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The Hidden Side of Claudia Christian, Part 3
We wrap up our three-part profile with a look at the actress' post BABYLON 5 work.
By Steve Biodrowski
April 10, 2000
After departing from BABYLON 5, the epic television science fiction series, in the mid-'90s, Claudia Christian was not lacking for work. Almost, immediately she appeared in several movies and TV episodes. One of which she is most proud is an episode of the HIGHLANDER TV show. Part of abortive sixth and final season, 'Two of Hearts' was one of several hidden pilots designed to test the waters for a then-potential HIGHLANDER spin-off with a female lead (which ultimately became HIGHLANDER: THE RAVEN starring series regular Elizabeth Grayson's Amanda). The fourth-to-last episode of the 13-episode season, it featured Christian as a 750-plus-year-old immortal.
'I played Katherine, who was older than a lot of immortals--very, very old,' says Christian. 'I got to do sword fighting; I would workout the fights with F. Braun, who's a wonderful sword master, and we shot in beautiful castles outside of Paris. It was a dream job. If anyone asks me what I would like to do television-wise, I'd love to do a series like that, because of the opportunity--in conjunction with all the athleticism--to use my facility for languages and to try to create accents and so forth. It was really fun. Also, I'm a history fanatic. I love studying English, Welsh, Scottish, German, French history. Also middle eastern. I love history. That would have been a dream job had I gotten that series. You know you would have had to trace her lineage all the way back and find out where she was in what year and develop accents for those times.'
Alas, it was not to be, and the spin-off series that did result died off rather quickly. 'I was actually one of three or four women that they considered to take over the spin-off series, and obviously they went with Grayson, who had already been on the show for years, so that was that,' says Christian. 'Unfortunately, the show didn't survive, but it would have been interesting had they followed, I think, any of them. I know they tried a French actress, and English actress and myself.'
In the episode, Katherine, teamed with Nick, her mortal husband and bounty-hunting partner, pursues the evil immortal Bartholomew. An old adversary from 1270, Bartholomew was a faux religious zealot who used medieval Christianity and the Crusades as a cover for amassing an illegitimate fortune from the underclass. When confronted by Katherine, who's angered by an unreasonable tithe placed upon her village, he leaves her for dead and razes the village, killing her friends and dozens of innocent peasants. Centuries later, Katherine finally tracks him to Paris, where he now launders funds through a charitable mission that fronts his operations. With Nick's unsolicited helpshe wishes to protect him from her immortal lifeshe confronts Bartholomew several times, finally invading his home, taking his head and ending their centuries-long vendetta.
Katherine follows a familiar character arc for the series (good immortal seeks vengeance on bad immortal for perpetrating injustice, while agonizing over the problems of a relationship with a mortal lover), and her history was not mapped out in detail, but there were hints that could have been developed in a series. Christian's best moments lie in Katherine's 1270 village, when her younger, less confident self struggles unsuccessfully to leave her immortal life behind in favor of becoming a healer. These all-too-brief scenes are engaging because they touch upon a nurturing role generally foreign to the warrior-borne Duncan (Adrian Paul) and the series' typically aggressive female immortals. Presumably, future episodes could have further explored this emotional territory rather then re-treading old ground, perhaps giving Christian more dramatic meat to chew.
'I wasn't really informed that much, but there was references that she had posed for the original Kama Sutra, so she must have been around quite a while,' Christian recalls. 'Also one of my flashbacks was medieval, what I took to be northern England, but it was hard to develop an accent because it was sort of an Irish, Scottish, English accent because I wasn't really sure where she was from. So I kinda did once again a sort of mélange.' (Christian had done a similar, non-specific European accent for her episode of COLUMBO.) 'It was kind of a lilting kind of thing. You know I have relatives in Ireland, and my mother has a very thick German accent. So I certainly have a facility for doing them. It's just that I've never been told to do anything very specific; it's always these blends.'
