Keith Hamilton Cobb:
A Nietzschean Beautiful Person
Keith Hamilton Cobb, who plays genetically enhanced Nietzschean warrior Tyr Anasazi on Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, has no problem relating to the "elegant, articulate tower of attitude" that is his character. "I'm like Tyr in every respect," observes Cobb in his resonant baritone. "Everything that I in my genteel social upbringing have been taught not to do, he can do. Unfortunately, I'm not genetically enhanced. It's sort of like 'Keith on steroids.'"
A popular soap opera actor and one of People Magazine's "Most Beautiful People in the World" four years ago, Cobb had his Andromeda character specifically created for him, unlike all of the other cast members except Kevin Sorbo. Karen Gorman-a former vice president of programming at Tribune Entertainment, which produces Andromeda-had worked with Cobb before, and asked head writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe to create a role for him.
"It's custom-tailored and then notched up several degrees," explains the tall, muscular actor. "We all sat down and talked, and I said that I needed something that would do justice to my size. I've spent a career being smaller than I am in many ways. I don't fit the suit, I don't look average, I don't act average, I don't speak average. And I don't want to have to anymore. Kevin was the inception of this whole show, and he's not average either."
Man and Superman
With the former Hercules star cast as the idealistic hero, Cobb found himself playing a rogue from a race that values survival above anything else. "I think Robert got a very strong sense of who I was as a person when we sat down. He came up with this species, and this guy particularly." Cobb pauses to consider the aspects of the Nietzschean mentality to which he can relate. "I'm brutally pragmatic to serve my own interests. That makes me very frank, very internally manipulative-I've got several plans going at once. The internal politics are extreme."
Coupled with that mentality is the super-human Nietzschean physiology. "We call them genetically engineered super-humans, and the word to remember is human, because although they may be stronger, faster, they may see better, they may smell better, it almost makes them more human," points out Cobb. "When they feel emotions, they feel them extremely. There's no words in their lexicon for pride, because pride has no use-pride, morality, ethics, these aren't words they understand. Vengeance has no use, although that creeps in."
If Tyr ever had cause for vengeance, it would be because he lost his family when other Nietzschean tribes betrayed his Kodiak tribe, leaving him on his own. And because the most important role for a Nietzschean is to pass on his genes, he seeks a mate above honor or glory. "Whatever I have to do to get to tomorrow, where that woman may be waiting for me to make babies, to start my family, I will do. If that means stabbing somebody in the back, even somebody I care about, I'll do it. There's no sense of a fair fight."
Though Cobb read Beyond Good and Evil, The Will to Power and Thus Spoke Zarathustra when he began to study for the role, he finds Darwin more relevant to Tyr's way of life than Nietzsche. "[The Nietzscheans are] survivalists, and it's about procreating better than yourself, making lots of babies, strengthening the gene pool," says Cobb. "The men get laid a lot, especially the strong ones. Like the birds, where the males are very colorful, the Nietzschean men are all about attracting attention, showing that they are the best. That can be a great deal of fun to play.
"I think to name a race of people Nietzscheans may not mean in any way shape or form what the philosophy means today," adds the actor. "I'm sure Nietzsche has his fans, but like all philosophers throughout history, he says something that is extremely cogent to the condition of mankind surrounded by endless skeins of nonsense. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is just a rambling tome-I defy anyone to tell me it's not nonsense. The other works certainly have their value if you're ready to sit down and pick out things that are specific to Nietzschean culture as it exists on the show. I think that if you and I could get into a time capsule, we would find all sorts of ideas and names that have trickled down through the ages, but don't mean nearly the same thing to you and I having this conversation today."
When viewers met Tyr, he was working for a nasty mercenary named Gerentex, who was paying him to maintain order as the crew of the Eureka Maru pulled the Andromeda Ascendant out of an anomaly where it had been trapped for 300 hundreds years. "I needed money to get to the next place-it's a means of survival," explains Cobb. "Dylan and his newfound crew seem to be the next vehicle. But now that we are together in this situation, human emotions and ethics and ideals will force Tyr to adapt or leave...and leaving isn't really an option right now. There's strength in numbers. Better to be inside an attack-ready starship."
Oddly enough, Tyr is one of the few crewmembers who calls Dylan Hunt "Captain" from time to time, as a sign of respect when Hunt takes an action of which the Nietzschean approves. "Tyr would be the one you'd think would be furthest away from falling in line with any particular status or course of conduct," notes Cobb. "It speaks to the relationship that's growing between them. A lot of really nice stuff could come out of that, if they choose to pursue it.
So far, Hunt has taught Anasazi basketball, and Anasazi has tried to get first officer Beka Valentine to lead an insurrection against the captain. They all appear to understand one another, but the differences in their goals and philosophies cause constant clashes. For Hunt, the top priority is restoring the Systems Commonwealth, which brought diverse species together in peaceful cooperation. For Valentine, the safety and security of her crew is paramount. For Anasazi, all that matters is survival-his-even if other Nietzscheans suffer as a result of his actions.
Larger Than Life
Cobb grew up watching the original Star Trek and reading science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, whom the actor admires for his scientific background. "His imagination was such that he could send it into the future and say, 'Based on what I know scientifically, this is probably what the year 3000 will look like.' Whereas if we begin to just fantasize about how things are, we get ray guns. I see the importance of appealing to the audience, but the tendency on television is towards fantasy, which is not as interesting to me."
