Battlestar Galactica's Apollo en route to Auckland
Battlestar Galactica's hot shot star fighter jock Apollo is about to land his ship in Auckland.
Jamie Bamber, who played Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama in the show based on Glen A Larson's 1978 version, is guest of honour at A Night With Apollo at the Pullman Hotel, Auckland, tomorrow.
"Most of you probably think this entry has got to be a joke," said Time magazine when it named the new version of the show the top television show of 2005. "The rest of you have actually watched the show . . . a ripping sci-fi allegory of the war on terror, complete with religious fundamentalists (here, genocidal robots called Cylons), sleeper cells, civil-liberties crackdowns and even a prisoner-torture scandal . . . Laugh if you want, but this story of enemies within is dead serious, and seriously good."
Bamber, did not expect the critical acclaim that followed his signing up for the Battlestar Galactica mini-series in 2003 and the four seasons that followed.
"I would never have expected it to have been Time magazine's top TV show and be called the best show of all time by The Guardian over here in England, " Bamber said.
Bamber puts the show's success down to the way it didn't bash its audience over the head with lofty science fiction ideas, instead handling human drama inspired by the real-life stories that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.
"If there had not been a 9/11 our show would not have been written by Ron Moore. Ron's been very categorical that it was this post 9/11 theme that drew him to the original premise that cataclysms are potentially just around the corner and they are self-made, largely. That's really what the heart of the story is.
"It's about elemental drama. The context happens to be in space in a different time with a different humanity but that's not what you see when you look at the screen . . . it's really about a bunch of people living in Hell in a cell and trying to make sense of this lack of a life that they find themselves in."
Bamber, who played opposite such Hollywood luminaries as Edward James Olmos as Commander Bill Adama and Mary McDonnell, as President Laura Roslin in the series, sounds different from his American co-stars.
Born in London, to an Irish mother and American father, Bamber made his name in the UK on Hornblower alongside Ioan Gruffudd and also appeared in Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' Band of Brothers. His post Battlestar roles have included the UK version of Law and Order.
Bamber, who adopted an American accent for the show, says Battlestar Galactica also borrowed elements from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
"We create monsters all the time and who's to say that we're actually not the monster and that the monster has got more of a heart than we do?"
Most actors who have won a life changing role have a story of how they nearly never got it and Bamber has one too. He was about to head back to Britain, after a few weeks recce in LA, when his agent asked if he'd be interested in auditioning for Battlestar Galactica.
"I cringed at the title thinking, 'I remember that' and 'why are we doing that again?'. In two weeks I auditioned about five times so it was a life-changing couple of weeks on a whim really."
Of all the cast Bamber had the most difficult role. He played alongside Richard Hatch, who had portrayed Apollo in the original series and campaigned for decades to bring it back."It definitely was weird, " Bamber says.
"When I was a kid I watched this thing and he was an icon of the small screen that lived with me until that day . . when I first found out that he was going to be in the show I was a bit sort of 'why me, why not the old Starbuck or the old Boomer or whoever?"'
Bamber's apprehension immediately vanished when the old Apollo met the new.
"If I believed everything in the press I thought that he would be anti-everything that we stood for . . . but he's a very, very gracious, very interesting guy, who shared so much with me about his original experience. We've become very close and, while the characters that we play have a very frictional fractious relationship and it's a love-hate thing between them, that's not really true of Richard and I - we became soul mates, in a sense, and shared many interesting insights into playing this character.
"There were certain very meta-televisual moments like when, in the first episode I think, he questions my call sign, Apollo, and makes fun of it . . . there were moments of sort of slightly raised eyebrows where the viewer is able to read between the lines as to what is actually going on in the broader media terms."
Bamber's Apollo is a more unpredictable character than Hatch's, thanks to the dark tone of the show, but is he a good guy?
"I haven't been asked that one before, " he says. "Well, the fact that you can ask the question says a great deal. In his bones, I suppose, he's a good guy but, like everyone on Battlestar, there is no right and there is no wrong. . . He thinks he's a good guy and he thinks that's he's trying to do the right thing but he's also compromised and conflicted about his own sense of himself and his own identity . . . He's trying to escape this overbearing shadow of a dad that he has questioned and that he has issues with and sometimes he acts because of that, rather than for doing the right thing, but he's also capable of acting quite venally and quite selfishly at times."
The show's creator, Bamber says, never let the characters behave to type.
"Once he set them up he was very, very bold about pushing them over lines and into corners where they wouldn't ordinarily find themselves and to behave in the opposite way because that's what human nature is: as soon as we think we have got someone pegged they'll surprise us.
"It was Ron's very conscious task to really bring a grit and reality and everyday struggle into life in space. To make it all difficult, problematic and scary. That's where he started and that's where he ended."
Asked whether he was surprised his four season show outstripped the one season of the original, Bamber says it was touch and go whether the 2003 mini-series would make it to a full season.
"My pick up call from LA came about 15 minutes before my contract was about to expire . . . so it was never a done deal - it was always an ambitious, expensive show on a very small cable network."