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FARSCAPE's D'Argo: Anthony Simcoe
The Australian actor on creating the show's warrior--who is definitely not Worf.
By Anna L. Kaplan
June 19, 2000
Unforgettable and unmistakable, Anthony Simcoe as the Luxan Ka D'Argo exploded into the FARSCAPE series looking very much the warrior. In the pilot episode, all the characters on board Moya were prisoners trying to escape, none with more ferocity than D'Argo. The FARSCAPE team was setting the stage for the complex, exciting and bizarre journey to come. With time, viewers saw beyond D'Argo's exterior, as the writer-producers and actor found their way with the character.
Explains Simcoe, 'I think if you look at the first couple of episodes of FARSCAPE, they went the right path. They create just simple archetypes: the priest, the warrior. I think that is the way you set up fantasy, science fiction television. I think you need to do that to get a very fast hook on the character. Then, beyond those first couple of episodes, is what sorts the wheat from chaff. The inferior shows will continue presenting those characters, in that comfortable, archetypal manner. The shows with a bit more interesting character-arcs, will then very quickly start to subvert those archetypes that the audience is coming to expect. So the priest ends up being a murderer; the warrior ends up being quite a softy. You find out he wanted to be a farmer, in terms of D'Argo. All these very interesting, subtle sometimes, but interesting subversions come along, and that's what creates the character. If we kept presenting D'Argo as a warrior, then he really would be just a Klingon. He is absolutely not that.'
Actually it makes Simcoe somewhat unhappy to hear people compare D'Argo to STAR TREK's Worf, as played by Michael Dorn, especially during THE NEXT GENERATION. Simcoe continues, 'People make that comment all the time. Sometimes, I think, if you've only watched the show once, and you're watching it superficially, then I can understand it. They come from warrior races; okay, they are the same. On other levels, I really, really can't. His voice is a deep, absolutely clean voice, and D'Argo's got such a dirty, rough, serrated, on-the-edge-of-the-pharynx-type voice, that even though it's deep, it sounds very, very different. Worf seems to be in control, very much an adult, very much someone who is much more in control of things. D'Argo seems much more like a child, much more impulsive, much more willing to crack onto every second chick that he walks past, [to] make much more silly, impulsive decisions. Worf represents the finer qualities of a Federation officer. D'Argo is a long way away from learning the lessons that Worf has learned in his life. As we explore those non-warrior-like aspects of D'Argo then I am sure he will become more and more different.'
At the beginning of FARSCAPE, Ka D'Argo is one of the group of escaping prisoners aboard Moya. His race, the Luxans, are a warrior people. Not only is he big and fierce-looking, even his tongue is a weapon. Viewers learn that he is young, but he tells Zhaan (Virginia Hey) in the premiere that he has seen two battle campaigns. In fact, early press briefings indicated that D'Argo was a general. But as everyone got to work on the show and the characters, more interesting and subtle ideas came out. Explains Simcoe, 'We originally had a different back-story as to why he was in prison. The original back-story, which is why all the press releases for FARSCAPE originally went out with General Ka D'Argo, was that D'Argo was a general in the Luxan army. A fellow general didn't like his tactics in battle, and so framed him and had him imprisoned. Then when we got into rehearsals, we discovered that he was going to be much more interesting the least warrior-like we could make him. The warrior-ness, if you like, for want of a better word, we get for free with D'Argo, because of the way he looks and because of the way the character is built up. What's more interesting for us as storytellers is to constantly push him away from being a warrior, because that rounds him out a bit more. When we discovered this, the writers thankfully changed the back-story to what it is today, which is D'Argo wanting to be a farmer in once sense, and having this whole family life he tried to escape away with. Macton, the Peacekeeper person, killed his wife, and his son is in exile. That idea came on board quite late in the development process of D'Argo as a character.'
In the episode 'Back and Back and Back to the Future,' the audience learns that D'Argo's real crime is not why he was imprisoned. Later, in 'They've Got a Secret,' a disoriented D'Argo reveals the truth. He was married to a Sebacean, Lo'Laan (Alison Fox), against all laws and rules, and they had a child named Jothee (Grant Magee). They were trying to live as farmers until her brother, a Peacekeeper named Macton, murdered his own sister and framed D'Argo for the crime. Jothee is still living somewhere in exile, and D'Argo hopes one day to find him. Says Simcoe about this story, 'It certainly pushed him in a direction that I was really happy to take it. One of the great things about FARSCAPE is the really open and friendly relationship between us and the writing staff. [Executive producer] David Kemper, who is head of the writing department, would always come and talk with me about the direction of the character, and we'd bandy around ideas as to where we'd think it would go. Once they started seeing what I was bringing to the table, David and [creator and now executive consultant] Rockne [S. O'Bannon] both approached me at different times, and said, 'We really like the vulnerability in D'Argo. We really want to soften him up.' When they brought to the table this option of having the wife and the child and that back-story with Macton, I was one hundred percent behind it. It enabled me to flesh out even more the direction that I was trying to push him in anyway, so that's fantastic.'
