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FARSCAPE's Zhaan: Virginia Hey
Playing the bald, blue Delvian priestess.
By Anna L. Kaplan
June 26, 2000
Virginia Hey plays the beautiful, mysterious, and blue Delvian Zhaan in the television show FARSCAPE. An accomplished actress and model, she may be best known to American audiences from her role in MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981); anyone who has seen Hey out of her Zhaan makeup will recognize her from that movie. After a career as a model in the 1970s and 1980s, Hey became one of Australia's most successful actresses. She appeared in television shows such as THE PRISONER (1983), ROAR (1997), MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1988) and FLIPPER (1995), among many others.
Even with her shaved head, Hey is enjoying her time on FARSCAPE. The show creates many surprises, for both cast and viewers. Laughs Hey, 'We have a lot of fun. In fact, it's as exciting for us to wait for a new script as it is for you guys to wait for a new episode on air. We get our socks knocked off every single week that we get a new script. It's very exciting. They are crazy beasts, FARSCAPE writers, and extremely eccentric and brilliant. The more crazy stuff they feed us, the more better we love it.'
Hey, for example, did not know that Zhaan was a sentient plant until she saw the script for Episode 21, 'Bone to Be Wild.' FARSCAPE fans may look back and see that clues were planted all along the way: Zhaan leaks sap, not blood; is indisposed by intense sunlight; and is not colonized by bacteria. Still, Hey didn't know. She laughs again and says, 'I found out when you found out. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I had no idea whatsoever. I was really thrilled and excited, because it just opens up new doors of possibilities.'
Hey continues, 'Being an alien means that we have no human belief system to lean on. We can stretch the boundaries of our imaginations. The writers of course are all crazy lunatics, who just delight in twisting our minds. The more time that goes by, the more insane antics the writers come up with. They really are a brilliant team of people, and they bounce off each other exquisitely. Obviously their craziness is structured. They are very highly skilled, professional artists. But when they are in play mode, when they are coming up with ideas, their genius is wonderfully twisted, and we love them for it. Really, the more abstract the characterization becomes, or the more conflict and tension between the characters, the more challenging the storylines become, the more fun it is for all of us. The more fun it is for the fans who love the show, because they get challenged, and the more fun it is for the actors who get involved in pursuing these characterizations, because it pushes us all the time. We don't ever get a chance to be bored, not ever. Even when Zhaan is only seen momentarily, compared to the rest of the cast in an episode, it doesn't matter because whatever she's doing is extraordinary. The same with all of the other characters. That's one thing about FARSCAPE that's great. Quality doesn't mean quantity. You don't have to be on screen constantly through an episode to create an interesting challenge for the fans.'
One of the most obviously unique things about the character of Zhaan is her appearance. Makeup supervisor Lesley Vanderwalt established the look of Zhaan early in Season One, a work-in-progress. Recalls Hey, 'The makeup evolved even from the first day it was applied. The makeup is collaboration in design between Creature Shop and the makeup supervisor from first season [Vanderwalt]. Once they established the makeup, then it was handed over to a series of makeup artists. It's a lot of fun to see how it adapts. It always gets adapted when there are new hands. Every time there are two new hands involved in the makeupor four new hands, because there are two people who make me upthen it gets slightly adapted. It has changed since day one. In Season One I had between eight and ten different people creating Zhaan's makeup. Each time we changed teams, the new team would have to learn, so it was a huge, stressful, learning curve for everybody involved. But in the second season we just have the same two constant artists. They have been able to take it back pretty much to the way it was originally supposed to be. What you see now is what it started out to be in episode one, two, and three, I suppose. It's gone back to being more subtle, which I think is beautiful. It's an exquisite makeup. I absolutely love it. It's a bit of a worry, because I am blue more than I am my natural, pink, human state.'
Anyone who has seen a picture of Zhaan remembers it. She is completely bald, minus both hair and eyebrows, painted an exquisite blue that goes down as far as the costume demands. She has had to appear almost completely naked at times, at least in a quick view from behind, for example in 'Throne For a Loss.' Her costume changes follow the needs of the story, and not any desire on her part to lessen her makeup time. Hey says, 'I had long sleeves on all through series one. At the moment I am wearing the same costume I wore in episode one, except I have got a different coat. I have the cowl neck top on which involves makeup to be applied all the way down my chest. Each costume relies on a different amount of makeup time. The more of the costume, the less of the makeup time. But strangely enough, it doesn't vary that much. I think the most minimal makeup I had was in an episode that we shot a couple of weeks ago, where I wore a hood. The makeup still took two hours at that stage. But it is generally three hours. Sometimes we can knock an hour off, but most of the time it takes three hours.' Add to that the time to take off the makeup at the end of the day. Explains Hey, 'We're down to about three quarters of an hour. Long days, yes.'
