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Peter Jurasik as ambassador
His excellency, Ambassador Londo Molari of Babylon 5.
He shares with us his memories of a dear friend, one of our own, the late Andreas Katsulas.
A Greek American actor that we all remember as G’Khar from Babylon 5, or the Vulcan "Tomalak" from Star Trek.
Hello Peter. Thank you very much for beeing with us. We are here to discuss about a friend of yours, a person that is no longer with us. A person, that managed to live his life the way he wanted.
Of course we are talking about Andreas Katsulas. Andreas was born in the US but always remained a Greek inside him. He was coming from a Greek working class family. I don't think I could find a better person to talk about him but you.
That’s true. I have a unique point of view about him, but you could also find other people that would talk about him. But we are going to give it a shot here.
Can I make a short comment?
What you say here Maria is so true about Andreas. I just want to say that he is a person, as I remember my friend and look at his picture right now that I have here with me so to be in close contact with him, that he was a person, and I love the way you describe it, that he lived his life as he wanted to live it.
Many of us, my self included of course, get pushed around by ways of how we should live our lives. Live our lives in ways that we “have to”. Pushed by, in a way, by a country’s style, or by a religion, or a church, or an idea, or by our close family. Andreas, although he had a great respect for all these institutions found a way to be completely himself. So I like what you say, that he lived his life the way he wanted to. He was a great example of a person to be around.
You were around, close to him the time he was sick. And for our friends that do not know that, Andreas died of lung cancer in February 13th 2006. I would really like to know what was his attitude towards death.
There was a progression in his emotions as the day of his death was coming closer. As February the 13th was coming closer. But at first he was as in so many intimate things, incredibly personal and private about it. He told me several months after he found out he was sick and he told me that I was one of the first friends to tell, but for some time he kept it a secret. Only he and his wife knew. Because, in fact, one of his most distinguishing qualities was privacy. Andreas was a private person. He also didn’t want to put a burden on his friends that they would also have to carry. I think he kept it from me and his other friends because he thought that we would make out too much of it. Then I believe that in a very classic way he went through a long period of denial about it. He believed that he was not going to lose this battle.
He fought this battle, apart from the chemotherapy and medicine, by continuing his life as he used to. He thought that by living his life, by being alive he would be able to keep cancer in a kind of stasis.
I remember seeing him in November 2005, three months before he died. I saw him in California. I went there to see him, and I remember I could see that he had entered the dying process as opposed to the fighting the cancer process. I wanted to spend time talking about death issues with him. And as I mentioned to you while we were in Italy together, he hated the part of me that was sentimental.
He said, “Peter, I’m not going to die just because you came here to see me!” And he was angry with me for opening discussions about if and where our spirits would meet when we both would die. A kind of Buddhas tradition that I think I’ve mentioned to you back in Italy. And we talked about these things, to where our spirits would go after death and where we would be able to commune a little bit if we needed to.
But he railed against those things. He fought against those thoughts. For some time.
Then he wrote me a letter about this visit of mine at his place, which I always carry with me. And he talked about dying and how eventually accepting the inevitability of it. He wrote that he was sorry for the people, (I read at his funeral the lyrics of the pop song “Bird On A Wire” where there is a beautiful line in there about “striking out at people who you love” and in his anger he admitted that one of the things he did, he felt it needed to do was to “strike out” at the world around him to relish him from his anger. You know for people that you love this is a really acceptable thing. In strong relationships such as marriage or friendship you have to accept anger.
You mentioned that he was keeping all the sad part of his life for himself. But what about the happy moments of his life? His Carrier? Even before Babylon 5. What were the moments of his carrier that he was really found of?
The first things, I’ve mentioned to you, and not because you’re Greek or because we have this discussion for the Greek sci-fi site, when I first got close to him, the first way into Andreas, in terms of sharing his life forth and his happiness and his joys was through meeting his family. So the first time that he brought me, he said let’s have some time together, and he cooked food for me, greek food and we did nothing more that looking at pictures of his family , and talk about his father and his mother. He was celebrating his life first through his family and through his tradition. And when he died, and I went to his funeral, I realized he wanted a traditional Greek orthodox funeral with his family. So these were the things that rooted him first and last.
Of course in terms of his career, like any actor, you know, we love to talk about ourselves and about our work, Andreas was probably most proud of the work he did with Peter Brooks company. Of course any actor would love to be part of that. A part of one of the most premiere vast theatrical groups out there.
