Babylon Five's Non-Resident Alien
A couple of facts about recurring Babylon Five guest star Wayne Alexander: he's not British, and he's not an alien. OK, you probably guessed that last, but the other detail has been widely reported as fact, and since he's played four aliens on the series - most memorably Lorien, the ages-old being who brought Sheridan back to life and helped end the Shadow War - one has to wonder what quality the producers saw in him to make them cast him as Jack the Ripper, a Drazi, a Narn, and a First One.
Alexander thinks he has an explanation: "For whatever the reason, I seem to have an ability to sell things through the rubber. The acting that you do in rubber, you would probably be laughed off the television if you did it not in rubber. It's big." The actor, a veteran of several Broadway plays who says he doesn't subscribe to any single method, spent time sitting in front of a mirror with the makeup on to figure out which facial muscles he needed to use to create a recognizable emotion on an alien visage.
"I have to play with my face," he laughs. "When I want to smile as an alien, if I smile as Wayne it doesn't even register. So I have to come up with some other way to do it; it's a purely technical process. If your face is completely covered, you basically only have your eyes and your body to work with."
That explains why he's gotten to play so many aliens. As for being British, the actor thinks that executive producer J. Michael Straczynski may have played a joke on him, since he got the accented part of Sebastian in "Comes the Inquisitor" over several British actors. "Somebody in England sent me a copy of an interview that Joe Straczynski had given, saying that I was a British actor. I don't know whether Joe actually said that or the guy assumed I was - for all I know, for publicity purposes maybe Joe thought it was a good idea to say that I was British! I was just proud of the fact that I convinced a lot of Brits that I was," Alexander reflects.
The California native comes from a theater background - he has played Hamlet, his favorite role, twice. Alexander says that in the sort of training necessary for classical repertory, "they teach you to talk like nobody else. I would go home from school and people to me sounded like they were all from Kentucky all of a sudden, and I sounded to them like I was from Mars!" Alexander's girlfriend, a costume supervisor on Babylon Five, put in a good word for him with the producers because he was so passionate about the idea of being on the series.
"I actually read for a part before Sebastian - my people called to try to get me in the whole first season, because I thought the world of the show," he says. "I had an appreciation for what Joe was doing in terms of this arc, that he had an idea of the whole life of the show for five years, which was new to me for television."
Alexander is also something of a Trekker. "I liked The Next Generation, [but] I thought Babylon Five had elements about it that addressed the issues I didn't like as much about the Star Trek world. It was all very neat and tied up in a little bow at the end every time. I liked the look of [Babylon Five] - it had a gritty reality that to me was much more appealing than the reality of Star Trek, which was sort of like a new Pinto," he jokes.
"If it's good writing, an interesting show, I like it," he observes of science fiction, adding that he was sorry when Space Above and Beyond was cancelled, and that he would love to appear on The X Files. "Remember that show, Brisco County? That was a very interesting show, a Western that had a science fiction element to it. My familiarity with the whole process [of filming a science fiction series] makes me appreciate what I see more. I know more of the ins and outs of it, and how it's all put together."
As to how he came to play four different characters on Babylon Five, the actor suspects that the part comes first and then they think of him, rather than any specific ploy to keep him around. But he has not had to audition since he played Sebastian. "Which is one of the nicest things an actor can ever have happen - I can't tell you how good that makes me feel," he adds. "I love working on this show, and I love all those people, so it's great when they call me and say, we have this part we'd like you to do."
That's how he came to play such relatively small parts as G'Dan in "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place" and the Drazi in "Intersections in Real Time." They were looking for someone who could invest a one-time character with emotion through the prosthetic makeup. For the audition which got him on the series, however, Alexander did homework. He asked for a script, which is something not all actors do for auditions: "they just take their sides that they're auditioning from, and go with that. But one of the sides we had was the end, the walkaway, where Sheridan confronts Sebastian about being Jack the Ripper - so I was really able to work on all kinds of stuff that I wouldn't have been able to, had I not had the whole script."
