Any Day Now, Back To Babylon
Until a series of network conflicts left the future of Crusade: The Babylon Project up in the air, it looked like Richard Biggs had the potential for a recurring role.
The background arc of Crusade involves a medical crisis, so after five years of playing Dr. Stephen Franklin on Babylon 5, Biggs seemed the most logical person to cross over for regular appearances on the sequel; he had already filmed one episode.
With the franchise's future now up in the air, it's not clear whether Franklin or anyone else will ever cure the disease threatening Earth in Crusade.
But Biggs isn't worried about his own future. Within a few months of the finale of Babylon Five, he was cast on Lifetime's Any Day Now, one of the most well-reviewed dramas the past year.
The series has already been renewed for another season, so the actor is looking forward to hiatus, when he will be traveling to conventions honoring his last role.
"Babylon 5 was wonderful for me," says the Los Angeles-based actor, who had played Dr. Marcus Hunter on NBC's Days of Our Lives for five years before getting cast on the science fiction series.
Initially, since Biggs was not much of a science fiction fan, the appeal was steady work without travel: "It was a gig that was going to last 22 episodes - one year of money I could put away, that was the goal." But he quickly realized that the character-based drama had great potential.
"I had been in New York doing some theater, and I kept getting calls talking about this 'Star Trek thing,'" he recalls. "My buddies said, 'They haven't found anybody,' so I jumped on a plane and auditioned. It wasn't really on my priority list - I didn't watch Star Trek, I really didn't get into science fiction, I watched a little Twilight Zone - and when we first started Babylon 5, it was a struggle to get people to watch it."
In fact, despite good reviews and and an immediate following, nobody was certain whether Warner Bros. would green-light a second season for J. Michael Straczynski's brainchild, and the show struggled each year for renewal.
"They filmed the finale ["Sleeping In Light"] the fourth year, becuase we didn't know if we were going to get picked up for the fifth," Biggs notes.
"TNT came in and saved us, so we then were able to finish the fifth year and tack on that episode we'd already filmed. That whole arc was a struggle for everyone to complete, and I'm just glad we were able to accomplish that."
After jumping in on the second episode, "that first year was a lot of work trying to figure out not just my character but how he relates to the other characters; I think the first year was a lot of character analysis and discovery for everyone, including Joe.
" It was a lot of work, but for Biggs, it was also the most fruitful period of discovery during the run of the series.
"Those were the best stories, I felt - the first two years were really character-driven, and as an actor you got to really understand a lot about your character. The way that Joe wrote, he was very much open to collaboration with the actors, so it was a growing process. I'd say that at the end of the second year, I really started to get a feel for what this guy was about."
Franklin had to make a number of highly-charged decisions early on in the series, such as whether to allow a child to die in accordance with his parents' wishes when it went against the doctor's own beliefs.
"There were certain episodes that Joe would challenge you emotionally or with his writing, there was always something where you had to stretch yourself."
Biggs declines to name a favorite episode, but cites "quite a few episodes in that third year that are my favorites, either because of the emotional content or because of the writing - I just liked the whole rebel kind of a thing when we took off our Earth Alliance uniforms and Delenn made us our own uniforms, and we were now the rebels, in black. It was Babylon 5 against everybody."
The most difficult aspect of the show for the USC B.F.A. was the technobabble, "the cerebral science-fiction-terminology kind of exposition that I was responsible for," although Biggs - who originally intended to become a doctor himself - had already played MDs on several other shows.
"Franklin comes in, he tells people what's wrong, and he gives the show a scientific kind of a feel, but there were times when those seven-syllable words got to me!"
Thematically, the show had some moments of darkness as well. "It's pretty dark and somewhat hopeless on Babylon 5," Biggs reflects. "Here we are in this big embassy, if you will, and nobody's really getting along, and then our own people back home turn against us, and it's a struggle from day one to try to make things right.
"That was basically what Babylon 5 was all about: the last great hope for peace. There's the Star Trek universe, which is very clean and very crisp, and there's Babylon 5; there's two different galaxies that people can pick from, I think there's room for both of them."
Facing Harsh Realities
Yet despite the bleak outlook, Biggs was glad to be on a series which was not afraid to confront disturbing issues. "I liked some of the stories that Joe put out there - and the way he put them out there - because they were not run of the mill, you didn't know the ending," he points out.
"Joe was famous for giving you a spin on the ending, he would do something like killing a child rather than having the doctor operate on him. You're not going to see that on network. That's what I think drew people to this."
Crusade's premise leaves room for dealing with similar issues. The backstory posits an airborne plague which is slowly killing off everyone on Earth at the time of infection.
"How long you will live depends on your body; it's just a matter of time, so someone has to find a cure, and it's up to Crusade's cast and crew to do that," Biggs explains.
He appears as Dr. Franklin in the fifth episode, working with the series regulars to find a cure, but the methods aren't pleasant. "We're going to infect someone who is not infected and follow the progression of the plague from the very beginning, to see if we can find out how to kill it.
"This volunteer has agreed to do it because his fiancee on Earth has the plague, and he would rather die with her than live without her. It's a very powerful episode."
Although he said he would love to return for additional appearances, "go over there and kick those seven-syllable words around," the actor acknowledges that it was odd to be back at the production studio now that a new series has taken over the sets.