He was very happy that Peter Brooks invited him in. And he used to talk about the performances as varied and as extreme they gave all over the world. Performances on beautiful stages in Paris, in an ancient temple in Iran, standing in front of the Pyramids, or just resting in a little village in Africa telling stories to children. Those were all his doings and they were part of the Peter Brook experience, which was about in a sense trying to get to the essence of story telling and how we communicate with each other through these stories that we all love. Weather these stories are Babylon 5 or Shakespeare what ever stories is that you love. You know what I mean?
I have the impression that all these years with Peter Brooks made Andreas a Citizen of the World.
It’s so true. He was in fact a citizen of the world. As a young man, it was a big thing to get transferred from Saint Louis, and away from New York and Los Angeles, towards the world. It is very insightful of you Maria. You have a good sense of feelings for him I know. He was a citizen of the world and he was presenting himself in that way to people around him and led with that one once again. He made you feel, that he wasn’t just who you might think he was. He was physically and emotionally connected with a lot of places and a lot of people.
You know my experience with Andreas Katsulas begun with Babylon 5. I liked him as an actor and then I had to go backwards to find out about him. What else had he done. Only then I realised how big his career was.
Then, I watched Babylon 5 again, and I realised that the Citizen of the world that I'm mentioning could be seen in G'Khar.
That’s very interesting.
I believe he brought all his experience in this role, and I know that Joe Straczynski, when Andreas died, mentioned that he could never find another actor to play this role.
Yes. and you know what? Andreas talked about the fact that so much of the work we as actors get to do on television and film, not true about the stage because the stage is an actor’s medium as opposed to directors or writers medium, but on television and film we only use a small part of who we are. You get 10 – 15 percent of the actor usually. He did say though that with this part G’KHAR, in lack of a better word, he “interfaced” or “touched” much much more of who he really was. And he used much more of the being of who Andreas was. Because the character spread out, just like Londo did, and we saw the good, the bad and the ugly. Right?
You know in Babylon 5, there were three characters that I considered vital. It was Londo Molari, G'Khar and John Sheridan. You mentioned when we were in Italy that these were roles dealing with people that have been "Cornered".
Yes, That’s right.
You were all "cornered" and you got the ability to develop the characters. And I would like to know, how was it for G'Khar and Londo Molari. Which was the process. What were you feeling when rehearshing, during the shootings. What was the atmosphere being two "cornered" people?
You see there is a double life that goes on. One is the atmosphere that we, the actors have in Los Angeles, in Sun Valley on the set. What WE are going through and how we access the stuff we have to do. And then there was the atmosphere of when we were performing the characters. When, we were actually working. Andreas, in an interview to a Canadian writer mentioned how different he found me to be than Bruce (Boxleitner) and him on how we approached our work on the set. It’s different what happens before and what happens when they say “ACTION”.
Before the shooting, during the day, I was trying to get away from Molari, to make fun of him. Play or goof around. I try to stay active and creative because Londo demanded that, but I always did it in a playful way. Trying to keep him away from me. So that he would not eat up my day. Eat up my energy. When I was not acting him (Molari) I wanted to push him away a little bit.
Andreas used to say, that watching me doing this, he wished he could do it too but he was afraid to get away from G’Khar. Because he was afraid that he might loose G’Khar. G’Khar was more delicate and would get away from him. And in this interview he put it in just this way. “There were times that we were playing around with Peter and we were having a good time as two actors playing at the characters and then I had the fear that G’Khar ‘s essence was going away and I was afraid that I would loose him. “
Bruce was, you know, I have a harder time speaking of what he was about. But Bruce, because he was not playing an Alien, so far away from him, I could see, (and I know him for a long time and I like him a lot) that he had to struggle more with SHERIDAN on the set, and you could see and feel that struggle.
When you take one of these three characters and you stick them in a corner the way that Joe (J. Michael Straczynski) so cleverly did as a writer, and I don’t mean clever like using a “trick”, I mean he IS a good writer with a lot of experience, so he knew that if he would put us in a corner he would get drama from it. So when you do that, the character must fight his way out of the corner or basically die in the corner.
