ANTHONY DELONGIS, RENAISSANCE MAN:
Voyager's Culluh Whips His Foes
by Michelle Erica Green
Most genre fans know Anthony De Longis as nasty Kazon leader Culluh from Star Trek Voyager, but it's hard to recognize his face under all the makeup. It might be easier to identify him by his dinstinctive style of storytelling in numerous other projects - as an actor, fight director, stuntman, martial artist, and expert with the bullwhip. De Longis has given memorable performances on such shows as Highlander, Babylon 5, and Conan, but he also coached Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns and choreographed broadsword fights for Masters of the Universe. He's a theatrical Renaissance man, even when he's not doing period drama.
"I always loved the art more than the combat, although I always try to bring the truth of the combat in to articulate my story and my character a little better," explained De Longis recently on a break from working on The Magnificent Seven television series, for which he choreographs and coaches actors in swordfighting. The versatile performer keeps busy: when he's not in front of the cameras, he can be found writing for karate magazines, teaching bullwhip clinics, serving as fight director for the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, attending Star Trek and Highlander conventions, making martial arts videos, or researching his art.
De Longis is also a renowned coach and teacher, having taught stage combat and character movement in UCLA's theater department for almost twenty years. "Anthony De Longis was a great teacher...it contributed a great deal to the part, I can't imagine Catwoman without Anthony's whip," Pfeiffer told Entertainment Tonight shortly after Batman Returns was released. He also coached Anjelica Huston, Charlton Heston, Ellen Barkin, and David Carradine among others, and won a Dramalogue Award for his work at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
His unique skills have gained De Longis a special place in genre entertainment. The Highlander episode "Duende" was created for the performer. He had played scheming Irishman Lymon Kurlow in "Blackmail," to the enthusiasm of fans and producers alike, "but of course we all know what happens to the guest immortals - they end up holding their heads," he laughed. Lead actor Adrian Paul and several of the writers had liked his work, so when De Longis called with a pitch, head writer David Abramowitz invited him in. De Longis had done a great deal of research on the Mysterious Circle, and suggested that they use the concept in Highlander.
The Canadian actor became familiar with the Mysterious Circle because he had been in line to choreograph the recent Zorro production which ultimately starred Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins. De Longis was developing the rapier style for Raul Julia, but when the actor died, the original crew moved on to different projects. When Highlander's writers learned of the stylized technique, they came up with the premise that Duncan MacLeod owed his life to a woman who had married his conqueror in order to save the Highlander's life. The producers and De Longis were intrigued by the idea of having MacLeod face someone who had defeated him in the past - "that's the stuff that heroes are made of, putting them into a conflict where they really take a risk," so they created adversary Otavio Consone for De Longis to play.
"There's a personal responsibility when you're willing to step up and risk everything for a principle or a person - that's one of the things I like about that show, and the genre," said De Longis. "It seems like you get more heart, more people going after their dreams. It's maybe a little more fantastical in how it's articulated, but at the heart of it, it's people who care passionately about things that we often don't seem to get as much of in the more contemporary dramas, and that I find very appealing. I'm a romantic. There's a lot of integrity on the Star Trek series, too.
Ironically, on both shows De Longis played villains. "I play a lot of villains - my friends used to ask me, 'Do you die?' and I said, 'Horribly, as always!'" he chuckled. "I hope it's because I do it well. At the moment they seem to be seeing me in the role of the darker figure, and of course every hero has to have an antagonist or he's not a hero. I'm willing to step up to the plate and fill that role." For Voyager, the actor initially saw First Maje Culluh as rather misogynistic but somewhat romantic. By the end, he joked, "I was looking forward to smacking around Captain Janeway!"
When Culluh was introduced in "State of Flux," he appeared only long enough to bully Captain Janeway and whisk Seska off to his own ship. A fan of the original Star Trek series from college, De Longis "was thrilled at the idea of getting beamed up," and even more excited when he discovered that the character would be recurring. "At one point during the auditions I thought, 'Culluh seems to like the cut of Captain Janeway's jib,' you know? It looks like he may be romancing her a little bit! And I sort of played it that way. I got the part, and then I saw the rest of the script and went, well, I guess that's not in the realm of possibility."