Alexander enjoyed interacting with director Mike Vejar right away, and felt good about the audition even though he had heard that the casting department wanted to bring in some "names" to read for the role. "I had a great time doing that episode," he concludes. "It basically was three people, Mira [Furlan], Bruce [Boxleitner], and I, over half of that script was just the three of us, and we worked very well together."
The role of G'Dan came "out of the blue," but Alexander was given the impression that the producers were sorry to have gotten through the whole third season without asking him back, and was flattered to be offered the part. It was a one-day stint, but the role required full prosthetics, which means very long hours. But since Alexander had recently filmed Hypernauts - another show by CGI wizard Ron Thornton which Alexander describes as "Babylon Lite" - he already had experience with the prosthetics, and laughs that in fact "it was cool" to wear the red contact lenses. As for the makeup itself, "Two days later your skin is just peeling off your face - you have to moisturize it two times a day just to look like a human being."
He was lucky with Lorien, because "that mask was incredible - any little thing I did with my face played through the rubber." But that part required him to wear painful contact lenses which he could only keep in for twenty minutes at a time. "What they had to do, for the metallic gold color, they had to use a gold flake paint," he explains. "It wasn't a smooth surface." Despite that discomfort, however, Alexander loved playing the millennia-old alien, a role he wishes to return to - contacts or no.
How does one prepare to play a character who has been alive since before recorded history? "I worked with a guy up at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, back in the mid-70s or so, named Alan Fletcher, and one of the basic things that he talked about which has always held me in good stead is that you just keep asking questions," Alexander relates. "The more questions you ask, the more questions will come, and the character that you're developing will become more fleshed out and more real. Basically, that's what I was doing with Lorien - and the questions are sort of unanswerable. How would someone who is millions of years old view living in the moment?"
Alexander says that he needed to figure out where Lorien, a member of the species which spawned the younger races of the universe, would put his energies. "This is a guy who was content to wait thousands of years in his cave until he thought something interesting enough was going on outside that it was worth going out for," he points out. "As an actor, you learn to conserve your energy, to put your energy where you really need it. This guy has lived through millions upon millions of moments - what could get him worked up?"
As a result, the actor needed to get the character's background before he started putting together his performance. "Lorien was in the first six scripts [of season four], so I was lucky, Joe had had the first six or seven scripts already in the can. I asked him if it would be possible to get all six before we started filming, and he said yes. Even though I don't think actors necessarily have to know the plot points ahead of time, for this character, there was so much backstory to the guy that I felt it was important to know absolutely who he was. And the only way to know that was to get everything that Joe was ever going to write about him, so that I could have that to process." Alexander had thus read all the Lorien scenes before he went before the cameras to play the man who spelled out Sheridan's doom for him.
In "Intersections in Real Time," a late fourth season episode, Alexander played a Drazi brought in as part of Sheridan's torture, to try to force him to give up his resistance. The part required a highly emotional, terrified performance...followed by an appearance which suggests that all was not as it seemed. "It'srare on television where you just see two people sitting in a room talking to each other," muses the actor. "Especially where one of them's tied to a chair! There's not any action, it's all interplay between the two of them. I give a lot of credit to Ray Burke, who played the interviewer - he did a great job." Alexander and Burke worked together onstage in San Francisco, so the episode was a reunion of sorts.
The actor will be back on the series this season, though he's not saying whether or not that means Lorien will be back. While he repeats his interest in reprising the character, he adds that, to Straczynski's credit, "he doesn't seem to let any external force, whether it be the production entity of TNT or Warner Brothers or whether it be commercial success, influence him in terms of the story. If someone's dead, they're dead! I don't care if they're popular!" However, he does feel sorry for actor Jason Carter, who played Marcus Cole. "It's so sad, because Marcus died to save Ivanova, and if anyone had known what would happen with Claudia Christian, maybe we could have had him stick around!"
Alexander enjoys interacting with fans, and has been a guest at two conventions - one with about 300 people in California, and one with closer to 3000 people in England which made him feel "like a rock star." Working in Sun Valley, he says, "is like guerilla theatre - you don't get a sense of what the show means in the lives of fans. It was humbling, and so uplifting" to witness the impact of Babylon Five.