Here are some of the fine folk you're likely to meet at Armageddon:
Connor had an interesting story to tell about how he got into acting in the first place. He had gone to university with a football scholarship, and had intended to be a professional sportsman. However by the time he got to about age 20, things weren't going so well and he was trying to decide what to do with his life. "And then, as so often happens, I met a girl at a party." The girl told him about auditions that were coming up for a play, and told him that he should audition. Up until then he had done no acting, and had no particular interest in acting. So he asked the girl the obvious question, "Will you be there?" She said yes, and so he decided to go along to the audition. As it turned out, the girl wasn't there, and in fact he never saw her again, making him wonder if she wasn't just a figment of his imagination. But he came way from the audition knowing what he wanted to do with his life.
Someone in the audience asked him what it was like to do the first Star Trek sex scene with Jolene (Jolene Blaloc, who plays T'Pol, the Vulcan in red in the image above). He shook his head and said, "It's just work baby, it's just work. It's amazing how they can strip any hint of romance from scenes like that." As a further example of this he mentioned the infamous "detox gel" scenes. The stuff they used for the gel contained some kind of glittery substance that stuck to the skin after the rest had been removed. To get rid of the glitter, the actors were rubbed down with dry towels. So he always used to dread the detox gel scenes, as he would wind up with flayed skin afterwards.
He was asked about his least enjoyable experience on Star Trek: Enterprise. It occurred during an episode in which he was captured by an alien and suspended in mid-air while covered in "alien goo." He claimed that the goo was made of K-Y Jelly mixed with the stuff that McDonald's uses to thicken their milkshakes. He reckoned that the whole porn industry had to shut down for a week, as Star Trek was using all the K-Y Jelly.
Not only was it very uncomfortable being suspended in a harness, but the covering of goo coupled with complete inactivity meant that he got very, very cold. By the time they were done shooting and he was finally lowered to the ground, he was shivering uncontrollably. And then the cry went out, "check the gate", and he reckons that for the first time during the show, a hair was found in the gate, so he had to be winched back into air and the scene shot again.
He concluded by saying that it was the most unsatisfying experience anyone has ever had with K-Y Jelly.
Science Fiction actors at Armageddon almost invariably get asked about practical jokes (and jokers) on the set, and when Connor was asked about this he replied in some bafflement. "In my experience, the milk-bucket-over-the-door thing just doesn't happen." But then he talked about Dominic, who is "infamous for being able to link cuss words into a story." One day the sound techs recorded one of his diatribes which resulted from him being unable to open a toolbox, and played it back over the whole set.
When asked about what Science Fiction shows he likes to watch, he said "Heroes", which got a cheer from the audience, and then, "and Lost, until they started pissing me off," which got an even bigger cheer.
At one stage he got asked, "What's the one question you don't want to be asked, and what is your answer to that question?" While amused, he predictably declined to answer.
He was asked if he had detected any shift in the attitudes of the network executives towards a commitment to actually finish shows (as opposed to suddenly canceling them in mid-run), he shook his head and said, "The only thing they care about is the numbers, the bottom line."
When asked whether he kept in touch socially with any of the other cast members from Star Trek: Enterprise he said no, despite some of them living nearby. He said that actors form really close temporary friendships. "You always say that you're going to stay in touch when a show ends, but you never do."
In a break from the usual question-and-answer format, Peter elected to give an actual presentation. He claimed that throughout history what has pushed human advance is violence. He started off talking about the gladius - a simple short sword that allowed the Romans to conquer the world, when coupled with disciplined soldiers and an appropriate technique. From there he went forward through time, talking about the various weapons used in the various ages up until the introduction of the gun, when suddenly everything changed.
He talked about the shifting emphasis from large numbers of lightly equipped troops to small numbers of expensively trained and outfitted soldiers (which needed a large middle class of artisans to support them), and the constant arms race between weapons and armour.
At each stage Peter demonstrated his points with actual prop swords he had available. As Peter is both a student of how the weapons were actually used historically, and someone who choreographs fight sequences in movies using those weapons, he made frequent reference to the disconnect between the two. He seemed happy to accept that a movie fight had to look good, even if the moves or techniques would never have actually been used in real life.
The talk was funny and interesting, and frequently gruesome. I saw lots of grimaces on the faces of the people around me as he talked about the horrible things people did to each other with these bits of steel.
After the talk proper, he chose four people from the audience and got them up on stage. He equipped them with wooden swords and shields, and showed them a few basic moves they might need in a movie fight sequence. He demonstrated how the same basic sequence of moves could appear the work of a brazen hero or a craven coward depending on how the actor acted the sequence.
