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FARSCAPE'S John Crichton: Ben Browder

The actor discusses the show's ambitious scale--and why he loves it

By Anna L. Kaplan     July 03, 2000

Ben Browder, on his way to his last, official second-season shooting day for the series Farscape is feeling, well, sad. Fans in the United States have only seen eight episodes of the second season so far, and the show has been picked up for a third. Still, Browder doesn't want to say goodbye to his character, John Crichton, or his cast and crew even for a short break. He says in the car on his way to the studio, 'You're actually catching me before I shoot my last scene on Farscape season two. It's a nice brisk, chilly morning here in Sydney, Australia. The sun is coming up, and I'm off to my final day at work. It's depressing. I hate the end of seasons. It's terrible, because it's another four months before I get to go back into space. I like going to work.'

He goes on to explain that, as usual, they'll be shooting big, difficult sequences on this last day and often wonders how Farscape pulls off such enormous work for a television show on a tight schedule. 'I'm looking at the script, going, 'How are we going to shoot that?'' he laughs. '[That's a] standard response to basically four out of five days on Farscape. We come in, look at these sequences and go, 'What the hell was [executive producer] David [Kemper] thinking? We're never going to be able to shoot that!''

As a result, Browder has some words of wisdom he gives assistant directors (ADs) who come to work on the show. 'I have a standard speech that I give first ADs when they come onto Farscape,' explains Browder. 'After season one, we killed all the other first ADs. They died trying to make the schedule. But we got some new ones in, and I gave them the speech. They come out, and they've got the schedule laid out--it's all do-able. They're enthusiastic, and I just say, 'Look, Waterloo is coming.' 'What are you talking about?' 'Waterloo. You are going to be stuck in the mud, chasing the Russian Army. You're not going to be able to go forward. You're not going to be able to go back. You're going to get stuck, and this schedule that you just handed me is going out the window.'

'It happens. Every episode we have Waterloo. Once or twice a week, we fall far behind the schedule. Then somebody reaches in and pulls out a miracle. We work our asses off, and we get behind, and then we get back on schedule, and somehow we get these things shot. It reaches the screen, and it all looks pretty effortless. But on the day, it's just remarkable. We had a crew photo yesterday, and there's like 250 people for the crew photo--it's massive. That's not including post-production and all those other people. It's just such a huge event, our day-to-day shooting on this.'

In season one, Browder's character, John Crichton, got more or less acclimated to life on the other side of the universe. In season two, the implications of that life for him will be explored. On Friday, July 7, American audiences will see the next new Farscape episode to air in the United States, called 'Out of Their Minds.' Paying close attention to that episode, as well as the earlier 'Crackers Don't Matter,' will give some clues to the direction season two is heading. The relationship established between Crichton and Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) toward the end of season one in episodes like 'Nerve' also should be remembered.

Browder can't talk about the episodes that haven't aired, except in the most general of terms. But he does say, 'I look back at the stuff that they've thrown at us to do, and thrown at me to do, and it's kind of overwhelming. A large part of the second season arcs came out of stuff they threw in at the end of the first season. I decided to go a certain way. Neither David nor I were sure about it. In the end, we actually got part way into the [second] season and we've taken it and run with it to an extreme.

'There's a lot of really interesting stuff that I can at least talk in general terms about,' he continues. 'There's a huge thing with Crichton and Scorpius that plays out to the very last beat of season two. It's good. It's out there. It is 'out-there' television. The writers really don't hold back. It's quite remarkable, their bravery in pushing a storyline to its maximum potential. Even in single episodes, they'll do something, and instead of half doing it, they'll double-do it. Then the directors take it on board, and they twist it and shape it and bend it and add to it.

'I'm in love with this show. I'm in love with doing the show. The creativity and play and freedom that you feel is fantastic. We've had a good run at it this year, definitely. It's an interesting season. In some sense, it follows the pattern of season one in many respects. There're a lot of sections that're purely episodic. There's more stuff threaded through. There's more of the arc-type stuff. There was always an arc, even if people never saw it, in regards to the characters and things like that. There's a similar pattern. This season has a kind of escalation to it. Where the season is going accelerates and compounds to the end. We have a three-parter towards the end of the season that is just huge. It's just massive. You're not supposed to make television like this, because it kills you, and it almost does. The art department built these massive, massive sets. I've never seen anything like it on a TV scale. I've seen film sets that were almost as big, but never sets this big for a television program.'