Culluh's offscreen romantic liaison with Seska, however, would literally change Voyager's course. After she baited Chakotay, let the Maje and his henchmen torture the first officer, and claimed to have impregnated herself with Chakotay's DNA, Seska lured Voyager into a trap set by Culluh using the resulting child as bait. The arc included such well-received second-season episodes as "Alliances" and "Maneuvers," culminating in the cliffhanger two-parter "Basics."
"They were going to kill me off twice, and I dodged the bullet both times," explained the actor with a laugh. "The first time was in 'Alliances,' just like in Godfather 3 when all the Dons are on top of the roof. The ship drops down, and as the scene was initially written, they just decimated the room! I called up [executive producer] Jeri Taylor and said, 'Couldn't I kind of twitch on the floor so maybe I'm not dead?'" The producers elected not to kill Culluh, but in the original script for "Basics Part II," the character died along with the baby. In the final version, Culluh and the child survived while Seska died, but by that time it had been decided that the baby was Culluh's own child.
"I was just a little bit disappointed that it wasn't Chakotay's - it would have left the door open a little bit more," De Longis said, noting his regret that Voyager had no reason to pursue his character, hence little reason for him to return to the series. He believed Culluh had real feelings for Seska and would have raised her child as his own regardless. He also enjoyed his sparring with Mulgrew's Janeway, whom Culluh often scorned as a mere woman. "At one point I said to her, 'Boy, I thought space was cold, but you...' I guess that was sort of pouring gasoline on the fire. When we got to the two-parter, I came marching triumphant onto the bridge to hit her, and she said, 'Boy, I bet Anthony's been waiting months for this moment!' We all had a good laugh about it. It was fun."
De Longis is very popular at conventions such as the recent Toronto Trek where he did a bullwhip demonstration, and at Highlander cons where he actually teaches action clinics for performers. "I'm a specialist at using action to articulate my characters, and when I do my Q&As, I try to do a little demonstration of the acting choices I make for a scene, because that to me is what it's all about," he noted. "So we do a scene together: if you make this choice it tells that story and if you make a different choice it tells another story. They'll pick one and we'll go on from there. It's essentially an improv with weapons, which sounds like a horrible idea, but if you go slowly enough, it is very entertaining."
A late bloomer who was sure he wanted to be an actor from the first time he stood on the stage of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, not far from his native London, Ontario, De Longis studied fencing "to be more versatile with my body." He used the martial art to help rehabilitate an injury and went on to the national championships three times. "As I continued to study it, I thought, I need to know more, because this opened my eyes to the story possibilities, so I got a black belt in tae kwon do, then I studied with Guro Dan Inosanto for five years."
His work with the kung fu expert enhanced twelve years of training with Hollywood fencing master Ralph Faulkner, who got De Longis his introduction to ballet. "Nureyev used to come down and work out at the studio when he was in town, and one day they said anybody who could fit into the wardrobe could be a supernumary at the ballet. I couldn't pass up that opportunity, so I managed to scrunch myself into a costume that was much too small, and I got to stand about six feet away from Nureyev when he was in his prime." In addition, he saw a production of Zorro with whip work, "and I thought that was the most extraordinary thing I had ever seen, but when I looked around for somebody to teach me, I couldn't find anybody. So I got a whip and I taught myself."
As a result, De Longis has a style that's very different from other masters of the whip: "It combines my fencing and my martial arts and my dance, my efforts to be as dynamic a storyteller as I can be. You saw the first glimmers of where I was going with that when I worked with Michelle Pfeiffer. We wanted to have something for Catwoman that was visually dynamic and exciting, very sensual and alluring, and yet also with a real air of danger. Kind of like having a kitty by the tail."
His work with Pfeiffer is exemplary of De Longis' attitude towards the use of action in scenes. "There was one scene for the ice princess where Catwoman captures her and steals her away and she's tied to a chair when Batman comes in. Tim Burton said, 'I don't think there's any whip action in this scene.' But it called for her to suddenly appear and throw a chair at Batman. I thought, if she swung in on the whip and then slashed the ropes and threw that chair at Batman, for a second she has a whip in one hand and a chair in the other, which to the entire world says 'lion tamer.' Then, as the girl tries to get away, she wraps her around the waist and pulls her back in and says, 'Girl talk. Gotta go,' and whisks her away. Because Michelle had worked so hard and had the vocabulary, we blocked it and shot it. It was a story opportunity that enhanced the scene, because we had trained."
