GateWorld talks with Ben Browder
Many science fiction fans first met Memphis, Tennessee-born Ben Browder
when the very smart, very original series Farscape
premiered in 1999 as one of The SCI FI Channel's first ever original series. As IASA Commander John Crichton, Browder brought to life one of the most complex and entertaining genre heroes in one of the most imaginative series ever to grace the small screen. He has also appeared on Party of Five
, Melrose Place
, CSI: Miami
, and in 2004 played Lee Majors in "Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Charlie's Angels.'"
Now 42, Browder is moving his family from sunny Australia to Vancouver, British Columbia to join the ranks of another hit SCI FI series, Stargate SG-1
-- once paired with Farscape
on Friday nights. With filming on the show's ninth season
set to commence in March, little is yet known about his character, a Lieutenant Colonel with the initials "M.M."
In our interview, Ben talks at length about joining the long-running show, and reveals that he's a big fan of Stargate
. He shares what he knows so far about the new role, and what thought he has given to how he will portray "M.M." He also discusses his Farscape
(and soon SG-1
) cast mate Claudia Black, and what he thinks the two series do and do not have in common.
GateWorld: Do you know the name of your character yet?
Ben Browder: Nope! You have to attack the writers on stuff like that. That's their world. [Laughter] As I understand it, the last time I talked to Robert [Cooper, executive producer] they were working on clearances and stuff. It tends to be the way that nothing's done until it's done.
GW: So you haven't gotten anything yet?
BB: I have broad strokes. You guys probably have as much or more information than I do, because you're that way. You're like earthworms. It's unbelievable -- you're everywhere! One of the things of being on Farscape is you have a deep appreciation of the power of the Internet. It becomes the water cooler for shows like Stargate and Farscape. It is! It's where people go to talk about the show and do that kind of stuff.
GW: I know a few of the actors don't appreciate the Internet for what it is, and a lot of them do, and I'm glad that you're one of them.
BB: Well, it is the audience. There's a very dynamic portion of the audience which is out there, online. And as an actor, as a storyteller, you're not telling a story unless it's for an audience. If you're an actor on stage you get immediate feedback from the audience sitting there. It's a little more difficult when you're on television.
GW: How long have you been a fan of Stargate?
BB: Well it wasn't really available to me when I was in Australia. I was working all the time. I had been in Australia since '98. I came back and it was paired with Farscape on The SCI FI Channel. So I would tune in occasionally. Having said that, I don't generally watch Farscape when it's on air. I don't watch a lot of TV, but I've watched the show sporadically on and off when it's available for -- I don't know, since it went into syndication.
GW: Yeah, that's been plenty of time now.
BB: Oh, yeah! It's been on for what, eight years now?
GW: Yep. We're going into the ninth.
BB: Yeah, ninth season shooting, but it's been on air for eight years. It's been in syndication for just about that amount of time, seven or eight.
GW: And last September was the tenth anniversary of the movie, so it's been around for a long time.
BB: Yeah! Which I've also seen.
GW: Are you determined to play your Stargate character differently from John Crichton?
BB: Well, the first thing that I'll have to do is see where the scripts go. As much as you can do as an actor, it's the script which endows a character one way or the other. So until we actually get into the process of doing it, I have no preset determination about how the character is going to be.
Browder's character -- whose name remains a mystery, for now -- leads the F-302 squadron in defense of Earth over Antarctica. From "Lost City, Part 2."
GW: OK. So you're willing to let him go wherever the wind and the producers guide you.
BB: Well, as an actor I don't see that there's much of an option. You have a certain amount of wiggle room within the confines of the script, and you can choose to do things a certain way. But, first and foremost, my job is servicing the story and servicing the series as a whole, so what the character will end up being will be a product of many more people's input than just mine. It'll be the writers, and the producers, and the directors, and also how I interact with the other cast members.
So it's awfully difficult to say in advance, particularly in advance of even hitting the ground in Vancouver, what it is I'm going to do with the role. And quite often, to be honest, there's a lot of days where I'll show up and not know what I'm going to do when I arrive that day, other than knowing the words and knowing the story as much as I can. Things change; it's a collaborative art form. It's not solely in my hands. In fact, at this moment it's solely in the hands of Rob. He's writing this character.
GW: So you know nothing about this character?
BB: I know basically what you know about the character. That's what I know.
GW: OK. That he was a fighter pilot at the end of Season Seven and helped defend ...
BB: He was a pilot at the end of Season Seven in "Lost City."
GW: And somehow he's going to get woven into SG-1.
BB: Well, yeah. That's my understanding which you've already reported on.
GW: Are you glad that you're going to be working with Claudia again?
