INTERVIEW: Brent Stait
Today we’re interviewing Brent Stait. Mister Stait is probably best known as Rev Bem from “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda,” in the ‘00s, but he’s got a metric ton of other genre credits as well. Brent, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us today.
BRENT STAIT: Well thanks for asking.
REPUBLIBOT 3.0: You’ve been a professional screen actor since the late ‘80s, and you really have racked up an unusually high number of Science Fiction and Fantasy roles. I could think of at least a half dozen off the top of my head, and I knew there had to be more, but in researching for this interview I was stunned by the number! Do you know how many SF and Fantasy roles you’ve had over the years? Do you keep track?
STAIT: No I don't actually know. I know it is quite a few. I have another one coming out this summer. A fun part in Final Destination Three. In 3d. Does that count as SF or fantasy or is that more in the horror field?
R3: Probably Horror-Fantasy.
STAIT: I live in Vancouver BC and they do a lot of Sci-fi here. I don't know why exactly maybe it's our gloomy weather. I know X-Files used to love it.
R3: I counted thirty SF and Fantasy credits, and I’m sure I missed some. Basically just over a quarter of your onscreen career has been in genre roles. That’s amazing! Firstly: Thank you for that, and secondly: do you actually like Science Fiction? Some actors I’ve found are kind of drawn to it, others see it as just another gig.
STAIT: I love acting. All kinds. T.V. Film, Theater and I like playing diverse characters. I like doing sci-fi though. I always have fun doing it and there are things you often get to do that you would never find in a regular drama. Like fangs and fur and flying and eating the hearts out of things, and lasers etc. I recently did a stint on Smallville and I got to play Dr.Fate who was a psychologically damaged character as well as a Superhero and I found the part a lot of fun as well as interesting from a research point of view.
R3: Oh, I'm glad you brought that one up: A lot of our readers were huge fans of Smallville, and Doctor Fate was extremely well received by them. For the last year or so, there's been a lot of speculation about the possibility of a Justice League sorta' spinoff starring Fate, and Hawkman and various other superheroes that have turned up in the last couple years. Did you get any inkling that such a thing is in the works, or just wishful thinking on the part of the fans? Was there any discussion of you playing that character on another show?
STAIT: No, I never heard any mention of a Justice League spinoff. That would be a lot of fun though. I'd love to play that character again.
R3: Once you get your foot in the door with genre parts, do they come easier? When he got into voice acting, Will Wheaton once said that there’s a kind of secret handshake in that society, so to speak. If you can actually get into it, then - bang - you’re in forever, but if you can’t then you'll never really edge your way in. But if you manage it, then the parts just keep showing up fairly steadily (I paraphrase heavily). So once you play an alien or a recurring Stargate character, is it easier to get those kinds of parts in the future? As opposed to, say, a guy who only played cowboys?
STAIT: Yes and no. You will often find the same directors in Sci-fi and if they liked working with you that often helps you get in the room. But to be thought of specifically for a part in Sci-fi hasn't happened to me yet. But here's hoping.
R3: Probably your most high-profile role in SF was the Reverend Behemiel Far Traveler, AKA “Red Plauge,” AKA “Rev Bem” from Andromeda. I always like to ask actors this question: what can you tell us about the character that we, the viewers, don’t know? Was there any bit of backstory or information about the guy that you found interesting, but which never ended up getting used in an episode?
STAIT: I really got into reading the Tao when I was working on Rev and I would always take my ideas to the writers who were really terrific in incorporating the actors ideas into the scripts. So I don't think to much of the back story was omitted.
R3: You left the show for health reasons, right? Latex allergies? I ask because there was a rumor that you were forced out of the show, so I figured we could put that all to rest once and for all one way or another.
STAIT: I left the show because I was exhausted. I never had any reaction to the make up other than I was in it for hours and hours on end. I don't know where that allergy idea popped up. I was chemically burned once but that was not do to allergy. The suit was combination of Yak hair and synthetic I believe and it was very very hot, the Latex was thick. Covered my head and neck completely and the days on set were very long. So...well you know the rest.
R3: Wow. Not the answer I was expecting at all, but far more interesting. I'm pretty sure that's the first time the issue has ever really been set clear, publicly, anyway. So Leaving aside the actual physical difficulties of acting under heavy prosthetics, what‘s the psychology of it like? Mary Woronov was on the main cast of Babylon 5 playing a Narn character, and after two or three days of filming, she utterly freaked out, and had to be removed from the cast. Mira Furlan once talked about how difficult it was to act on the pilot for that show, wearing a head that wasn’t quite her own, and hearing a modified voice that wasn’t hers (In the pilot). On the other hand, Andreas Katsulas seems to have found the experience liberating, and it allowed him to do character things he’d never have thought to do as a mere human. So what was it like for you? Did it inform your performance in some way?
STAIT: Other than the discomfort and long hours, I loved playing Rev. He was a very complex character. I approach all characters the same way wether I am at Stratford Festival in Ontario doing Shakespeare or on TV doing sci-fi. I also did all my own fighting and we used a lot of wing-chung style moves for Rev. It is quite a challenge fighting in a fur suit and latex head but it was also a lot of fun learning techniques that worked for the character. You don't often get to play parts where you get to spit on someone and paralyse them. I liked the duality of Rev. The good and evil conflict. Would have loved to have stayed on the show but it was not to be
R3: I have to say, when you left Andromeda, it felt like the show lost a wheel. When Keith Hamilton Cobb left the show, that was a major punch in the gut, but they’d already begun to conspicuously misuse his character by then, so it wasn’t quite the shock it was with your departure. Bem was just so darn interesting, and there was so much build up for so little payoff. Was it a hard role to leave behind, or was it more of a “Well, that’s done, what comes next” kind of thing?