You know, when we get ourselves in corners in life, then the fireworks begin. Right? And our life really starts to happen. When we are going our path right down in the middle of the road, and everything is going really well, it’s usually not very exciting but as soon as things start to go off the track, and we get into trouble in our family or in our work, in our money, in our love and passions, well then it starts to get interesting. So when they were saying action we had to find a way to get ourselves out of the corners that we were stuck in by Joe Straczynski.
We were all doing it differently beforehand, but when we were on the set… If you were hanging around at the set you would say that definitely there is ONE guy who seams to be having a great deal of fun in goofing around and laughing like being out of his mind or being drunk. That was me. And then you would wonder, who was the other one, that was so quiet, smoking and being contemplative and internal? And that was Andreas.
And there was Bruce, who in fact, was so close to his character that some times you would think that they were in each others shoes. He was struggling. His work was much harder than the work that Andreas and I had to do. Because he had to play this character that was much closer to him.
Another thing that made me pay attention to G'Khar's character was the fact that even if he was an ugly alien, he had a soft voice. The entire role was not something like, let's say, the Klingons. He was bringing anger out with a soft voice. With intelectuality, although he was coming from a nation of warrior. Narn were warriors. I think that this soft voice was added to the character by Andreas. That it was part of his personality.
He also had thought the reputation of a strong man. You told me once that Andreas could be described as the "legs of Babylon 5".
Metaphoricaly speaking, these were legs then that could take a big load of weight?
You got it.
But at the end, was he doing it in a soft way?
He always did it in a soft way. He looked at his character, and spoke at his character’s heart. He always used to say that he hated the costume. But he loved the soul and the mind of G’Khar. So the words did come out soft. He used to infuriate me, because of my vanity, cause he managed to make his character so sexy that many women were sending him love letters. And I hated that. He would kill me for saying that. (laughing).
But he found a way to make G’khar heroic, but not only that, sensual, soft, loving, and despite the fact that his face with the makeup was monsterous and his costume was warlike and hard. Much unlike the costume of Molari, that was so elaborate and baroque.
So it was amazing how he was able to bring so much heart and love to the character. And you are right Maria. It’s because of the actor who played it. He always led with the heart of the character. The “inside” part of the character. And he was not going to lay down and play a villain. You know he said that from the very beginning to Joe. He initiated that. He went to Joe, and said, ‘listen, G’Khar is not going to be the bad guy the whole time right? Because, if he is going to be the bad guy, I don’t want to sign on. I don’t want to do you, your Babylon 5 for your money. “
I also said the same thing for Londo Molari. I was not planning to play the comic character for the whole time.
Was Straczynski accepting comments from the actors? Or was he writing down and you had to cope up with what was going on?
A good writer, in terms of actual comment, I don’t think is responding necessarily. Joe could listen to an honest comment. You could go and find him and discuss. Andreas was going to him, probably more than any other actor to talk to him for what G’Khar was about. But Joe did not respond a lot to it. What he really responded to, was, that he was watching the people. A real good writer in television always watches closely which actors, which people breathe life to his characters in order to keep the light of the character alive. So he needs to watch the actors to find out who they are, and to get to know them. Joe was certainly influenced from who Andreas Katsulas was, and who his heart and soul was.
Joe, is such a good writer that he knows that he has to give freedom to the actors as well for the character to evolve. As I told you in Italy, at the beginning of the series, the network assigned about 10 co writers to help him with the script job. Before season two they were all fired. So, what you saw as Babylon 5 was his personal writing. he was coming in the set around 11 in the morning or around noon and then at one o’clock that it was lunch time he was sitting and having lunch with us. And there are not many producers and writers that do this. He was watching us, how we were interacting with him and with each other. He did not always eat with the same people. He was always moving around. Then he was disappearing and he was writing his stuff for the next episode up until the small hours of the night. This was part of Joe’s process in writing. Get the feel of who we were.
What was the reaction of Andreas when the rumors begun that Babylon was going to stop?
You know Andreas was an experienced actor. In lack of a better term, he was an old dog to it all, and he knew that there was nothing that could be done about that. He had to be accepting to it. And that’s the only way to do it anyway.
A much more pointing question would be, what was the reaction of Joe when the rumors got out. Because he was the one that had a story to tell. And he might not see it completed. Andreas and I and the rest of the actors are in a way, ponds in the game, colours in the picture on the palette of the artist and if we needed to close down the shop and move on, specially if you are in the business for a long time, then there is no trouble with that. You have to be prepared to say, “ok, done, close it up and walk away”.
