There are certain words you never want to hear if you’re in the “Battlestar Galactica” universe.
Among those words are, “We don’t know where the robot is.”
Fortunately, the assembled group of bloggers and journalists were visiting the set of “Battlestar Galactica” prequel “Caprica” last week, reducing the chances that any one of us could be a Cylon in disguise. No, the robot in question wasn’t a stealthy, flesh-coated cyborg with growing sentience and insidious motives so much as a giant, 6’7″ metallic behemoth incapable of moving on its own, much less plotting humanity’s destruction. For now, at least.
Set more than 50 years before the events of “Battlestar Galactica,” “Caprica” premiered in April with a two-hour telefilm and will return to Syfy in January 2010 as a series that follows two grief-stricken families, the Adamas and the Graystones, on an arc that viewers already know will lead to the near-anihilation of civilization. “Battlestar Galactica” fans know how the story looks when it ends, but “Caprica” is about the very beginning of the end.
On this sunny October morning, though, the aforementioned online scribes were wandering through a Vancouver set bearing no resemblance to the cramped, grimy interiors that usually typified “Battlestar.” The “Caprica” sets are triumphs of simple, character-driven production design, sometimes warm, intimate and lived-in, other times sterile and expansive and modern (by our standards).
While the pilot was shot largely on locations in the Vancouver area, everything has been recreated by production designer Richard Hudolin and his team. That allowed those of us on the set visit to walk out of Joseph Adama’s (Esai Morales) traditional Tauron home, go around a tight corner and find ourselves in the lake-side manse owned by Daniel and Amanda Graystone (Eric Stoltz and Paula Malcomson).
TV magic, y’all. TV magic.
More on the sets for “Caprica,” plus the panel with the show’s stars, after the break…
The robot, in case you were curious, is in Graystone’s office, standing between the metal towers that helped scan users for their virtual reality avatars in the pilot, if memory serves. Graystone’s office is where the disparate styles of the rest of the production design come together, with marble floors and stairs running into polished wood bookshelves and an assortment of anthropologically eclectic pieces of art, including a suit of armor from a Japanese warrior, African carvings and an electric guitar. Graystone’s desk is festooned with vintage pictures of Eric Stoltz with his new TV family and a series of framed child’s paintings, poignantly signed “Love Zoe.”
The Graystone office shares its high ceilings with the rest of the house, which is built around a two-story window overlooking a lake and the hills on the other side. Though the original location actually overlooked said lake and hills, the new location overlooks and elaborated painted backdrop, which looks fine from a distance, but becomes increasingly disorienting (and actually a bit nauseating) the closer you come. That backdrop will only be used for passing shots where the focus is on the characters in the foreground. Any time you get a character staring out the window in existential crisis, a more detailed backdrop will be green-screened in. That’s why it won’t always been partly cloudy and bright out the Graystone window.
The Graystone house is chilly and bright, with the white, gray, taupe and blue serving as the primary colors. The Graystone family is WASP-y and wealthy and just a bit cold. The house matches.
The obvious contrast is the Adama home, where the color scheme is built around autumnal coppers and ochres. If the Graystone abode feels almost like a sample home, the Adama residence is lived in and warn, from the stained wood furniture to the Persian rugs. Since the Adamas are Taurans, a decision has been made to decorate their home as a pan-ethnic playground with Asian, African and Middle Eastern accents, with intricate cabinetry and a mixture of bowls and vases everywhere. Of particular interest to the blogging minions was the bedroom of one William Adama, with its mixture of toys, pyramid ball mementos and sailing paraphernalia.
We saw four or five sets and I ended up with only one major complaint, as regards the Graystone kitchen: If I’ve made untold piles of lucre from inventing an essential and universally pervasive technology (the haloband) and very clearly designed my own house to meet my exact specifications, pouring unimaginable qualities into both open space, but also achieving utmost modernity at every turn, this is not the kitchen I’ve chosen. It practically abuts the living room, the fridge isn’t a subzero and it’s inadequate to my occasional entertainment needs and why the heck am I cooking with electric, much less on such a cramped stovetop immediately next to my tiny sink? Even if you accept that the Graystones don’t cook and that the kitchen was an afterthought, whoever designed the rest of the house would not have plunked a cramped and non-utilitarian kitchen in such a prominent space flowing through the rest of the main floor.
Yup. I’m a stickler.