He admits, "It was a little strange - it was very familiar and yet very foreign at the same time. It was the same walls, it was the same people behind the camera, the same buildings, the same trailers...but at the same time it was a totally different story. I was happy to be back, but at the same time I felt like something was missing. I enjoy working over there and I enjoy the character, and it is a medically-based story, so I would hope to be back again."
While Babylon 5 hasn't exactly made him a sci-fi fan, it did teach Biggs to appreciate science fiction audiences. "Conventions have to be the number one perk of being on a science fiction show - the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet all different types of people who love what you do and want to come and hang out with you, from Australia to Germany to Italy to France to Holland," he says.
"That was something that I was not expecting; I didn't know about it until I was on Babylon 5.
When we're sitting out there in Sun Valley doing the show, you kind of get disconnected from why you're doing it, you know? So when you get to touch base with them and see how much they're enjoying it, it all kind of comes together."
Though the actor was delighted to get the feedback, "just listening to how devoted fans are to the story and how passionate they are about what you do," he was astonished at their comprehensive knowledge of the series, which often exceeded his own.
"The fans just assume that you know as much about your show as they do, and it always amazes them that when they get on a one-on-one conversation with me, they know more about my show than I do!" he laughs.
After the series wrapped, Biggs filmed the Babylon 5 telemovie "River of Souls," then the CBS movie of the week Forever Love and an episode of Diagnosis Murder.
"And then I got a call to come in and do seven episodes of a show called Any Day Now." The new series tells the story of two women in both the present and through flashbacks in the 1960s during the civil rights movement.
Hailed as one of the best dramas on television by several publications, including the Los Angeles Times and Variety, Any Day Now was quickly picked up for more episodes, and Biggs was told to plan to stick around.
Created by Nancy Miller, Any Day Now stars Lorraine Toussaint, Annie Potts, and Chris Mulkey. "We really clicked, and they said they would want to keep me around for awhile."
Biggs describes the cable series as "a great show, written by women and about women, these two particular women - one white, one black - living in Alabama, their friendship spanning thirty years, dealing with the civil rights movement and how it relates to their lives now."
He plays Detective Bill Moody, the love interest of Rene, the African-American lead on the show.
Bill was not quite up front with Rene about his marital status, which caused some problems in the relationship. "He's a regular guy, trying to make ends meet on a policeman's salary, he's got child support, he's got alimony, and he's just trying to raise his kids and pay the bills," Biggs explains
"In comes this woman, he hasn't dated in years and she sweeps him off his feet, and he's caught up into this while trying to end his relationship with his ex-wife. Just a regular guy who's sometimes overwhelmed. I find it interesting to try to get into the head of a character written by a woman - I always relate that to, this is how a woman must feel on the networks, being somebody's girlfriend. "I try to make this character as real as possible coming from that kind of slant."
That Little Something Extra
During his extensive theater work, Biggs preferred comedy to drama - in fact, he got his start as an actor singing in a production of The Wiz, which steered him away from his plans for medical school.
Though he says he looks for "passion or emotion or something just a little off, a little quirky, something that I can add to a character that makes it a little bit more interesting," the actor has tended to play cerebral roles, so it's something of a switch for him to be playing "a chili dog and beer kind of guy."
He loves comedy, but "just at this particular time when I walk into a casting director's office and they look at my resume, they tend to steer me towards the drama."
Stating that he has "never been as excited about a show as I am about Any Day Now, simply because of the content and the way that they're telling the stories - it's something you're not going to see on network," Biggs draws parallels with his experience on Babylon 5.
"It's great acting, great writing. It's somewhat similar to Babylon 5 in that you take what you have and you make your choices, and then the next week you can pick up the script and find out something you never expected. I think it's beneficial to any actor to take what is given to him and then run with it in any direction, and find out some things on his own. I think that's what made Babylon 5 so successful, because the show would allow you to do that."
The actor is also a writer who is trying to produce his first play in Los Angeles. "I write in a particular style, the rhyming couplet form, simply because that's my favorite," he says.
"I like Moliere and Shakespeare for the rhythm and the imagery and the rhyming - the same reason I like certain rap, because of the lyrical rhyming. That's how I write."
This play about the relationships between four young girls who grow up to be very successful women, based on Biggs' own four sisters. "It's a story that I have been working on with them for a long, long time."
Biggs is involved in fundraising for the Aliso Academy, a school for hearing-impaired and deaf children run by the sister of actress Mary Beth Evans, whom he knew from his soap opera days.
"We work with hearing children as well - hearing children have to learn how to communicate with deaf children, and deaf children have to learn to communicate with hearing children. I think it's a great idea." The school has a benefit auction each year to raise money; last year all the cast members from Babylon 5 came.
This year many will return, and "we're going to have soap people and some Any Day Now people show up, too."
Having come to L.A. for Babylon 5 with the intention of returning to New York as soon as he could, Biggs "would love to get to a place in my career where I can live somewhere else, I just want to come into Los Angeles or New York to work. I'd like to live in the Midwest."
Growing up on Air Force bases instilled a love of travel; the actor is going to England this month, then attending conventions in Oklahoma and Seattle in June and Atlanta in July. "This summer when we go on hiatus with Any Day Now, I'll be gone out of Los Angeles every weekend."