Earth's Alien Liaison
Earth: Final Conflict's Ronald Sandoval is just this side of being a villain, but actor Von Flores likes him just fine that way. With a resume packed with genre appearances - Darkman III, Johnny Mnemonic, TekWar, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, La Femme Nikita, Forever Knight, and several others - Flores is no stranger to extraterrestrials, cyberpunk, or strange devices implanted in people's brains.
But even in the world of Earth: Final Conflict, where the Taelons have come among us with motives no human has yet been able to fathom, his character's willingness to embrace a cyberviral implant (CVI) in order to serve the aliens is remarkable - and chilling. Sandoval's loyalty to the Taelons - or, more precisely, to Da'an, the alien ambassador to Earth - is absolute. He's Fox Mulder's worst nightmare.
"I think that I would be hard pressed to disagree with Sandoval were I in his situation," said Flores recently during a break from filming the series, which is undergoing some changes this season - most notably the exit of its lead Kevin Kilner, who plays William Boone. "I don't know if Sandoval's methodology would be my approach, but his ambitions are something I can accept. Sandoval honestly believes that he's serving humanity."
Boone, of course, would disagree, but that doesn't bother Flores. "I feel that there are no absolutes in life - I find that heroes work in a very constrained environment that would be very difficult for me to portray," he noted. "I much rather prefer moral ambiguity. I have a lot more questions about life than I have answers, and I don't readily accept societal definitions. Hence, my affinity would be toward a character who is questioning."
Though he has never appeared on Star Trek, Flores' name is closely linked with those of two legends from the original series: Gene Roddenberry, who created Earth: Final Conflict, and William Shatner, who was credited as the author of the Tekwar books, which were turned into films in which Flores appeared as Sonny Hakori. "I remember running home from school to catch the 3:30 showing of Star Trek," the Canadian actor recalls. "Of course, what drew me to them was the storytelling - the humanity and how we solve our problems."
What drew him to Roddenberry's subsequent series? "I auditioned for the role of Sandoval - actually, at the audition, the character name was Bayliss," he recalled. "The description was very different from what is now Sandoval." Flores was intrigued by the aliens and particularly with the point of view of the humans who supported their coming, but thought his audition had gone terribly and did not expect to be cast. He was called back to read with Kilner and ended up getting the part.
Once he had the role, getting inside Sandoval's head was relatively easy for the actor, who said he "surrendered to instinct" in playing the role. "Have you ever been in a situation where you didn't fully understand what was going on? Are we not altered by everything in our environment? What was it like when you first set foot in your kindergarten class - wasn't that something foreign to you at the time? " he demanded. "I think that man's greatest advantage over all others in the animal kingdom is his ability to assimilate quickly. We don't even have to wait for evolution or Mother Nature to make work any situation we face."
It's obviously difficult to draw parallels between the daily events of Von Flores' life as an actor and Ron Sandoval's as an alien security attache. Still, continued the actor, "Sandoval is me and I am Sandoval when the situation calls for it. I will draw from my life whatever is necessary to play a scene. I think that, for the most part, if the scene is well-written, all I have to do is show up and say the lines. The rest will take care of itself. I think I have been fortunate in that regard in the show." The kind of actor who "just says the lines and hopefully allows himself to affect or be affected by his fellow thespians, as guided by the director and dictated by the script," Flores said that "if there is a moment in a particular scene that allows my imagination to dance...hooray! That's nirvana."
His favorite episode, "Sandoval's Run," which was submitted for Emmy and Gemini Award nominations for the actor, concerns the degradation of his CVI, the implant which assures his loyalty to the Taelons by keeping him focused on the aliens' imperatives, while heightening his senses and improving his memory. Without his CVI, Sandoval regrets imprisoning his wife in a sanitarium and killing Boone's wife, among others. He "rescues" his wife, giving her to the resistance, but is ultimately re-implanted with a new CVI against his wishes and led to believe that Boone killed his wife. The episode reveals not only how dependent the Taelons are on the CVIs (which cause the deaths of their hosts after only a few years) for control of their human supporters, but also that the Taelons need humans as much as they claim we need them.
Would Flores accept a CVI if he believed it were for the good of humanity? "It would depend on what I was hoping to achieve," he admitted. "If it would require pragmatism to have a CVI, maybe. If it is the lesser of two evils, maybe. Otherwise, I am not a proponent of implanting anything foreign in my body...not even a tattoo."
Flores finds the series to be very realistic in terms of the human reactions: "I think it is the exploration of interactions between different peoples at different stages of their personal growth, with their agreeing or disagreeing views. I have been witness to these in my life, certainly." He also finds it plausible at least that our planet has been visited by extraterrestrials. "Einstein died a frustrated man with his 'Unified Field' theory," he pointed out. "If we are the expression of some supreme 'being,' then I find it very difficult to believe that we would be the sole bearer of intelligence in this universe. And if our environment is an example of how diverse an 'expression' can be, then I find it hard to believe that our planet would be the only place to have such 'expression.'"
The actor calls his appearances on such sci-fi shows as TekWar and La Femme Nikita "blessings," in that "I am very fortunate to be a working actor; for the most part, the characters I've played have been interesting and I have enjoyed playing them. Sonny Hakori gave me an opportunity to play a character that was, in my opinion, quite flamboyant. You can tell from his costumes...that was a lot of fun..." But Flores' own taste in entertainment tends more towards foreign films. "I am a huge fan of the Italian actor/director Roberto Benigni," he said." I would love to do a romantic comedy with him. Also, Luc Besson, Peter Greenaway, Terry Gilliam...there are so many!"
A New York-trained actor who studied chemistry at the University of Toronto and worked in real estate for a time, Flores stumbled into the profession when a colleague from a night class invited him to accompany him to an audition which called for Asian actors. "He never showed up and I decided to go in his place. The rest is well, you know how it goes." He joked that for a long time, if a Canadian production needed a long-haired Asian bad guy, he was the man they called.
Flores applied to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and was accepted into their Shakespeare program, but found the tuition to be "out of reach" at the time. Still, he aspires to play any of the Shakespearean fools or Chorus in Henry V.
Describing himself as "extremely ambitious," Flores noted that would like to expand into directing and perhaps writing. "I would love to do everything," he confessed. "Whatever opportunity presents itself to me, I hope I have the courage to recognize and seize it." He is not, however, interested in writing for Earth: Final Conflict, nor has he discussed the long-term arc of the series or his character with the writers.
"The schedules are such that I find I have little time to discuss arcs and character development with the writers. I just read the scripts and find out what is happening to the show and my character that way," he said, noting that he's not sure how the "final conflict" of the series' title will play itself out. "Also, what is on paper and what ends up on the screen are somewhat different, depending on editing." He is sorry to see the character of Boone leaving the series, since "Kevin brought an element to the show that is uniquely Kevin," but is confident that the show's "flavor," while different, will still be appealing.
"My favorite things about this profession are meeting some wonderful people and creating a vision just from the simplest idea," Flores said. "I hope this series has a long life, with many more twists in the story - I think it has something to say."