Fortunately, sparks of Christian's trademark sarcasm flicker briefly in modern Katherine as she verbally spars with Nick, and the actress handles the requisite swordplay and physical demands comfortably. Which should be no surprise, considering one of her hobbies: 'Well, I collected weapons, so I've always had an affection for swords and swordplay and that vein and sabers,' she admits. 'And I have a whole collection of swords from god knows. Actually, my father, I think, got me interested in them because he has quite an extensive collection. Of course in theater school and so forth your always doing stage combat. And I have a group of friends, Clan McDagger, that we do recreations, sort of parties. You have to know a lot about daggers. We go to the renaissance fairs, and we always dress accordingly, so I think all of my interests have always been based on things historical.'
Her interest in swordplay must have made the experience of shooting the episode enjoyable, but one wonders how necessary it truly is for an actor to have genuine skill in order to play such a character on screen. 'Well, I think you certainly have to know how to move, and I think people can tell when you can't sell a punch or a kick. You know, I've seen girls who look like girls who don't know how to fight,' she laughs. 'I've also seen people that are very flexible and very good at it but it looks too balletic--it isn't raw enough. You know they have all the moves down, but they don't have that raw anger or that 'I'm gonna kill you .' So I think if you have the passion and at least some flexibility and dexterity and the smarts, I think you could sell it; you don't have to be a master swordsman.' On the other hand, those who are master swordsmen don't necessarily come across better on screen. 'It's because they don't know how to sell the acting of blood wrenching anger or passion. They're just going through the motions, so to speak, so it looks aesthetically very good, but it doesn't move you. I think that's a difference.'
Another of Christian's projects that involved historical settings was the little-seen time-travel film THE GUARDIAN, also known as LANCELOT: THE GUARDIAN OF TIME. 'What a piece of shite!' the actress exclaims when the title is mentioned. 'I saw a version of the cut--either a final version or a rough--and it was just horrible. Ugh! Really bad. It was sort of a cute 'Lancelot Meets BACK TO THE FUTURE' kind of idea: he comes to the current day to save the universe. But it was just not executed well at all. The special effects were unbelievably cheesy, and the acting left something to the imagination. It wasn't an unhappy experience, but when I looked at the film, I was just appalled at how bad it was. I apologize for bad-mouthing anything, because I know people put a lot of work into films, but it was just really bad. Maybe they've cleaned it up; may what I saw was just a rough cut. I hate to be ungenerous in spirit. It's just what I say was 'Oh my God--this is dreadful! Take that one off my resume.'
The experience was, in some way, a familiar one for the actress, who has found that it is not always possible to predict what the final results will be of any project. In this particular case, she says, 'Well, I should have known, when the director changed his name--put a different name on the movie. I should have known then that, perhaps, not using his own name as director meant that maybe he didn't have the highest aspirations for it as well. But you never know; you just don't know. I mean, I've done five Adam Rifkin movies--and Adam Rifkin is one of the hottest young directors around--and I would say three of them are unwatchable. So who's to say? Who tests for taste? Some fans write in and tell me, 'Oh, I loved THE DARK BACKWARD' or 'I loved TALE OF TWO SISTERS.' And these movies to me are like--I don't even understand them, and I starred in them, you know? Adam is very talented. It's just sometimes you make movies that don't appeal to yourself.'
Of course, no matter how bizarre a project is, there are at least some fans out there who will enjoy it ('Hey, there's a fan out there that even remembers me from DALLAS!' laughs Christian), and with cable and video, even obscure films retain some kind of afterlife. 'Unfortunately true,' she admits, then asks, 'Why can't they keep showing CLEAN AND SOBER and all the good movies I did? No, they've got to show MANIAC COP II and what was that horrible, futuristic thing I did--ARENA? They keep reshowing those! I think you need to be quite buzzed and surrounded by other Looney-tunes [to enjoy those]. At least show THE HIDDEN if you're going to show a genre movie--that was a good one!' she laments.
