Blue Colar Hero
Dreamwatch 45 May 98
Over Babylon 5’s five years, Michael Garibaldi has been through the wringer – not that Jerry Doyle is objecting, as Paul Simpson discovers…
Jerry Doyle has spent his morning giving Bruce Boxleitner bad news – or at least, that’s what Michael Garibaldi has been doing on the set of Babylon 5. As he leads me behind the converted factory that has been his place of work for the past five years, the sun decides to make a very brief appearance so he perches on the steps of the trailer.
He clicks his fingers three times quickly, "This whole thing has gone like that. It’s whizzed by – especially this year. 519 now: we’ve got three shows left. It’s pretty amazing."
Certainly the past two years have been a roller-coaster ride for Garibaldi. "Yes, it’s been a good storyline. Joe goes back and revisits some things from early on."
In Season 4, Garibaldi betrayed Sheridan: was Jerry happy with the resolution between him and Bester? "Yeah, you have to do that for the audience’s sake. For those people who didn’t see the first part of the season, you have topplay it back a little bit. I think the flashback scenes helped to drive the scene, to go back and see what was happpening. It was close in on me, close in on Walter [Koenig]’s eye or mouth, then it would flash back to the black and white. I thought Mike[Vejar] did a really good job with that.
"The hardest part of that scene for me was not reacting. Acting for me, is about reacting. It’s like in tennis when someone serves you the ball. It’s how it comes at you, what the spin is on it, how you hit it back accordingly. For this, I had to sit there and not react. Bester was saying stuff which basically my character would just want to get up and smack him or something. I had to sit there, robotic. Walter did a nice job with that, and the way it cut was good.
"The resolution? All that stuff rushing through your head and then it’s all coming to you, then you kind of come out of it – I was using the strobes in the scene as a kind of metronome for what walter was saying, and I was trying to put myself in this metronomic trance, just watching the strobe lights. Then when it stopped and he said, ‘When you get out of here, then you’ll come back to your normal faculties’, or whatever, then I started using th estrobe again differently to a build-up where I come back to.
"I think they cut the scream out. I remember doing the scene, slamming my head against the wall and doing a primal scream. I think they cut that out. That was the only thing I didn’t like. I just thought at some point when all that piss and vinegar stuff is coming back into your veins, and you’re conscious of all the things that people have done to you, you wouldn’t be silent – but Joe wrote it as the silent scream, because it was overloading the system. I thought it would be cool to have a shot of me doing the scene then a CG pullaway on that car disappearing into the distance with that scream fading. That’s not the way they cut it. That’s their decision."
There was an instantaneous acceptance of Garibaldi after Lyta mind scanned him, and no suspicion that there’s another layer underneath… "When there is," Jerry interrupts, "There is another layer.
"Bruce has been playing it a little different since that. We did a scene a couple of weeks where I said, ‘Count on me, I’ll get it done,’ and stuck my hand out, and he took it. We put that in because last time I took his hand, I stuck the ting on: it was the betrayal. He took my hand and there was a brief pause, then he said, ‘I know you will’. We’ve been kind of playing it that he has the same problem with me that I had with him when he first came on the show in the second season. Everybody accepted him immediately, and I was the one going, ‘I don’t know who you are’"
The same when he returned from Z’ha’sum. "Yes, ‘you’re back from the dead? The Second Coming of Christ and no-one finds this odd? Am I the only one?’ It’s odd, I can remember all the dialogue from these shows. Sometimes you’re on the stage doing it the same day, you can remember lines from the first second, third, fourth deasons, but today’s work is somehow not coming out! Sometimes I wish I could flush my mind, because I seem to hang onto these scenes forever."
In part this is because of the nature of the show: there are scenes from The Gathering whose impact is still reverberating. "Joe’s laid it all out. I can’t even beging to imagine what the inside of his brain looks like, but it’s got to be a bowl of spaghetti. He knows where the ends are. He’s woven all those threads through: he’s really given the sudience much more than a first look at it. You can go back and watch it and watch it and pick up something different every time. Then if we do something trippy, and lay something into the characters, he looks at the dailies, and he puts something else in. It’s all this multi-layered stuff. When people talk about the show, I wonder what the hell they’re talking about, but they really break this down, and there’s a lot to break down.
"The more you know, the better you can appreciate the show. That’s why I think the reruns on TNT are going to give the show a whole new life, and attract a whole new audience which we didn’t have before. It was a ‘follow the bouncing BABYLON’ – it was hard to find. Now we’re consisent in our timeslots, people can tune in."
In the Fifth Season, Garibaldi becomes Head of Covert Intelligence for the Alliance, although, as Lochley points out, "I’m not seeing much evidence of intelligence – covert, overt or otherwise!" Jerry quotes that line and adds: "I think that was the audition scene I did with Tracy. When she got done with the scene, she just walked away and I said, ‘Ah, bite me!’ She came back and got in my face, and said, ‘Mister Garibaldi, I’m going to have to ask you to kiss my ass!’ I really think that, not discounting her performance, or anything like that, but that had a lot to do with her getting the job.
"A lot of what we do here is between ;cut’ and ‘action’. We’re kind of a loose, tongue-in-cheek, spoofy, self-deprecating company, and that kind of attitude was perceived in the room as, ‘She’ll fit right in’. I read with all the ‘females’ (to be politically correct) they were auditioning for the role, and she got stronger, every one of her performances, and was clearly head and shoulders above everyone else When she came in, she just jumped on and started doing it like she was always here. She’s been a great addition to the show."
