STARLOG #344

That Sci-Fi Guy

by Joe Nazzaro

From Farscape to Stargate, Ben Browder has become SF TV's leading man.


Year Nine's mid-season opener got off to a flying start with "The Fourth Horseman, Part II"

With Mitchell in the pilot's seat, you can be assured that the "Collateral Damage" will be kept to a minimum.

"The Ties That Bind" are hard to break, but that's OK with Browder - he was happy to have Farscape co-star Claudia Black back as Vala

Season Seven first mentioned Browder's character. Season Nine saw the return of Sam Carter (Amanda Tapping). Their on-screen chemistry has been a successs

Spearheading the Stargate team can be a physical job. In "Babylon," Mitchell jousts with Jolan (Jason George).

Teal'c (Christopher Judge), Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) and Mitchell are just three of "The Powers That Be" comprising the series' elite crew.

SF Fans know Browder as Farscape's wisecracking John Crichton. The actor doesn't see many similarities between that role and his Stargate hero.

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Jack O'Neill's promotion and departure left the Stargate SG-1 team without a leader. Air Force Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder) now commands the military group
What a difference a season or two makes. A mere matter of months ago, Ben Browder was busy saving the universe as John Crichton, the wise- cracking hero of Farscape. Now, just over a year later, the actor is back kicking alien butt anew, this time as Air Force Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell in Stargate SG-1.

OK, so some things aren't completely different, but every good genre show needs a wisecracking hero, and nobody does it better than Browder. As SG-1's new team leader, his character assumes the mantle of irreverent fearlessness left behind by the departure of Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson). But don't ask the actor (previously interviewed in STARLOG #328) how Mitchell is different from his predecessor or, for that matter, from John Crichton, because you're not going to get a satisfactory answer.

"Look, characters are a function of the writing, how the story is told, what the actor does and how the audience perceives them, so I only bear a portion of the responsibility," Browder explains. "When you have a writing staff and a different kind of story, you're not in as much danger as you might thinkin terms of the character being too much like someone else you've portrayed. But to a certain degree, that's a worry for all actors who ask themselves, 'Am I repeating myself?' And that might not necessarily be the worst thing in the world, to repeat yourself a bit. I didn't set out with the purpose of making Mitchell different; I always assumed that he would be. He seems to be to me."

But different how? Browder still refuses to be drawn into that discussion. "You know, I've receded into the shadows in regard to talking about character, because it does two things: One, it's a futile effort to discuss what my inner workings are on a character, which is essentially what you're asking me. I often don't even tell the director what I'm thinking, because the important things are, how is what I'm doing being received, and does it work? That's not really for me to judge or access, and I tend to keep that inside of what seems to be a black box. I have my specific thoughts, but they're likely to change from day to day, and [revealing them] can interfere with the audience's view of the character. So I've gotten away from talking about that thought process, which is something I felt I discussed forever in drama school."

Mission Objectives

The transition from Farscape to Stargate began while Browder and company were providing closure for the former series with a final four-hour mini-series, The Peacekeeper Wars. "Stargate originally contacted me about doing something for them while I was filming the Farscape mini- series," he remembers, "but I didn't know if it was for Atlantis or SG-1. And then I met [executive producer] Brad Wright at ComicCon, and we got on incredibly well. I had already met [writers] Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie at the Saturn Awards, of all places, so I guess somehow somebody had a bad idea, and I ended up on the show."

Having spent a big chunk of the past decade shooting Farscape in Sydney, Browder had only just relocated his family back to the U.S. Still, he didn't have any hesitation about spending the next several months in Vancouver, where Stargate is produced. "Vancouver is much closer to LA than many places in the U.S.," he points out. "It's certainly reasonably accessible, so I didn't have a problem being out of the country. The only issue is that family schedules get more difficult as families grow older. My father calls us 'traveling minstrels,' and he's probably right. We're migrant workers: We go where the work is, and we have to make peace with that if we're going to be in the film and television industry. So there wasn't a huge amount of hesitation. I believe it's good to be working. I can only imagine what it's going to be like when I'm 90: 'I can't take that gig in Bangkok; all the folks in the home are depending on me for Bingo night!' That part of it will probably become a bit more problematic."

