She doesn't share Pa'u Zotah Zhaan's Delvian mystical powers, her millennial lifespan, nor her blue skin, but Virginia Hey nonetheless shares many things in common with the character she plays on Farscape. Both women are deeply spiritual and have a surprisingly wry sense of humor.
They're also both bald. "I have to shave my head," sighed the Australian-born actress in a recent telephone interview from her homeland, where the series films. "They don't use one of those prosthetic heads on me because my makeup is already three hours long and it would add another two hours - it would be five hours getting into makeup. I think I'd probably die!"
Instead, Hey finds "joyous ways" of enjoying herself in the makeup chair. "I listen to meditation tapes, because - very much like the character - I'm quite spiritual as well. It's amazing how alike Zhaan and I are, because she has a great love of science and medicine and spirituality and so do I."
Hey! You're Turning Blue!
Though Farscape has been a great success for Sci-Fi and Zhaan is one of the most popular characters, Hey was uncertain for awhile whether she would be able to continue in the role because the makeup made her so ill. "It's plastic, it molds to my skin so my pores can't breathe or sweat," she explained. A naturopath in training, Hey researched herbs which could help her system cope with the strain. "First thing every day, I have a bottle of mineral water mixed with vitamin C powder, live acidophilus cultures, echinacea, St. John's Wort," and a variety of vitamins.
"It's amazing how alike Zhaan and I are," said the statuesque actress, who has thick blonde hair when she's not bald for television. "The producers and the casting people had no idea that I was interested in medicine and spirituality - it's a very private thing, so it's ironic that I'm playing Zhaan and our lives cross over in so many areas. She's an amazing character. If I could be alive for two thousand years, I would, and I think if I could keep going in the direction I'm going, I think I would end up being Zhaan. I'm not kidding!"
Although she wasn't sure at first that she could sit perfectly still for the hours of makeup, the vivacious Hey learned to set her mind to it. "When the makeup's going on, I find it an extraordinary, fascinating process, even now. I truly do love the process and think it is extraordinary - the most challenging makeup I have ever seen. It's kind of like a painting is being painted every day."
"If someone told me a few years ago that I would sitting through three hours of makeup where I have to sit very still, I'd have been saying no way - I don't think that I can sit still for more than five minutes," she added with a laugh. "I have to sit upright and very still, looking straight ahead and not moving. I have two young ladies doing my makeup simultaneously, and because it's very symmetrical makeup, the lines have to be very precise."
Zhaan's markings relate to her spiritual level; other Delvians have darker purple skin and a variety of marks etched in gold leaf. "She's a level 10," said Hey, admitting that she's not certain how many spiritual levels Delvians strive to attain, nor what nirvana might be for the long-lived species.
"A year and a half ago, I did have to go, 'OK, now I'm an 800-year-old priest.' Now I just fly into being her. The makeup doesn't make any difference. Sometimes if I'm having trouble with a scene, I'll look in the mirror and try to psych myself into whatever part of the dialogue I'm having trouble with, but that's such a rare thing. I know her so well, usually as soon as the director starts to rehearse with us, I suppose I just become her."
In fact, the actress admitted that she sometimes forgets how odd she must look to other humans. "When I'm talking to people, I don't have an awareness of my face as blue, so I just think most of the time I think I'm not blue!" she giggled. "It doesn't really assist me in getting into character because I don't really get a chance to use it. Although occasionally, I go to the bathroom and I'll look up in the mirror and I'll go, 'Whoa!' I forget that I'm blue!"
Someone once asked Hey if Zhaan's skin was a tattoo. "Can you imagine being tattooed for a job?" she demanded. "I can't really be an alien. In the beginning, that's the problem I had - which human traits do I get rid of and how do I get rid of them? It's so automatic as an actor to behave like a human - you put yourself in a situation and you think, how would I react to that, with emotion and thought and body language? You call upon past experiences to help you, but they're past human experiences."
For the first few episodes, Hey struggled as the different directors gave her different suggestions about Zhaan's behavior. "They would say, don't get involved physically if someone runs in the room and is panicking, don't get excited along with them because that's a very human trait - always remain calm and devoid of their human excitement."
"I tried that, but it just didn't work," she continued. "Zhaan looked stoned all the time. The people who are watching the show are human, and they relate to human emotion. I don't think there's a human actor alive who's playing an alien who doesn't introduce human emotion, because it's all we know."
Still, some of Zhaan's most humorous moments have come from the discrepancy between the more human characters and the Delvian, such as when she walked in on John Crichton and Aeryn Sun in a passionate embrace. "Uh-huh, this carnal stuff, I remember. 700 years ago, maybe I did it!" joked the actress. "I think of the struggle to try to sort through the baggage in our poor little pathetic human lifetimes, and I love playing Zhaan because she doesn't have that. It's not difficult to drop the human baggage, it's an absolute delight and joy!"
Zhaan does have frightening aspects. At the end of "That Old Black Magic" she turns on Crichton in a chilling manner, and in "Rhapsody in Blue," she spends the entire episode fighting madness as flickers of her other self struggle to surface.
"She does have a dark side but it's not like the human nonsense that we have to go through on a daily basis," noted Hey, revealing that the struggle is ongoing in the first several episodes of the second season. "It's more exciting to play a character with such complexities. I think if she was pure and saintly all the way through, it wouldn't be as exciting for me as an actor. This dark side gives her color and complexity."
The actress declined to talk details because in Canada and New Zealand, the series is behind the U.S., while it has not yet begun to air in Australia, where it films - "I think they're just waiting for the right time, maybe they're waiting to get top dollar!" However, she confirmed rumors about an "S&M villain" who will be appearing on a regular basis.
She believes Zhaan may have a romance, but isn't sure: "I don't even have to bite my tongue because it's not written. Sometimes it's hard for me not to give away stories because I get so excited about what's going on. I swear that the writers are psychic: I reach certain points in my life, and suddenly a script is put on my desk the very next week, and there are parallels. It's really uncanny."
Because the actors and writers both work "pretty crazy hours," Hey did not have time to set up a meeting with them at the start of this season to discuss where Zhaan is going. "We were all struggling to find ourselves in season one; everyone was trying to find the right direction. Then we got so busy that we didn't have time to have a meeting. The scriptwriters, bless their gorgeous socks, are really accessible to us, and that's very unusual in the work that I've done previously to Farscape; they're only a few rooms away."
Hey said the actors are invited "to just go hang out with the writers and have a bit of a chat," so occasionally she will drop in to ask questions. "Sometimes they'll just say, "Yes, dear,' and other times I think it might spark something. David Kemper said to me once, 'You show me in your performances which direction you want to go in, and I'll pick it up and I'll take it from there.' So if I read something in the script, I might decide to twist the scene or do something wacky that's got nothing to do with the original script. It's possible to take her into different dimensions, and David always does notice. We sort of feed off each other."
Hey grew up watching science fiction, particularly Lost In Space, though she is quick to add, "I'm not a fan who's taken it to the degree that I would be dressing up as an alien if I wasn't playing one...although there's nothing wrong with that!" The actress laughs. "I know a lot of our fans are really excited about the show and have their walls covered in Farscape memorabilia. That's not me. I love science fiction, but I have so many diverse interests."
"What a crazy life we lead, trapped in this other dimension of television and theater and film life," she reflected. It's a loss of reality. And then suddenly something happens, the cat vomits on the floor, it snaps you back straightaway!" Though she has lived and worked in England, the nearly 6-foot Hey has done most of her work in American productions. "I suppose it's a cross between English, American, and Australian, but it's fairly even."
"God knows why I didn't go and work in America," said the former model. "I should have. My agent should have said, 'If the casting agents are casting you primarily for American projects, maybe that tells you that you fit the American market.' But I don't have the kind of ambitious, cutthroat drive that a lot of actors and actresses have. I'm happy cruising along. Especially now at my age, I don't think I could sort of lob over to L.A. and join the industry over there.
Hey finds it hopeful that many women who have been in the industry a long time are finding success as producers. "This is the first time in history women have been able to stay in the industry and be respected enough to be able to take a higher position. There are more female directors now and female writers as well, so hopefully there will be more."
Her own ambitions, however, lie in many different directions. "I am such a big child. People will ask me, what do you want to do, and I always say, 'When I grow up...' It's changed over the years. When I grow up, I want to be a naturopath, or I want to be a producer. Then I think, hang on a minute, I have grown up! How much more grown up can I get?"
Describing herself as a formerly "very shy" child who is now "a terrible hippie," the actress broke typecasting as a glamorous socialite by playing rebels - notably the Warrior Woman in Mad Max II: The Road Warrior. She also starred in the James Bond film The Living Daylights. Yet she wanted to be a doctor, then a singer, and now focuses much of her energies on naturopathy. She occasionally consults psychics and clairvoyants, but devotes the bulk of her spiritual energies to meditation.
In her spare time, Hey supports the Humane Society. "Not that I don't love people, but I really love animals and I believe all life is equal here on Earth." Being in the business of entertainment, "if you have any spare time, you tend to want to stay away from what you do for a living, to get as far away as possible to relax and re-energize."
All in all, being a blue-skinned priestess has been very good for Hey, both career-wise and in terms of her personal goals.