The Sitrep was lucky enough to conduct an email interview this week with Michael Angeli, Co-Executive Producer and Writer on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Before joining BSG, Angeli wrote for publications such as Movieline, Details, Esquire, and Playboy. Angeli went on to write for television, working as an Executive Story Editor on “Now and Again” and as Producer on “Cover Me,” and wrote for “Dark Angel.” He has also crafted scripts for “Monk,” “Touching Evil” and “Medium.” BSG scripts by Angeli include “Six Degrees of Separation,” “A Measure of Salvation,” “The Woman King,” and “The Son Also Rises.” This year he has penned “Six of One,” “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner,” and later this season, “Blood On The Scales.”
Angeli’s episode “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner” airs tomorrow night.
Logan Gawain: How did you come to write “Six Degrees of Separation” during the first season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA?
Michael Angeli: David Eick and I have known each other since we worked together on the show, “Cover Me,” for USA. Both of us loved Pro Football and the film, “Drugstore Cowboy.” I knew Ron through Rene Echeveria and Ira Behr, who’s a true Godfather to a bunch of us. In Malcom Gladwell-speak, Ira’s a connector. If you’re jake with Ira, you’re gonna get some mad respect.
LG: What led to you joining BSG in the 3rd season as a co-exec producer?
MA: Eick thinks big, he’s a terrific character and a long-suffering friend. Ron was this wildly talented, mysterioso figure I kept crossing paths with. While I was at “Touching Evil,” he wrote an episode for us. I remember when he came in. Most of the other writers were like, “Who the frak is this guy, with the Road Warrior hair and the James Dean vibe?” So I broke his story with him (which seemed ridiculous to me because from a professional standpoint, I knew who he was and he sure as hell didn’t need a lot of help). We spent about four hours on the outline. He went off and wrote a script that pretty much ended up being the shooting draft.
LG: What is like working in the BSG writers’ room, and collaborating on stories with such a large group of creative minds?
MA: I know you’ve heard this ad nauseam, but it’s an extraordinary room. No egos, no fears, no strict regimen. And no division of labor or area of expertise nonsense, either. It’s like a little renaissance in there – everyone knows something about everything. And it’s a rockin’ room. Taylor’s hysterical. Verheiden’s made a habit of pulling a great idea or a solution out of his ass five minutes before we we’re about to give up for the day. Weddle and Thompson couldn’t be more different from each other and yet, they’ve been together for like, 50 years. Jane’s a fantastic dancer. And when Ron starts pacing in the middle of a story arc, forget it, we have lift-off. It’s like John Belushi cranking out that rally speech in Animal House -- there’s no turning back.
The few times we’ve gotten mad at each other, in my opinion had more to do with not wanting to be mad at each other than the issue itself -- I mean, it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. We’ve been blessed with great chemistry and sadly, that doesn’t happen often in the land of the serial killers, where a series can be dead before it’s aired. I was on “Dark Angel” with Ira Behr, Rene Echeveria, Rob Doherty, Moira Kirland, Jose Molina, and Chip Johannesen. That was the last time I had nearly as much fun hanging with a group of writers.
LG: Once the group has worked out the outline of an episode, and it falls to you to write the script, how long does it normally take you? Do have a particular time of day where you focus on writing and do you listen to music while working?
MA: Time-wise, we’re all pretty much bound by the shooting schedule and production, which is like a Grizzly Bear with a tapeworm – it’s always hungry and needs to be fed scripts. Creatively, there’s no optimal time of day for me but I can’t write without music. Period. Gotta have it.
LG: In “A Measure of Salvation” was it fun to torture Gaius? Was there a lot of back and forth with the network over how the torture/beach sex fantasy scene would work?
MA: Well, it was fun to watch. And the concept of using some wonderful sexual daydream to not only nullify the sensation of excruciating pain but to convert your torturer seemed potentially rewarding to me. Tricia, James, and Lucy really sold it, too. And because the network understood the intent of the scene (it wasn’t gratuitous), they had no major issues.
LG: My favorite scene in “The Woman King” was when Helo punches Tigh, and Tigh does his insane laugh seeming to enjoy getting smacked around. What were the origins of that scene?