I know that Andreas was not attending too many Sci-Fi conventions.
But what was he thinking of the Sci-Fi fans?
I think he was amazed, like all of us were by the sci-fi fans. And I think he grew to love and respect sci-fi fans. He did not have a knowledge of the sci-fi fan community. The only one that did was BILL MUMMY who has been around sci-fi for a while. He played the young WILLIAM ROBINSON in the “Lost in Space” original series. For the rest of us, it was relatively new the idea of conventions and meeting the fans.
There is a great joy of meeting the fans. For me it was always a lovely idea that I would meet the people that I was doing a TV series for. Cause it’s not like the theater, that you walk out the backstage door and there are some people to see you, and tell you how the show went. On TV you can play your role for a year and you don’t see anybody that watches the show. So I think that Andreas liked that. But we must know again how a private of a person he was.
He was in fact a shy person. When you were a friend of his, a close to him person, he was always outrageous and funny and nuts, and as I used to say he was like a loose cannon rolling around on a set. Dangerous, in a good sense. But when he had to go out to meet strange people, discuss and shake hands well then he was becoming the shy person I told you.
When he was ready to open up and he trusted you, he opened up intensely and in a full way.
You know, convention circuit for me is almost perfect because I’m an extrovert so I love to talk to people and I love to interact but I don’t think that was a comfortable thing for him. Even when we were at the height of success, when there was a lot of money to be made in conventions, when we were signing autographs and the lines were out of the building and around it, Andreas still retreat from that. And he would go back to his room and would not hang out in the bar. Because, he just was a shy person. Not because he didn’t like to go out with people. But he came to love the sci-fi fans and understood their mentality and liked it, as we all have now.
We all know that out there, there are fans that really cross the line. But I think, and maybe you will agree with me on this, that sci-fi fans are loyal fans.
Most of these loyal fans grew up with these sci-fi series. There are people out there that decided to follow a scientific career just because they were bonded in a way with the sci-fi characters. Others that became actors or writers because of the influence of sci-fi in their lifes. But what happens to actors that find themselves, playing roles in sci-fi productions? You were also in TRON and Andreas had a role in Star Trek as a vulkan. When you were offered the roles of G'Khar and Molari, did you hesitate before accepting them? Knowing that maybe, people might "imprison" you in this type of roles?
All I can say, and I speak for me, I can’t speak for Andreas but I know that he was like me in this, is that my decision was driven by the character and the story. And also I wanted to work. An Actor is like any other profession. A painter wants to paint, a singer wants to sing, and an actor needs to be on a set and work. That’s important. So since it was a good character of course I accepted it. And it was a paid job, and guess what !!! That’s what I do.
In terms of understanding the science fiction genre, or more important, understanding the science fiction fans, for me it became about understanding that people who become actors for the most part are literature based people. People who relate to the world first through words and literature and sci-fi fans are people who relate to the world through science. Through numbers, or medicine. In a different way. That was very interesting for us, the actors. The better I understood this element, the better I understood the characters of the people and how they were related to the stories in a different way.
I think the bottom line is that we didn’t worry how we would be perceived as long as the elements of the series were all good and mixed well together. Good characters, good story, good production. When the entire package was “interesting”.
Andreas was a hard working person. I told you before that I’ve seen his family pictures and when he invited me at his place the first time. Then I met them in person in Saint Louis and I saw that they were work oriented people. But very serious in what they were doing. Andreas had a strong ethic about his work. And he was a fearless businessman. He approached all the BABYLON 5 as work too.
You know when I was watching Babylon 5 here in Greece, and having been to a Greek theater, and having watched ancient drama and comedies, even when watching my grand mother at the village talking to her friends, I realised that Andreas even in the role of G'Khar had some built in moves, gestures that greek actors and greek people have.
Is that right?
I’m sure he would be very happy to hear that.
And I think that he picked them up from his family. The Greeks talk in a very expressive way. LOL. Did he ever mention to you if he was traveling to Greece or not?
From what I know he had traveled to Greece a couple of times. It was amazing how often he was accessing his Greek. He never forgot about it, and he would use it to put it out to people. He was talking about being Greek. He never disassociated himself from it. It was part of who he was.