The funniest bit came when he demonstrated the basic 'Errol Flynn' sequence (up left, up right, down left, down right, repeat), a sequence that looks good on film, and yet is very simple. He and one of the volunteers demonstrated by moving around the stage fighting in this manner, with Peter all the while spouting vacuous unrelated trivialities.
All in all it was a very fun session, presented by a very knowledgeable and entertaining guy.
Chris Judge plays his character Teal'c in a very sombre, serious, emotion-free way, and so it was a delight to find that the guy himself couldn't be more different. He was very friendly and had the hugest smile you can imagine and an easy laugh.
A number of the comments and questions from the audience touched on this dichotomy. For example someone asked if he had trouble switching into his Teal'c character. He said that at first he did, and to overcome this he had to stay in character whenever he was on the set. He claims the crew was frightened of him because of this, and that it was lonely for him in the early days. However he got better at effecting the switch as the show progressed. He demonstrated by going serious for a moment to deliver his famous "Indeed" line. But it took him a couple of goes - he kept cracking up and going back to friendly, smiley Chris.
Apparently he had been signed up to come to New Zealand for an earlier Armageddon, and pulled out at the last minute because of a golf game. One of the early questioners raised this issue, with good humour, and asked him how the game went. It turns out that it really was a golf game that prevented him from coming, but one that he was 'invited' to by the president of the network, an invitation he felt he couldn't refuse.
When asked the inevitable question about pranks and pranksters on the set he said, "There was always a lot of tomfoolery on the set. 'Action!' was always taken more as a guideline than a command." He said that he and Richard Dean Anderson had a running competition to see who could clear the biggest spaces with their farting, a competition which led to them experimenting with various dietary components to try and produce the stinkiest emanations. At one stage things got so bad that the producers send around a memo saying, "Bodily functions that cause expensive production delays are banned." He was incensed: "What?! You can't tell MacGyver not to fart!"
He also told his version of the "Hazmat Suit" story that Don Davis told us about during the Christchurch Armageddon. He described it as "receiving a whole cabinet of my own medicine."
On the subject of MacGyver, he did one episode of that show before both he and Richard Dean Anderson signed up for Stargate SG-1. Someone asked him about how that episode went. He replied, "That was in 1990 - do you know how much I've drunk since then?"
When asked about how he first got involved in Stargate, he said that he was very grateful for getting the part. "Let's face it, I'm black: usually the only roles open to me are thug #1 and thug #2." This is clearly an issue for him, as later on in response to a question about whether he was interested in writing or directing he said that he was creating a TV show for the purpose of providing a lead role for a black person, as there are usually none available.
Someone asked him about a scene in Stargate that was actually shot in the Arctic. Chris had refused to go, apparently out of a quite serious concern over being attacked by polar bears. He quite freely admitted that that was the reason. He said that he was a city boy who had never even been camping, and the thought of his first camping experience involving polar bears was too much to contemplate. He claims that he came to this decision while sitting in a planning meeting. "I was in a room with twenty or thirty white guys - and I suddenly realised that I was the one who most looked like a seal!"
Ellen started off by talking a little about the upcoming Dead Like Me movie, the existence of which she attributes to fan pressure. She claims that the network received around 50,000 letters from fans when the TV show was cancelled, and this convinced the bosses to risk a direct-to-DVD follow-up movie. She predicts that if it sells well, a third TV season will be commissioned.
The character of Rube is missing from the movie, and the character of Daisy Adair is not played by the same actor they used in the TV version. (This was because the original actor couldn't work around her other acting commitments.)
She was asked about her favourite scene from Dead Like Me. She said it was when George takes out a thief in the Happy Time offices by running along the row of desks and jumping on him. She actually ran along the row of desks, but was ordered, by the director and the stunt people and everyone else not to actually jump on the guy. She actually jumped on the guy.
She said that this was her second trip to New Zealand, having spent some months here several years ago while shooting a movie called Superfire.
Given the nature of Dead Like Me, it was no surprise that she was asked quite a few questions about death, such as: What's the most horrible form of death you can imagine? (Burning to death.) What do you think your last thought will be? ("Are you kidding me???") Did her religious convictions cause any problems when taking on the role? (No, as she's a church-goer but not super-religious.) Did the show generate any controversy from the Bible Belt? (No, perhaps surprisingly.)
