Alien in Black & White

by Rhonda Krafchin

September 2000

Gigi Edgley flirts with success as Farscape's sly Chiana.

Gigi Edgley as ChianaLike the interplay of the black-and-white makeup that Gigi Edgley wears as Farscape's sexy young thief Chiana, there's something equally yin and yang about her , bringing. Her mother, a former Miss Australia, for example, would be right at home with the New Age ideology of Southern California, as opposed to her more realistic father.

Edgley's mother, in fact, runs a 250-acre health retreat affectionately known as The Hideaway, where the young actress grew up. Located on the Gold Coast of Australia, its endless beaches, bush and hidden waterfalls became Edgley's playground as a child. "There's beautiful energy around the farm," says Edgley. "You go in through the gates and breathe a huge sigh of relief. The amount of magic there is unbelievable." Though she saw little TV growing up, there were plenty of cerebral and imaginative forces surrounding her. When Edgley and her siblings and friends weren't off on day-long faerie hunts, there was the presence of students and teachers of Eastern philosophy, alternative healing and Indian rituals. It's not surprising that Edgley's imagination is now so easily tuned into Otherworldly things. Her father, on the other hand, was the "entrepreneur" of the family. A businessman and entertainment promoter, he was the grounding force of Edgley's fantastical childhood. "Dad's very straight laced," she says. "Mum would say, 'Pursue your passion and follow your dreams, live in the moment.' And Dad would say, 'Get your feet on the ground, and work your ass off. It's never going to happen unless you work 'til you drop and work some more.' "

Chiana and Scorpius

Edgy Alien 

Those two distinct personalities laid the groundwork for Edgley's transition from university student to primetime TV star. "I think Mum's open-mindedness helps me a lot through life when really tricky stuff happens," says Edgley. "Even in simple things like auditions, where I get really nervous. Just to know if you're meant to get the part, it'll happen and if not, well then there's something else waiting for you. Dad's side has reminded me to keep my feet on the ground and be totally focused about it and not get too emotional. There's a nice balance there."

Edgley was one year out of university and living with five students in a three-bedroom house when she received her first Farscape script. It's a series filled with alien creatures, bizarre concepts and the occasional mystical adventure. She recalls, "I got faxed this character description, and I thought, 'Oh my God, this is great. This would be unbelievable.' " 

While she was immediately drawn to the script, it was one of the most challenging pieces she had ever auditioned with. "It had her flirting with John Crichton [Ben Browder]," the actress explains, "then denying stuff, then she was meant to be in tears the next moment. They tried to fit as many material characteristics in there as possible to see if I could cope with the extremities."

ChianaNevertheless, it was a role that Edgley was determined to win. So for the first audition she went "a bit nuts" with her attire-crop top, fluffed-out hair and piercings galore; anything to make the character as wild and alien as she could. When she arrived at the studio, however, she was knocked for a loop. "I walked in there," says Edgley, "and there was this row of gorgeous, goddess-like creatures. They were all very well and comfortably dressed. There was no [outlandish] thing, and I thought, 'Oh, God, what have I done?' "

Then, during the audition, Edgley couldn't help noticing director Andrew Prowse's look of reservation. Undeterred, she got right down to business. "Hi, my name is Gigi," she beamed. "I know that she's an alien, but what sort of alien characteristics do you want me to play here?" Prowse, according to Edgley, very simply answered, "I just want to see if you can act."

Six callbacks later, Edgley returned for makeup tests and optometry consultations for the contact lenses, yet there was still no definitive word on whether she had gotten the role. "I was a nervous wreck for about a month," she notes. "Then finally, I went in for the last make-up test, and they said, 'So, are you all ready to come in?'" Edgley assumed it was for yet another test, but they told her it was for shooting. Edgley gasped, "You mean I've got the part?"

Even after winning the role, Edgley had her bouts of insecurity. The first day on set, she arrived at 4 a.m. and spent a full four hours in makeup. Then she sat around nervously waiting all morning for her scenes to come up. Lunch came and went, and there was still no indication they were going to use her. Then an assistant director approached and told her thanks, but she was no longer needed. Edgley had a blind moment of panic, thinking she had been fired. The A.D. reassured her she was not fired, explaining that the set she was meant to work on had accidentally been blown up. Edgley laughingly recalls thinking, "OK, so now I'm working in the Uncharted Territories." 

Edgley used the free time that day to stay in costume and experiment with movement for her character. "The makeup is so effective," she remarks. "You can do one sideways glance and you get so much for free, it looks astronomical." 

Having been previously cast as mostly virginal, "good girl" types, Edgley relished playing the sultry little alien. "I love that Chiana's willing to get right in the others' faces. I'm not like that. I love that she seeks the attention, seeks the spirit and has a bit of a wild spirit herself." But the actress admits it isn't always easy to maintain that edginess. "If we're just doing a line run-through," she explains, "I'm more Gigi than Chiana. I don't make the most adventurous moves. You're running on about four hours of sleep a day, and the makeup sometimes gets a little overwhelming because it constricts you from doing certain things in the scene." 

Rygel and ChianaThere are days, Edgley admits, where they have spent more time doing makeup retouches than acting. That's when the added stimulus of 2 sets, puppets and bizarre alien creatures can help her get into character. Sometimes all it takes is assuming the Chiana "stance," and being on set. Other times, it's her fellow cast members who help. 