STAIT: It was tough to leave because Rev was such a great part to play and I really liked the cast and crew. They were terrific. The leaving was not a planned thing. Funny I never really talked about this in an interview before, but I just woke up one morning and that was it I couldn't put that suit on again. I was physically spent. It was pretty tough suit.
R3: Thanks for opening up to us about that. Robert Hewitt Wolfe had a grand design in mind for the show when it began that got derailed fairly quickly. He’s since publicly explained where he was going with the story and the characters before he got ousted, and man, was it ambitious! If he’d managed to pull it off, it would’ve made Babylon 5 seem like a season of Romper Room. In the case of the Rev, he said he was ultimately supposed to end up “Rising to the top of his Church, backed by a fanatical army of Wayist Magog and devoted believers. Rev Bem creates a third great nation. A religious state equal to both the Commonwealth and the Nietzschean Empire.” How much of that were you aware of when you were working on the show? Did you know any of that would have been in store for you? How free was Wolfe with his long-range plans? STAIT: I knew a bit but not all that you have mentioned. That would have been cool. I really liked his vision for the show. I have to agree that once he left the story really got lost. I'd love to work with him again.
R3: You left the show just slightly before he did. What was the mood on the set like?
STAIT: I can't speak for others but the feeling I got was that something really cool had gotten passed over. And now it was going to be just another space show.
R3: They eventually brought you back for one last episode years later. Your performance was really good, but as a viewer, the episode felt like a bit of a muddle. I wasn’t sure if they were closing out your character and arc, or if they were setting you up to come back with less arduous prosthetics or what. What was your take on the episode? What was the experience like? Was there any kind of long-range plan there you were aware of?
STAIT: I enjoyed being back. I had fun playing Rev again. I had no idea what they were going to do with the character. Nobody said anything to me about a long range plan. They left it open at the end of the episode but I had the gut feeling that that Rev didn't really fit.
R3: Sad, but, yeah, you're right. There really wasn't a way to shoehorn the character back in by that point. Are you still in touch with any of the cast or crew?
STAIT: I'm good friends with Gord Woolvett see him a lot. I see Lexa sometimes. I'm presently working on a show with her husband Michael Shanks so hopefully I'll run into her on set. She still looks awesome by the way.
R3: Yeah she does!
STAIT: Hope your reading this Micheal.
R3: Speaking of Gordon Michael Woolvett, he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. What's he doing now?
STAIT: I know he just did a bit on Supernatural.
R3: You played Major Louis Feretti in Stargate: SG1 two or three times. That was comfortably before Andromeda, of course, but were there substantial differences in the way that show ran, compared to yours? For that matter, was there a substantial difference in how any of the Vancouver shows were run?
STAIT: I think budget plays a big role in all shows be it here or anywhere. Also I was not a regular on SG1 so I wast as close to that show. As far as cast and crew goes it's always a good vibe on set. I have nothing but good things to say about the crews up here.]
R3: There was a not-insignificant cross-pollenization of the casts between SG1 and Andromeda: You were on both, Lexa Doig was on the cast of both, Michael Shanks guested on yours, and so on. Any friendly rivalry between the shows at the time?
STAIT: Not that I was aware of. I played a little hockey for the SG1 team around Pilot time but that rivalry was with other hockey teams.
R3: In Stargate: Atlantis you played Michael the Wraith in one episode, taking over the role from the original actor, and then giving it back to him later on. That must’ve been a weird situation. What was it like?
STAIT: I didn't know I was giving it back to him. That was never discussed with me before I took the role. I think I was just hired to fill in for him for a time.
R3: You’ve had minor recurring roles in at least three series that I know of: Major Feretti in SG1, Tim Matthew in the X-Files, and McBride n The Sentinel. Do you go in to these auditions knowing that it’s going to be a recurring character, or do they decide “Hey, Stait had kind of a spark in that one, let’s bring him back” or what?
STAIT: Usually you have an idea it will be recurring or sometimes it's just an arc for a few episodes.]
R3: Is there ever a serious possibility that these characters will get bumped upstairs, and become more frequently recurring, or is it generally a “Wedge Antilles” role?
STAIT: There is always the possibility. Sometimes you fit a certain need and sometimes it's just that arc.
R3: Of all the characters you’ve ever played, SF or straight, what’s your favorite role, and why?
STAIT: Rev for sure, Walt Shannon in Gunfighters' Moon, Holt in Mystery Alaska. Ferretti. You know, I think I liked just about all of them. Hard to decide.
R3: If you could have played *any* character from any genre show that ever ran, who would you play, and what would you bring to them that hasn’t been there before?
STAIT: That's tough one. There are so many good shows past and present. I think I'd like to find a part that I could create with the writers. I love to research parts. Different philosophies, religions, different avenues of thought, also I love Fantasy, so I guess something along the lines of The Lord of The Rings would be a dream job.
R3: What are you working on right now?
STAIT: "The Pastor's wife," directed by Norma Bailey. Had to work all day Sunday. Starring Rose McCowen and Micheal Shanks. Hawkman no less.
R3: And that’s all the time we’ve got. I’d like to thank Brent Stait for being with us today.
STAIT: Thanks, that was fun!