To give you an example in a little bio he had on his website, and weather he preferred television or theater he was mentioning that this choice was something between an apple pie and a Baklava. And I really loved the way he used Baklava to describe this.
I have searched a bit on the internet before this discussion and I found something that must have given you a really fun time while doing it. I'm talking about the B5 project. The music album that you.....
Andreas, Claudia Christian, Mira Furlan, and Bill Mumy. LOL !!
And I'm really surprised that I didn't manage to put my hands on it!
Well I can get you a copy. Or you can get it through Bill Mumy’s website. But it was funny that you remember it. We really dragged Andreas to this. Really, dragged him. We made him do it with us. He was kicking and screaming. We were all getting our make up together in the trailers at the set every morning. We were spending some time there everyday. And we were listening to music. So there was a short of a camaraderie of music.
Bill Mummy, Andreas, Mira and I, that we were Aliens we had our makeup in one trailer and the human roles in another. Us, the aliens were spending much, much time in the make up trailer and we were listening to a lot of music. The idea came from Bill, who is always first a musician and he had a recording studio of his own. So we said that we should do an album together. Andreas, completely “murdered the songs” although he loved to sing. And I know that he would be laughing right now if he can hear us talking about it.
OSpeakng for my self, but I think for the sci-fi fans, we would really appreciate it if you could share with us some moments you had with Andreas and you will never forget.
It’s very hard for me to talk about. It fills my heart with emotion. One of these moments was the last time I saw him, when he was sick, and it was a kind of goodbye to each other. And I can’t tell you how brave and how rich the look in his eyes was. Appreciative, of each other and of our friendship. So loving, fearful, but also fearless, at the same time. Afraid to die, but unafraid to go on. That was a great moment. I will never forget that.
I always make fun of goodbyes in life. I always say that goodbyes are never what they are meant to be. I feel that when it comes to goodbyes we always screw them up. We always say either too much or just too little, or rush through them. They are not done the way we dreamt them in our dreams. But he and I had a terrific good bye to each other.
Then I can remember the first time I met him. Sitting in this audition room for Babylon 5. Two actors, without knowing who was auditioning for which part, being silent and a kind of vicious to each other. Like two dogs smelling each other. We were trying to find out who the other one was. And then I remember how happy we were that we were not reading for the same part. Then there was not this threat anymore and this was the beginning of this work relationship. Even then, at that very first moment, he and I shared an honest interchange about the characters and about the script.
Andreas was a particularly generous actor. Especially with me. I don’t know if he was like that with the rest of the actors, maybe he was. He talked about what he felt. He and I, developed a really generous relationship at the set. Discussing how we were feeling, and how we were approaching our characters.
I must tell you that this was passing to the audience as well.
I’m happy to hear that. This is really great.
I 've been watching science fiction stuff for more than 30 years. I don't consider my self as an expert because I interact with what I watch emotionaly. I don't care about the ratings, or reviews. I watch with my instinct. If I like it, I like it. If it sucks, it sucks. And these are entirely personal decisions. I never cared what the media experts would say. Also, here in Greece, before internet, it was not easy to follow what the media world had to say about the productions and maybe this was better
This is wonderful. Watching, without any interference. Great!
So I related to your two characters, Molari and G'Khar as two characters that were coming out of a "tragedy".
I came to the conclussion inside me, realising how good Straczynski was as a writer, that Babylon 5 was not just another Sci-fi Series. It was a complete "EPOS" if you allow me this greek word. A saga. A work of a lifetime. It had a beginning and an End. A tragic end. A kind of Catharsis, for the writer, the actors, the audience. Everyone, gainned something from it, and learned something for him/her self.
What you say Maria is very gratifying and I thank you.
We thank you.
You know what? When I remember him, that I stood up next to this man, and worked side by side with him I want you to visualize us like two people that had to stand next to each other and dig at the same ditch to put the same house together, and then live for five years in this place that was our own building. There was mutual respect. There was inner communication.
I 'm really happy that you shared all this with us Peter. I know it's not easy to talk about a friend that is no longer with us. But tonight, this discussion was for me like an awakening for Andreas Katsulas. You brought your memories of him, I brought my feelings and his memory was so warm and tender. Like if he was cooking for us in his house, showing us pictures of his family. Like any good Greek would do.
Thank you again Peter, I had a great time.
Thank you Maria, it was the same for me too.
Good night Peter...........
Good night Andreas.........