After seeing Battlestar Galactica‘s epic mid-season finale last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mary McDonnell (pictured left) to discuss her character’s presidency, her relationships and how she, as an actor, sees the overall story. She also gave up a tease or two about what we can expect when the show returns to finish its run. Read on…
What an episode.
Wasn’t that just extraordinary?
One of my favorite moments was the scene between you and Jamie Bamber, during which Laura gives Lee her approval. The two have butted heads all season, but now, Laura seems to appreciate his abilities as a leader.
Well, I think she’s known since the beginning. If you look back, there’s a scene on Colonial One, where she recognizes that he’s the one. All along, in her mind she’s been thinking about how to keep an eye on him and gage if he’s prepared [for the presidency]. So even in his opposition to her, she gets it. She just wants
him out of the way so she can finish her agenda. But there’s a part of
her that’s [proud of him]. That’s her subtext, anyway. We don’t
necessarily talk about it. But that’s why we had that moment [in the
mid-season finale], because the discussion behind-the-scenes was sort
of like this. [Executive producer] Ron Moore always knew how Laura and I, Mary, saw Lee. And
the writing staff, they started tweaking [Lee and Laura’s relationship]
very subtly in this episode. But to play the antagonism between them has been really cool, because you know she still goes home and says, yeah, he’s the one. He’s got all the stuff, the sizzle and the drive and he can take it the next step. That’s what she’s concerned about.
She sees him as her successor.
I think she sees his capabilities as a diplomat, as well as a warrior. This is an unusual thing that we don’t discuss a lot, but she isn’t commander-in-chief. Because she didn’t know how to command a ship. She wasn’t prepared for a presidency. A president and commander-in-chief is prepared to run the whole gamut. Instead, [Laura and Adama] make an unusual pairing of two very stubborn leaders. We have a tendency to forget that. So, what she’s constantly thinking about — you know, she could die any minute — is who is the right person [to succeed her] as president of the Twelve Colonies, but who can also be president on Earth. That person will also be commander-in-chief. They won’t be taking any orders from one of the commanders of one of the ships. They will be running the whole deal. So in her mind, Lee keeps coming into focus, because she’s seen him as a warrior, she’s seen him as a lawyer, she sees him as a diplomat. He’s a perfect politician, you know what I mean? John Edwards, move over! Lee Adama has arrived.
Do you think she also sees herself as a mother figure to him?
Yes, I do. But because it’s Battlestar Galactica and the writers have the dignity to not write the cliche, it’s really just in the sensation of the experience. She’s more like an aunt. I think she loves him. And part of what she loves about him is that he’s such a royal pain in the ass and he’s such a man of the people. Under different circumstances, she’d be like, you’re right. In this circumstance, it’s like, you’re pissing me off, keep your mouth shut, what is your son doing, [Adama]? We’ve got a ship to land on some planet somewhere, and he’s talking about the government!
So, have they now turned a corner?
Well… I’m not going to say. I’ll just say that this episode [encompassed] a little bit of all of it. That scene with Laura and Adama and Lee in his quarters, to see the three of them together, I found it very reassuring. I thought, that’s good writing. Because it wasn’t a big deal, it was subtle, but they all felt good in that moment. She and Lee understood Adama’s situation, and there was something so human about it.
It was also sort of familial.
Yes, it was a little bit like mother and son trying to get dad to stop drinking and go to work!
Adama has finally expressed the extent of his feelings for Laura, saying he can’t live without her. Are we going to see more movement in that relationship over the final 11 episodes?
I think it’s safe to say that the relationship grows deeper. Once again, I have to express that the subtlety of the writing, with regard to those two, has really been profoundly important to me. As a middle-aged woman, to be given material that can take an adult relationship and grow it properly? It doesn’t happen! And this journey [between Adama and Laura], I believe it. So, as an actress and as a woman, I feel very grateful. And what’s to come, it’s not easy, but I think it’s going to be sort of interesting and gratifying for the fans.
How surprised were you when you realized you were going to find Earth in the mid-season finale, not the series finale?
Totally. Because during season three, I relinquished my need to look ahead. So, even when the scripts were available, I didn’t read them because I wanted to have Laura’s blindness. At the beginning, I wanted to know the whole arc! I would think, how can I play this if I don’t know where it’s going?! Because I’d done mostly film, I didn’t know how you do something right at the edge. And then I got it. I realized that‘s the beauty of it, that you’re at the edge of the unknown, just like your character. So, yeah, I guess we all kind of assumed that Earth would come somewhere around the end of the run, and then suddenly, we were there. And then when [what we found there] was not good, we had no idea what the next episode would be. And the funny part about that is, this episode was the last thing we shot before the writer’s strike. So not only were we on an Earth that was devastating, but we were also in an industry that was shutting down. When we weren’t standing there on the beach, we were on our cell phones with agents and managers and union people. It was a really fascinating moment, because we didn’t know if we were coming back. God bless the network, they said all along, you’re coming back. But we’re all — at least Eddie [James Olmos] and I are — old and wise enough to know that sh-t happens! So that was sort of the unconscious. We were all filming that, and thinking, what if this is it?! We were a bit hysterical. There was a lot of partying in the trailers to help us get through it. It was weird, we were all saying goodbye, we had found Earth, it didn’t work and it was over. We went on strike.
After the strike ended, and you got the script for the next episode, how different did it feel from what we’ve seen on Battlestar over the last few years? Will the next 11 look like a new show?
No. You know, whatever has been complicated up to this point becomes more so. And whatever the character’s journeys are, their psychological, emotional and physical sagas, in my experience, become more imperative, but not unfamiliar. Other people might disagree, but I’m playing Laura, and she’s a stalwart, you know what I mean? If it isn’t familiar, she’s going to make it [familiar]!
Now that you know how it will all end, are you happy with the way Laura’s story finishes?
I am. For me, reading the ending took the series to a whole new level. I saw the box set. I saw the bookends of a life. I saw a legend that you take off the shelf and tell your grandkids, let’s watch this. I get body chills just thinking about it. I think it’s going to be even better, watching it the second and third time, knowing how it ends!
There is talk of a few Battlestar TV movies in the works. Would you want to be involved?
If they find stories that include Laura, absolutely. I think that it’s
almost inevitable that this franchise continues in some way. How could
you just stop this?
So you’re not quite ready to put the bookends on Roslin?
I’m ready to put the bookends on her for sure. But if a script came to
me that was a tribute to her, to her life, I would definitely do it.
But I am also quite happy with the journey. I love it. Over the
course of a 30 or 40 year career, there are a couple things where you
go, that was what I intended, that is the way I want to work, and this
is absolutely one of them.
Now, knowing the whole story, what I would do is take the series and re-air it on primetime network television. When we first started shooting Battlestar, primetime wasn’t ready for the edge and the darkness, it just wouldn’t have happened. But now, having completed it and having gotten the Peabody’s and the AFI [awards] and all the accolades that helped people get over their prejudice regarding sci fi, I can see it [being accepted by the larger public].
You should call [NBC co-chairman] Ben Silverman. NBC could use a hit right now. It’s really not a bad idea.
It’s a great idea, I think. I have a very strong feeling about it. I’ll call him tomorrow! Ben, if you’re reading this…!