A few days ago I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Ben Browder, of ”Farscape” and ”Stargate” fame. After a delightful chat about the horror that is Melbourne weather (seriously, someone please help us) we launched right into talking about the wonderful world that is science fiction.
So Ben, given your career history with the sci –fi genre, is this something you grew up on as a child?
Yeah, one of the first films I ever went to see was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I saw it in theatres; my dad took me when I was a small child. I was blown away by it. As you grow up, I was probably 13 years old, when the original star wars came out. I sat in a movie theatre and watched it three times in a row [laughs] I just didn’t leave I was so blown away by it. I grew up watching it, I grew up reading it, I was watching star trek every afternoon.
So yeah, I have to plead guilty.
With ”Farscape” specifically, as it was filmed in Australia is there a big difference in filming here as opposed to somewhere like LA?
Well you know, I’ve worked in a lot of places around the world, I’ve shot in France and Spain and England, Canada and all over the US and in Australia. A lot of things are very similar, the mechanics of films making are very similar but there are cultural differences, which come out of the broader culture itself. During the time I was in Sydney the tall poppy syndrome was still in full force, and the egalitarianism, which permeated the film business there didn’t necessarily permeate in Hollywood. In Hollywood if an actor misbehaved he would try and get away with it. That wasn’t going to occur on a film set in Australia. The actors were not above the crew and in any sense of the word.
I think it’s a particularly Australian thing; we would try to be done by six o’clock because the weekend is important to Australians. Whereas if you were filming a TV show in the US you might be film til 12am on Saturday or going all through the night. It just didn’t really occur in Australia, or at least not a series like Farscape or any other series that I knew of. So there were some definite cultural differences from that respect. What I found while shooting Farscape is that the crew is incredibly enthusiastic about what they were doing. The series wasn’t actually on air anywhere while we were filming, but the crew contributed so much to the quality of the product, they gave their lifeblood to the show in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere else.
When you first began ”Farscape”, were you accustomed to the kinds of costumes and sets you worked with during your run on the show?
No! No I don’t think anything can prepare you visually for what we had there. The sets are not like anything that I have seen before or since. You walk in and get confronted by fifteen-foot monsters or three-foot monsters for that matter. They had some company in the creature shops were constantly creating these amazing, fantastical aliens. We had performances from so many outstanding Australian actors; quite frankly I was blown away by what was occurring on a day-to-day basis.
Personally, what were your top three episodes or moments from ”Farscape”?
Oh gosh. In the first few seasons I have a great affection for the earth episodes, like “A Human Reaction” and “Won’t get Fooled Again”. All of our big episodes, our two and three part episodes always had a tremendous amount of production value and [laughs] we were always doing outrageous stuff. Those are always memorable, and you know I suppose your first episode and your last episode are also equally memorable. It was a tremendous time of life for both my family, and myself living in Sydney and working on that show.
As I understand it you’re delving into a directing role with ”Bad Kids Go 2 Hell”’, is directing something you’ve always wanted to get into to?
You know I didn’t realise that I wanted to do it, I didn’t realise that everything I’d done up to this point was basically preparing me to do that. I absolutely loved it, it’s probably one of the most intense experiences I’ve had since shooting Farscape. In many ways it’s also one of my most Farscap-ian type of experiences. A great deal of what I learned about filmmaking I picked up in Australia. I picked up from the Australian directors and from the crew and from the way we operated on the set of Farscape. I found myself going back to that model as a director, a collaborative and free flowing environment that quite often you don’t see on American television shows, which are more top-down orientated. For me it was tremendous [laughs] I had way too much fun and was way too exhausted by the end of it, which to me sounds like Farscape.
I know you get the question about your on set chemistry with Claudia Black all the time so I’d like to ask something a little different. With the actors who had minor roles, but substantial interaction with your character, is it challenging as an actor to both create and then leave behind any connections you make?
I hadn’t really thought about the aspect of leaving those connections behind. They exist in this play space; they exist in this schoolyard, if you will. Anytime you go on a TV show or a film it’s a very intense kind of environment where you bond quickly. You fall in love with each other or hate each other depending on the situation; it’s that kind of intense environment. It’s what you do as an actor, it’s what you do as a filmmaker, you get together with people and you intensely collaborate to tell a story. The leaving behind I guess to a degree you get used to because you know that it’s supposed to only exist in your imagination. Part of it you never really leave behind. I have so much affection for the people that I’ve worked with, particularly on Farscape. I guess I never really leave them behind.
With the fans of series such as ”Farscape” and ”Stargate”, I know you’ve done a lot of convention appearances but have you had any standout interactions with fans?
The great thing about the interaction with the fans, as a guy, you want to feel like you’re doing something productive like building a bridge or saving lives or something like that. A part of me does put a wall up when you know; I’m fixing something, which I sort of do at home. I don’t do that at my job, I’m not building bridges I’m not out putting out fires. What happens sometimes at conventions is that people have opportunity to express to you what the story you were telling actually meant to them. So I have these occasions where someone will be telling me about a portion of their life where they’re going through something and that a certain storyline on Farscape or character that I played actually was important and helped them through a period of their lives, or even if it’s just a ‘You made me laugh’ [laughs]. You realise the stories we tell, the stories we tell each other, of which filmmaking is a part of, is this huge and important part of the human experience. On the days where I’m feeling particularly un-macho about my job choice where I go get make up on and I’m thinking ‘Oh my gosh I’m not a bloke anymore’ when I get those moments I feel there’s a validity to what I’ve chosen as a craft, my career. That’s kind of important and it’s important sometimes to be reminded that your life and profession [outside of your family] matters outside of just earing your crust. I value conventions in that respect. Conventions are great to be able to appreciate the audience for the fact that they watched and appreciated the work you did.
On that note, what’s your opinion on fans continuing the show amongst themselves through means of fanfiction, art works, online discussions and the wide range of mediums they use?
Human beings do that with every important pastime. They do it with cricket, or footy. Here in the States with the NFL they have fantasy football and they try their own avenues to draft their own teams and to experience the passion that they feel for their team. They get together, they have barbeques, they wear the colours of the club, and they talk about these things. I walked into a show in the middle of California, it was a knife show and it was just thousands of people who just loved knives. They were there sharing their love of blades, 50 vendors with nothing but knives and blades and swords like that. People love what they love, and conventions are a great place to share that. Fan fiction is a great platform to share their love of a show and I think it’s great.