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farscape • Wayne Pygram & david kemper

selected from TV Zone #145

can't get you
out of my head

Every Holmes needs his Moriarty. Farscape's John Crichton has his own nasty nemesis in the shape of the vile Scorpius. Wayne Pygram reveals the inner workings of the man in the rubber mask…

Crichton (Ben Browder) and his mortal enemy Scorpius

Farscape: Mondays 18:45 BBC2*, Wednesdays 21:00 Sci-Fi
* except Scratch 'N' Sniff, apparently

As with most forms of popular fiction and entertainment, Science Fiction is filled not only with great heroes but also larger-than-life villains. The newest addition to a list of first-class unworthies comes from the Uncharted Territories in the black leather clad form of Scorpius.

Beginning as a guest character, this half-Skarran, half-Sebacean creature quickly carved out a permanent niche in the Farscape mythos thanks to the magnetic performance turned in by the actor playing Scorpius, Wayne Pygram. In personal appearances, the Australian actor is tall and imposing with a booming voice, shaven head, and often given to wearing black leather like his character. A great crowd pleaser in person, he's also an extremely intelligent and articulate actor.

Given his genial nature, where in Wayne Pygram does Scorpius come from? There's only so much research an actor can do since we've yet to make contact with any bona fide extraterrestrials. Pygram's approach was one that defies the usual process. "I use my imagination. [Executive Producer] David Kemper actually gave me a list of Horror films to watch – Vincent Price films, including The Inspector General (Witchfinder General, surely? - Web. Ed), in order to get a bead on the character. I didn't watch any of them, but I didn't tell him that.

"Then when I started filming, he said to me, `Oh, you watched The Inspector General.' And I said, `Dave, I hate to break the news to you, even through you gave me the information and were trying to help me out, I don't work that way. I work internally. In fact, I work the other way – the less amount of external data the better, unless I need to practice some kind of mechanical task I've never done before. It's purely my imagination," he says.

Pygram's work method was similarly unorthodox, but no less effective when he went to audition for the role. "I'd done a rubber-head, a prosthetic role on The Lost World a couple of weeks before. That was the first time I'd done prosthetic make-up, working in a mask, so I had a taste of that. It's a little different, but not too different from acting without make-up, it's just projecting heightened reality. So two weeks later I was asked to go and audition for Farscape.

"I looked at the character and thought, `Well, he's an alien. Let's do something really bold so I started with the only data I had which was a page of dialogue. I took all the punctuation out and approached it fresh. I linked thoughts so I spoke in a way that made absolute sense to how he is, but was rhythmically odd. So that was one character trait I found. And then I thought, well where do I pitch his voice. Most villains have big voices so I thought, let's go the other way – pitch it up. That was a very easy choice – you go down or you go up." So when he did the actual audition, he had pretty much nailed the character. "I had everything you see now in the audition," he says.

There's another dimension to Scorpius that brings to mind the actor who originally inspired David Kemper, Vincent Price. Price created scores of memorable villains over the years who were not only evil, but filled the screen with a style and panache missing in most of the heroes. Scorpius is a worthy successor to those characters, a fully confident bad guy who seems completely comfortable in his own skin.

"He's sophisticated, he's articulate, he's highly intelligent," Pygram says. "He's a very empowered character and he very rarely indulges himself in it. He is flamboyant, but not for his own entertainment – it's for the audience, you know? He doesn't indulge in his own power; he just exercises it, coldly and efficiently. He's seen as the badass and all that, but he's not immoral..."

James E Brooks

Crichton - but which one?

For Farscape's show's executive producer David Kemper, the last several weeks have been hectic indeed. After wrapping Season Three in Australia, he returned to Los Angeles and then went on to New York for a promotional visit. Due to fly out of NYC on September 11th, his plans were changed by the tragic events of that day. Finally back in LA, he's obviously pleased by the news of Farscape's two-season renewal, but it really hasn't changed his long-term direction for the series.

"I've always been planning a six-year show in my head," explains Kemper. "If they stop the show before that, then it ends before, but I wouldn't change anything; where we're going next year is still where we'd have gone. I'll just keep going forward until one day when I say, `Stop, you can't go forward anymore; you're all done!'"

Kemper will shortly begin working with his writing staff to map out Season Four, which begins shooting in Australia the first week of 2002. "... There's no way we can get into production earlier because everybody is so tired. When people see the end of this year, they'll understand why. I believe we've outdone ourselves in terms of trying to tie up the year, but also coming up with something unbelievable, and I think we've done that."

Season Three certainly had no shortage of major surprises, including the notion of splitting Crichton into two separate, but initially identical, characters.

"Our long-term reasoning." says Kemper, "was that nobody had done that before, and it also allowed us tell a really interesting story about what would happen if you went down different roads with two identical Crichtons. It let us have this really nice romance with Crichton and Aeryn, and then do something that no other show gets to do, which is kill off a main character but then keep the show going..."

Joe Nazzaro

More from Wayne Pygrum and David Kemper
in TV Zone #145.
Coming in January 2002: TV Zone Special #44 on TV's Greatest Villains...

Pictures © The Henson Company
Feature © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction.