Stargate Universe: Lou Diamond Phillips Q&A

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SyFy launches Season Two of STARGATE UNIVERSE tonight at 9:00pm. Back for the second season is Lou Diamond Phillips as Colonel David Telford, a recurring character who turned out to be brain-washed spy acting for the Lucian Alliance.  This raises questions that need to be resolved, regarding how much Telford can trusted by the people of the Destiny. And it seems likely there will be screen time to address such questions, now that Telford is physically trapped on Destiny along with the rest of the passengers (instead of switching bodies from back on Earth via the Ancients’ communication stones). Recently, SyFy arranged a conference call interview with Phillips and SGU co-star Ming-Na, to promote the second season premiere. Below is a transcript of Phillips’ portion of the interview.

QUESTION: Will you be a regular on the show this season?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Well I mean presently I’m still technically a recurring guest star. Without, you know, without giving too much away, I mean I will be much more present in the second season. But, don’t look for me in every episode.

QUESTION: After what happened last season, how will your character be dealing with the things he has done?

Lou Diamond Phillips: I think it’s more in how he responds and reacts and deals with the people on the ship, you know, on the Destiny.He certainly has a history that’s hinted at. What we’ve seen is a – I think a change in the dynamic especially between himself and Colonel Young and…the lovely Ming Na is with us and she becomes a bit of a confidant to him because I think they both care very much about the welfare of the Destiny and how the decisions are made, you know, aboard the ship. So we’ll see a side of Telford that we haven’t seen yet but yet it’s all very true to the character and very layered into what we’ve seen of him before.

The fact that we’re going to see more of him I’m actually very happy about and we get a little bit more insight what makes him tick. But it’s not about him. I mean the storylines don’t revolve around him. So I mean there are definitely, you know, he’s definitely a team player in that respect.

QUESTION: You’re an active participant on Twitter. Why is that such an important place for you to connect with the fans?

Lou Diamond Phillips: I’ve actually loved connecting with them on Twitter. That way I’m never quoted out of context. I can say what’s on my mind. But at the same time I’m not given to ranting or going off on long dissertations. It allows me to share some thoughts. And I think I hope, it allows the fans to get a peek not only into my life but into what they might be interested as far as I’m doing. And when it comes to SGU the fact that so many of us are on Twitter I really, really do feel as if it’s a little gift to the fans out there to be able to peek into our real interpersonal dynamics and get a little bit of scuttlebutt about what’s going on behind the scenes without spoiling anything. And it makes the relationship very special. And interestingly enough I think the relationship between a science fiction show and its audience is different than any one of the other types of shows that are out there. [...] It’s very intimate. It has this loyalty to it. It has this trust. They care about the characters and where the stories go. And it continues long into a future. It’s got a very long shelf life. So it is, it’s like a little romance that we’re maintaining with the fans of the show.

I’m incredibly proud of the show. I’m a fan of the show even in the episodes that I’m not in. I think the entire cast is just brilliant. And, you know… It’s a complete show. Everybody is bringing their A game.

Stargate-Universe-Episode-7-8-550x365QUESTION: How did you join the STARGATE Universe?

Lou Diamond Phillips: I got a call saying they were interested in me, went to MGM and sat down and had a conference call because the boys were already in Vancouver. They just sort of told me, that yes Telford started out very slow…. And they just let me know that there would be a future with the character and that he would have some interesting things to do and would become a player as far as the dynamic of the show is concerned. So, I definitely took a leap of faith and jumped in there. And it didn’t hurt that they were bandying names around like Ming Na and, Bobby Carlisle and…

QUESTION: Can you talk about working with green screen, acting to effects that are not there?

Lou Diamond Phillips: You truly have to commit to what you’re supposed to be seeing because if you’re apologizing for it or if you’re distancing yourself from it then the audience will never buy it. Then the effect itself will never work. Everything has to go to that place of completeness and utter believability. And as a result what’s really nice is that not only are the directors very descriptive in what we’re supposed to be seeing and they help set up the shots, but many times the art department and the effects department will have renderings and can show you at least in a two-dimensional plane what it is you’re going to be looking at.

I’ve got to relate one story. Was it (Andy)? I think it was (Andy McKee) talking me through something once. And sometimes it’s really hard to keep a straight face because it’s like, “And oh, okay here, here comes one here. Oh my God there’s… Oh Jesus well oh my God they’re all around you! Over there, there’s one. Oh, oh, no!” And you’re having to keep a straight face [and say] “You know, I really appreciate your enthusiasm and support but you’re cracking me up. Just tell me where to look and I’ll take it from there.”

QUESTION: Since Telford has had such an interesting journey, can you talk about how you really get to know him as a character? Like what do you hang on to in terms of consistency?

Lou Diamond Phillips: That’s a very good question because you’re actually brainwashing. You go man, am I somebody entirely different? No, I think the writers have done an incredible job of maintaining a core of integrity to Telford. His mission from the start and even through season two quite honestly is very, very specific. And that is to be the hero to save these people to get them home. And whether that’s self (agrandizemant) or not he still feels very, very committed to this mission. I think that he feels very frustrated that he was not able to perform the duty that he was called to perform. I think when it comes to being a soldier and an officer that he has a very strong code and must adhere to that. I think we get to see him operate a little differently once the brainwashing has been taken away. But once again at his core he’s very, very focused and he doesn’t waiver from what he wants to achieve ultimately. What’s been interesting is that we get to know him a little bit better. We sense the dynamic between himself and (Rush) and Young and Camile Ray how he operates with them become slightly different.

But what we haven’t discovered about Telford yet — and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything – is we haven’t gotten a lot of details about his personal life just yet so that I find that very intriguing and that, you know, we’ll see if it ever becomes important to the storylines.