There’s a huge anipathy between her and Garibaldi. "Yeah, right off the bat. That’s part of the reason I had the auditions with the ‘femailes’, becc ause there was going to be this confrontation stuff right off the top, and they wanted to see that, whoever was going to stand toe-to-toe with my character. Joe told me in the auditions, ‘Just bark at them. Dial it up a notch, maybe beyond where you would normally go with the character.’ I dialled it up, then I’d take it back and sit there with this ‘screw you ‘ look on my face, and see how they played it."
In the fourth season Jerry was playing against the company; is he more part of the action in the fifth? "I’m kind of detached from the day to day stuff right now, but that’s kind of what the role is all about now. That’s also a detachment that the character has, because of what he’s going through personally. It’s been a nice combination of the two, and it’s worked. Then when I do get involved with the shows and the meetings and the goings-on, I have to play the other side of that character, and play how he would be in those meetings, knowing what I know about him, what he’s going through, and how people are taking the information I’m giving them, and wondering about me.
"I’ve tried to play certain different things that maybe give a tip there is something. About six episodes back, I started throwing things in. You can say ‘yes’ in five or ten different ways but it’s what you’re thinking when you say it. The dialogue helps the audience follow the storyline, but as an actor you’re trying to get across what you’ve got spinning around in your mind. Leave enough hints that you’re not heavy-handed – telling the audience to think about what you’re thinking about, give them a little roadmap, so when they look back they go ‘ah!’ Some of the stuff I’m doing people are going to wonder what’s going on.
"He’s his own worst enemy. He’s got a good job, he’s got the woman he’s always wanted in his life, everything’s great. Now it’s time for him to test it. He thinks he can handle anything, and he goes back to the one things he shouldn’t handle. A lot of times we look around and think, "Life is really good. How can I screw it up? Job, relationship, whatever it is; got to test it. Got to pop that balloon.’ And that’s what he’s doing. It’s a good storyline, and I’m glad it isn’t dealt with in two episodes. It plays out right through 521, and it isn’t done when that’s done.
"I think the success of the character is his approachability. He has a lot of the idiosyncrasies and flaws that people have. He gets into situations that we’d like to do in life, where somebody says something, he just punches them out."
In some ways, he’s twentieth century. Every man in Babylon 5. "Yep, that’s my character, and I’m fortunate that I got to play this role, because he’s got so many different ways to go. I just try to play him like a cop. He’s just a guy, wants what we all want. He’s very blue collar in a very white collar world. He’s been given these intros to things that normally he shouldn’t. He’s a ground pounder, and through whatever – friendships or talent or a combination of the two – he’s gotten to the position that he’s in: Head of Covert Intelligence for the Universe and on his way to becoming the Richest man in the Universe. They’re not two bad titles to have, and with a great looking babe. Of course he has to screw it up! Has to test it!
I don’t know what will happen after this season ends, but I think there’s too much gap between [the end of 521] and twenty years later that I’d like to know what happens to all of them. I just talked to Joe about the movie, and he says, ‘You’ve got a lot of work in this. You’re in about every scene.’ And I said, ‘As a producer, I’m not sure I’d be telling my actor that before you have the deal signed!’ Then he showed me his Global Search and Replace’ command on his writer’s function… So I got his point. They’ve made the point pretty clear: anybody can go out an airlock!
"As far as the spin-off series goes, it’s the old political line "If nominated I will run; if elected, I will serve.’ I have been very fortunate. I’ve been for one audition for a pilot in my life: that was this show, and to have the good fortune to audition for it, to get it, to get picked up on my option, to run five seasons…I’ve made a lot of great friendships, and had a lot of laughs.
"When they shot the movies this last summer, I wasn’t in either one of them and I missed the camaraderie. We all do whatever we do when we come here as far as work goes. I got paid to be on film, someone else gets paid to shoot the film, etc. We all have our jobs to do. But coming here in the morning, there’s an endless amount of humor and banter and debate. I missed that part of working here. I haven’t had a day that I can think of when I haven’t felt good about going to work.
"I could go to another show and make maybe ten times what I’m making right now, and be miserbale. Financially, the show’s been great. Personally, it’s been better. The opportunity to do another five years with these people who’ve become like a family would be terrific. For an actor with no experience to come to town and do a ten year run on a TV show, it’s undeard of. To have that sort of run, knowing how fickle this business is, I’ve been fortunate.
"I saw the new version of the pilot, but it’s been so long that I couldn’t notice the differences – except I had hair. It was standing straight up. Peter [Jurasik] and I were looking at some first season scenes the other day and he asked, ‘We we doing the same scenes?’ I look at some of that stuff and wonder how I stayed on the show! Hopefully it’s got better over time for all of us.
"Think about the process: in July 1992, we threw together these people for twenty days, people who’d never worked together before, crew and cast, and shot a two hour movie with not a lot of money. There’s been a lot of people: the new network, PTEN, the support of Warner Brothers, and the fans who’ve done a lot to keep the dream alive, so to speak, and now it’s got it’s groove. TNT has been just a huge infusion of capital and marketing. It’s nice to see. We’ve been working in a vacuum for five years and suddenly it’s everywhere. I was driving down Sunset Boulevard and saw the TNT billboard for Babylon 5, and I thought, ‘It’s about time.’
"It’s nice for the crew too – they’re there for every shot. We just come in, and do our bit, and go home. Those guys and gals are in there, and it’s hot and dirty: they really are the backbone of the show. They’re a really good group of people."