Jerry Doyle: Living Life on the Ragged Edge
By Joe Nazaro
The Official Monthly Magazine
Babylon 5 no. 9 June 1998
Babylon 5ís former security chief Michael Garibaldi has been having a fairly rough time lately. Heís been kidnapped by the shadows, reprogrammed by Psi Corps, seen the love of his life married to his new employer, and forced to betray one of his closest friends Ė and thatís just in the showís fourth season. More recently, just when things were starting to look up, certain events have sent Garibaldi into a tailspin and a long-delayed reunion with the bottle.
For Jerry Doyle, charting his characterís fall from the proverbial wagon has been one of the major acting challenges in Babylon 5ís fifth season. Today the actor is wrestling with a long and difficult scene, where Garibaldi has to address the assembled council. Doyle is trying to figure out how to efficiently deliver three pages of dialog while his character is desperately craving a drink. Outside the back door to the studio, where cast and crew members often retreat for a quick cigarette, several grips are having a great deal of fun at Doyleís expense. They know the actor is having trouble with the scene, and are placing bets on how many takes heíll need to get through it. Theyíre all wrong Ė Jerry goes in and nails the speech in one take, and his performance is greeted by a burst of applause from the crew.
Afterwards, a visibly relaxed Doyle sits down to talk about some of the tumultuous events in his characterís life, specifically Garibaldiís ongoing battle with alcoholism. The discussion takes on an added dimension when it becomes obvious that Doyle, whoís sitting in the crewís smoking area, isnít smoking himself Ė he quit on 9 December 1997.
"I was talking to somebody the other day about going back to drinking and thinking I could handle it," explains the actor, who frequently drops into first person when discussing the life of Michael Garibaldi, "and trying to convince myself that itís okay, and Iíve been trying to use the reverse of what Iím doing in life, which is to quit smoking. In my mind, Iím rationalizing why I shouldnít smoke Ė and you shouldnít have to rationalize the fact that youíre going to be putting something in your mouth that youíre going to set on fire and breathe into your lungs. If youíre in a burning building, you donít inhale deeply; you get out, so even though there's this little demon saying 'Ďgo ahead, smoke a cigarette,í Iím saying, ĎNo, I canít.í
'That's what I'm fighting, and the reverse of that is kidding myself as an alcoholic on the show that it's okay to drink and rationalization that side of it- I'm trying to understand it a little bit more before I play it. I'm sure for people that are going through it, it's a very difficult experience arid a struggle, and I certainly donít want to trivialize anything like that in my performance. We concentrate so much when somebody falls off the wagon, but we forget about the other 993 days in a row when they were sober; and the pressures of life, jobs, whatever; There is no good time for an alcoholic to take a drink, whether it's a birth, death, divorce, whatever. There is no good time to take a cigarette, but we concentrate on the time that we do as opposed to the times that we didnít"
The conversation is interrupted by Andreas Katsulas who emerges from his trailer in full G'Kar make-tip and costume. "There's that darn Narn," jokes Doyle. who's greeted with a response of "Lies, all lies!" Katsulas is having problems of his own today having been diagnosed with a scratched cornea, which prompts the following tongue-in-cheek exchange. -
Katsulas: They said the cure is in Paris. Iíve got to go for treatment for a month.
Doyle: Yeah, theyíll okay that expense, Iím sure.
Katsulas: And I should have a traveling companion, because Iím not going to see too well.
Doyle: Iím there, and no one folds your underwear like I do!
Katsulas: Thereís a couple before you, but Iíll put you on the list.
Doyle: Stuff it! Theyíre dead; you give me those names. Iím taking them out.
As Katsulas heads for the front office to hook his imaginary travel plans, the conversation returns to a more important topic, namely the responsibility that comes with playing an alcoholic on television. "I think [this shows] the most interesting part of all the characters on our show: the fact that we do have flaw's, that we are suspect in some areas and we're constantly working on those things, struggling to make our-selves better;"
In one of season five's later episodes, it's suggested that some of Garibaldi's problems stem from his being a control freak. Does Doyle agree with that assessment? 'You try and be so in control of things because youíre so out of control in others. My home, my closet, my drawers; if you went there right now and said, 'Okay, I'm opening up the third drawer in the dresser by the sliding door; what's in it?' I'd tell you. People find that bizarre, but I find that this business and Los Angeles is so out of control, that I like to know my own little environment is in control,
"I can go out into this chaotic, messed-up tumultuous town and I've got my shit together and I feel very' comfortable knowing physically and financially where I'm at in my life. That allows me to go into the world and do these crazy things and yet come back to this controlled place. I don't think Garibaldi is so much of a control freak as far as other people go. I think he's trying to gain control of himself, anti in that we see these manifestations of explosiveness, banter to keep people at bay et cetera."
On a more mundane level, another change that's too obvious to ignore is Garibaldi's hairstyle, or more precisely his lack of same. "It's something different" say's Doyle of his now shaven head. "It's a little more time-consuming in the morning to shave the coconut, but it's amazing the response Iíve gotten from having a bald head. I have no idea why, its like my hair with women has been like a puppy at the beach: they just want to rub my head. If I had known this, I would have shaved my head when I was 16!
"I just think it's really easy, it's efficient - a bottle of shampoo will last me a year. Between the second and third seasons, I grew it out a little bit too much, so we hacked it off and now we've arrived at the ultimate length or lack thereof."