MA: Originally, the show was supposed to open in the teaser with Helo cold-cocking Tigh and we’re supposed to wonder what the frak caused Helo to snap so completely; what compelled him to act so out of character. That event occurs in the present. Then Act One begins two days earlier and by the half-hour break we’ve caught up to the present – that’s how the script was written. Ron was in favor of the time-trifling device but Michael Rymer wanted to play the story as it unfolded without the time switches.
ProgGrrl: “The Son Also Rises” is one of my favorite eps from last season - it is oozing with grief over Starbuck's death, which I can tell you fandom was most certainly experiencing that week. Romo Lampkin is introduced, and the groundwork is laid for Baltar's trial. All the actors were just incredible here, and this episode also has one of my absolute favorite scenes from last season: where Lampkin interrogates the Six, with Lee, Roslin, Adama and Tory watching (the "pen scene"). Did it all turn out the way you hoped? What were some of the challenges with that episode, and what were some of your favorite moments to script, or to see realized?
MA: I was thoroughly pleased with the episode. But it was a tough show to, er, shepherd through. Eddie Olmos absolutely HATED the cat, which immediately became a problem because a cat scene was scheduled for our 1st day of shooting. Eddie comes up to me and says, “Mikie, you wrote a beautiful script. Why fuck it up with a cat? Get rid of the damn cat.” Bob Young, the director and a very patient man is ready to drown the cat. But to me, the cat’s crucial so I ask Eddie to just let us do a couple of takes with Jerry (the cat’s real name) and if it doesn’t work, we’ll fire the cat. I go to the cat wrangler – who’s heard everything – and he’s like, “No worries. Jerry will hit his marks.” I look in Jerry’s kennel and he’s cowering in the back of it, like he’s heard everything. In the scene, the cat’s supposed to leap on Laura’s desk. First take, the cat jumps too far and sails off the desk. Eddie’s shaking his head. But on the second take, Jerry lands right in front of Laura – and the cat stays in the picture.
I loved the first scene with Romo and Baltar. The last scene with Romo and Lee kicked it. But my favorite was the Caprica Six/Romo scene. Some really gorgeous acting from Mark and Trish.
LG: Ron has said that he always tells the writers to surprise him. When he got your script he said he was surprised by your making Romo a kleptomaniac, and that he loved the idea. How did that idea come about? It certainly reveals so much about Romo's character.
MA: Way back when we decided to put Baltar on trial and have him found innocent, I kept thinking to myself, whoa, how the hell are we going to swing that? Whoever represented him would have to frakking steal the verdict – and off it went…
LG: What was your reaction to Mark Sheppard being cast as Romo? He's so perfect in the part. What has he been able to bring to the table?
MA: Not long after I finished the production draft of “The Son Also Rises,” David Eick called and told me about this actor and how great he was and did I see “In The Name of The Father?” Ron and David thought this guy, Mark Sheppard, would be great for Romo Lampkin. I didn’t remember him from “In The Name of The Father” but they sent me his picture and at least he looked right, so I was like, sure. I had no idea Mark would be as good as he was. At the table read, he knocked me into another time zone. He’s a great actor who should be working more. And, like Katee and Trish, he’s got the savant thing going with chunks of dialogue. I can’t remember who’s buried in Grant’s tomb – Sheppard does a page of dialogue on the first take. And he brings energy, too. It’s like having a great actor and The Stanford Band on the set. He pumps everyone up. And I hope we’ll be friends for a long time. He’s got a heart the size of a base ship.
PG: My first peek at Gaius/Head Gaius talking together, in some “Six of One” footage that leaked onto the internet before broadcast, was such a delight. You and James Callis must have had some fun with that. You've said you've been interested in exploring Gaius talking to Head Gaius for some time...was it a challenge to push for it in the show?
MA: Yeah, Gaius-squared was a tough sell. When I first brought it up it was like Dennis Hopper’s line in Apocalypse Now, “The heads, the heads, you’re just looking at the heads.” The consensus was that we already had too many “head” characters (apart from Ron, I think Jane was the only one who got really jazzed with the idea of Head Gaius) but Ron, um, put his on the chopping block and let Gaius-squared stay -- for a while, anyway.
LG: The most intense Roslin/Adama scene of the series, could be called the "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf" scene in Adama's quarters as he drinks and they argue bitterly about Starbuck, and all their emotions rise up as they tear each other down, ending with Adama telling Roslin that her death would be “as meaningless as everyone else's."
