A dip back into the Dark Star archives and an interview with Babylon 5 actor Michael O'Hare published in September 1996 in Dark Star #13...

E N I G M A T I C   E M I S S A R Y

An interview with Michael O'Hare

As Commander Jeffrey Sinclair of the epic SF television series Babylon 5, Michael O'Hare quickly became a familiar face and name in SF fandom. His shock departure at the helm of the space station in season two proved that, unlike most television SF shows, you really didn't know what to expect in the Babylon 5 universe created by writer Joe Michael Straczynski. Having made a couple of enigmatic cameos in season two, Sinclair briefly returns again in the third season. Rob Dyer spoke to Michael O'Hare just before filming on his episodes for season three began.

Dark Star: You've worked in theatre, TV and film. Which medium do you prefer working in and why?
Michael O'Hare: I have no preference really, each has its own demands and each has its own benefits. In film and television you can act very subtly and really split a hair. In theatre you have a live audience coming back at you. Because of the logistics of it, people are further away and you have to show them where to focus on the stage. The camera takes care of focusing problems. When you're working in front of a camera the audience always looks wherever the camera is looking. On stage it is your voice and your physicality that draws focus, so that they [the audience] know where to pay attention to and where not to. I prefer them all equally.

What was it like waiting for the pilot of Babylon 5 to be picked up for a potential series?
Oh! It was a long, hard wait. It was almost a year, we waited almost a year to hear if it was going to be picked up. I'd done a pilot once before, but that was never picked up, so it was something I'd been through, but it's not pleasant!

I think Sinclair contains some of Michael Straczynski's best character writing. He was a real person, with flaws and inadequacies. Was that an aspect which you as an actor were keen to get into?
Yes, yes it was. I wanted to show a man who had been through difficult times and was trying to choose the better road. He had experienced, what I considered to be, post-traumatic syndrome, from the war. Very often those personalities go in one of two directions. They can try to live a better life or they succumb to the anger and fear that they have from the pain they've experienced. So I was trying to show him aiming for a better life.

Did you have the opportunity to bring much extra to the character or was Straczynski strict on how you played Sinclair?
There were certain aspects I brought to the character as well. His sense of honour and sense of loyalty.

I thought some of the best scenes for Sinclair the character and O'Hare the actor were those spent with Sinclair's girlfriend. Are you pleased with how well those scenes work?
I knew it was going to come over. [Julia Nickson and I] worked very hard on those scenes. We did a lot of work [on the characters' relationship] in the trailer so to create the illusion that there had been a history between the two of us, because, after all, [the characters] were re-meeting. So we worked very hard and I'm very proud of those scenes.

Is Straczynski very much a 'hands on' guy?
He is very much present on the set, and he has an 'open door' policy so people can come in and discuss ideas with him. He writes all the time and his office is right near where the set is, so he'd come over at any moment.

And did he work with other writers on the set?
Yes, absolutely. [Babylon 5] is his baby, his dream. He's had the dream for seven years to get the show put on so he very much nurtures it. He's a good guy. Joe Straczynski will always give you a fair break. He's a very good fellow. There's one other guy on the set I'd like to mention, his name is John Flynn, and he's the director of photography. When I was there [for the first season] he was the real star of Babylon 5. He was the real leader and he's there for every shot, he set them all up He's an amazing man. A great professional.

Michael Straczynski has long been a SF fan, you were not. Are you now?
I AM more interested. I was interested in Jules Verne as a boy, but that's about as far as I went with science fiction. I watched a bit of Star Trek, like everybody else. I liked Lost In Space. I used to watch that a lot as a kid. I'm fairly new to the science fiction world. I'm very impressed with the fans. The fans I've found to be extraordinarily bright and informed, and very loyal I'm very impressed with the fans.

Is it true your character was written aside to make way for a more familiar actor at the helm? How did that change come about?
Well, first, Joe decided to take the show in another direction. Then, after that, further down the line, they got [an actor] who was more familiar to viewers. The decision had already been made to take the show in another direction. As Joe said, he could do 'A', 'B' or 'C' with Sinclair the way [the storyline] was going. If he took Sinclair out of the story he could bring him back into 'D', which is what I do in season three.

How did the change come about for you personally. How was that for you?
Well, [Joe and I] just talked about it. I always understood the show could go in several directions. When the time came and we finished the 22 episodes, I knew I was done.

Sinclair had a couple of enigmatic cameos in season two and you are back again for season three episodes. Can fans expect the Sinclair character to continue playing a part in the overal 5-year story arc?
I don't know. That's up to Joe. That's between his ears! I have to play it by ear. When he's written something that he wants me to do, they get a hold of me and let me know. Then, if scheduling difficulties don't ensue, I go out [to California] and do it.

Do you socialise with any of the Babylon 5 cast?
Well, I can't now because they live on the West coast and I live on the East coast. When I was in California [during filming on season one] I socialised a lot with Mia Furlan and her husband Goran. Those were the two people I visited the most.

The Holy Grail for Babylon 5 fans must be Straczynski's top secret 5-year story arc. Have you seen it?
No, I haven't [laughs].

I read somewhere that it was on his computer and he had a copy locked in a safe.
[Smiles] That I would believe! You have to understand, that with Joe this is like... imagine a fan finally gets to do their own TV series. So, this is somebody who, as I said before, has had this dream for seven years. So he guards it very jelously.

Do you know anyone that's seen it?
Not that I know of [smiles]. Whatever is going to happen [in the storyline] is always a surprise as far as I know.

All TV SF series seem to have a cult following. What's it like being a part of this phenomenon?
It's exciting. It's a lot of fun. I'm amazed at my popularity still, even now I'm not in the show that much for quite a while. I'm as popular as I was when I was doing the show. The scheduling in the States gives the show a hard time to attain high ratings. Here, in the UK, the whole country gets to see it on one of the four terrestrial channels. Yeah, it plays in different [parts of the country] at different times. It's frustrating for the ratings points. Also they show a certain number of episodes, then they go back and show re-runs for a little while. That's because they are showing the first run episodes during sweeps periods in the States to garner the highest ratings. So, the irony is that in Britain you show all of them all in a row, so that the British already know what's gonna happen by the end of the seaon and the Americans don't know yet.

You've guested in dozens of TV shows. How does that work differ from being able to work developing a character over a period of time?
Well, they both have different demands. When you're doing the lead in an action/adventure TV series, it's the hardest work I've ever done in my life. It's a very physical show and you work very hard. You've got seven days to get 42 minutes of cut film - that's a lot of work. I'm grateful for the work and I enjoyed it very much. When you work as a guest on a show, it's a little bit like trying to jump on a train that's already moving at 55 miles per hour. You just have to try and it the ground running and hopefully catch up as fast as you can. When I was doing the lead of the show, I was doing the best I could to make sure that the uest stars were as comfortable as possible, because it's very tough to come out as a guest on a show.

Did Babylon 5 give you your first chance to play the lead character?
On TV, yes. I had on stage. It's a great luxury because you had much longer to develop and add things. You could always add a little something, add a little something. You've a longer period of time in which to tell the story.

What do you do to relax?
Fish. I like fishing. I just like to throw that line in the water, it isn't important to me if anything bites!

The complete version of this interview can be found in Dark Star #13.