The Galaxy's Sexiest Starship
A different version of this interview appeared in SFX.
Lexa Doig may be the first actress ever tested to make sure she had screen chemistry with herself. The title character on Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda was described to the actress "as having a benevolent case of multiple personality disorder." To play the artificial intelligence of the Andromeda Ascendant, the hologram Andromeda, and the humanoid Rommie, Doig auditioned with a scene where these three different manifestations of the vessel's computer mind have an argument with each other. "I was all of the characters, I had to do the audition three times in a row," she laughs. "But I liked that challenge -- it kept me on my toes."
As Andromeda, Doig also plays the first starship with jelly boobs -- "which I've stopped wearing because they're too damn heavy and they hurt my shoulders," she adds. "My dad, who's a sci-fi fan, said, 'Is it absolutely necessary from a logical perspective for an AI to have such a low-cut top?' Then they played with the idea of having me in a corset, and brought in a fetish designer. She explained what was happening to my anatomy as she tightened it, because all of a sudden I had this pot-belly. 'That would be your lower intestines and bladder; your liver goes down into your back.' Bad, bad, bad."
Still, it's great fun to be a starship -- especially one who has physical forms independent of the central computer, thus enabling her to date, beat up bad guys, and see Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo) as he steps out of the shower. The flip side, of course, is that she can be turned off. Although Doig has struggled with the technical demands of a part that requires green screens, equipment to hold her hands still for effects shots, and performances shot independently of the rest of the cast, "It's uncharted territory!" she exclaims cheerfully.
Ironically, Doig originally auditioned to play Andromeda, yet was called back to read for tough, sarcastic first officer Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder). "I didn't see myself playing Beka -- not in a bad way, I think she's a terrific character, but physically I didn't think I was right for it." She read with Sorbo as Beka, "in the tallest pair of boots that I had, with the platform heels and toes, and I was still about eye to navel. When you see shots of Kevin and me standing next to each other, it looks silly. At least Andromeda's holographic persona they can stretch -- they make it any size they want!"
Doig gets to interact with her fellow cast members when she plays Rommie -- the humanoid body designed by engineer Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett) to be able to leave the ship and, hopefully, to fulfill his fantasies as she explores her humanity. But because she often appears on a screen or as a hologram, many of Doig's scenes can be filmed without other characters present. "They shoot the coverage of everybody else, then they shoot the coverage of me. We have this enormous green screen that goes all the way up the wall and across the floor, which is where we shoot a lot of the hologram stuff where size is an issue," she explains. "More often than not, all the actors are wrapped by the time they get around to doing my coverage. Because of the scheduling, I couldn't join production until they had pretty much wrapped the first episode, so that for a couple of days it was just me. I had no idea what the others had done, I hadn't even met the rest of the cast. So I didn't know how they had played scenes -- subtle inflections and things like that can completely change the meaning."
In the scripts for premiere episodes "Under the Night" and "An Affirming Flame," Andromeda had a vivacious personality. Yet the writers decided after filming that it would make more sense if she didn't have emotions until Harper built the humanoid body. "So we had to go back and re-shoot to take the personality out, and I had to loop everything. I cringe every time I watch, because everything about my performance in the first two episodes is completely manufactured. There's nothing organic or creative about it," sighs Doig.
But it works onscreen, and adds an interesting dimension to Andromeda once the humanoid body is created in the episode "To Loose the Fateful Lightning." Rommie finds herself torn between her interaction with people and her need to concentrate on ship's systems, with new emotional conflicts to deal with as well. The android can leave the ship, but the further she travels, the longer it takes her to communicate with the Andromeda Ascendant. "So she doesn't have the instantaneous sensor readings or anything like that. She also has batteries, and they run down, so the body becomes somewhat useless." It all makes her very childlike. "There's sort of an innocence," says Doig, "not like Trance, who is very mysterious, but although Andromeda is programmed to be very intelligent, she isn't used to having emotions and physical reactions. It takes her awhile to adjust."
