Pitched Black

2000 by Ian Spelling

Australian heroine Claudia Black gives her all in "Farscape" and an upcoming big-screen thriller.

Claudia Black figured that Farscape would be good, but the charming Aussie actress had no idea that it would quickly emerge as the Sci-Fi Channel's most popular original series.  

"We always knew that we had an exciting project on our hands," notes Black, who co-stars as officer Aeryn Sun. "But we had no clue that we'd be as embraced by the public as we have been. It's a lovely feeling. We got the green light to go beyond 13 episodes quite early on, and we're delighted that we've been signed for another 22, a whole second season. The main story has been constructed in such a way that the arc can be as far-reaching as the audience continues to want to watch us. The proof is in the Dominion website. I've been on it often, and I've also done my first science fiction convention, and I can see that we've got an extraordinarily broad demographic and a very loyal family of fans out there."

Those fans will have to wait awhile to see how the first season wraps up, as Sci-Fi has elected to take the Babylon 5 route and hold off airing the final batch of episodes until right before the next season begins. In other words, the last first-season Farscape hours will air sometime in January, building to the second-season kickoff in March. 

"When the audience sees the final episodes of season one, I think they'll be very happy," Black promises. "It'll be worth the wait, and the fans will be incredibly excited by the increased potential of the series. Just in terms of the production values, Farscape has always had enormous integrity. We've not only managed to maintain that, but have also found ways to deliver the other elements that we'd always hoped to deliver. We're a very solidified program, a very solidified cast, and we're very happy with what we've found."

Farscape follows the adventures of John Crichton (Ben Browder), a 2Oth-century astronaut from Earth who wound up far from home and deep in space thanks to an unexpected trip through a wormhole. Aboard a living ship called the Moya, Crichton fights the baddies—called Peacekeepers- alongside a formidable but fairly motley group that includes expelled Peacekeeper Sun, General D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), priestess Zhaan (Virginia Hey) and diminutive creature Rygel (John Eccleston and Jonathan Hardy, puppeteer and voice, respectively). A fiercely physical Sebacean, Aeryn has feelings for Crichton, but there just never seems to be a right moment or place to express them.

Aeryn SunTo date, Aeryn has figured prominently in such episodes as "Exodus from Genesis," "Throne for a Loss," “Thank God It's Friday Again," "PK Tech Girl," "DNA Mad Scientist," "[Til the] Blood Runs Clear" and "The Flax." Black's favorite lour thus far? " 'PK Tech Girl,' which was directed wonderfully well by Tony Tilse," she replies. "The seed, in terms of what I wanted to do with Aeryn, was sewn with that show. The whole scale of he series opened up. We didn't want to be ship-bound. We wanted to explore a larger location and the possibilities of a more action-based story. That's where Aeryn most comfortably sits.

"In order to express that physicality, she needs to have an almost Arnold Schwarzenegger feel to her," Black continues. "She needs to border on being an action hero, with those kinds of lines and a knack for saving the day. In that same episode, we met another of her kind (Jane Cook as Alyssa) [note - He means Alyssa-Jane Cook as Gilina.] and that put up a mirror to Aeryn. She had so many issues to come to terms with. She'd always been told that the PK Techs were the lower-class citizens. So to find a friend in that person, who was also a potential conflict of interest in terms of Aeryn's feelings for Crichton (especially since he liked Alyssa [Gilina] back), was great. She also had to find the dignity to be sad, to admit that she would miss his woman when she said goodbye. There were beautiful complexities in that episode."

Always a bit of a tomboy, Black welcomes the physical demands put on her every day by Aeryn and the show. Working with the special FX and puppets only help her slip into the fantasy element that's so vital to the series. The genre isn't exactly new to Black, whose credits include guest spots on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (she played Cassandra) and the telefilm Amazon High, as well as roles on several well-known Australian TV series.

She has also gone the genre route in Pitch Black, a sci-fi/horror film directed by David (The Arrival) Twohy that opens next February. "Pitch Black is about a group of people in cryosleep on a spaceship traveling to a colony on a distant planet," reveals the actress, who was shooting Pitch Black in the Australian desert : along with Vin (Saving Private Ryan) Diesel, Cole (Good Will Hunting) Hauser, Radha Mitchell and Keith (There's Something About Mary) David when she landed her Farscape role. "Something goes wrong with the ship and they end up crash-landing. I wouldn't say they: crash-land successfully, but there are some survivors. And the survivors have to come to terms with their new environment. It's not an entirely breathable atmosphere, and they have to find ways to adapt. My character is sort of an explorer of new worlds."

The group soon discovers that the planet is lit by three suns, resulting in constant daylight of different colors, with darkness falling only once every 22 years. Unfortunately, the night brings out swarms of flying creatures that devour any living thing they can find; even more unfortunately, the last time this happened was a day short of 22 years ago... "The film is scary," Black says. "It's really about the primal fear of the dark. As the conditions change on the planet, the tension heightens and quite a frightening little story is told."  

ShazzaOn the other hand, working with Twohy, whose credits also include co-scripting The Fugitive, was a blast for Black. "David's a funny guy," she says. "I mean funny-amusing, not funny-strange. I enjoyed being cheeky with him, and seeing a smile break out on his face. It was fun to taunt him with my brassy Australian humor, but as a director, he: really knew what he wanted. Having seen the movie, I believe he got it." Right now, Black is back in Australia filming episodes for the second season of Farscape. With this series, Hercules and Pitch Black all under her belt, it seems fair to ask if she's a genre fan. "I'm sort of the cyber Spice Girl of the moment," Black laughs. "I try not to watch too much TV. In order to become a serious fan of something on TV, you have to be home every week at a particular time to watch each episode. As an actor, I'm constantly moving around. It really is a gypsy's life. It's hard to get attached to something that may not be around by the time I get back to it.  

"However, I've always enjoyed SF films," she continues. "It's an exciting genre. Futurism, to me, is interesting. I may not be alive to see this, but just as many of Leonardo Da Vinci's ideas are now part of our reality, much of what we see in science fiction now could come true. I find that concept amazing, and that makes me all the more pleased to be part of Farscape."

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