BB: [Laughter] I'll always be glad to be working with Claudia. We're good friends and she's a fantastic actress.
GW: Yes, she is. Will it be odd working together as different characters?
BB: I don't know. Find out when I get there!
BB: [Laughter] It's sort of impossible to say. It'll be different. I'm sure it'll be different. But we'll see how that goes. You've worked with actors sort of sporadically over time. And every time you do a different production the dynamic is slightly different. Probably what won't change is the way that Claud and I work, as actors together, but how the characters are and how the storylines go will obviously impact what comes out on the screen.
GW: And obviously different writers, directors, producers will change the characters.
BB: I wouldn't begin to assume that anyone should be looking for John Crichton. Any similarities between Lieutenant Colonel "M.M." or whatever.
GW: Yeah, that's all we know about right now!
BB: I wouldn't think M&Ms. I always think Peanut M&M's myself. You do! You've got M&Ms. Crunchy on the outside, but chocolaty on the inside.
Browder and Claudia Black headlined four years of SCI FI's innovative series Farscape.
BB: The character melts in your mouth, not in your hand! I think that basically sums up my approach to the character.
GW: It should be an interesting ride, then! Well hopefully he's going to bring a certain degree of sarcasm and anything that would sum up John Crichton would certainly be sarcasm -- so there is a danger of similarity there.
BB: Well, that's neither here nor there. It depends on what role is needed by the series, not what role it is that I would want to impose. And you know what, to be perfectly honest, if you look at Richard Dean Anderson's performance over the years, it flows back and forth between comedy and heavy dramatic performances and what Richard is doing is Richard is serving the script and serving the story.
It's good to have that bag of tricks to go to, and hopefully I was able to do that as John Crichton. But it's an entirely separate set of circumstances, an entirely different character. Sarcasm, irony, wit and humor run throughout the course of most of humanity. The question is how's it manifesting at the time! I wouldn't say that John Crichton has cornered the market on humor in science fiction.
GW: Well, certainly he has definitely a good angle on it, and hopefully some of that will carry into your new character.
BB: Well, yeah. Look, I love it when humor and comedy and drama all kind of merge together and flow naturally out of the character. If that's going to exist then it has to exist out of how the character is built.
GW: Right. A lot of fans have been spinning this question for years now: Do you think Stargate contributed to Farscape's cancellation?
BB: Not in a direct fashion. What was responsible for Farscape's cancellation was a convergence of bad circumstances. It had to do with financing and numbers, as it is with most series. And having said that, four years is a very long time for a space-based science fiction program to run, especially one as ambitious as Farscape was in its scope.
GW: That's putting it mildly, too! I haven't seen as much of it as I've liked because I've been concentrating on Stargate.
BB: Well quite frankly you should go back and watch it from the beginning and watch every episode, as I am doing with Stargate! [Laughter]
GW: So you've been given all the DVDs?
BB: Well I had to hunt around, but I'm lacking Season Eight because they're not really available. But I've been badgering people to get me Season Eight. Of the last two weeks I've watched 130 hours of Stargate.
GW: Oh my gosh. So you have been asked to catch up on the entire show?
BB: No, they didn't ask that. The idea of me actually watching them may have scared them. There are few things worse than an actor who has an idea! No, I just feel that in order to go on to a production which has go on that long, I want to know the story thus far.
GW: What do you think Farscape and Stargate have in common? What might fans of Farscape who tune in for the first time have to look forward to?
BB: Well, both of them have long arc stories. Both of them have a fair amount of character-based development and interaction. They're both obviously science fiction. You know, I was talking to someone about the difference between the shows. About two-thirds of the way through my current marathon I popped in a DVD of Farscape just to contrast the difference. You know, Farscape is like sci-fi crack or something. [Laughter]
GW: It's exotic. Very exotic.
BB: Well, it moves so fast and so quick, and it moves so much visually. There's an element of Farscape which is almost overwhelming and it's not good, casual viewing. You have to pay attention. You really have to pay attention. It was a conscious choice on the part of the creative team down there to say, "You know what, we're just going to go balls to the walls and see how far we can push it." And sometimes it's just too far.
There's obviously differences, but the differences always come out in the way the stories go. Farscape is set in a completely alien landscape and therefore becomes denser and denser and more difficult, in a way, to understand, because the alien mythology -- you're completely immersed in it. Whereas something like Stargate has Earth-based mythology as well, and you have an Earth setting, so you don't have to explain how the toilets work. On Farscape you kind of have to explain how to open the doors, how to use the toilet, "Where do I get tooth paste?" So there's a lot of unknowns, and that makes it particularly dense.