QUESTION: Of the new episodes that you filmed, which would be your favorite?

Lou Diamond Phillips: [suspects the question is digging for spoilers] Nice try. We’re used to subterfuge and manipulation. We know how to handle that. Yes, there’s been a lot of really cool stuff going on. I will say that a number of the episodes have an increased amount of action in them. I think that there’s a definite membership out there in the fandom that will appreciate the action adventure aspect of some of the episodes coming up. We blow a lot of stuff up. And, yes, get into major firefights. So, I mean that’s always fun, the bang, bang. I mean it’s certainly something I’ve done my entire career in features and other things. So that’s always fun to get back and feel like you’re an action hero. I will say that early in the season there is an episode that involves aliens. And I’ve recently seen it and just amazed and thrilled about what Mark Savela and in the effects team do. It’s really, really beautiful to watch. And what these guys do for television, it’s comparable to anything out there. And I’ll go on record saying Mark should have won the Emmy. I really think so.

QUESTION: You have worked on a lot of different projects both in film, television, stage. Which medium do you prefer?

Lou Diamond Phillips: The medium that pays me. There’s something different to like about every one of them. And they feed you and inspire you in different ways, you know? So just to be able to apply our craft as actors and do something that we love, and get paid for it and have a career at it I think is something to be grateful for…

stargate-universe14QUESTION: Can only speak in very general terms about the relationship between Telford and Young in Season Two?

Lou Diamond Phillips: It’s interesting because in season one it was only ever adversarial. And once he kills me and brings me back, that tends to change a relationship. But we get a sense of the fact that they were once friends, that they were in the academy together, that they had served together and have respect for one another as leaders. And I think there’s a window into that. And there, we see Telford sublimate himself to that. I mean the fact that he’s on, I’m sure quite overcome by guilt, for the things that he did that were beyond his control he still has memory of them. And so it certainly affects how he approaches his position on the Destiny now. Having said that, Telford’s still ambitious. He’s still full of confidence and cockiness to a certain extent that he is the best man for the job. And so that’s – that edge never really goes away. I mean he does not 100%, you know, just bow down and say you know what, I’m not worthy. He tries to be a contributor to the survival of the ship and to the decisions that will hopefully save these people one day. I still think he’s got a very high estimation of himself and thinks that, you know, perhaps fate led him down the wrong path.

QUESTION: How is Telford going to deal with the fallout from Season One?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Once again, I think that what’s really sort of nice and it’s one thing I really truly appreciated about the – those last three episodes which played very much like one long movie, and it certainly felt like it when we were shooting it, was the fact that we got a glimpse into the humanity behind Telford. We’ve seen him in an official capacity. We’ve seen him as a soldier and a figure of authority. But to understand, you know, that this effects him emotionally on some levels as well I think was a real treat not only as, you know, for myself but for the audience. And I think it’s going to become complicated as time goes on. He’s certainly will have residual guilt. I think he certainly will have responsibility.

But in that respect that almost galvanizes him more into accomplishing what it is he set out to do. And that is to save these people and to bring them home at times almost at any cost. I mean in a way I really think this because his obsession, and in some ways a way to vindicate himself, to save others when he obviously has cost other lives in the past. So it he fortunately is not just a cardboard cutout of a villain or the guy that’s going to be the fly in the ointment. Telford has very interesting motivations and a lot of very interesting layers, you know, to how he will continue to be involved with the people on the Destiny.

QUESTION: We have seenthe ancient communications stones more in SGU than any of the other Stargate series. What are your thoughts on body-swapping?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Obviously for Telford it’s really been his way to stay involved which is great, you know. I mean it’s been very interesting, you know, device and one that, you know, I’m sure he finds very frustrating. What I think in the bigger picture what I think is very, very cool and I don’t mean to spoil it is to say that in exchanging consciousness we are putting forth the theory that consciousness is something that can transcend space and time, that it can transcend the physical. And this is a concept that will play out in different scenarios during season two in a way that I find just amazingly thought provoking and interesting and intriguing. And it’s one of the things that sci-fi does very, very well, you know, to give you an idea and then to expand upon it and make you think wow, is that kind of thing possible? And, I think that’s a very good point because it does raise the big questions, you know.

Good sci-fi does that. It is really against a backdrop that is virtually Shakespearean or larger than life asks very human questions. Where do we come from? Where are we going? You know, why? Why are we here? And, without sounding too pretentious, Stargate Universe attempts to do that and yet bring in the introspection of how do we survive, how – you know, how do we relate to one another in a way that’s going to ensure that we stick around.

I think that is the extension of the legacy that Stargate gave us previously. They had the action adventure. They had the larger than life characters. They had the sci-fi. And I would like to think that, you know, what Stargate Universe adds to the mix is a great dose of humanity and perhaps philosophy.

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QUESTION: Can you talk about becoming part of a franchise with an established history.

Lou Diamond Phillips: I was not all that familiar with the television series. The film was done by a good friend of mine, Dean Devlin.So, you know, I certainly had respect for the tradition and the legacy of it all. But it was a win-win because as I said before, I could tell that they wanted to do something different. I could see from the script that, you know, they were going in a different direction than they had in the past and the kind of people that were already attached. So, you know, you’re dealing with something that has an expectation that has a through line to it but, you know, the added plus of saying okay we’re going to do it differently. And, you know, in today’s television landscape you see how quickly, you know, things come and go. They can promote the hell out of something and then it’s gone in a month. If anything had a chance to survive it was certainly something that had, you know, the track record of a Stargate. So, you know, as far as future employment was concerned it was a good bet.

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About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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