A Short Crusade
Crusade: The Babylon Project appears to have stalled before it really got launched, but that won't be a huge loss for Peter Woodward, who plays Galen on the Babylon 5 spinoff series. Woodward moved to the United States from Great Britain early this year not to act, but to write.
"Basically, I came here because I had a script that I was writing for a New York producer," explained Woodward, whose father, brother and sister are all well-known actors overseas. "I thought, if I do get offered work in acting, that would be great, but I came here as a writer originally." A Royal Shakespeare Company alumnus like Star Trek: The Next Generation's Patrick Stewart, Woodward is an established fight director who has appeared in numerous British films and produced one of his own screenplays, The House of Angeleo.
"In England I have been working as an actor and a writer - I've had my own theater company and directed a lot of fights and arranged stunts," Woodward said. "When I came here, I thought, I've got to leave all that behind and just concentrate on writing - and if the acting happens, then great. And it has. I've been very lucky."
The actor had seen Babylon 5 in England, but originally didn't make the connection between that series and the pages for Crusade sent to him by his agent for the audition. "It seems daft now, but my agent didn't make it clear at all that this was the same bunch as behind Babylon 5." Still, he found the sides "very refreshing, very well-written, which kind of surprised me - unfortunately science fiction still has this stigma as if it's not real drama, but in one sense you could say that it's more realistic drama than anything else. It's set in the future instead of rehashing the past all the time as a lot of our drama does."
Set eight years after the founding of the interstellar alliance and the fall of Centauri Prime, Crusade concerns a deadly virus which will kill everyone on Earth within a handful of years if a cure cannot be found. Woodward plays Galen, a Technomage who uses magic to reproduce the effects of science. Most of the Technomages have left the universe alone because of the conflicts among other species, but Galen sees the imminent danger to Earth's people and chooses to help, joining the crew of the ship Excalibur. If Captain Gideon is Crusade's knight errant, Galen is its Merlin.
"They are basically, if you like, sort of space wizards," Woodward noted of the Technomages. "They have huge powers which they choose not to use most of the time; they have great visionary abilities both in the past and in the future. The interesting thing about Galen is that he is a bit of an outlaw, he actually intervenes to help Earth save itself. I was interested in that idea and the character - who doesn't necessarily have a great deal of power himself, but when combined with the spirit of humanity, there is a lot of power there. He has an extraordinary streak of humanity, he's a melancholy guy with a very sardonic sense of humor, and what attracted me to him is that he is a most unexpected character to find in a science fiction story."
Woodward believes that "the very fact that they cast a Brit suggests an outsider," revealing that Galen also lives as an outsider in relation to the Excalibur crew. "He visits the main ship regularly, and whenever he's around, you know that something is going to happen." In early drafts of scripts, he was the only character to call the captain regularly by his first name. Because the character does not appear in every episode, the actor had time off to work on his screenplays during production, and also to offer suggestions to the executive producer that he was pleased to find were well-received.
"I've been playing the character that J. Michael Straczynski has created, but what Joe tends to do it to watch how you play the scripts and then kind of add to it and embellish it following the actor's lead," Woodward stated. "Any suggestions that I make, or that I make in his mind through my own performance, he will take on." Like Babylon 5, Crusade is meant to have a long-term arc, so it would be difficult for the actors to pitch story ideas, "and frankly he won't tell us much about it, which I think is very wise. He will give us some hints about the direction in which the story is going, and obviously like any writer he may well surprise himself and come up with stories he wasn't expecting. None of the details are being given to us, so we play the story as it happens to us."
Woodward met and worked with Tracy Scoggins when she appeared as Captain Lochley in an episode, but had little contact with the cast of the previous Babylon series. "Basically, as you know, the cast is entirely new and the whole concept is new," he explained, adding that he wasn't sure how much crossover was expected between the two shows. "What's great is that we have the best of both worlds, because we have the strength of the team that created Babylon 5, who've all worked together before. And it's a totally new idea, new stories and new characters. It really is an ideal job."