After going through the set, we had a press conference with “Caprica” stars Stoltz, Malcomson, Morales, Sasha Roiz, Polly Walker, Magda Apanowicz and Alessandra Torresani. Although they’ve had 10 episodes to get accustomed to the set, the actors are still impressed.
“It’s a whole new character,” says Torresani. I”t’s a whole other element. And let me tell you, it’s my new best friend. And I wouldn’t know how to play the robot without being in that lab. It’s a whole new character. You can’t even explain it. It’s like walking in, it’s home. I feel cozy. I want to bring my blankie and go to bed in there.”
[And yes, the “blankie” comment from the 21-year-old actress prompted much snickering from her older colleagues.]
“I remember listening to a teacher once who spoke about letting the environment effect you,” Morales says, looking around. “You behave differently in a little chapel than you would in a cavernous cathedral. You walk into your home different from how you walk into work or parent or your future parents’ home. It’s a whole other thing. So it does effect it.”
Stoltz cracks, “I don’t know if you got a tour of our dressing rooms. They’re a little less impressive than the sets. None of us are here, really, I don’t think, for reasons other than we really really enjoy the material and the process of working together. We love Syfy, but none of us are getting $3 million per episode… For all of us to sign on like this… it reminds me of independent film. The actors you got for independent film were actors who wanted to do the material, because you weren’t going to get famous or rich or necessarily advance your career. I think we’re all here for the same reason.”
Naturally, the actors received many questions about how “Caprica” fits into the “Battlestar Galactica” legacy.
“I was warned by a friend,” Morales jokes. “I was warned. He said, ‘Dude. You can play anybody else you want again, but you will forever be known as as Joseph Adama, father of General…” I mean Admiral, sorry… No, but you know what I mean… The fact of the matter is that it makes you really care to get things right because these fans are really rabid and they’re sticklers for a lot of details and they’re find them, just bear with us.”
Malcomson notes, “For me, it has very little bearing on anything I do. We’re before, so in so many ways, if you’re beholden to something, the work would suffer, I think, so we have to just do our show as best as we can. And we’re in an incredibly fortunate situation where we get to share what they have created. We get to walk into a beautiful environment for that and we have people who are lining up to watch it. The danger of that is that we’re f*** it up. Really. That’s the danger and we don’t want to do that. But we can’t worry about that.”
Stoltz, who will direct one of the first episodes of the season’s second half, notes one of the practical positive sides of following up on one of TV’s most acclaimed shows.
He observes, “Working with the creative team, Ron Moore and David Eick and those people have assembled a crew. Basically, we inherited this unbelievably vibrant, creative crew that came from ‘Battlestar.’ So they weeded out the wheat from the chafe and we really got lucky, because you come to work and everybody does their job really well from top to bottom and that is rare. That’s very rare and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
With an unusually long gap between shooting the pilot and the beginning of series production, plus an extended production pause between the first 10 episodes and the second 10, there have been rumors that “Caprica” was taking its time to find its creative footing. Talking with reporters, though, the stars choose to pitch the deliberate pace as a positive.
“It’s a s***storm,” Malcomson says. “In the best possible way.”
Stoltz adds, “It’s a fluid process and the interchange between us as actors within the scenes and us with the writers and with the directors, we’re still sort of finding our sea legs. I can only equate it to a Dickens novel, where each chapter you get a little more information, you figure something out and you try to make sense of a life, rather than having all the answers. It feels like it’s still occurring, which I think is what makes the work exciting. I think once you feel like it’s dead and set-in-stone, it’s time to look for your next job.”
The sense from the cast is that the first 10 episodes of the series focus on the Adama and Graystone families, both still mourning the victims of the terrorist attack in the pilot.
“We’re finding these families post-trauma,” Malcomson emphasizes. Their children have died. We don’t want to sell those stories short. We want to let them breath. So in some ways we asking viewers, in this first 10, to sort of stick with us.”
From there, there’s a promise that the second half of the season will be more proactive and that the show’s tone may shift, but Stoltz maintains that the tone, like the characters, is a work-in-progress.
“I think we’re still finding it,” he says. “The writing comes in and then it changes, some alchemy happens when the actors bring the scene to life, and then the ending and the studio, everybody puts a little coat of paint on it and then the music. You never know how it’s going to come out. All you can do is your best and you’ll see what it becomes.”
Full “Caprica” Set Visit Gallery.
The “Caprica” pilot is now available for purchase on DVD or digital download. The series will launch in January of 2010.