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ANDROMEDA: Lexa Doig
The actress on playing the sentient starship Andromeda.
By Frank Garcia
December 25, 2000
Remember the original Star Trek
episode, 'Tomorrow is Yesterday,' when Captain Kirk was startled to hear the ship's computer speak to him in a sultry, sexy female voice? That moment just might have sparked Gene Roddenberry to create a TV series with a sentient starship. Not just a computer that could provide information and talk to you, mind you, but one that had a personality and was personified by an attractive female. In Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
, the fourth TV series based on the Great Bird's ideas, actress Lexa Doig is just that: the face and body of the starship Andromeda Ascendant
Co-executive producer Robert H. Wolfe once described Andromeda as 'a hot chick who also happens to be an incredibly cool piece of machinery.' Unlike the Enterprise
, though, whenever crew members talk to the ship, they're talking to either Andromeda, the woman who appears as a translucent hologram, or to 'Rommie,' an identical-looking 'Avatar' android constructed by the show's resident engineer Harper (who's played by Gordon Michael Woolvett).
Despite some conceptual similarities, Doig is quick to point out that Andromeda is nothing like Star Trek: The Next Generation
's android, Lt. Commander Data. In fact, in the original concept, Andromeda couldn't leave the ship in her Avatar form. 'They didn't want her to be android/artificial at all,' says Doig. 'They wanted her to be as human as possible.' Yet, the irony is that Andromeda has no actual desire to be human. Her Avatar form is a new element for everyone to deal withincluding Doig.
For an actress, it's not every day that you're asked to be a hologram and simultaneously an 'Avatar android.' 'A lot of the process of who Andromeda is and how she behaves is a process of discovery,' says Doig. 'A lot of that comes from what happens in the writing. I'll look at that and say, 'Okay, I have my own take on the situation.' My own interpretation. And that's what I'll do. In some ways I'm winging it, but I don't want to make light of it that way. I have to discover who she is. Her personality is revealed to me, the actress, by the writers.'
Doig also appears to be very patient and pragmatic about the amount of time necessary for the series, and her character, to grow. 'There's a huge potential for my character to be interesting,' she says. 'I was initially worried that she would be the expositional character. As the ship, she gives the information that the audience needs to hear, which is necessary particularly when you're building a new universe. You've gotta explain the rules of the universe. Who's on it? Who are these people? What are they like? There was a fear that that's what Andromeda would be.
'In Rommie the Avatar, there's a whole potential of discovering stories for her. Andromeda might still be a little expositional, and she's not, all the time. But with Rommie, we'll have very interesting stories with her. With that, I'm looking forward to it. With the first year, it will be largely expositional because you've got to establish the universe for the audience. And then, afterwards, once everyone knows, then we can get to telling stories.'
Peeling back the genesis of the character, Doig reveals that initially, all High Guard starships had avatars. 'That was something that wasn't entirely fleshed out,' she says. 'I wasn't sure. Why doesn't Andromeda already have one?' After the initial episodes were filmed without an Avatar, 'It didn't make a whole lot of sense. The ship had emotions and a personality before she had a body. [But] when the Avatar is created, it makes it experiential. And that's the interesting thing that was added to the character, that I didn't see initially, because I thought the ship always had [an Avatar].
'So that was actually a blessing in disguise, to go back and change her a little bit. It's the experiential aspect of it; how the Avatar changes Andromeda. Andromeda can feel sorrow or anger as she goes into battle. But it's not the same as having an Avatar that is very similar to humans in that when you're nervous, you get butterflies in your stomach. When you're angry, your throat constricts. All these physical reactions, I would think, are not particularly pleasant sometimes.'
To clarify the invention of Avatars, Wolfe explains: 'All High Guard ships have AIs with personalities and 'avatars' (which means anything they inhabit that is an incarnation of them), but very few had ones that could pass as sentient beings, although the technology was available. It was out of fashion.'
And so, very quickly, Eureka Maru
's engineer built up Rommie as the physical personification of the starship. And what's interesting and unique is that although Rommie is in constant communication with her starship self, because the android is separated from the ship, it's possible for Rommie to converse with herself as if they were entirely different creations.
Despite these abilities, though, Rommie isn't perfect. In one recent episode, 'A Rose in the Ashes,' fans learned about Rommie's limitations when she and Dylan were stranded on a prison planet. When she is away from the starship, and without maintenance, her batteries can quickly 'run down' without a power source.