In order to understand what Garibaldi is going through in upcoming episodes of Babylon 5, it's important to look back at some of the seeds that were planted during the fourth season with the character's abduction and subsequent reprogramming by Psi Corps. That meant Doyle had to take his performance level up a notch, playing Garibaldi as an increasingly paranoid and hostile individual. "They were just jacking the character with five cups of double espresso so: you're just going to amplify those things that are already there; your suspicions, your insecurities, your frustrations; you're just taking it to an amplified level. You have to look at the script too; if it's in the words or it's physically in the scene, you don't have to act it. Then it's there, you pretty much just have to say your lines and your marks and put a little spin on it, but not to much, because you're acting the scene."
Part of the mystery was finally explained in the Face of the Enemy, where Bester reveals himself as the cause of Garibaldi's strange behavior - and Garibaldi is powerless to do anything about it. "It's like the defining moment in your life when all that
you believed in and hoped for and dreamed about is suddenly snatched away and that big balloon is punctured," remembers Doyle. "I tried to do the reverse of what Tom Hanks did in that defining moment in Philadelphia when he walked out of Denzel Washington's office to the street and then he was truly alone. He had a non-verbal scene where he stood there and I never saw a lonelier, more vulnerable character.
"I was trying to flip that 180 degrees to where you would just have the rage of the beast, and instead of the stuff going out of you, itís coming back in. Itís building and building and building, like youíre on the end of a bungee cord, and then the cord snaps, setting in motion what the character does for the rest of the season. Itís about revenge and retribution and making it right. Itís about re-establishing relationships and rebuilding trust and finding the woman that you truly love. Just balls-out going for it: ĎDonít get in my way or Iíll snap your neck, Iím making things right!í"
For a short time, life seems to be getting on track for Garibaldi. Not only has he re-established his friendships with the crew of Babylon 5, but also his relationship with List Haptom-Edgars (played by Denise Gentile). Thereís even a blast from the past when Dodger, a woman soldier killed in GROPOS, returns for one memorable night in the Neil Gaiman scripted The Dead of the Dead. "Thatís a fun episode, bringing back all those people from the dead; I thought it was kind of neat. When I first read the thing about she and I being in bed and doing whatever, I wanted to have it play out like the morning after in Casablanca Ė did they or didnít they? I wanted to leave that up to the audience. I say they didnít, other people say they did, and hopefully weíll never know."
Unfortunately, The Day of the Dead also marks the former security chiefís last moment of real happiness for the foreseeable future. "Garibaldiís life is on track. Things are in place. Iíve got a good job, Iíve got my girlfriend back, so itís time to test itÖ time to push the envelope, time to screw it up. Part of it is control, but another factor is that heís comfortable with chaos. As soon as everything gets good, he h as to mess it up. I think heís just questioning his own happiness an, in a way, sabotaging it, because chaos is comfortable. Itís what he knows. Itís what he goes back to. Thatís the line to playing this character. Where you have to be careful not to become self-indulgent with this, because people just say, "Oh, stuff you, youíve got it all man!í"
The actor concedes thereís a fine line between sympathy and self-indulgence, and itís very easy to lose an audience as his character drifts toward the latter. "I donít know how many people felt sympathy for River Phoenix OD-ing in front of the Viper Room at the young age was. Itís a sad situation, but I find it hard to garner up a lot of sympathy for somebody who, like my character, has it all laid out in front of them. Other people, working with two missing fingers at a machine shop for the last 25 years, taking that baloney sandwich on white bread to work every day would look at River Phoenix and say, 'F**k you! You were given ever" opportunity and you pissed it away,í With my character to have all these things put in front of him the average viewer might say, 'Oh come on, enough of this crap! Get your act together.í You can't be too self-indulgent.
Ironically, the character who eventually' helps point this out Captain Lochley, with whom Garibaldi has had an antagonistic relationship with since day one. The details of that scene will have to remains secret for the time bring, but suffice to say that Garibaldi discovers he has more in common with Lochley than perhaps he'd like. "Joe gave me some idea as to what the relationship was and where it was going to go, but I think it
Just plays itself out in the scene. You can see it in the way it's written, in the scenes Lochley has with other people and a little bit of the background and history of that comes up. You can just look at somebody and say; ĎI see a little bit of myself in that person.' Or when you see something that you don't like, it really bothers you because, again, you see something in that other person that you see in yourself that you don't necessarily like."
When the topic of conversation is Babylon 5, the discussion almost inevitably shifts to the future. At this point, it appears that Garibaldi will play a major role in at least one or two television movies being shot this year, but Doyle insists itís too early to tell. "Joe said to me one say, ĎI just got done with the outline on the first movie, and Garibaldi saves the universe, much to his chagrin,í but you never know if heís serious or not. There have been talks about two movies this summer, and talks about a sixth season or the spin-off or both, a feature film, a CD ROM Ė but at this point, as a businessman, I have no contracts. The only way I can equate it is if nominated, I will run; if elected, I will serve
"When we did the movies last summer, I received some bad advice so I was not involved in them. While I had a nice summer and traveled around the world and did all kinds of wonderful things, met some wonderful people and ate some good food, I really missed the energy of the set. I love going to work, and I really missed that camaraderie and the banter. We really get into some wild conversations and itís really an enjoyable place to work. I hope that it continues on in w3hatever form, and I hope Iím a part of that."
And what happens when Babylon 5 eventually shoots itís final scene? Technically, that moment has already been shot for the episode Sleeping in the Light, but in the meantime, Jerry Doyle believes there are still many stories to tell. "At some point, somebodyís going to turn the lights off. When thatís going to happen, I donít know. Since the beginning, I kept saying, ĎThis show is going to be around; weíre not going anywhere,í and I think with the amount of money and marketing effort and time that TNT is investing in this show, I donít see it going anywhere soon. It is now, to a certain degree, a franchise, and with the reruns, our audience is still expanding. Our re-run audience is larger than our first run audiences, so that tells me that the audience is watching.