A dancer and model who wanted to be an actress after seeing Porgy and Bess as a child -- "I wanted to be Porgy, although my dad tried to explain all the different reasons I couldn't play Porgy, who was male and black and a grownup and disabled" -- Doig grew up in Toronto in a household that watched a lot of Star Trek. She relies on her father and brother, both mathematicians, to explain her technobabble to her. "I remember asking them once why warp speed isn't possible, and bless him, they dumbed it down enough for me to understand. I have to trust in the show's writing to make me sound intelligent. I play this pseudo-omnipotent being, but it's interesting, because she does have faults and she does have her weaknesses. She needs an organic crew to operate her."
Doig worked with William Shatner on TekWar and her Andromeda co-star Lisa Ryder on the upcoming Friday the 13th sequel Jason X. She is looking forward to possible conventions and says she really liked The Next Generation, though she has not kept up with Deep Space Nine, Voyager, or Earth: Final Conflict (on the latter of which she was a guest star). It unnerved the actress to discover that there were Andromeda web sites a year before the show started filming. "There's an interest and a hope, the Roddenberry fans are very vocal about it, but there's a danger of building it up as what they want it to be...and when it turns into something different, it may seem bad as opposed to just different. I feel this way when I know something like Lord of the Rings, which is a favorite set of books of mine, is being made into a movie. You don't try to see it on its own merits."
Doig enjoys the balance between intellectual scripts like "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" and "The Devil Take The Hindmost" with some of the campier aspects of science fiction. "When I was doing Jason X, one of the actors was asking realistically what his character would do, and the director said, 'Let's not talk about the realism of a dead guy in a hockey mask chasing you 400 years in the future,'" she chuckles. "I love camp, I would love to do something completely campy on Andromeda because I'm tacky, but there is a danger because some people don't like that. A lot of our aliens look like castoffs from The Island of Dr. Moreau -- that's something that's being fixed. In the second episode, the cyborg girl was reshot because she was originally an orange cat straight out of Cats. Sci-fi can be very serious, and I like that aspect of it, because you get to explore concepts that people might not be willing to accept on a regular television show."
How much does Doig relate to her character? Not at all! "But I look in roles for something challenging, a little bit away from myself," she adds quickly. "In some ways most of us are like our characters. Kevin Sorbo is very much the captain of the team. Tyr was written for Keith [Hamilton Cobb], he's very smart and serious, but he has got a silly side that you don't get to see very often. Lisa Ryder is hard as nails but she's got this maniacal giggle. Laura Bertram is not as innocent as Trance, but she's young and she's a passionate student. Gordon Michael Woolvett, whom I've known for about ten years, is incredibly intelligent, he's a wisecracker, and Brent Stait has a very spiritual side. He's studied martial arts for years. Then there's me. But that's fun!"
The actress is pleased to be on a show with so many strong female characters. Having studied rhythmic gymnastics, Doig has little trouble with the fight sequences, which are carefully choreographed to make sure nobody gets hurt. "There was talk of developing a fighting style specific to the android, because she has an incredible amount of power," reveals Doig. "Although I did ask Robert Wolfe who would win in a fistfight between Rommie and Tyr, and he said Tyr!" Rommie will have a love life, beginning in the upcoming episode "Star-Crossed," which guest stars Stargate SG-1's Michael Shanks. Ah, the fun of having a corporeal body.
Doig's favorite career part was her character on the Canadian series Traders, on which she played "a bitch, the sort of character you love to hate, who was wholly self-serving and didn't care about anybody else, and did things I would never do. I love acting. I'm so lucky to have this be my principal job. It takes time to get everybody on the same page, so there are wrinkles that are still being ironed out on this show, but it's a great experience."
Having played the voice of Dale Arden on the cartoon Flash Gordon, Doig already has one action figure bearing her likeness, and is hoping to get another. "Dale Arden actually looked like me -- she was half-Asian. One of the producers went on eBay and found the action figure for Dale Arden for me. I would love to see Rommie as an action figure, but which costume? I don't think they're finished yet!"