To give the size of the sets context, Browder explains that it takes 20 minutes to take the Farscape tour. 'It's 20 minutes of constant walking, without stopping, just to walk around these humongous sets they've created,' he says. 'You could spend an hour in the Creature Shop looking at the details, and what they're building, and stuff they have just hanging around getting ready to be thrown away. It's fantastic. It's so damn big. We have this eight, almost nine minute sequence in the middle of the first three-parter [A Look at the Princess]. It became kind of the centerpiece of the first three-parter. David wrote this outrageous escape sequence for John Crichton, and it's so huge. I think I'm going to cut it, and it's going to be my show reel. That's all I'll ever have on my show reel, this one big sequence where we sacrifice life and we blow up an entire set that we made. It's just massive. It's kind of mind-boggling, for a little TV show that's being shot for a cable network in the States, that's sort of quietly crept around. It wasn't like there was a massive launch of Farscape. I think we're sort of creeping up. We have a fantastic fan base. They're so passionate about the show. It gets a little overwhelming.'

Speaking about the Farscape fans leads to the subject of the convention to be held in Southern California in August. The first official Farscape Convention is being set up by Creation Conventions, and all of the main cast and other surprise guests will be there. Browder, as well as many of the other cast, have seen Galaxy Quest as a kind of preparation.

'Galaxy Quest scared the hell out of me,' laughs Browder. 'Most of the core cast went and saw it the first weekend it came out. We got to the set on Monday, and all I could go was, 'Never surrender, never give up.' 'By Grabthar's Hammer, I swear...' I just totally dug the movie. But they did that hammer sequence in the ship, and they said, 'The writer of this should be killed.' The nonsensical stuff goes on, and you go, 'Oh God, this is my life.' From the beginning, at the convention, you go, 'Okay twenty years, you haven't worked, this is my life.' On the one hand you go, 'At least I'll have a living.' On the other hand, you're going, 'No.''

'I think that it's remarkable and it's fantastic that fans invest that much in a show,' he continues. 'You want people to invest themselves in your show. For the most part, you sort of think of yourself as just an average person. You get involved and absorbed in the work, and the work obsesses you. But all this stuff on the side that comes with being on Star Trek, that to me looks a little scary, to answer to the real world for the fantasy world you live out. I look forward to it, but it scares me to have to talk to people who know the show that well, and have watched what you're doing that well. You want people to really watch, but do you want them to watch that closely? It's that same kind of fear I think we all have in our lives, where we start to think, 'When are they going to figure out that I don't know what I'm doing?''

Browder does know what he's doing. After growing up in the Southern part of the United States, he graduated from Furman University in Southern Carolina, receiving acting training at Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He appeared with Dustin Hoffman in the Broadway Production of The Merchant of Venice. His feature film debut was in Memphis Belle (1990). His other film credits include A Kiss Before Dying (1991), Nevada (1997) and Boogie Boy (1997). He's best known as Sam Brody, Neve Campbell's boyfriend in Party of Five (1996-1997), and he's also appeared in many telefilms, such as Secrets (1992) and Bad to The Bone (1997). He's also guest starred on many television shows, including Melrose Place (1994), Murder, She Wrote and The Sentinel (1996).

Browder again laughs when talking about Farscape and his achievements on it, saying, 'I subscribe to the notion of failing gloriously. It may have something to do with my Southern heritage, the whole thing of losing the Civil War. I embrace the notion of defeat. If we're going to do a show, and we're going to be out in space, let's go down gloriously. If we're going to fail, I want to fail gloriously. I don't want to be spending seventy hour weeks, and all of that time away from my family, and to put that much effort into something, to have it be average, mundane, normal or just successful. I want to strive for it to be something different and exciting. And if that means that in the process I end up with egg on my face, then so be it. I felt that way about Farscape from the very beginning.'

Browder's speaking on a mobile phone line as he goes into work, makeup and then onto the set. There director Rowan Woods is waiting to film the last day's work. 'I love the crew and the cast, and the people I'm working with,' says Browder. 'We have a great environment. That's actually one of the reasons I'm depressed that it's the last day of shooting. It's like end of the year. If you love what you're doing, even if you're exhausted and you're tired, there's that sense that you don't want it to end. I know I'm tired. I can't go on, but I don't want it to end. Maybe it'd be fun to find something else to do and do some acting that wasn't John Crichton. That would be fun, just for a little while, before you come back.'

But early the next week, Browder's already back at the studio to redo dialogue that needs to be added after filming. A whole other huge group of people still have to work on that last episode, as well as other unfinished episodes. Dialogue needs to be recorded, sound mixed in, visual effects added, pieces edited and double-checked. And for American viewers, there's still a good two-thirds of season two un-aired. And before he knows it, and by the time viewers see the season two finale, Browder and the rest of the cast will be back working on season three.

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