After playing the lead role on Farscape, Ben Browder is no stranger to working with sci-fi creatures and aliens.
And it sort of feeds the story in a way which is different from the basis of Stargate. Stargate has a more accessible entry point which is: "American military going through the gate to an alien world." So there's familiarity, and in a way, in that sense, it's easier on the audience. But at the same time there's more that carries balance between the real and the unreal.
So you have completely different challenges simply based on how the shows are set and how they're constructed by their creators.
GW: Is that going to be playing a part of what's going to appeal to you about Stargate SG-1 as an actor because it's so different in that respect, yet so very similar?
BB: It's a huge challenge for me, as an actor, to walk on to a show which has been running for eight years, and with a production team which has been together for eight years. It's a scary task for me to go into that situation. I only know what I know, and I only know so much, so I go back to square one -- where I have an awful lot to learn.
GW: Have you met your fellow actors or been to the set yet?
BB: No! I've never been to the set. I've met Michael Shanks ["Daniel Jackson"]. He and I shared a plane journey to Vancouver and chatted for three straight hours, and compared notes on living in a science fiction universe and shooting a science fiction show. It was a really good, interesting conversation. We had a good time. That was my first encounter with anyone from the Stargate production team. And then I met Joe and -- who's Joe's writing partner?
GW: Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie.
BB: Paul. Yeah. I met Joe and Paul at the Saturn Awards. Then later I met Brad [Wright, executive producer] and had a brief introduction to Christopher Judge ["Teal'c"] down at Comic Con. So the paths kind of kept crossing. It's always kind of interesting, they're sort of a sister world in a way.
GW: It's almost like it's meant to be!
BB: It's kind of strange that way. And if you think about the fact that Claudia Black's going to be there -- Claud and I had this thing where she would say, "Ah, we're never going to work together again." And I'd always be like, "No, the truth is every job we do we'll be together." I just didn't figure I was going to be right!
GW: And that's not too terrible a burden.
BB: No, it's not a bad burden at all! [Laughter] The world is small. The world is small, and you think, "I'm shooting a show in Australia which is a hemisphere away. It's already tomorrow there."
And I come back and I end up going back up to Canada, Battlestar Galactica shoots across the streets. I can go over and visit Trisha Helfer in the afternoon, who I played Lee Majors to her Farrah Fawcett. The world sometimes seems really small, and it is small.
GW: Do you hope that your character will get off to a bumpy start or do you think he's going to be an instant "good guy hero?"
BB: What I hope is that the character is interesting and adds to the sum total of Stargate SG-1, as opposed to standing outside. I hope that the character offers interesting possibilities to the stories, and how he interacts with the characters.
It's a new challenge. Season Six, obviously, when Jonas was added to the mix, I actually think was really interesting. I liked Season Six quite a lot. I think they did a lot of really cool and interesting things in Season Six.
GW: It was a chance to be different.
BB: It is a chance to be different. But the idea that you can replace an existing character on the show is absurd. You can't replace Richard Dean Anderson. It's impossible. And whatever the circumstances are that involve him being less involved, I think it's advantageous from a production standpoint to have four members of a team going through a gate instead of three. And I think it facilitates the stories, as well. I think at a certain point you need that.
Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) joined SG-1 in Season Six, only to leave one year later.
GW: So you believe you're going in to facilitate the stories, not nearly as much as replacing Richard Dean Anderson.
BB: Well, that's how I view my job. You're talking to a guy who has not been involved in a show for a year. I'm not writing the show. I'm not producing the show. I'm not directing the show. I'm coming in to do a job. And what I hope is that it's going to contribute to the process. You cannot come into a situation and try to remake, rearrange what exists and what works. You try to find a way to add, not change.
GW: Do you have any ideas about how your character will develop? Do you want the character to go in a certain direction? Do you want to be able to make suggestions and be an input to the writers?
BB: Nope! I don't have suggestions or input at this point to give to them. Any input that I have will be as a reaction to someone else's hard work. I've watched the series and just think that I have a tremendous challenge in front of me. It's kind of exciting and scary at the same time.
GW: Once you get your feet on the ground would you be interested in contributing a story every season or so?
BB: Well, that's an entirely separate question. It is something that I did on Farscape, but Farscape is not Stargate. Never the twain shall meet. The fact that I wrote on Farscape does not indicate anything about whether I'll write on Stargate or not.
GW: What are you most looking forward to doing on the show?
BB: Heh, going through the gate! The first time through the gate -- that's it. I'm looking forward to what's on the other side of the gate.
GW: Life-long dream, huh?
BB: Well, you know, think about it. Wouldn't you like to do that?
GW: I would certainly.
BB: There you go.
