Somehow, a mysterious old woman joined the crew of moya. We discover that her name is Noranti, but not very much else. Joe Nazzaro investigates...

Noranti-Rygel and Aeryn-Chiana

Noranti isn't the only Farscape cast member that Jaffer played in Season Four, During the universe- swapping episode Unrealized Reality, she also took on the role of Rygel, although it wasn't necessarily her first choice, "Everybody else chose the character that they wanted," she admits, "and the only one left was Rygel, so I drew the short straw, "I actually loved playing Rygel, because he's such a vile and hideous person. He's so self-obsessed and I loved it. At first I thought, 'Oh no, I have to wear that head!' and it was really quite difficult to wear. The battery for his eyebrows and whiskers was right at the nape of my neck, which meant that for the

entire day I couldn't move my head forward or back. But I loved it, and I loved doing the ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording] work and putting his voice into it. I was quite pleased with it, but everybody else said, 'Oh we don't want to play Rygel!' and I was left to do it. Gigi of course didn't want to play me; well, she did want to play Noranti, but when she had to wear the mask, she came up to me and said, 'How do you manage to do this? 

NorantiAppearances can be deceiving, even in Deep Space. When Noranti was introduced at the end of Farscape's third season, the question on everyone's lips was pretty much, 'Who the hell is this crazy old lady, and what is she doing aboard Moya?' But according to actress Melissa Jaffer, viewers would have discovered an awful lot more about the character if the series had continued.

"I was originally told that she would be a combination of a university professor, a Buddhist guru and a Catholic nun," claims Jaffer. "She was someone who could advise, solve problems, help people, make decisions, and take control of situations. She also possessed this extraordinary mystical gift that she had through her third eye, but coupled with early Alzheimer's. Given that sort of character, any actor would say, 'Wow!'

"All of those things were possible with Noranti, and they were all possible with me. I don't mean that in any boastful sense, but I've played all of those elements before, so it was a huge disappointment for me that the original character breakdown, which was written by [executive producer] David Kemper and was so good, never  actually had time to develop." 

Noranti and RygelPart of the problem, says Jaffer, is that having created this eccentric new character, the show's writers never really knew how to use her. "I was brought in ostensibly to replace Virginia Hey's character [Zhaan] with an eye to the divine eternal, and the supernatural values that she used to look after. But in my opinion, it's very difficult to replace that ethereal, extraordinary look of Virginia, who's an extraordinary looking woman. You can replace her with a very earthy, older character, but you still can't replace that wonderful gift that she had. So faced with all that, they tried to go in a completely different direction but keeping some of the same elements with Noranti. When she was finally put together, she worked very well, which I can't say about a lot of characters I've played, but they didn't quite know what to do with her."

Noranti and ChianaAs an example, Jaffer cites the character's mysterious third eye, which was created by Creature Shop chief Dave Elsey, but never explained and rarely used. "What happened was, none of the script writers wrote for the Noetic eye, so one day, I said to my make-up artist Katherine Brown, 'We've got to start using this eye whether they like it or not'. It was sitting there doing nothing, so Katherine read every script and plotted the places where she'd use the eye {which was operated by remote control), and it was entirely our decision. She'd say, 'Do you think it's this colour?' and I'd tell her, 'Yes, go for the purple or whatever'. There was no direction for the eye, but fortunately, I had this wonderful make- up artist who wanted to do something with it, because it gave her a much stronger role than just sitting there waiting for me to come off the set, and she was absolutely terrific."

Younger NorantiA widely-respected stage and television actress, Jaffer has had no shortage of work in recent months, including a recurring role in the series All Saints, a two-hour police drama Blackjack, and the upcoming Australian/ UK co-production Snobs. " I've been quite busy since leaving Farscape," she confirms. "I'm back working 'naked' as  I call it, without my mask, which is quite funny. After Farscape, some of us suddenly have to be concerned about the way we look, and I actually loathe that. All the things like, 'Gosh, don't I look shocking in that light?' start to  worry you again." 

And with Farscape over, does Melissa Jaffer have any regrets? "I would like to have seen the Noranti of really keen intelligence used more. I'd like to have seen her take command more often, which she was more than capable of doing, and was in the original character breakdown. I didn't expect it to happen right away, although I still believe that having done the politically correct thing in casting an older woman, they didn't know what to do with her, which is the way life is. But I say that with no hard feelings about anything. It was a totally enjoyable experience. I worked with some of the best directors we have here, and some wonderful writers and producers, and I'd be more than happy to work with any of them again."

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