Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sci-Fi Characters I Love # 1: Lydia (from V: The Series)

In the mid-1980s, the name of the game in sci-fi TV was V (not for Vendetta...), but for "Victory," in particular in the global war against those reptilian extra-terrestrial fascists, the Visitors. V, V: The Final Battle and V: The Series were all a crucial part of that decade's genre programming, and truth be told, likely a powerful influence on later productions like Independence Day (1996). V is one of the few programs in American network history that concerns a leftist resistance battling an overpowering right-wing hierarchy, one that scapegoats enemies (like scientists...) and manipulates the power of the media to its own ends. Wonder how that got by the network executives?

Regardless, V (the original mini-series in 1984) introduced the villainous and ambitious Visitor second-in-command, Diana (played with gleeful relish by Jane Badler), but it wasn't until V: The Series aired on NBC Friday nights that this character came up against a truly effective foil amongst her own kind. Oh, Sarah Douglas did a fine job playing such a character in V: The Final Battle, a fleet commander, but she was too easily bumped off by Diana's Machiavellian schemes.

However, in the blond, big-haired, British-accented Visitor officer Lydia (essayed in delicious fashion by June Chadwick), Diana finally countenanced a nemesis as scheming, manipulative and avaricious as she was. Consequently, viewers could pretty much forget or ignore what was happening with the Resistance down in Los Angeles (and with the series' protagonists...). The reason to watch V: The Series quickly became the Mothership sparring matches, the ongoing battle of wills, between Diana and Lydia. They fought over romantic lovers (like Duncan Regehr's Visitor, Charles), and tried to gain ultimate power, always making their opponent look bad in the process.

As part of my new blog series, "Sci-Fi Characters I Love," I'll be gazing back at some of my favorite dramatis personae in the genre's long history. My choices hopefully won't be obvious (at least to start), but rather genuinely stimulating and interesting ones. It's fascinating to consider, but the best characters in sci-fi dramas aren't always the leads. Sometimes they are the support characters; sometimes aliens instead of human; and sometimes...oft-times, they're villains.

Back in 2004, while I was writing Best in Show: The Films of Christopher Guest and Company, I had the most welcome opportunity to chat with Ms. June Chadwick, who played Lydia on V: The Series. She had also proven herself quite memorable a presence as Jeanine Pettibone, David St. Hubbins' irksome girlfriend in This is Spinal Tap (1984). The subject of the interview was Spinal Tap and the process of improvisation in that film, but I couldn't resist the temptation to ask Ms. Chadwick about her terrific performances as Lydia, and her memories of V: The Series.

Firstly, I wanted to know how Ms. Chadwick came to be involved with the sci-fi series.

"They bumped off a character, played by Sarah Douglas, who was British, and I think they wanted somebody European, and it was quite a small role to start with," June Chadwick explains. "I seem to come across a lot of roles the same way, which is the hard way, going into auditions. Sometimes they [these roles] come along, where I'm thinking, gosh, 'the glove doesn't fit.' And sometimes I think 'this is totally my glove.' V was one of those. I loved the humor of it."

And what was it like working with the Alien Lizard Queen, Diana, otherwise known as Jane Badler?

"Jane was doll...a doll," Ms. Chadwick emphasizes. "We became good friends. In fact I saw her fairly recently. I seem to come in late on projects, and I came in late on this one. It had been a mini-series and everybody had got used to each other. And it was a family sort of thing and I was newbie again. And Jane was very generous and welcoming, and I don't think all actresses are like that. Some actually take the competitiveness too far, into reality, and she absolutely didn't do that."

"And we did have a very good time together, and I remember we'd actually watch the episodes together. We'd be walking down these long corridors together and go hysterical because she and I both had one leg slightly longer than the other, and we kind of tipped to one side a tiny bit when we walked. And she tipped one way and I was tipping the other way and that's all we saw..."

And how did the role of Lydia, the Visitor officer, develop?

"Initially I had all these scenes walking up and down the corridors saying 'the Leader won' be pleased.', Chadwick jokes. "I think the character progressed from there. I think that there's something about being British. You can say those things with great aplomb and authority. With an American accent, it might not sound so official. But if you say them with an English accent...and it sounds pretty official, which is why Star Trek sometimes has British actors. I did a Star Trek CD-Rom game and I played a character, and it had loads of techno-jargon and it was a lot of fun to do."

"It (the character of Lydia) did develop," Ms. Chadwick continues. "Initially, I remember one of the producers telling me he wanted me to be meaner. And so it was interesting because I don't play 'mean' per se. I play a lot of mean characters, but I always play them in the way that she has something she really cares about. And my premise with this one (Lydia) was that humans were like ants to me. Not there's anything bad about humans necessarily, but they are totally useless and don't mean anything to me. And again, Lydia had a really big cause, and if someone was going to get in the way of that cause, they had to be demolished somehow."