Mitchell was essentially an off-screen character introduced in Stargate's seventh season. A fighter pilot who led his squadron against the Goa'uld in the season finale, "Lost City," his F-302 was shot down, but Mitchell managed to survive and was promised a position on SG-I upon his recovery. The character ultimately made his first appearance at Season Nine's beginning, filling the vacancy left by O'Neill's promotion.

One of the challenges of coming into a long-established genre series is the sheer volume of mythology that has been created over the years. With Farscape, Browder had been involved from day one, but Stargate SG-1 had already been running for eight seasons, which is a considerable amount of baggage to pick up. As Browder recalls, " I did have copies of the Stargate Illustrated Guides, and I also watched the series from beginning to end in one giant couch-potato session. I literally viewed the entire series, Seasons One through Eight, which was more TV than I've seen in the last decade. It's quite an experience to sit down and watch that amount of work in a relatively short space of time; it's almost surreal. But that's what I did to familiarize myself with the Stargate mythology."

Browder also got to talk to Anderson before leaving for Vancouver. "I had a conversation with Richard while I was still in LA, just to touch base, say hi and maybe pick his brain a little bit and see what advice he might have for me," he says. "I don't know if it was useful; it was probably more comforting than anything else. He spoke very highly of everyone up there, and everything he said was true."

There may have been an early misconception on the part of some Stargate fans that Browder was simply going to be a replacement for Anderson's character, but the resemblance between O'Neill and Mitchell isn't all that pronounced. "I think they're very different characters," Browder says, "but when you have a long-term fan base, they start to worry about which direction the series is heading, and they begin fretting about specific characters and dynamics within the show. That's not to say that they don't have the right or shouldn't be concerned about what the powers-that-be are going to do to their show in the following season, but if there were worries, hopefully most of them will have been erased by the end of Season Nine."

Team Assignments

Fortunately, Stargate SG-l's cast and crew were very welcoming to Browder, which made the transition that much easier. "They're an affable bunch," he extols. "And they're a group who has a great deal of loyalty to all of the people who work on the show. It's a family type of situation, so my challenge was trying to find a place at the dinner table.

"We also had Beau Bridges [General Landry, Stargate Command's new boss] coming in at the time, and Lou Gossett Jr. [Gerak, a Jaffa leader], who did his arc. Then there was Claudia Black [the mischievous Vala]―who wasn't exactly new, because she had been on the show before ―plus whatever new guest cast were in the episodes. So I wasn't the only one trying to find a place at the table. I don't know whether that would have made it easier or harder ―if I had been the only one ―but it was fine; it wasn't that difficult a transition."

And that included his first day of lensing on the series. "I was fighting a cold, because I had just gone from one country to another and discovered they actually do have something of a winter in Vancouver," he grins. "I was working in the morning with Chris Judge [Teal'c], doing a walk-and-talk, which is unusual from Chris' perspective, because Teal'c is usually the one not talking. But Chris had the majority of the words, so I only had to ask questions, walk along and carry a P-90.

"Then in the afternoon, I shot some stuff with Claud, Michael [Shanks, who plays Dr. Daniel Jackson] and Chris. So I started in the morning with a completely new face and set of gear, and by the afternoon, I was working in a scene with someone who, if there's anybody I've acted with before whom I have greater familiarity with on a work level than Claudia, I don't know who it is. She makes my job very easy."

Even so, Browder admits he had to deal with a certain settling in period. "In regards to fitting into a series that has been running for eight years, it takes a little time to move into it," he says. "Some things, though, came very easy and quickly. The first director I worked with, Andy Mikita, and I got on incredibly well; in fact, I get on great with all of the directors, and the same is true of the cast and crew. Looking back at it, if there was any difficulty, it probably had more to do with me than anything else."

