James Callis interviewed

Here's Baltar! With the SFX Battlestar Galactica special hitting newsstands tomorrow, we chat to actor James Callis about his intriguing role as Baltar

Scientist, traitor, politician, prophet… there's more to Gaius Baltar than a drunken, self-interested flirt, as we found out when we chatted to actor James Callis at Starfury's Battlestar Galactica convention . Born in London in 1971, Callis is also known from his role in Bridget Jones's Diary. There's a big interview with him in the next SFX special, on sale tomorrow, but here are some snippets that didn't make the newsstand edition:

SFX: When you were preparing to play Baltar, did you go back and re-watch the 1970s original?
Callis:
"I didn't need to go back to view the 1970s Battlestar again because I just remembered the original Baltar so well. I wasn't very comfortable about being this person - very determined not to be the same! John Colicos was phenomenal, actually, and I don't know how many times I saw it at an age of around seven or eight. I owe John Colicos in the original Battlestar a big debt. As soon as the word 'Baltar' was mentioned, I knew exactly who that was. There's this idea about meta-culture: why is Baltar instantly such a big deal in our series? Well, he's a big deal in our series because he has this inherited name from another show back in the '70s, where we know this man as a megalomaniac beast. He was really evil. Do we think, 'He's gonna be like this guy because that's his name'? He's an archetype. He fulfils this function. But essentially that hasn't happened in our show."

SFX: Did you and the rest of the cast always carry a weight of expectation because of the popularity of the '70s show?
Callis:
"I think before people saw new Battlestar there was a weight of expectation because of the original. But I think that as soon as you saw Eddie [Olmos] on this ship and the way that he was and the way that our Galactica was, you weren't looking any more. Lorne Greene seemed far more like Noah, walking around in the blue and the robes. Noah's Ark. New Adama is a kind of military general; he's definitely like a military hardass, so as soon as you see Eddie, there's no comparisons that are worthwhile there."

SFX: How fondly will Battlestar be remembered when it's all over?
Callis:
"I would think Battlestar has become a kind of benchmark for science fiction shows - well, I would cos I'm in it! But then I meet some people and they're like, 'So, have I seen you act in something?' And I say, 'I just completed Battlestar Galactica!' And then they say to me, 'I haven't seen it.' Well evidently, because then you'd know who I am! It's something I think everybody should have seen… but there's a million, million people who've never seen it and don't know how good it is."

SFX: Baltar finds himself in some dangerous, difficult situations, and yet he's also comical - for instance when he shouts at the hybrid on the basestar. How do you handle the shift from that, to his confession to Roslin about his betrayal?
Callis:
"Well that particular scene [where he shouted at the hybrid] was written to be amusing, and we really played with that one. Jokes are very curious things psychologically. The joke is I'm an assured scientist, but I totally don't know what the hell I'm doing. And so as soon as you see that as an audience member, that's signalling certain things: the pomposity of a genius having been exposed. You can go lots of places as Gaius Baltar that other people aren't allowed to pursue. It's a classic storytelling method of manipulation - you had high humour at one point, and it's funny, and it's ridiculous… and then it's death defying, it's awful. You think, 'That confession comes from somebody I was laughing at five minutes ago, so I'm a bit uncomfortable seeing this.' They complement each other. If the first part hadn't been as amusing… "

SFX: Would you come back to play Baltar in the future, if there were other opportunities to revive Battlestar?
Callis:
"It very much depends on the script. I think it's had it's final journey, the show. But, you know who's to say it wouldn't be re-imagined in another 10 years or 20 years? A slightly difficult thing faces the studio (and better brains than mine have been paid to think about these tasks I would imagine): 'How to get Battlestar into the movies?!' Essentially you can't do a Battlestar movie without doing the premise of the miniseries again. And so soon after the completion of our series, why would you revisit the miniseries to make a movie? I think it's found its niche audience already. There are links into other things, people developing games for Battlestar, so it's really spread out in the consciousness."

SFX: Did you keep any souvenirs?
Callis:
"Not really. They gave me some clothes I've worn in the show. They wanted me to wear the suit that I wore in the miniseries and I wear as Head Gaius, and whatever. And I was like, 'When am I ever going to wear that? Am I gonna like go to a nightclub dressed as Head Baltar?' [Laughs] So I didn't take it."

SFX: Thanks James!

Don't forget to watch Battlestar Galactica on Sky1 tonight, UK viewers! We've uploaded a few little interviews with the stars already on this site (check under the Features section on the left) but the main thing to look out for now is the SFX Battlestar Galactica special with three cool gifts.

How do you think Battlestar is going to end? Is Baltar the best character? Share your thoughts in the thread below...