When asked to describe the best and worst fan interactions she's had, she had a couple of interesting stories to tell. The best experience was when a soldier (she didn't say so, but I assume she meant a US soldier serving in Iraq) wrote to tell her that watching her show provided the only thing that he looked forward to during his horrible days.
The worst experience involved a stalker from Armenia who pelted her with email messages and phone calls. Somehow he got hold of her home phone number, and took to ringing in the small hours. Then he wrote a long diatribe on the guestbook of her web site, slagging off at her for not returning his calls!
The guests from the States quite often have trouble understanding Kiwi accents, but Ellen found it particularly hard going, and nearly always had to ask for questions to be repeated.
Elizabeth's talk got rather embarrassing in places. For some reason she was hit with a series of too-personal questions: How old are you? How much do you weigh? How much do you get paid? What is your phone number? Will you go out with me? (This last from a 14-year-old boy in the front row.) No other guest was subject to this kind of harassment, and I'm not sure what was going on. It seemed to me that most of the voices asking these questions were young - perhaps from boys waiting for the next event, the ice-cream eating competition, boys who don't yet know the rules. Elizabeth responded to these questions with grace and good humour, but I don't imagine for a second that she was particularly pleased. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable, and didn't reflect well on the fans.
At the other end of the scale, she was also asked some Big Questions: did she support the war on Iraq? (No.) Did she vote for Bush? (No.) What did she think of the Global Warming debate? (She is convinced that it is happening, and is trying to reduce her carbon footprint.) By far the best of these questions was: Is it right that Hollywood actors get paid millions while millions starve? (She said that it wasn't right, but didn't know what to do about it.) This last question was asked by a socially-aware 15-year-old, hopefully undoing some of the damage caused by the other youngsters. Curiously, as well as being the only guest hassled by too-personal questions, she was also the only guest to be asked these Big Questions.
She was asked whether she liked working with Joss Whedon on Angel. She said she loved it, so much so that when he was going to be directing the new Wonder Woman movie, she considered dying her hair black and auditioning for it. She said she would do anything with him, but would like to be a vampire rather than a cop next time around.
She made several references to the surprise she felt over the impact that her appearance on Angel had had. She said that she was still being flown all over the world to attend Science Fiction conventions on the strength of her 18 Angel episodes, but by comparison was not being flown around the world to attend conventions on the strength of her 100 Law & Order episodes, or any of the other work she's done.
When asked about her expectations of what working on Angel would be like, she said that before landing the role she'd seen neither Angel nor Buffy. It clearly made her feel a little embarrassed to admit it, but at first she didn't want to do Angel at all, as she wanted to do serious drama. Joss talked her into it, and she quickly went from "being a Joss-snob to a Joss-addict". When the time came for her to leave the show, she begged Joss to be allowed to stay in some form, and it was Joss who made the final decision not to use her any more. Joss had wanted her to become a regular member of the cast, but by the time the possibility had been raised she had landed the job on Law & Order. Angel was being shot in LA while Law & Order was being shot in New York, and Joss decided that there was no way it could work, having Elizabeth flying backwards and forwards across the country trying to be involved in both shows.
She said she had greatly enjoyed working with David Boreanaz (the star of Angel), and actually auditioned with him for Bones. The producers were sufficiently impressed with her that they offered her her own show instead, something which pissed her off because she intuited that Bones would turn out to be very successful, while her show wouldn't be. (And so it transpired.)
When asked whether she had any hankering to write or direct, she said that she'd finished two novels and was trying to get them published at the moment.
Someone asked another common question, about bad experiences with over-zealous fans. She replied that someone sent her bizarre presents that she was supposed to use in the bathtub.
When asked about how much of New Zealand she had seen she made a charming mistake, talking about spending time in "Mead Mountain", when she meant "Mt. Eden."
Towards the end of the session a Kaumatua made a very gracious speech, welcoming Elizabeth to New Zealand and expressing the hope that she would be able to find the time to enjoy the food, the wine, and the people of our land.
She endeared herself to me in particular by saying that, had she not been an actor, she would have liked to have been an archaeologist instead.
Once again Armageddon was a blast, with a great line-up of guests. My thanks to Bill and the team for putting together such an enjoyable weekend.
More pictures of the event are available in my gallery. They are mostly similar to the pictures used in this article, but you may find something extra of interest.
Check out my reports of other Armageddons: Wellington (2006), Auckland (2006), and Christchurch (2007). (Does this remind anyone else of the Buffy joke: "I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of 'apocalypse'."?)