In one of V's most memorable episodes, Lydia and Diana - fully made-up to appear like members of an outer space-going KISS cult - duke it out in ritualistic hand-to-hand combat. That female-on-female smackdown is one memory from the series that personally, I will always cherish. It was the equivalent of Linda Evans and Joan Collins sharing that catfight on Dynasty...

"Oh god I loved that," Chadwick recalls. "We had two fabulous make-up artists and they were sort of old-school make-up artists, and they went to town on us, which did half the job. I've trained as a dancer, and Jane is a good mover. It's basically choreography, as many fights are. We had a giggle. It's very fun when someone says 'action' and off you go, and you're doing all this stuff, and the minute they say 'cut' you dissolve into giggles."

And did Ms. Chadwick have any recollections of the fairly graphic (for television in the 1980s) Visitor dining scenes? Remember, these reptilian aliens feasted on all kinds of mammals (from guinea pigs to human beings...).

"Whenever possible they had you munch on something that was at least reasonable," Chadwick explains. "What used to fascinate me was when we had the banquets, they had this food - you might call it - on plates all day. They'd say 'cut' at the end of the day, and all the extras would dive in and eat the food. And I thought, 'oh my god, they're eating melting rats.'

Lastly, I had to ask Ms. Chadwick a delicate and rather provocative question about her character. I tip-toed around it. You see, I sometimes I got a....vibe...off of Diana and Lydia. Like...hmmm, how should I put this?

"You mean the bi-sexual potential?" Chadwick noted, courteously ending my discomfort. Yep, that's what I mean.

"I don't think I ever went there, per se, in my mind," Chadwick relates. "But I definitely think we had a chemistry that was a bit of a kind of a love/hate thing, even on screen. And I think we did encourage each other. We did sort of stimulate each other. In terms of stimulation, well I guess I can only speak for myself, but she definitely stimulated me. Yes, she's a very sexy woman and it was a challenge, I think."

Now that V: The Series is on DVD and gaining new fans, any thought on its enduring popularity?

"There was a V convention I think at the same time Spinal Tap had its premiere, and I was thinking 'I can retire now, I've been in a cult movie and a cult TV series,''" Chadwick jokes. "I couldn't believe the number of people who came to this convention who were all wearing the costumes. They were just real sci-fi fans, and it still has this huge following. I think I got a repeat (royalty) check just yesterday on it, which is nice! I'm glad. I think it was a little sad it was stopped when it was. I remember Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC, saying it was the biggest mistake he ever made, canceling it when he did."

"I was also personally sad because the next six scripts were all about Lydia and Diana, and the two of us were hunting each other down on another planet. We were told the storylines, and as an actress it was disappointing for me, because the character had grown from being very small, to being beside the lead of the series..."

So today, on the blog, let's eat a guinea pig (or maybe a chocolate bunny) in honor of the gloriously evil Lydia, Diana's regal and scheming opponent. V: The Series ended on a cliffhanger note more than twenty years ago, so as far as I'm concerned, Lydia is still out there on another planet, making mischief, forked tongue and all...

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:44 PM

    On the flipside, the introduction of the Ldia character provided more ammo for the critics of the V series. Many complained that the show sank to the level of a schlocky Dynasty imitator. The battle of the bitches wasn't everyone's idea of good scifi either.

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  2. Oh my god! It's Betty and Veronica in red pleather!

    My mistake. It's the INDIGO GIRLS in red pleather!

    (This would have been a funnier joke if your comment window allowed the STRIKE tag. I'm almost certain of it.)

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  3. John, I'm glad you finally got the chance to use the June Chadwick recordings you made. I was wondering if you would have to do a V book to utilize the questions. However, you made one small error in your blog. The original V mini-series aired in the spring of 1983, not 1984.

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  4. Anonymous11:11 AM

    Having recently emigrated from the USSR at the time I saw the original miniseries, I interperted the political context completely backwards. I saw the Aliens as left-wing/Communists since the scapegoating of scientists screamed of Stalin's Doctor's Plot to me, and the Resistance as the Right (well, more liberetarian Ayn Randians) battling for freedom and no planetary control by one single entity. The fact that the resistance was composed of different ethnic and social groups seemed precisely a battle against Communists/alians who all dressed and thought alike.

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  5. Lee Hansen12:01 AM

    I agree with the last post. All alien invasions are about forced terraforming and conformity. Conformity meaning death of course. But only in sci-fi would you ever find lefties picking up weapons other than words to fight for what they believe in or against that which they think is wrong. *wink*

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  6. Hansen, you bastard! :)

    You and I are headed towards a Fantasci smackdown about the relative political undercurrents of V: The Series and South Park Season 10, and you will lose.

    Oh yes, you will lose.

    HAH!

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