Battlestar Galactica's Edward James Olmos the New Father of Science Fiction
Posted: 01/13/09 11:29AM
Filed Under: Television
By CHRIS JANCELEWICZ
WARNING: MINI-SPOILERS AHEAD
Obi-wan Kenobi. Jean-Luc Picard. Even James T. Kirk. All of these sci-fi characters have, at one point or another, been a father figure to generations of fans. There's been a bit of a deficit lately, but an unlikely successor has stepped to the fore, warming even the most cold-hearted cockles of nerds across the world. Edward James Olmos, previously best-known for his 80s-era roles in Miami Vice and Blade Runner, took the helm of Battlestar Galactica as Admiral William Adama, and became this generation’s sci-fi father.
At last summer's Fan Expo science-fiction convention in Toronto, Olmos was the big draw. Q&A sessions are typically held in convention centre rooms which can fit a few hundred people. Not only was every seat in his room taken, but people lined the walls and sat in the aisles just to get a glimpse. Upon entering he was greeted with raucous applause, to which he said, “No, no, I’m not Obama, I’m Adama.” Judging by the fan reaction, he may as well have been the next U.S. president.
In this final upcoming season (technically 4.5 for those who follow), Admiral Adama is facing his worst crisis yet: the weary fleet of ships, which contains 30-something-thousand of the last surviving stragglers of humanity, has finally found what they believe to be the lost colony of Earth after searching the galaxy for years. But when they arrive on the surface of the planet, they discover it’s been completely decimated by a nuclear blast.
“The end of the third season was brutal, simply brutal,” says Olmos. “It devastated us when we were doing it, when we realized what he [creator Ron Moore] had done. He had nuked the Earth, there was nothing left, we couldn’t even stay there. It’s brutal what happens to us…not many of us make it.”
As a rabid fan of the show, hearing that many of the characters will die was a heartbreaker. Through the past three-and-a-half seasons, BSG fans have suffered along with the characters. Unspeakable trauma has befallen each of them, Admiral Adama among the worst hit.
He's lost his son and his wife; his remaining son Lee has distanced himself from the military; his romantic relationship with President Laura Roslin is nearing an end since she has terminal cancer; his best friend, Colonel Tigh, has just revealed he's an enemy Cylon; and the remaining citizens' loyalty towards the admiral ebbs and flows.
“Everybody’s development was insane,” says Olmos. “You have to remember, we had no idea where the journey was going. So here you have this father figure, the commander of the ship, the leader of the only humans left in the universe, and he’s all drunk on the floor [after Tigh reveals he’s a Cylon]. All I have to say in my defense is: Captain Kirk never had to deal with this s--t.”
It's true that BSG is definitely not your parents’ sci-fi. It’s dark – at times pitch black – and the show deals with issues like rape, military torture, prejudice, adultery, inter-species procreation, and the existence of God. The Enterprise crew never deliberately sent someone out the airlock or shot a dissenter in the head, that’s for sure.
On these issues (and many more), the entire crew turns to Adama for answers. So while he has to deal with his own problems, he must meet the needs of everyone else as well. It’s nearly impossible to imagine how the show could possibly end, especially since there’s only 10 episodes left, and so many loose ends are still dangling.
“It is a mind-blowing experience, where they’ve taken us,” says Olmos. “I’ve never done any kind of work that’s come close to what Ron Moore has done with this storytelling. This is the most extensive story I’ve ever been a part of. The ending is…oh! (exasperated sigh). Emotional, heartbreaking. I don’t want you guys to, you know, think that you’re going to go through this without getting yourself really twisted. Ron has no mercy. It’s been very dark and it gets darker.”
With the finish line quickly approaching, fans want to know the answers to the most pressing questions. Who’s the fifth and final Cylon? Is Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) really Starbuck? Where will the humans end up? Is President Roslin going to die? While fans were initially livid at the thought of ending such a high-calibre show, over the past few months most have come to terms with it. It’s better to end on a high note rather than struggle through several unimpressive seasons.
“Ron wanted to finish the program. He didn’t want to go into two or three more seasons and waffle this way or that,” says Olmos. “The story has to end someday, so why not end it with the energy level it has now? This is the finest dramatic show in television history so far. I’m not saying that The Sopranos isn’t fantastic, but this genre allows you to take into consideration things you can’t touch in those other shows.”
Post-BSG, Olmos intends to move onto different projects, mostly directing. He jokes that nearly every other BSG cast member has their own new TV show, and that he’s “too old” to star in his own. He’s already directed several TV episodes (and even some movies!) and is at the helm of Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, a movie prequel set for release in 2009.
Castmates, both current and former, have nothing but glowing things to say about Olmos. It seems that his fatherly tendencies extend far beyond the boundaries of BSG. Co-star Grace Park, who plays Cylon Sharon Valerii, refers to him as one of her favourite people to work with. “I love him,” she says. “He’s a very grounded, warm, generous veteran in our industry. He’s embraced each one of us, and created a supportive environment. He doesn’t sit up on his high horse; sure his trailer is gigantic, and you get lost in them just by flushing the toilet, but he doesn’t lord over us at all.”
Another co-star, Aaron Douglas, who plays newly-discovered Cylon Galen ‘Chief’ Tyrol, says jokingly, “Eddie does whatever the frak Eddie wants to do.”
Back at Fan Expo 2008, the fans in the convention room hang on Olmos’ every word. His hour-long Q&A rushes by at warp speed. When he finishes, a collective sigh emerges from the crowd. As he leaves the room, he turns one last time and flashes his warm, trademark grin – and we’re left sated, calm, happy. Olmos might be an unexpected recipient of the fatherly torch, but us sci-fi geeks wouldn't have it any other way.
Battlestar Galactica’s fourth and final season (4.5) begins on Friday, January 16 on Space at 10 pm. The Space Network, Canada's sci-fi channel, will be airing Battlestar Galactica Day, with 14 hours of BSG from 10 am until the season premiere.