If viewers were nervous about how the new chemistry between cast members would work in Season Nine, their fears were probably alleviated by the return of Amanda Tapping as Sam Carter (the actress took a few months off for maternity leave). Fan reaction was doubtless echoed in Mitchell's on-screen enthusiasm about "getting the band together," a line used again later in the season by General Hammond. "That was a phrase that came from [writer] Rob Cooper early on," Browder says. "It's a Blues Brothers reference.

"The team aspect of the show is one of the things that makes Stargate more traditional but also more atypical of modern SF. Most programs are like Farscape-with a broader context of drama and comedy than team-oriented series. It's easier to go for drama when everybody is at odds with one another, but that's not necessarily the meat and potatoes of Stargate. The team aspect is important, but that takes time--especially when you're introducing a new leader to the group. It's a tricky balance, from both a storytelling and writing standpoint, and they've done a good job. I don't know if I've done a good job, but they have. It's not in my hands; it's up to other people, particularly the audience, as to whether they think it works or not."

Marching Orders

By the time Year Nine's mid-season opener, "The Fourth Horseman, Part 11," aired, the series was running smoothly, with the new cast members now comfortably settled into their roles. "The writers have planned things out in a full-season arc, but there's also stuff that will be carried into the tenth season," Browder says. "I hope that the second-half season opener worked well for not only the long-term fans, but for anyone who happened to be tuning in for the first time. I thought it was fun; the episode moves and has a broad appeal."

Pressed for a few specifics about the season's remaining shows, Browder is reluctant to give anything away. "I'm contractually bound not to discuss future plot points," he apologizes, "which is kind of funny, because it seems to me that everybody else on Stargate talks about what's coming up, but I sort of refuse."

The actor chuckles, realizing that he has not been all that forthcoming during the course of this conversation. "I'm a terrible interview, aren't I?" he good-naturedly concedes. " 'He won't tell us what he's thinking about, and he won't talk about what's coming up! What's the point of speaking to the guy? What am I doing to sell the show?'

"OK, there are going to be lots of naked alien babes, lots of violence, lots of scantily clad people and we're doing a whole Desperate Housewives riff later in the year where we're in the suburbs for six episodes," he jests. "Is there anything else that's hot on TV right now? Stargate goes to the Super Bowl! Our team is going to square off with the Indianapolis Colts, with a special guest appearance by Peyton Manning. And at least once a year, we get stranded on an island and all sorts of strange things happen!"

In weeks, Browder will get ready to start production on Season 10, which means he'll be packing up his car for the 22-hour drive back to Vancouver. In the meantime, Browder is sticking close to home and enjoying the opportunity to be a family man again. "Right now, I'm trying to minister to my more important duties, which is being a father and a husband," he says. "Before we started this conversation, I just got back from a school delivery, so I'm doing the regular stuff, which--quite frankly I love doing.

"I guess because I've been away so much this last year, 'normal' is brighter and tastier than it usually would be. All my senses of normal life are heightened by the fact that I've been gone for quite a while. So I'm pretty focused on trying to take care of the other aspects of my life right now. You notice the complexity of normal life when you 're forced to deal with it in small pieces. It reminds you how glorious it all is."

Having signed on for another potentially long-running genre show, Browder isn't all that bothered by the idea of being a "Sci-Fi Guy" for the foreseeable future. "If that happens, I'm very lucky," he reflects. "As an actor, if you have any career, you're lucky. SF is a good fit with my brain-in terms of what I like to watch. I guess it just fell out this way, that the two major things I've done in the last X number of years are SF!

"Otherwise, I would have been the Party of Five guy who shows up for half a season," Ben Browder remarks. "You're lucky to have something at all, so I feel blessed that I've been on these two series."


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