Another 'good one' that Christian wishes would be seen by more people is A GNOME NAMED GNORM, a whimsical fantasy that fell into the void that results when a finished film's distributor goes out of business. 'That was Stan Winston's directorial debut,' she recalls, referring to the noted makeup and effects artist (whose work was most recently seen in GALAXY QUEST). 'A brilliant man, very sweet and very talented, obviously. He was great. I enjoyed doing that film immensely. It got caught in an awkward position, when Vestron was falling apart, and this one just got sucked into the black hole. It was a cute film. There was nothing wrong with it. Anthony Michael Hall and I were in it; Robert Z'dar [the MANIAC COP films] was in it, playing one of the bad guys. And there's a cute little gnome.'
More recently, Christian has been involved in a number of gratifying, if smaller, projects, including a play and some personal appearances in Germany last year. 'I did a film in February  called TRUE RIGHTS,' she recalls. 'I played a middle-aged, fat Jewish housewife, and that was a lot of fun. At thirty-three, it was great to do that; now everyone's going to think I'm forty-five! That was really great, with the wig and the fat suit and the long nails. I fought very hard for that role, because the director didn't think I was at all the right type--which, technically, was right. But I impressed upon her that I'm an actress and a chameleon, and I'm really a character actress, trapped in a younger woman's body. I really am; I always thought I have been. So, that was very, very gratifying, satisfying work. I don't know when that will be released, but I think it will go to the festivals and maybe get domestic distribution, which would be great.
She continues, 'Other than that, I did a scene in my girlfriend's movie--one of my best and oldest friends--with John Favro and Famke Janssen. That's what I did last year, pretty much, and I wrote a script, a kids script, for a little movie. I have a children's book that I'm trying to get published right now, that I've sent out to many places. I think it has a good shot. The script I wrote as a spec script, because I was kind of bored between acting gigs, so I came up with a nice idea and wrote that. Then I did Playboy
The layout in Playboy
magazine brought the actress a kind of attention somewhat different from what she received as a result of her movie and television appearances. 'It's interesting because I don't go out a whole lot, but the two times I've been out in the last couple of weeks--one was at a restaurant, and the waiter said, 'Hey, I really liked your spread!' It's interesting to hear that out of somebody's mouth. Then last night, I went to a very Hollywood sort of party--and I never go to these things. Now I know why: because they're dreadful. Three thousand people crammed into a room, standing fifty feet deep at the bars, clamoring, and everybody's staring at everybody else. There were adult movie stars; Hugh Hefner was there. It was weird, so I stayed about twenty minutes, and as I was walking out the door, this Scottish guy wearing plaid pants and earrings all over his head, stopped me and said [adopting Scottish accent], 'You were fucking great in Playboy
. Just fucking great! Just gorgeous!' I thought, 'God, I'm getting out of here. This is so not me.' I convinced my friends that I was with to come back to my house, and I'd cook them a late dinner. That worked: food was the magic key to getting me out of there! 'I'll cook anything--just take me out of here!''
If anything, the experience convinced the actress t continue to avoid the Hollywood scene. 'I think I'm just going to stay with my books for awhile,' she says. 'I'm a book-aholic. I read about two books a week. I think reading--because I read mostly history, very little fiction--for me is the college education that I never got. I mean, I graduated high school early, and immediately went to work. I got my first TV series when I was eighteen. So, for me, I read things that I'm interested in, so that I become a more well-rounded person and so that I'm able to carry on conversations about a variety of things. In fact, I think I probably have a much better education than the average college educated, university-graduated person, because I'm interested in what I'm reading; therefore, I retain more.'
But her scholarly pursuits won't prevent you from seeing and hearing more of Claudia Christian in the near future. She has a few projects in the works, including a radio play/audio book, which will also feature the voice of one of her BABYLON 5 co-stars, Patricia Tallman; additionally, an online science fiction movie, co-written by another BABYLON 5 alumnus, Billy Mummy, is in development. 'And I have a Disney film coming out in 2001: ATLANTIS, their new animated feature, with Michael J. Fox and James Garner, and I'm the female lead,' she reveals. 'It's a lot of fun. I've been working on it for two years, supplying my voice, and it will now take another year/year and a half for the animation to be done. But I'm going to be in a Disney film! That, to me, is amazing. It's exciting; it's neat. I'm going to be a character for kids!'Matthew F. Saunders contributed to the HIGHLANDER portion of this article.