A graduate of Cal State Northridge, De Longis had a wide range of theatrical training including certain amount of Method work, some Stanislavski, some disciples of Strasberg. "It comes down to finding keys that help you get in touch with areas that are difficult for you to share so that when a role comes along, you're able to offer that little glimpse of truth to the audience that you can identify with, and then your character is alive to them." Working in episodic television, "where the schedule is so impossible, and the distractions are so extreme...that's when your craft really comes to the fore. There were times as Culluh when I was in makeup for fourteen hours, and the makeup's only designed to last six to eight, so I'm not only pacing myself, I'm pacing the makeup!"
Likening being an actor to being a detective, De Longis explained that "you get indications from the script, those are your clues, and from those you are able to make inferences and suppositions about your character." History was his favorite subject, and he does quite a bit of research for his roles. "I just invented a character, Charles Anthony, Curator of Bladed Antiquities, for the new 'Watcher Chronicles' CD that Highlander just came out with. They asked if I'd do a sword section for them, so I had a grand time choosing characters and swords. The sword is the symbol of your honor, it's the ally that you take into battle, so it's a reflection of your personality."
The benefit of his classical education is that De Longis knows how to do such research. "I'm a storehouse of bizarre, eclectic, and what a lot of people might think is useless knowledge, but it's kind of the seasoning of life - the condiments. I know a little bit about a lot of things." This was one reason he so much enjoyed playing an Immortal: "What a tremendous opportunity! The thing none of us ever have enough of is time; as an immortal that's your great luxury. Of course there's a dark side to it: once you start off down a path where you become obsessed with something you may never get back. But you have time to explore a lot of different ideas."
One role De Longis would like to revisit is Iago from Othello, though he's played it twice, including a production at the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles. "It's one of those roles that every few years you get a new perspective on it, and you can keep adding dimensions and insights. I think he's the world's best villain because in his own mind, he's a hero." He would also like to do Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace, "one of the early movies where I developed an appreciation for Cary Grant's sense of comedy." He is working on a romantic adventure/action piece for himself, and developing a western, "because I really enjoy the genre - the individual makes a difference, he takes responsibility, and that I think is a very attractive message in our highly mechanized and advanced technological society, where sometimes you wonder if anything you do has any effect. It's hard to do what's right, especially when nobody is helping."
Much as he enjoys acting such parts, De Longis enjoys working behind the scenes on genre pieces which require his expertise. Having worked with top stunt coordinator Walter Scott previously, he was pleased to be summoned when The Magnificent Seven was picked up this season. "I come in as a specialist, but I'm a storyteller. When I'm not in front of the camera portraying a character, I'm behind the camera helping another actor elaborate on a characterization - helping them utilize their bodies in a more effective way and helping them realize there are opportunities within this scene to really drive the story forward. I got a call from Walter and he said, 'They're going to have some swordfighting in episode three, I don't have a script, I don't know what the roles are, but I wanted to check your availability.'"
In the series, Buck Wilmington gets lured into a duel over a woman. De Longis is training Dale Midkiff, who plays Buck, as well as Rick Worthy, who plays Nathan Jackson - Buck's trainer. "What's fun is that each one will have a slightly different style and a slightly different level of experience, so I'm getting to help them articulate their characters, and that's what makes it interesting for me - I'm developing their vocabulary and their strengths," added the coach. "Together we're piecing together the story so that again the action is about a story and not about a bunch of fancy moves with a sword - it's all part of the creative process." He's hoping to come back as a guest star, and being a good sport about working on Sunday this week. "You go out to Newhall and stand in the sun all day - it's a desert, you know? It's at the edge of the Mojave and it sort of bakes your brain."
De Longis plans to head back to Toronto after The Magnificent Seven to teach a couple of master classes; then he has several Highlander convention appearances, including a cruise. "Everybody gets to train to be an Immortal for a couple of hours," he grinned. He also has a number of charity appearances planned - having lost his father to cancer, he attends the American Cancer Society's big fundraiser, Take a Chance With the Stars - plus work on his projects in development. Upcoming appearances are listed on his web site, http://www.delongis.com.
And if he gets bored, there's always scuba, rappelling, horses, knives, rapiers, and the whip. With Anthony De Longis, there's never a dull moment.