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FARSCAPE's Chiana: Gigi Edgley Profile
The actress discusses her journey from drama student to cast regular.
By Anna L. Kaplan
June 12, 2000
Much to the surprise of the FARSCAPE audience, Chiana, played by the young actress Gigi Edgley, joined the group on board Moya during 'Durka Returns,' an episode airing mid-way through the first season. The character of Chiana is a Nebari, a gray-skinned alien from a planet where anyone who does not conform gets mentally cleansed. Chiana is a criminal because of her individuality. She manages to break free of her guard and join the group on Moya. It takes Chiana's many skills, including lock-picking, hiding, lying, seducing, and committing violent acts for her to get away from the Nebari.
Edgley describes her auditions for this unusual character, saying, 'I hadn't had a job for awhile, and I thought, I don't know how I am going to pay my next week's rent if I don't get something soon. Please, Universe; please look after me, because I am doing this with my heart, what I love doing. There must be a light there somewhere.
I thought, Okay, I'm up for this.
I read the script. I think it was one of the most difficult scripts I've ever had to audition with, because it was really mercurial. In one sentence she was in tears, and the next sentence was sort of a seduction kind of thing. It was like she was she was switch-swatching all around the place. I read the short character description, and I thought, This sounds like fun
'By this time I had gone home, and because I was really excited about it, I put my nose piece in, mussed up my hair, and wore a little crop top, and just looked like this freak walking down the streets into [casting director] Maura Fay's,' she continues. 'I was sitting on the waiting bench to go in. Slowly the other girls started turning up, and they were so tidily dressed and so very well ordered, and they didn't seem to have a nerve in their body. Here I am, this little punk rat at the end, listening to my headphones preparing to go in. So we wandered on in there, and had the chat to [director] Andrew Prowse, and I think it went for about forty minutes. Initially, I didn't do any alien characteristics. I went in and I said, 'I know she's an alien, and you want me to play on the alien characteristics.' Andrew said, 'We just want to see if you can act.' Then up to a month and a half after that, the auditions recalls just kept coming, and I guess they were choosing.'
The 'punk rat' who so fit the character of Chiani still had to become an alien. Makeup and hair supervisor Lesley Vanderwalt spent many, many hours trying to make Edgley shades of gray. Explains Edgley, 'There were four rounds of auditions, and then they brought me in for a makeup test. They still said, 'Look, this isn't definite that you've got the part. We just want to bring you in and try a few different looks on you.' My agent called me up and said, 'They want you in for a makeup test.' 'What is that, a couple hours, three hours, half a day?' She said, 'No, they need you all day.' We went in, and five-and-a-half hours later this creature was sitting on my face. I thought, oh my God, this is amazing. They put test contact lenses in. They were actually ink blue all the way over, so they didn't have the clear bits for your pupil to actually see through.
'They put me on set to do a camera test,' she continues. 'It was quite dark, and the other actors were there. Ben [Browder, as John Crichton] was shooting a scene, I think with Ginny [Virginia Hey, as Zhaan]. I went to them all, and the head directors and the producers, and I had these contact lenses in, and all I could see was blue, blue. I was going to shake hands, and shaking the opposite person's hand. I had to apologize, saying, 'No, it's the lenses. I'm awfully sorry.' We've got the makeup down now to about three and a half [hours]. The look and the time and the energy put into it - it's just phenomenal. By the end of the sixteen-hour day, five days a week, usually, your skin starts getting tired. The odd bump comes up and that's a bit weird. It's worth it for the look, and everything else that's put into it. I couldn't imagine Chiana any other way now.'
Chiana was not intended as a regular character, necessarily, but Edgley played the part so well that executive producer David Kemper and the rest of the FARSCAPE group decided that she should stay. Says Kemper, 'We get a guest star like Gigi Edgley, who is really good. We weren't planning on using her in Episodes 18, 19 and 20, but she is so good, we have to redo.' Recalls Edgley, 'I think it was a couple of days into the first episode where they started going, 'What do you think of the show?' 'Would you be interested? If there is a space for a new crewmember, what would you think about it?' I just got hints here and there, and basically just found out through the next scripts that came. I looked at [the next] episode, and I had one scene in there. I thought, all of this is getting exciting. That's basically how I found out, through the scripts. At the wrap party of series one, I was having a chat to David Kemper, and he said, 'Do you remember that bullet, that Durka [David Wheeler] shot at you at the end of Episode 15?' I said, 'Yes.' He goes, 'That was meant to get you through it.' It's as easy as that. It means it just sort of grazed her arm, and drew a bit of blood. The shot that missed that got me onto the next episode, and the one after that, and here we are today.'