Asked about her favorite FARSCAPE episodes, Hey does admit a partiality to 'Rhapsody in Blue,' the first season episode wherein the audience saw other Delvians, but she explains, 'They are all my favorites. Each one is extraordinary for different reasons, and each one challenges us all as actors. I'm very fond of Episode 12 only because it's the Delvian episode. But I have to kind of laugh at the Delvians. All of the women are being established as having the wigs, this kind of silvery-blue hair, and all the men are bald. I wonder, What are the writers going to come up with next?
Hey laughs and wonders aloud, 'Am I really a transvestite? Is Zhaan a transvestite? That's what I want to know. All the men have been established as being bald, and all the women have hair. That might give the writers an idea to reveal the fact that I am really a drag queen.' Lesley Vanderwalt insists that the Delvian wigs came about because actresses playing a short television role for a couple of weeks at most were unwilling to shave their heads. The use of a skullcap did not achieve the correct look, thus, the wigs.
Continues Hey, ''Back and Back and Back to the Future' was one of my all-time favorites, just because I loved the twisted plot and the way it keeps going back on itself. I loved Maldis as well. I loved working with Chris Haywood, [in] 'That Old Black Magic,' so I loved 'That Old Black' as well.'
Haywood returned to play the evil Maldis in season two's 'Picture if You Will,' which was the 6th episode to air second season. Season two has so far been filled with mind-bending episodes and surprises. Something happened to Zhaan in between season one and two, when the group was split up, but audiences have yet to discover what. Laughs Hey, 'You didn't know what was going on with Zhaan in the beginning. You probably never did. She's an alien. She's not that complicated to work out, but in the first couple of [season two] episodes you may have noticed that there was a slight shift in her. It is explained. Once you see that, then everything else will fall into place. She's back to normal now.' As normal as a sentient plant, lost in the Uncharted Territories, and exposed to constant stresses, can ever be.
Enthuses Hey, 'The thing that amazes me about FARSCAPE is it has everything that any science fiction show could ever want. It has whiz-bang special effects, fantastic sets, great costumes, amazing looking characters, and exquisite attention to alien cultures, but it also has something that in my opinion not very many other science fiction shows have, certainly not the TV shows, which is this potential toward a tension and a conflict between all the characters. The show is not just plot-driven; it's also driven forward by the potential for conflict and tension between all the characters, which is just magnificent. When you think about it, all the inmates on Moya are all completely different people, there for completely different reasons. They are all criminals that have committed various crimes. The only thing they all have in common is that they are prisoners, and that they are all trying to go home. It's unlike any other vessel in a science fiction TV show. Most crews of ships in other TV shows are crews that have come through the ranks of an establishment, which churns out officers and captains and engineers and technicians and doctors and so forth, all with one cause in mind, which is to propel their particular ship on its course. In our case, we don't have that. We don't have crew of highly skilled people, who were trained to think one thought. We have a hodge-podge of criminals all thrown together. They don't even like each other, half of them. As I said, the only thing that links us as characters is that desire to go home. I find that very interesting and very unusual.'
Hey added, 'I was looking through some old scripts, trying to find something that one of the characters would say which would sum up what it is like to be in FARSCAPE, a piece of dialogue. I found the perfect description of FARSCAPE, just what it's like to be within FARSCAPE. It's from 'Jeremiah Crichton,' from series one. John Crichton says, 'Since I left my home, I've been hunted, beaten, locked up, shanghaied, shot at. I've had alien creatures in my face, up my nose and inside my brain.' I thought, that is a description of what a normal day is for us on the FARSCAPE set. I love that as a quote, especially since it says, 'Since I left my home...' I laughed when I saw it because it's like that. You leave the house at half past four in the morning, depending on what time your call is. Through the day you get hunted, and beaten and locked up and shanghaied and all other things I mentioned. It's hilarious. Then you come home and have a normal evening, and then the next day it starts again.'