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FARSCAPE's Aeryn Sun: Claudia Black
By Anna L. Kaplan
September 05, 2000
After finishing season two of FARSCAPE, Claudia Black, who plays Aeryn Sun, along with the rest of her fellow actors flew to Southern California for the first official FARSCAPE convention. Black plays the strong but beautiful ex-Peacekeeper Aeryn, pulling in legions of fans, both male and female. It may seem hard to believe, but the actress does not always feel as commanding and graceful as Aeryn. Laughs Black, 'That's the difficulty with Aeryn. She's good at everything she does. She is the opposite to me. Physically, growing up was terrible. I was the one that the owner of the china store was wary of whenever I walked past with my mother, because I wasn't aware of my body. I was one of those kids that had a big growth spurt, so I just wasn't in my skin. It's taken time to relax into it. Playing a role like Aeryn, I have no choice but to just move as she would or as she should. That has been a challenge for me, because I never thought I was a particularly athletic person, or graceful. She has type of a boyish grace about her, in her confident stride.'
Black has faced a couple of unusual physical challenges during FARSCAPE's second season, about half of which has aired so far on the Sci-Fi Channel. In 'Out of Their Minds,' the crew on Moya switched bodies. Black had to play Crichton in Aeryn's body, which meant mastering his physical behaviors as well as his accent. This was complicated by the fact that dialogue had to be redone later during an ADR session, because of changes as to who would actually voice the characters during their switches. Black in fact can do a good American accent, but was told not to during shooting and had to add it later. The funniest scene in the episode came when Crichton-in-Aeryn decided to play with her body, in particular, her breasts. Says Black, 'David Kemper asked me, 'Okay, with the body swapping episode, this is what we are going to do. You are going to be Crichton; Crichton is going to be you for a little while.' He said, 'What do you think he'd do? What should we put in the scene?' I said, 'What do you think he'd do? Of course he's going to play with the breasts.' He said, 'All right. Are you happy to do that.' I said, 'Yes. Don't put anything in the script. I'll just do it for you.' I did it on set, and I could hear everyone laughing out at the monitor, and I was like, 'Cool, it worked, excellent.''
Black adds, 'I was so ill shooting that episode. I had a terrible, terrible flu. I did that scene in the morning, and that was fun. Then I got to a scene where I was saying, 'We don't have much time Rygel. If we don't do this now...' I could not get the lines out to save me. There was the footage we went through of me, just on an open take, just trying, again and again and again and again, to get the line out. It was so funny. I ended up just looking at the camera and saying, 'I don't believe this. I'm sorry.' That was probably the hardest day I've ever had. They used it as an outtake in the joke reel at the wrap party. I was standing there saying, 'Oh why did they have to remind me? This was the worst day of my life.'' Unfortunately for Black, they used the same footage in the blooper reel screened at the convention, so fans got to watch her trying to say that line.
Difficult in a completely different way was Aeryn climbing rocks on cliffs overlooking the ocean with Aaron Cash's character, Dregon, in 'Look At The Princess, Part 3.' Says Black, 'We did that for real. The only thing we didn't do was the drop, the fall. There was no rock climbing classes organized. We just got up on a very, very high cliff and did those movements ourselves.'
It was a very steep cliff. Wasn't she scared? Black answers, 'I was trying not to [be]. I was focusing on not letting my heart rate go too high or too fast, because it would get picked up on my body mike. But I said, 'Please, the one thing we need to get is some proper rock-climbing shoes,' because the footwear makes all the difference in rock climbing. If you can trust your feet then you don't have to look down at them all the time. I took Aaron Cash, who played Casanova, Dregon, to a rock-climbing wall at an indoor climbing center the day before. I said to him, 'I don't know if you are interested, but I am going to get myself into climbing mode,' because we didn't know what we were doing. His character wasn't supposed to look as if he knew exactly what he was doing, but I needed to look proficient. We went to the rock-climbing wall the day before, and I'm glad that we did that. It was a one-hour crash course. That was all we had.
'The rock climbing was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it,' she continues. 'It was one of the best days that I have done on FARSCAPE because it was beautiful weather. We were in a fantastic location in the eastern suburbs, which is very close to where we live, and it was an exciting day. Tony Tilse was doing that. It was second unit, B unit schedule, so Tony was directing it to help out Andrew Prowse. Tony basically said, 'Just get on the rock and do what you feel comfortable doing. Then if we need to we'll use the stunt doubles.' I know a lot of actors say, 'Oh, I do all my own stunts,' and their stunt doubles are paid to keep their silence, but honestly the only thing we didn't do in that sequence was the drop. I think they cut back to one shot of the stunt doubles on the rock in silhouette against the sun, and then the drop shot just after that, but the rest was all us. Tony was thrilled. I could hear him shouting across the cliffs, 'Yes, yes, okay we've got it! Fantastic, fantastic. Move on!' It was a great day.'