The actor expressed that he was impressed with the previous show's fans and said that at the beginning, the network seemed to be an asset to Crusade - one which Babylon 5 did not have in its early syndicated period. "We had the huge advantage of starting with TNT, and they were incredibly supportive and nurturing of the whole concept," he said. Rumors circulated that the cable superstation was demanding more sex and violence in order to boost ratings, but Woodward had heard nothing of the sort.
"I wish the sex one was true!" he laughed. "There will be as much sex as the stories require, but I've asked about this and unfortunately I was told that is not a demand I can make for my character! As far as the action, I always thought there was a lot of action on Babylon 5. There will be a lot of adventure, but unless the audience gets interested in the people, it doesn't matter how many gunfights you have and how many ships you see being blown to pieces. If you're not interested in the people, then forget it. So rightly they're concentrating on getting to know these very varied people."
Woodward isn't at all bothered that his character will not appear every week, "so there is time for me to write. I actually quite enjoy writing while I'm acting, I find that one inspires the other." A graduate of Britain's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic arts, Woodward starred at the Royal Shakespeare Company in such productions as A Winter's Tale, The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream. The actor lived in New York during his youth when his father was working on Broadway and says his family is very pleased to see him on a U.S. television show.
"I kind of worked against becoming an actor, I always wanted to be a writer, but I got interested in directing fights and did that, and I was a producer for awhile," said the son. "I've always kind of known that I would act, but I've always wanted to do other things. I think one of the things about coming from a theatrical family is that you don't have any illusions about it, so in a sense I've never believed in the dream that a lot of people who don't come from film families have, all sorts of amazing ideas about how glamorous it is. A lot of those people tend to crash out and fall by the wayside. I always knew it was a lot of hard work and dependent very much on luck, and that's how it's turned out."
Woodward has worked with members of his family, most notably on the film The House of Angeleo which he wrote and produced. "It's about a real family of fencers and fight masters in the 18th century in London," he explained. "My family played that family - my father played the father and my elder brother Tim played the elder brother, and so on. My sister Sarah, who is an actor, is currently in Australia. Edward, my father, has never done a science fiction series but he has done every other kind of series."
He has also written an episode of a series on which he has appeared in the U.S which he hopes to get produced - "I can't tell you which" - as well as a documentary series. Contrary to the opinions of many Brits and some Americans, Woodward says he finds living in Los Angeles to be "very creative. I think that this city is one of the most maligned places in the world. Before I actually moved here, everyone said, they're a bunch of flakes out there, nobody can ever trust anyone, but I find people here to be hard-working, intelligent, I think that creatively the juices really flow here. Of course there are bound to be some shysters and charlatans around as there are bound to be in any industry, but I haven't come across them yet. So I really like L.A., which is probably unfashionable to say."
WIth no intention of giving up either acting or writing, Woodward considers projects on stage, screen, or television but notes that he doesn't miss live theater at the moment, after so many years in London of doing little else. "I want to act and write, I want to do both and I need to do both to feel fulfilled," he said. "If I can continue acting and writing for the next ten years in and around Los Angeles, I will be very happy. Of course I would always want to go back to the stage at some point, but I don't feel that's where I am at the moment. You need to balance it."
Crusade offered the best of all possible worlds, because it represented to Woodward quality television I feel that I'm invovled in a work of quality on which people care. "The remarkable thing I think about these scripts is that there's so much thought in them, long speeches of thought - people with a point of view exploring ideas. I think if you're interested in the Flash Gordon sort of science fiction, then Crusade won't be for you. But if you're interested in a genuine, thought-provoking look at a possible future, then it's a wonderful series.
In addition, he sees social relevance in the show. "It's possibly even more political than Babylon 5, the whole premise: traveling to other worlds to find a cure for the Earth's ills is a kind of very now concept. We're constantly trying to find solutions to all our various sicknesses, medical and political, peace and war and all that, looking through the universe for answers."
Unfortunately, the Excalibur's flight appears to have been cut short. But Woodward's is only beginning.