"They set up a very strong paradigm with this character on Andromeda," continues Cobb. "What is a Nietzschean's idea of a practical joke? Here's the big black Nietzschean with long hair-what's he going to do to me? Being in that power position, you have the ability to mess with people. You don't want characters to be too 'bad,' because you're afraid that audiences won't like them, but if you begin this arc towards kindness and goodness, before you know it, the character's extremely boring. If they are able to maintain the edge that these people have to have, the Nietzscheans, it's all about them-which doesn't mean that they can't do sublimely generous and kind things.
"I play heroes, though that doesn't mean I have to play a good guy, a smart guy, a good-looking guy or whatever-there has to be some powerful force within him," insists the actor. "I can't play gratuitous bad guys. I look for the pro-active in roles. I want to be self-actualizing. Tyr is an anti-hero who achieves magnificent ends by very dubious means. As do many of the classic heroes of theater which I like to play. Those are very exciting, the kings and princes somewhere within the man."
Noah Keefer on All My Children was such a character as well. That role, which earned Cobb a Soap Opera Digest Award and a Daytime Emmy nomination, was also somewhat custom-tailored for the actor. "They didn't intend it to be that way initially, but for me to play the character they had written never would have worked. But they liked me, so somebody took a chance and said, 'This is unique, let's make the character this guy instead of trying to make this guy the character.'"
A stage actor at heart whose theatrical credits include Othello, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Hamlet-the latter not in the title role, which he really wants to play, along with Richard II-Cobb was startled when People named him one of the most beautiful men alive. "I'm always flattered by accolades like that, but I start thinking, who makes these choices and what is the beauty? I did an interview to go along with that, and they printed maybe five lines about my hair. I thought, 'There's nothing here that would lead anybody to believe there's any internal beauty.'"
Cobb's appearance is unusual among television regulars, to say the least. "I look at my colleagues in the business and the people I've seen at auditions, and there's nothing quite like it. I think that in a place like Hollywood, people tend not to know what to do with somebody who's that unique. They're afraid of the choices that presents them with. When I do something like All My Children, I can say here's the record of success. I had a life in the regional theater, and those people still come and look for me. I'm very flattered they remember who I am."
Though Cobb has acted on many TV shows, including Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Suddenly Susan and Beastmaster, television remains frustrating for him. "Sitcoms have never been my strong suit," says Cobb. "I have never played the clown convincingly. It's so stilted, spending a week tweaking whatever humor you can find. As actors, we tend to throw ourselves into the moment-to-moment reality of the scene, but half that scene may be cut out because it doesn't fit on the TV. You think, 'Where's the rest of this scene that I worked so hard on?' I want to see the arc."
"I am not a producer, and I've given up trying to understand the science of television," adds Cobb quickly. "If you had shown me Ally McBeal, I would have said no way. Or Hercules, for that matter. Forget about it! So what do I know? I just know what I would watch. I'm a dramatic actor; I watch dramas. I like Law and Order. I like the darker side of Chris Carter-I didn't really care for X-Files but I liked Millennium very much, especially [the] first season."
Cobb is looking forward to attending science fiction conventions, a duty that often comes with such high-profile sci-fi TV roles. "I can vouch for the intensity of daytime fans; I've been there, so I don't imagine I'm going to be thrown by it," chuckles Cobb. "I'm sure it's quite an experience. I haven't really experienced the fans. I did get stopped by a couple of young men in Vancouver two months ago, before we were airing, who knew my name. So if that's any indication, I'm sure they're quite militant." (Fans can learn more about the actor at his Website: www.keithhamiltoncobb.com).
Though he has taught acting to children and adults, "I'm the first one to tell you I can't tell you how to act," admits Cobb. "I discuss ideas, and talk about things that might work for me sometimes. But when you're out there on your own, it's your best trick. I had too many teachers that held themselves out there as the definitive Method. I subscribe to the Keith Cobb Method. And as far as I'm concerned, mine's as good as anybody else's. You find it, you make it work and half of it may end up on the floor anyway."
Despite the frustrations of the medium, Cobb's current cast consists of people he genuinely enjoys working with. "Everybody is very kind," says Cobb. "There's a bunch of good people on this show in every aspect of production. There's no tension, everybody's very caring. It's a dismal place, the big soundstage-no natural light, it's always cold or hot-but the personalities make up for that. Everybody likes to work on the Eureka Maru set because it's very dynamic, a hodgepodge of things. You work on the Andromeda, in Command, we tend to get bored up there sometimes."
Cobb spent several years at the Playwright's Theatre of New Jersey and doesn't rule out the possibility that he might write a script or two about Tyr. However, he doesn't think he'd want to direct Andromeda. "I look at what they do and it seems not only tough but stilted," says Cobb. "I've directed for stage, and I like that, to look at the whole picture. But to think about how I'm going to cut it up when I edit it together, camera angles and so on, I don't know that I would be able to develop that. I want to produce works for the stage. Everything I do is really working to get back to being some sort of a stage entity-actor, producer, director-that's where my ideas exist when I think about artistic endeavors."
"Certainly there are a lot of things to explore, if they choose to explore them, in this venue as well," adds Cobb. "It's this process of making, of growing. Maybe this gig will get me seen by people and I'll get the next gig, I'll move forward. I'm proud when I'm working well, when people are respecting the work I'm doing. I think this character is magnificent, and I think he has the potential to be even more so. I'm proud that I'm there to make that happen."