The other arduous part of the shoot was Aeryn, with a broken leg, dragging Dregon along on a litter after they barely survived the fall. 'Look At The Princess' was a two-part episode that was expanded into three parts, allowing some additions to the story by executive producer and writer David Kemper. Aeryn seemed to be running away from Crichton's wedding by going off with Dregon. Says Black, 'The sequences where I am dragging him along and screaming at him with the broken leg, there was an absurd element to it anyway. What on Earth was Aeryn doing out in the middle of nowhere going rock climbing? Because the episode was expanded, that was difficult to place. That whole storyline almost had to be dropped, because it almost lost its place in the arc of the storytelling. It was bizarre that Aeryn decides to disappear. David Kemper was able to fill that out a bit more, the story with Dregon. Aeryn has a few more encounters with him than she was originally going to, before she invites him out to the rock.
We were shooting out at a place called Kurnell, which is in the south of Sydney beyond the airport,' she adds. 'There are a lot of factories and refineries down that way, but it's isolated from the suburbs. It's a whole system of sand dunes just above the ocean, cliffs and then some sand dunes. It's a very infamous area of Sydney, because it's where a lot of the criminals used to go and dump dead bodies and stolen cars, and bury them in the sand. Then they mined, and they moved a lot of the sand, and uncovered all these bodies and cars. There was really bad juju in the area. I didn't know that was its history. Everything that could possibly have gone wrong that day did. That litter I was dragging him on was impossibly heavy. It weighed more than a car. I couldn't drag it. So in some of the shots, we had to get our safety officer to drag it a couple of feet. It was heavy for him too. There are out-takes of me stumbling around trying to move, and I'm not getting anywhere. I'm not moving an inch. That became quite humorous, all those sequences, because I think the environment informed the work.'
As Aeryn Sun has developed over the last season and a half of FARSCAPE, men and women have embraced the character. Notes Black, 'The polarity within Aeryn is challenging for me to portray. It gives me so much opportunity as a performer, because she is extremely strong physically, and mentally she's actually been trained to be enormously focused. But emotionally she was virtually crippled when Crichton [Ben Browder] found her at the beginning of the season. Although she appears to be strong, I think she is an interesting new millennium icon. I would have said she was a '90s woman. But she's a nice metaphor for what's happened to womanhood. Vulnerability had to be suppressed to be more manly than men in order to survive in the business paradigm. Now she's being allowed; she's been given the white card to do what she can to show of herself what she feels she can reveal.'
Black laughs, 'What I love about Aeryn: she just doesn't waste any time. She just speaks her mind and tells Crichton he's an idiot, and doesn't beat around the bush terribly much. The more I think about this language, and how developed it is, and how much potential there is for subtlety and poetry, there is a beauty in bluntness and simplicity. It's nice to be so straightforward with my choices with Aeryn. She knows what she wants and just takes charge.'
She adds, 'What I enjoy with FARSCAPE, certainly, is a refreshing approach to television in general, let alone science fiction. Everyone's always trying to pull in the reigns on every show with every network, but it has enough budget and terrific production values. I was having a chat with Brian Henson once. He said that the philosophy of the family and certainly of Brian had been, 'I'm going to sit you down and show you something that we've made recently. I guarantee that something in this is going to blow you a way; something about this will stimulate your imagination to a point where you feel that you've been taken to a new place.' That's what is so exciting for us on set. Every episode we jokeand we say it's a creature of the weekthere will be a new alien life form that we come into contact with. It doesn't take much imagination at all to work with the Henson creatures because the puppeteers are fantastic. The sculpts are wonderful, so that there is a lot of depth and texture to the creatures themselves. Animatronics is such an advanced technology now that the faces articulate in ways they never could with say, Kermit or Miss Piggy. It's just a real imaginative environment. I am just thrilled meeting people who are reviewing the show and find that it is refreshing. Americans, I think, have cornered the market in science fiction. For Henson's to trust that we could do it in Australia successfully is wonderful for usto be handed over a gauntlet and be told that we could give it our best shot.'
Black's other genre work includes PITCH BLACK, which was recently released on video. She has also appeared in episodes of HERCULES and XENA. But she really enjoys playing Aeryn in FARSCAPE. She says, 'I love pushing things a little bit more than I have seen or a little bit more than I have done before personally, so that I am keeping on the edge and potentially taking more risks with my work. I just love coming to work every episode and my character endowed with a new adversity, which requires a different acting skill. It's just fantastic. I am so lucky.'