As Edgley relates, during a time when she was having difficulty reconciling Chiana's flirtatious nature, Browder told her, "But that's her alien trait. That's what she has been taught on Nebari Prime [Chiana's homeworld]. They're a very sensual race. They don't see anything wrong with sleeping with one alien, then flirting with another to get the mission done. That's what she uses." 

Notes Edgley, "Because the schedule is so intense, you really do bond [with your co-stars ] in every way possible. The moments I've shared with Claud [Claudia Black] and Ginny [Virginia Hey] have just been beautiful. Everyone's really out to help each other, because it's such an intense lifestyle. I'm very well looked after by the gang because I'm still all very new at it."

That kind of younger sibling relationship extends to the characters, particularly Crichton and Chiana, though you can never be quite sure who will bond with who. "You'll just be understanding the character," Edgley notes, "and then suddenly the writers write in some really strong turn of personality." 

With each episode, characters reveal new secrets, and loyalties can easily change. In  "Taking the Stone," the death of Chiana's brother leaves her borderline suicidal and spurs a her on a quest, abandoning her shipmates. Oddly, the one character who normally chaffs at Chiana, Aeryn Sun (Black), is the one who stands up for her. "The chemistry within the bunch is constantly dividing in one way or another," says Edgley. "Just when you think it's all there, same weird turn or surreal twist [occurs], and you’ll go, 'Uh-oh, hold onto your seats, here we go again.’"

Taking the StoneBalanced Actress

Besides the writing that keeps the actors constantly on their toes, the physical nature of shooting Farscape makes for a different kind of challenge. "It's a fantastic learning ground," says Edgley, "Much of the time you get to do your own stunts and work with the puppets. Sometimes, if you're in small confined spaces, you actually have to work the puppets yourself

"Everyone really pushes you. They really challenge you—not just the pass, but the A+."

The Farscape cast and crew's hard work is coming home at last. After two seasons, the space adventure series finally began airing in Australia in May. "Farscape fever's catching around here," says Edgley. "It's really rewarding. Everyone in the production, the entire crew and cast, are workaholics and when it actually comes to your hometown and your family and friends can see what you have contributed to this production, then that's sort of pay-off time as well."

For Edgley, whose parents gave her the best of the magical and real worlds, Farscape seems a perfect blending of fantasy and science fiction, romance and harsh reality. "Farscape is a beautiful balance between that," the actress observes. "It's very dark and very noir sometimes. The characters are really juicy; they've got good backgrounds. They don't just bring off this sterile, stereotypical image that many SF character do. They have a bit of heart in there."

Even the puppets and aliens from the Jim Henson Creature Shop are imbued with personality. "They're so lifelike," Edgley notes, almost in awe. "The simple stuff from the wrinkles, how they move, the eyes, some of them are really quite scary. You forget that there's a person working them from inside." 

But during breaks in shooting, Edgley explains, she is often reminded that her co-star Rygel is a puppet. "It's really odd. You're doing a scene with so much life and so much character in there and then Rygel will be having rest time on the side of the set. It's quite weird to look at because he's just so lifeless. It's like, 'Oh, there's a bit of rubber!' Then you get a hand up his bum and there he goes!"

Finding the balance between overt weirdness and believability is something the Farscape producers, writers, cast and FX personnel deal with everyday. "When you're working with huge prosthetic beasts," explains Edgley, "you're trying to find something attractive about them to clue you in, make you [as an actor] go there. But they have two heads, three nostrils and the costume's three times their size, while at the same time you're trying to find an alien way to do the scene."

ChianaOnce, when Edgley's character was flirting with an alien, she told director Rowan Woods that she didn't want it to be a typical sort of actor-on-actor romantic sex scene. "I wanted to play with the alien," she explains, "so I was doing all this bizarre stuff and Rowan was loving it." Then as they went to shoot, Woods suddenly got cold feet. He turned to Edgley and wondered if the audience would understand what she was doing. Edgley reassured him, though until the final edit, she won't know for certain if her alien love moves remained.

Other times, some technical difficulty will dictate whether or not a scripted scene will work. A moment in "Taking the Stone" has a black-and-white made-up Chiana kissing a guest character who is covered in golds and browns. "It was just a mess," says Edgley. "Chiana was suppose to slap him, and he had green blood. She was meant to come in and lick and kiss the blood off. I'm telling you, it looked like we had been doing I don't know what. There was green up on her cheek and there was gold down her chest. It all got a bit extravagant, so I think they ended up cutting around it and just made it a real simple scene after five hours of touching up and going at it again."

Working on Farscape. with its fantastic creatures, exotic sets and existential flights of fancy, might make it easy for Edgley to forget the real world—the world her father taught her to live in. But at the end of the day, she always remembers where she came from. "We did a scene that was 10 pages long," she explains. "Ithad computer graphics, puppets, a new guest cast. It also had explosions and fights. It took us about three days to shoot and the whole time Chiana was getting tortured through it and getting zapped. So by the end of those three days, I can tell you, it was so intense. Your whole body goes into spasms when you're not meant to go into spasms. You put your heart and soul into it. So you 're exhausted and you go home like this, and then you think, 'Oh God, I've got be to pay that bill. I'm going to get evicted if I n't pay my rent.' Simple stuff like feeding the dog."

Overall, Farscape has been extremely rewarding for the former faerie hunter. "Family Ties" is one of her favorite episodes. "It was a time when I realized within myself that I'm going forward with life and the universe is rewarding me for intense times that had gone before. That," says Gigi Edgley, "was coming out through Chiana and through scene work." It's the perfect blending of the magic of storytelling and the business of acting.

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