Battlestar Galactica is surely the biggest television surprise of the last decade – who imagined that a crappy Star Wars rip-off TV series from the 70s could be reimagined in the 21st century as the smartest, most relevant show on any network? It took me a long time to accept that this show could be worth anything, but when I gave in and watched it, I got hooked immediately. Every person I bring to the show is an uphill battle… until they actually sit down and watch the thing.
Battlestar doesn’t take place in the future; rather it’s a show set in another galaxy where humans have colonized twelve planets and created a peaceful society. A generation ago the human’s robot slaves, the Cylons, rebelled, and a bloody war was fought. Forty years of peace followed, with the Cylons disappearing. But they return one day and wipe out the twelve planets, leaving only a ragtag fleet of less than 50,000 human survivors lost in the galaxy, trying to find the mythical planet of Earth. Meanwhile, the Cylons have new models that are indistinguishable from humans, and they have infiltrated the human fleet. The show examines war and conflict in a very modern setting – a recent episode had a human partisan on a Cylon occupied human world acting as a terrorist, blowing up a café full of humanoid Cylons.
The cast of Battlestar was at Comic Con this year, but I was too busy to make it to their panel. Color me very bummed. I was able to get a few minutes with Edward James Olmos, though, as he was promoting his son’s directorial debut, the gangster film Splinter. On Battlestar Olmos plays Admiral Adama, the man in charge of the ragtag fleet, and the man who has had to make some tough and controversial decisions to keep humanity alive.
To find out more about Splinter, visit the official site here. To order season one of Battlestar, click here. To order the first half of season two, click here (the second half of season two is coming soon!).
Q: Talking to the cast of Splinter, one thing that keeps coming up is that while the film is a thriller and it needs to be exciting, the movie has reality to it. It seems to be the same thing with Battlestar – sure it’s sci fi, but it’s addressing political issues. How important is that to you in your work?
Olmos: It makes all the difference in the world when you have this passion for what you’re doing. You’ve got to have a strong sense of understanding of that. It affects everything. Intent equals content – the intention with which you’re doing something comes out in the content. Everytime. If your intention is to make money, you see it like that in the art. If your intention is to become rich and famous you can see the intention in the choices the person is making and where they’re going. There’s no hiding a commercial artist when you see one. I’ve never been able to do that – and I’ve made commercial pieces of work. They all had the sense of understanding humanity in a way that allowed you to go to the movie and come out understanding a little bit about yourself. That’s what it’s all about.
Q: Do you think the reality is important to the audience as well?
Olmos: Did you see American Me? That’s an ugly movie; nobody should be exposed to that. What the hell do you want to go for two hours and watch that life? Better you should go to The Godfather – at least that’s romantic and you come out humming the theme song.
Q: Life is ugly sometimes.
Olmos: It is. And that’s exactly what [Splinter] is.
Q: The reality that you guys bring to Battlestar will be continuing in the third season – we’re going to learn that Adama has a dark past.
Olmos: Man, it’s brutal. I can honestly tell you the first two years cannot prepare you for what happens in the third. Not even close. I’ll tell you this, you’re going to have to deal with suicide bombers. You’re going to have to deal with the spread of a pandemic for the annihilation of an entire race… done by the good guys! The good guys are the ones doing it. It makes you stop and reevaluate.
You’re talking about the last vestiges of the human species. When we enter the third season – we were 49,000 people when we left our planets at the very beginning, at the first episode of this journey to find another planet to breed humankind again. We’re now less than 38,000. We lost 11,000 people, man.
Q: Are you surprised that the show can be that dark and that brutal and yet be so popular?
Olmos: Yeah! Yeah! I’m totally blown away. We won the Peabody, man! Give me a fucking break. How in the world does that add up? Where does that line cross? How does that happen? I get chills. I’ve been doing this for 41 years, man, and Battlestar Galactica wins the Peabody? I’m the fucking guy that did Stand and Deliver! I’m the guy that did The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. I have used the television medium to the best of my abilities and done stuff that will be lasting forever in the annals of the artform – and Battlestar Galactica gets the Peabody.
Q: How long do you see the show going on for?
Olmos: We’ve been talking about it. It’s hard to write this. These guys are always on the verge of a nervous breakdown because they can’t go in for the flash and the simple, basic sci fi mode. If they do that, they’ll crush everyone.
Q: Everybody expects more.
Olmos: Oh man, they do. And they’re waiting, and they’re anxious. And you know what? I’ll give you my attention, and you are the best show. Now what are you going to do this time? People are dying to turn on the television and see this piece of work. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know what to say about it. I’m blown away.
Q: Adama has to make tough decisions, has to do things that cross the line or could be considered troubling – how important is it that you agree with him, or understand where he’s coming from?
Olmos: As a human being? Me, as an actor? I never get into that kind of psychology. When you’re inside that world, everything is the end of all humankind. Every single day, every single time. We did last week – it was the darkest week I have ever spent in film, ever, in which I am literally going to annihilate, push all the nuclear weapons I have on the ship to annihilate everything. The Cylons, us, everything. It’s all over guys! I have my finger on the button, man! And it’s so brutal. It’s just so brutal what happens, man.
Q: How do you decompress from that?
Olmos: It’s hard. You come home from work worn out. The whole day you spent in this vicious, vicious world that’s self-destructive. I’m in constant conflict with everybody – my son, Tigh, the relationship between me and everybody. It’s tremendously difficult. You just feel for everybody.
Q: That’s part of the joy of the show.
Olmos: It is. Everybody loves it. They love that tension, they love to go, ‘What’s he going to do now?’ It’s amazing. I am so lucky – I am a true believer in the program. I believe this is one of the greatest programs I have ever been involved with in my life and that I have ever seen on television.