden guilt from the previous betrayal, you know, the dead brother, and they’re kind of siblings, it’s almost incestuous. At times, it seems, certainly on her part, that she’s out to hurt rather than let everything actually work. I think they’re two people that actually probably would’ve worked in a completely different environment, in a different context. They’re doomed by the very proximity that they share, and that’s their tragedy. Having said that, Ron and the writers could come up with a completely different plan on how to resolve that particular one, and who knows, if their situation changes if they got off Galactica, got out of the situation that they’re in, maybe they would be able to function. It’s definitely one of these tragic relationships. Romeo and Juliet, all those sort of forbidden loves. Or a play that I’ve done about an incestuous love affair between a brother and a sister. It’s kind of that. It’s so intense, it’s forbidden.

What would you like to see happen as you head towards the end?
Lee’s journey, I suppose like a lot of people on the show, it’s all self knowledge. It’s all about understanding the nature of the human race, and how we repeat our own feelings. Lee’s no different, maybe a bit more than most. He’s grown up, and he’s been on a quest of self discovery, about who he is. He starts off being entirely defined by his dad and his upbringing and he resents that fact that he was never allowed to be his own person and gradually, he’s tried every way he can to be his own person. To follow his heart into the law. He’s been a commander of a different Battlestar. He’s been his dad’s equal as commander of Pegasus. He’s tried everything. If I have one hope, it’s that he finds peace in something, in some act, in some expression, some event, and that maybe he and his dad can finally get to that place where they sort of understand each other. I think they almost have on several different occasions, but it’s always been fragile. These relationships always repeat themselves. I think the mantra of the show is that line, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again. It’s the Freudian truth. We are defined by our natures and our early experiences and we replicate those forever in our life. On a psychological level, I hope he sort of finds self-knowledge and on a show level, I just hope we really scare the hell out of the world. I think, really scare the audience and the wider public to realizing how destructive our progress is. This idea that we have of growth and economic growth and technological progress is not the path to be taken, it’s the path to destruction, and I hope Ron delivers that.

A reader question that was sort of asked in many different ways – when the show began, were you prepared to be treated as the heartthrob that you’ve been viewed as?
I think there’s a side of every actor that wants to be adored, especially a young actor playing the supposed young lead. The sign of success is to be appreciated on some level. I think that’s there subliminally. I would never admit to it. The funny thing with me is that kind of happened early on in the first couple of seasons. It’s sort of gone away. I don’t feel that anymore. People tend to talk about the show in a different way, and I get asked less and less about that aspect and I don’t feel it anymore. I think that’s partly having gone through it, and I realize how superficial and immaterial it really is. You get in the magazine as the sexiest whatever, sexiest hunk or whatever. And you’re in it one year and the next segment of the same magazine, same slot, you’re not. And I haven’t died. All the same people haven’t changed or fallen off the planet in the last year. You realize it’s a marketing tool to sell magazine and it doesn’t actually mean a single damn thing. I realize that is a completely non reality, not that I didn’t realize that before, but it was really spelled out for me. It’s not something I think about at all. I don’t think people think of me in that way so much anymore. I don’t get asked the same questions.

I think it’s funny – like you’re saying it was more that way in the first couple seasons, people maybe flocked a bit to the show because they hear “sexiest cast” but I’ll be the first to admit that I stayed because it’s not just a pretty face on a horrible show. The acting and the drama in the show is there, and keeps people tuning in.
I hope that’s the case! I haven’t done a nude scene or taken my shirt off since early season 3. We’re not doing that so much anymore. I think the show is not about that. Initially, that might have been the thing. I remember reading an article about it being 90210 in space and stuff like that, and you’re like, oh yeah. There is a demographic on TV, there aren’t too many ugly people on TV, and it’s a fact. I tend to view it as the remnants of an American TV heritage where everyone is perfect and good looking. But honestly, when you watch the show, and once you start focusing on the flawed bits of the characters, you don’t notice the body or the face so much anymore. Even when I watch Tricia, who is absolutely stunning, I’m watching her acting now and seeing this traumatized woman who is a robot who is coming to terms with her own fragility and her own compassion and all sorts of things. I don’t think of Tricia as this sexual image anymore. And I did. When I first met Tricia, I was like “oh my God, this girl is stunning” and now when I watch the show, I don’t think of Number Six in that way and I think everyone else has been on the same journey.

Switching gears a bit – who are some of your favorite actors and actresses?
I don’t think there’s anyone to compare with someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. I think, you know, with every job that he does, you’re not even really aware who Daniel Day-Lewis is. He’s just this character that changes and turns up every 2 years, and he’s at the academy awards, accepting some statue with a normally very eloquent and self deprecating speech. And then he goes away and becomes someone completely different. If you’re looking for an actor, I don’t think there’s anybody to rival him. Maybe Meryl Streep, someone like that. Those two would come to me as the people who I most admire.

Do you watch any TV in your downtime?
It doesn’t happen often that I find something. I tend to be behind the pace and going to a DVD. In Treatment at the moment. I’m blown away by the writing and by the performances. Pure dialogue. No set changes, no costume changes, one room, one conversation, sometimes two conversations. Sort of a one act play that I’ve never seen on American TV and I think it’s stunning.

What does the future hold for you?
I would hope to try to vary as an actor. I hope to be able to sort of move into more character roles than I have played. I hope to write and I hope to direct and I hope to produce, and if I finish my days having not done all four of those things, I will look back be disappointed.

Will you ever work with Anastasia [Griffith, Jamie’s sister]? I love her in DAMAGES.
I’m so, so proud of my little sister. She’s incredible in that show. And really blown me away. She was very late in admitting to me that she wanted to act. She was going to a production route in the business. She started off as a production assistant and turned around one day and said “you know, I’ve had it, I want to get in front of the camera”. So she went to the same place that I went, and came out, moved to New York. I could not wipe the smile off my face. I’ve watched a certain few episodes of Damages. Not only is she in I think the beset show on TV right now, including my show, but she completely holds her own. When I saw her with Glenn Close, I couldn’t believe that was my little sister. I would love to act with her. I would love to write something for her. And that goes for my wife, too, Kerry, who has a small role in Battlestar. I’d love to be able to create something for them, to make sure they get stimulating roles. It’s really hard, we fight for every role. There are so many of us out there. Not being able to sort of crack right through is very frustrating.

A special thanks to Jamie for spending some time chatting with me and a huge thank you to everyone who sent questions to be asked! Tune in Friday night to see Jamie and the rest of the gang from Battlestar Galactica as their fourth and final season begins!

For all the latest TV news and reviews