GW: Yeah, definitely. So many people have said that you and Michael Shanks, because you look so much alike, it's going to be causing some interesting problems. How are you going to deal with looking enough like Michael Shanks to be his long lost brother?
BB: I don't know. I don't know that when we get on camera whether there will be a problem. Basically, I have seen comparisons. It's been drawn to my attention that we look similar, but you can match up a few photographs. Anybody can look almost like anybody.
GW: Brad Wright jokingly made a stab that they were going to shave your head.
GW: And we're all hoping that that's not the case!
BB: [Laughter] They're gonna shave my head? Oh, that'd be interesting. That'd be a fun day at the barber's. Yeah, because Christopher Judge has grown hair now, right?
GW: Yeah, since he lost his symbiote.
BB: If I shave my head then they're going to confuse me with Teal'c.
BB: "God, he looks so much like Christopher Judge!" We've got a whole separate set of problems. Or I'll look like the chevron guy!
GW: Hey, Gary Jones!
BB: [Laughter] Is the chevron guy going through the gate now, 'cause this is the chevron guy, isn't it? "Chevron guy goes through gate" ...
GW: One of our moderators wants to know if there are any leather pants in your future.
BB: There's none in my closet! Whether there's any in my future or not ... I'm pretty sure that I'll be wearing some military uniforms. I think you can safely bet that I'll be wearing some fatigues, but I wouldn't be holding out for the leather pants. I haven't requested it, how about that? That'll be my one input to the producers. "You know, I'm seeing this guy in leather!" I don't think so.
Browder doesn't want to replace series lead Richard Dean Anderson, but to add his own contribution to the mix.
GW: Do you hope that there will be a chance for Anthony, Wayne, or any of the other Farscape actors other than Claudia to guest star on Stargate in the future?
BB: I'd love to see them working anywhere they're working. The obvious danger of having Claudia and I in a situation is that people will be making comparisons between the two shows. The whole of the audience does not cross over. I'm sure there's a certain amount that has and does cross over between those two shows. It makes for an interesting kind of situation, but I don't think it's a situation you want to invite on a regular, full-time basis.
But you know, Star Trek actors have been on Stargate on numerous occasions. The question for any production is: "Where do I get the best actor to do the job that we need doing for this part? I think Wayne and Anthony and Gigi -- the whole Farscape cast is an incredible cast. I love them all dearly and would be more than happy to work with them.
Again, you're into questions which, quite frankly, I have no influence over. I haven't really thought about it. It's odd enough that I'll be walking on to set and Claudia will be in there.
GW: Well, that'll be kind of like helping you pass the baton along.
BB: [Laughter] Hopefully she won't get blamed for the bad things I do. "Damn Farscape people!" "It's not Claud's fault! It's Ben's fault!" It's always my fault!
GW: Are you open to seasons beyond Season Nine, working on Stargate?
BB: Well, I think we should get through Season Nine first! Quite frankly I've gotta get through my first week of work first before you think beyond. When you imagine something and you imagine it going well then you would say, "Yeah, it should go on forever."
But the reality is, being boring and being real about it, you don't know until you get there. Whenever you step in front of a camera you never know if it's going to work, because what worked once doesn't work twice. For all the best intentions, things will either work or they won't work. I would love to be reassuring and be able to say just to myself, "Oh, yeah, this is definitely going to work." But quite often I find that making television, making film, doing plays, telling stories, there is a mysterious component to it and you never know if it's going to work.
And if it works then hopefully an audience will come to it and you will get to do more. And if it doesn't work, then run for the hills!
GW: Well, it's a tremendous compliment to you as a performer that you haven't even stepped into the set yet and they wanted you to play this part, which is really cool.
BB: Well you know, I enjoy the company of the people that I've met there, and hopefully they feel the same way about it. If you're going to spend these huge chunks of your life and relocate to another country, and spend 60, 70 hours a week working your butt off, you want to be in the trenches with someone that you enjoy working with.
Hopefully at least some ground work is laid that way, and if not, the first thing out of their mouths is, "Who is this asshole?" Then again, it could be! They may be saying that already.
GW: Well, RDA has always said that the cornerstone on his set is laughter. So you can definitely be assured that you'll be in for more of that.
BB: Well, every set has it's own culture. There is a micro-culture which occurs on every show, and everyone is different. Some sets are better places than others. It's surprising to discover which sets are good places to work and which ones aren't, but the general indication is it's a good place to work. Claudia speaks very highly of her time that she spent there in Season Eight, otherwise she wouldn't be back for Season Nine. If she didn't enjoy the process and didn't enjoy working with the people up there and with people up there and with Michael, then she wouldn't be back. So that speaks volumes.