In the season two episode, 'Vitas Mortis,' D'Argo explains why he bears the tattoos of a general, which he put on to actually save his own commander. Says Simcoe, 'You have the remnants of him being still called a general, which is why we tidied that up this season. The tattoos he wears are rank tattoos. He did it to save a general in battle, to avoid the real general being tortured, which I love as well, which makes D'Argo quite noble. It also makes him less efficient, and I think that's much more interesting to play.'
Continues Simcoe, 'If you play a character that is super-strong, super-efficient, that can do anything, is the greatest warrior on the planet, it is just not very dramatic. They don't come across many circumstances where they come across something that's difficult to combat. I like the fact that D'Argo is vulnerable in many different ways, not only physically in terms of his fighting skills but also in terms of just his maturity as a being, if you like. He's very much still the teenager, and playing him as the teenager is still the aspect that I enjoy playing about him most. We are still looking for those opportunities. In fact, there is a very significant relationship coming up in season two, which certainly helps me do that, certainly opens him up in another direction. You can see a whole new side to D'Argo which I really like, because it's boring when he just growls and runs around the ship. There still is an element of that, and there always will be, and that's significant and important. But there is no surprise in that. It's what you expect. It's more interesting when the surprises come, which is the fact that he's a child, a teenager. He is hopeless and desperate, and cracks onto nearly every second woman he can find. If you watch closely, D'Argo is always up for a bit of action. Nearly every planet we go on, there is a woman there he is trying to do something [with], in a way that many teenage boys do. Exploring that is quite interesting to me, and that's the side of him that certainly comes into play during the rest of the season.'
In addition to changes in the character's back-story, and layering elements of his personality, Simcoe has also enjoyed the refinement of his elaborate makeup for the second season. He says, 'It used to take four hours when we started season one, and now it's down to two, which is really manageable. It's really not a problem. It means that I turn up, and I have to stay awake for about forty minutes when they glue one piece, which is my forehead piece, which wraps around my eyes and my nose, and then the second piece, which is the chin piece. I have to stay awake while they glue that on. Then I can actually sleep for the next forty-five minutes while they do all the detailing around my eyes and finish the painting. And then I just have to wake up for the last forty minutes while they finish it off. It's quite relaxing. I just turn on the radio, put on some nice music, focus in on the day, or just relax.'
With 'Mind the Baby' season two, D'Argo's appearance changed - he looked like he got a tan while out in space, plus some other more subtle differences. Says Simcoe, 'The change from season one to two has really helped the character, I think. People don't like change when they watch it, because they are used to it and they go, 'Oh my God, D'Argo looks different.' But the look subjectively is much better. When using foam latex, the main trick that the makeup artist has to do is to give it texture, and they have to fake translucency through the layering of the makeup. Season one, it just read too much as foam. It was too light, and it really did just look like rubber on face. Now that it's darker, they are able to get more layers and textures in it, so it can read much more like a skin-like substance. I think once people get used to it, once people have seen a whole season of series two, and they are completely used to it, I am a hundred percent positive that people will look back at season one and say, 'Oh my God, I can't believe D'Argo looked like that. He looks so much better now.' Also in terms of the sculpt, the eyebrow part is slightly thinner, so he can get a little bit more movement out of that part of the face. It's never really been a problem getting movement out of D'Argo's face anyway. I don't feel like it's an obstacle at all. In fact, I find it a great help that he looks like he does, and I really enjoy working with mask work. It really draws on great and long-standing theatrical traditions. I really enjoy being a part of that, and taking that through into film and television and into the genre of science fiction. So there is no problem with me wearing the makeup. But they just made it thinner so it can get a little more flexibility out of it.'
Simcoe adds, 'When season one started, we started D'Argo with contact lenses, and then he lost them sort of midway through episode four of season one. Then we tried them again in season two, and lost them again. I didn't like them. I didn't like wearing them, and I didn't like what they do. You read a lot of emotion through the change in size of the pupils, so given that I am trying to inject a lot of vulnerability into D'Argo as time goes on, I really feel that I need the maximum impact that my own eyes can give it. So we lost the contacts once again. You see in episode two I am wearing contacts, which I think was the first episode you saw in season two, and from then on, I am not wearing them, which is great. That's the makeup, where it stands at the moment, and it still takes about an hour to get off.'
The Australian Simcoe appeared in the feature film THE CASTLE, which was released by Miramax in the United States in 1999, as well as the first CHAMELEON telefilm aired on UPN, and an episode of the syndicated LOST WORLD. He has extensive television, feature film and theatrical experience. He holds an MFA in Drama, a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney Australia (NIDA), which is where Gigi Edgley (Chiana) received part of her training. On a rare day off, Simcoe is working on his own film project. He explains, 'I am directing a short film at the moment, starring Gigi Edgley and Jonathan Hardy [the voice of Rygel]. I am just making it for myself at the moment. I might pop it on the 'Net somewhere and let FARSCAPE fans have a look. It would be great to see Jonathan and Gigi out of makeup. Lots of the effects people on FARSCAPE are helping me out with the prosthetic makeups, so it should be quite interesting. Gigi is going to be fantastic in it; so is Jonathan. It's about a woman who finds a magical gardener-gnome in her backyard and the relationship she develops with him over her life.'
Simcoe laughs, 'It's quite Henson-esque in a way. I'd love for the fans to see it. I'd love for them to see what we do besides and as well as FARSCAPE.'