As FARSCAPE's first season progressed to its conclusion, Chiana became integrated into the group, to a point. There is tension between all the beings on board Moya, and none of them are quick to trust each other. Still, Chiana helps save both Crichton and Aeryn (Claudia Black) during the episodes 'Nerve' and 'The Hidden Memory.' They, in turn, go after her when she runs off in second season's 'Taking the Stone.' Edgley still feels as if she is learning to do her job as Chiana. She says, 'The days when I was actually told there might be a chance, I felt like I was going through a constant audition. Even up until this day I still get nervous before a take, before other people's close-ups sometimes even more so. They've done such a good job on your close-up that you really want to be there for them and not muck up their eye line or overlap in important places. They never taught me that in Uni. They taught me how to get my emotions, but they never told me about the technical stuff. I think it's just being out in the business and on the set, that is the only way you can learn it.
'The industry, especially in Australia, is quite misunderstood,' she adds. 'A friend will say, 'What do you do?' You'll say, 'I'm an actor.' 'Really? What else do you do?' It's seen, a lot of the time, as one of the most, either totally famous or glorified kind of careers, or don't-even-bother kind of careers. The more and more I work, I'm just finding it's got to be one of the most courageous jobs one could take on. You are there, and you are putting yourself on the line. You go into your auditions, and you've created this stuff from a fire in your belly. You've created this character from your absolute heart, and you're just standing there in the audition with your arms open going, 'What do you think?' Every day, lots of learning experiences.'
Edgley uses her character's appearance to help guide her movements. She says, 'I think Chiana is a fantastic role to play because she's an alien. There [are] no definitions; there [are] no limits. You can take it any way. I would have been playing it a lot more naturally, physically, if there wasn't so much time and energy put into the makeup. Once I saw the actual look of her, I thought, this is no kid-next-door. She is from another planet. That's how I played with her, with some music, and with the makeup, in front of mirrors, just with really simple head movements, and lots of breath work, trying to find some essence of this girl. I think she found me before I found her. She tracked me down. We both tracked to Moya, and play to this day still.'
Edgley praises the show and her fellow actors. She says, 'To explain the show is a pretty phenomenal task. We've got the most amazing animatronics, the Jim Henson Company, and this amazing cast and crew. It's fantastic to really get a chance to play in a series with this kind of working environment, because I only graduated from university about a year and a half, two years ago. I'm still pretty new at it all. When it's a beautiful working environment like FARSCAPE, it just makes it so much easier. I love doing the big scenes with the whole mob there. Quite often, you can work for two weeks, and I won't see Claud or [the puppet] Pilot. Then we do a big group scene again. It's really lovely. If you are working on, like we are now, three different episodes, you'll keep missing each other. Then you're bumping in the lunchroom, 'How are you going?'
'Everyone is really supportive,' she continues. 'I had a chat with Ben the other day, and he said, 'Whatever you do, whatever happens, don't worry about it. Just have fun; just play, because that's what we are here for. As long as we telling the story, and that's what we want to get across, we've got to have fun doing it; otherwise, what's the point?' You know those things, but got to get reminded once in awhile when you get swept up in it all.'
Edgley received training at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia, and then got her B.A. in Drama from Queensland University of Technology Academy of the Arts. She has worked in Australian theater and television. She explains how she interacts with her friends from school saying, 'I'll get home and my roommate will go, 'How was your day?' 'Good. I attacked this alien which was a prosthetic beast, and then I got sucked out into space, and then after that...' This is the kind of day you are explaining. For the past two years I have been living with five roommates in a three bedroom because we all moved out from Brisbane. The economic state of Brisbane is so much easier to live in for students. When we all moved to Sydney, we thought, This is going to be tricky.
The two guys that I live with are absolute sci-fi addicts, so they are constantly asking questions. They had a peak at the set one day, and they were just blown away. We are shooting aliens, and re-corporealizing is all in a days work.'
Edgley wants Chiana to keep her edge, and explore her very alien characteristics. For example, the character has come close to actually flying in a number of second season episodes, where she jumps and keeps going. Says Edgley, 'She's got some nice little things I'd love her to keep. The writers are really fantastic about how they treat the characters and their emotional journeys, and their relationships with the other crew members and guest cast that come in. I'd love to see her have the odd flight again. As we've just discovered, she's got this thing when she gets really excited or overwhelmed, she just flies. In 'Taking the Stone' there was the hint of that. I would love to see how far we could take it and see if we could play with it a bit more. I just want to see some different colors come out in her too.
'Every day, it's just so intense,' she concludes. 'You're running on little sleep, and you are trying to hit the mark, and give all you can give for the show. I really want to see her keep playing, and have fun with the crew, and really testing their boundaries. Sometimes I get a little bit scared that she is a little bit snide, or she's a little bit naive. It's a lot easier to take the easy option, which is sweet and innocent and kind. I thought, No, that's really not her.
I've got to remind myself that it's okay to be a little bit manipulative, and a little bit of a thief and murderer now and then.' After all, that is the essence of Chiana.