In an upcoming episode, 'Starcrossed,' which guest stars Stargate SG-1
's Michael Shanks, we'll also get a closer look at 'Rommie's' emotional experiences. 'The basis is that Andromeda falls in love with what turns out to be the avatar of another ship,' explains Doig. 'In their intimacies, what Gabriel [Shanks' character] did to Rommie affects her systems with a virus and shares all of her information with the enemy ship.
'So basically, Dylan has to shut her down so that this enemy ship won't get access to all this information that she is unwittingly transmitting. This is the closest that Andromeda has ever been to feeling human. She never really wanted to, to begin with. She had no screaming desire to be human. She's a warship and that's a pretty good thing for her. Feeling human, feeling the joy of love, and having intimacy with someone and how wonderful that is, and then experiencing betrayal and pain, and concepts of guilt, [are all the new emotions Rommie must now contend with].'
Because she is not playing the role 'robotically' as we have seen with previous portrayals of androids, Doig admits, 'It's hard sometimes for me to play the fact that she's an artificial intelligence.' But the actor's instincts have kicked in. 'These are her unique set of obstacles to overcome in her life. That's how I've chosen to play her, as opposed to thinking about 'Bidddi-bidddii!' [a reference to the noise the robot Twiki made in the 1908s Buck Rogers
An experienced actress from Toronto, Canada, Doig is most recognizable to genre fans for her prominent role as 'Cowgirl' in the 1994 Tekwar
series, beginning with the series' two-hour pilot, the sequel Teklords
and the subsequent one-hour episodes. In 1998, she jumped across the pond and starred as Tina Backus, a British secret service agent, in C15: The New Professionals
, co-starring with Edward Woodward. She was in last year's UPN sci-fi/actioner Code Name Phoenix
, and co-starred earlier this year with Lois & Clark
's Dean Cain in No Alibi
Doig also appeared very briefly in the Earth: Final Conflict
episode 'Abducted' as a Volunteer. 'I was trying for the guest lead, but they wanted a blond. So they had a part that they wrote bigger and said, 'Do you want to play this part?' But when we got to shooting it, they cut it way down. It was very different. They pulled my hair into a crazy, space French-twist thing! I looked like a 12-year old!'
guaranteed for a two-season run, it's quite likely that Doig will be streaking across the galaxy for quite some time. The future is bright, she says. 'There's a lot of potential,' says Doig. 'Here's an idealistic hero taken out of his time and dropped into an apocalyptic universe. It's almost infinite in the number of stories that you can deal with. There are no rules. There's so many concepts being explored that you can't do in mainstream television.
'If you're watching a regular one-hour drama, you go, 'Oh, like that would happen!' but in science fiction, you can look at it and say, 'Oh, yeah, it's science fiction! That would
happen!' There are problems to be solved and they're not solved in the most ideal way, but in a kind of bittersweet way. You can break all kinds of rules. That's the fun of it. It's like being a kid again. It's like pretending you're Merlin or Gandalf.'
Because Doig was occupied with filming a movie, the series' first episode was mounted and filmed without her participation. Upon arriving at the Vancouver soundstages, the first day on the job was devoted completely to her. 'Everyone had a day off and it was me in front of a green screen the entire day,' sighs Doig, recalling the long hours. 'By the end of the day I was really punchy. I ended up being silly and making faces. It was difficult. I met Kevin at the screen test and I didn't know anyone else.'
However, the one ray of familiarity was co-star Lisa Ryder because they star in the upcoming horror feature Jason X
together, and Doig had already known her for two years. 'I didn't know how they were going to play their characters, what's going on in the scenes, I'm reacting and taking part in scenes that I have personally never seen. It's a bit odd and strange at first.'
But now, seventeen episodes deep into the show, the characters have become better defined, the actors are getting to know each other and the series has managed to shake out any startup kinks. 'The first eight or nine episodes took a little longer than they thought. There were 'alien issues,' ' chuckles Doig. 'It's coming along really well. The cast/crew really jelled very nicely. I adore the cast. We're still in that phase, 'Hey! Our first season!' Everyone gets along really well.
'Kevin's a big fan of outtakes. So there's been a lot of fun moments that involve jokes. We've got a lot of team players and excellent actors. There's good depth of thought they're bringing to their roles. Not that I expect any less, but it's always pleasant to see it as well. We have some great guest actors on the show. I'm just plain having fun!'