MA: Ron and I talked at length about this scene. The idea was to portray them as two people who at this point, have been through hell and back, who know each other extremely well – they’re frakking adults, right? -- and have enough trust in each other to dispense with the small talk and the long way around the truth. Ron asked me to really push the whole Adama-believes-in-miracles idea instead of being how Laura always knew him, as “Admiral Atheist” and it was such a great remark I ripped it off and put it in the script. It’s probably the best line in the show.
Mary and Eddie rehearsed at full-tilt. That’s how into it they seemed to be.
PG: So…the strip triad card game: your idea? I know several Racetrack fans who may hug you if they ever meet you.
MA: You probably know more fans who want to keelhaul me as a sexist ass face. But, yeah, that was my idea. As far as Bodie Olmos (Hot Dog) taking off his pants, that was purely his…
LG: Do you have any thoughts about the WGA strike and how those 100 days played out for you?
MA: The Strike pretty much blew chunks for all of us and if I may be so bold, it hurt us even more because we loved working on our show. Lots of things got fixed around my home. I built fences, replaced gutters, walked the dogs and folded a lot of clothes…
PG: TV producers and showrunners have all sorts of opinions about how the internet has further encouraged/empowered film and TV fans, and how much "TPTB" ought to engage with it. With BSG we have Mr. Moore, a self-professed Trek nerd turned TV writer turned showrunner, who regularly keeps his fandom fed and interacts often (as does his wife). On the other end of the spectrum is Mr. Eick, preferring to keep his distance (or so he claims). Where does the BSG writers room fall in this spectrum - are BSG blogs ever being read on a computer in your office? Are you guys ever reading the SciFi.com forum on Friday nights after the broadcast?
MA: Yeah, some of the writers are huge lurkers (is that the right word?). And of course, as you already know, both Jane Espenson and Mark Verheiden have their own blogs and network quite a bit through them, so it seems. But we don't read any blogs in the room; everyone slinks off to the privacy of their offices and evidently checks in on your site and Television without piety, er, pity, whatever. I know that Bradley Thompson probably learns about SciFi.com through osmosis, since his girlfriend is big in the BSG/BLOG/internet community. Also, for the sake of spoilers, accuracy, etc. I believe our writer's assistant, David Reed monitors the various websites regularly.
PG: Ron Moore has been incredibly outspoken about his enthusiasm for new media and online distribution of, well, just about anything having to do with BSG. How do you feel about working on a show that has a pretty tech-savvy, early-adopter type fan base? Does it make any difference from where you sit?
MA: From what I can see, it seems as though sites such as yours do serve as a kind of unofficial P.R. entity and to be able to mobilize our fan base for BSG-related events, i.e., Comic Con, Bear McCreary's concerts, and various charity events is an asset, as is the pure exposure generated for the show. But shows such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "30 Rock," and "The Sopranos" have/had considerable Internet-based followings consisting of, I'd venture to say, people who aren't tech-savvy. I think it all has more to do with the steady migration of fans to these various platforms -- which possess their own advantages, in terms of advertising, timely information, etc. Great TV shows have always had their fans. The difference now is they can be heard from almost instantaneously, they can communicate with each other much easier and faster, and the flow of information about their shows (i.e., stars, episodes, reviews, events, etc) is time-relevant and continuous.
LG: What can you tell us about your next episode up, "Guess What's Coming to Dinner"? In non-spoiler terms, what can we look forward to in this episode?
MA: A new, er, female pilot and a honker of a revelation somewhere around the end of Act One.
LG: Do you have more episodes of BSG to work on this season, and what can you hint at, without spoiling the fun?
MA: We finished shooting Ep. 16, “Blood on the Scales,” a few weeks ago. The show’s kind of incident-oriented, so I can’t really say much, sorry.
PG: You've had all sorts of experiences during your journey from celebrity journalism to scripted dramatic series TV…have you ever considered a Hunter S. Thompson-style autobiography?
MA: I've been asked a number of times and been offered sick money for it, but now's not the right time....
LG: Overall, what's been the best aspect of working on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, what will you miss from working on the series?
MA: Ron Moore and Ron Moore.
We profoundly thank Michael Angeli for taking the time to share with us and our readers so many great insights into his work and all the collaborative effort that goes into making BSG the best written show on television.