INTERVIEW: Keith Hamilton Cobb

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PLEASE NOTE:

The following interview contains some mild profanity, non-conservative viewpoints, and religious skepticism. It is really cool and interesting, however. If these kinds of things offend you, do not read further, however if they do not it is well worth your time to read on. While we here at Republibot are conservatives, we feel that it is extremely important to ask questions and listen to all the answers before making up one's mind, and that simply can not happen if there are no dissenting viewpoints. Hence, when someone is kind enough to grant us an interview, it is our policy to let them say whatever they want without bugging them about it or censoring them.

Read at your own risk

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Keith Hamilton Cobb

Today we’re speaking with actor Keith Hamilton Cobb, honestly, I think, one of the most compelling actors working on the small screen in the past decade or two. Mr. Cobb is probably best known as “Noah Keefer” from “All My Children” back in the nineties, but among geeks like us, he’s immediately identified as “Tyr Anasazi” from “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.” He’s won a number of awards, and was nominated for a daytime Emmy. In addition to all that, he’s just arrestingly cool.

Mister Cobb, thank you very much for talking with us today

KEITH HAMILTON COBB:
Thank you. I'm really extremely flattered by your interest, and moved by your generous accolades. I'm also quite moved by your many smart questions, several of which have no easy answers, and I'm hoping my responses are to your satisfaction. On that note, let me apologize in advance for any typos. My supposed-to-be-the best-ever twenty-six-hundred dollar Mac Power book drops caps constantly, in addition to which, I get going with the intensity of wanting to clearly and completely respond and I tend to misspell or mis-punctuate stuff. I hope you'll bear with me.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Not a problem at all. My computer fights me constantly, and my spelling is idiomatic at best.

We’re basically a Science Fiction fansite, and you’ve got a number of genre credits under your belt. I guess the most obvious place to start is to ask if you like Science Fiction?

COBB:
Yes. I was introduced to Science Fiction by my father, who took me to see Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in huge, mind-bending 70 millimeter when I was a boy. (Can you imagine having been introduced to such a film now, in one of the screening rooms of your local 47-plex?!!) It changed my life, I think. But also being introduced to Arthur C. Clarke in that way enabled me to draw a very distinct line between science fiction and science fantasy. One has its foundation in science, the other, if it has a foundation at all, is generally built on bullshit. I haven't much of a tolerance for bullshit.

Keith Hamilton CobbKeith Hamilton Cobb

R3:
Are there any particular shows or books or films in the genre that really jump out at you as favorites?

COBB:
Yes, there are several. There is the book and film mentioned above. I was equally fascinated by both Clarke's sequel novels, "2010," and "2061." I have not read "3001." After him I remember enjoying Ray Bradbury's short stories very much. I appreciated George R. Stewart's "Earth Abides," and David Gerrold's "The Man Who Folded Himself." This last was an interesting stab at the time travel genre, and I always appreciate the effort. Gerrold has a dedication in the book to Larry Niven, whom he claims told him that time travel is impossible and is probably right. I appreciated the candor in that remark preceding his story, which is full of improbability, impossibility in fact, as time travel stories always are, but certainly a unique take. We've all watched as every attempt at this has painted itself into a corner, then clearly walked all over the wet paint, and hoped we didn't notice. I thought Gerrold's was a valiant effort, and raised some very novel ideas. But I'm off on a tangent. Those are a few of the works that stand out in my experience. (I feel like I need to note that this work of David Gerrold's falls far more squarely into the science fantasy category, as opposed to science fiction, and I should, if I am true to my declaration above, not care for it. He gets a pass for being brave and clever.) What's the quote from the film, "Spinal Tap?" "There's a very fine line between clever and stupid."

R3:
"Earth Abides" is an unsung classic. It's one of my favorites, too. I'm always surprised it never really caught on with the Environmental movement, it's so spare and haunting.

Unlike most folks working in the genre today - in fact, unlike most actors, really - you’re classically trained as a formal stage actor. I’ve noticed that your performances tend to imply there’s a lot going on inside the character beneath the scene in a way that I seldom see outside of British stage actors. I’m never sure if this is a tool you’ve learned in your craft, or it it’s an inherent part of your own personality. Or maybe both. Which is it, do you think?

COBB:
Well first, I have to just say again that I'm extremely flattered that you see depth in the work. It means I must be doing something right in a business where there really is no roadmap to success, and the difference between "right" techniques and "wrong" techniques is all quite relative. The answer is it's certainly both personality AND training. I think the intensity of one's training, or at least the intensity of their application of it will only serve to enhance particularly compelling aspects of the actor's persona, and thus the character's. The opposite is probably also true. Conscientiousness is a personality trait. And a conscientious actor will bring it all. And if he/she has got a lot to bring, you'll see it in performance.

I've had some roles, Tyr certainly being one, where, when one considered the back-story, there just had to be a great deal at work within the character at any given time. It was my job to put that on the screen to the extent that anyone really wanted to see it. And since I could only really get at the authenticity of Tyr's psycho/emotional experience through tapping into my own, I think most found that the portrayal was most often genuine. I think it's just what decent actors do. As we'll discuss in some of your subsequent questions, I had a great deal to work with, from within me, and, in the beginning, from the character as drawn by the writer.

R3:
There’s an introspection in your work that I’ve always found interesting. It’s not the broody navel-gazing angst-cliché stuff, it’s more like a deliberating, like a genuine self-awareness and calculation before making a decision. Sometimes it’s dark and tragic, sometimes it’s self serving, sometimes it’s simply like your characters are making sure their exits are open. Have you ever played Hamlet? I’d love to see your take on that?

COBB:
The answer to this question would really be just an extension of the answer to the question above. Both Noah Keefer in "AMC," and Tyr Anasazi in "Andromeda" were outsiders with a great many factors influencing who they were and how they were when they showed up. They were layered, and complex, as humans are in reality. And so, because the work to plant all that stuff within them had been done, if they were just allowed to stand still, you could watch their very active inner-lives. I've always looked for those moments for my characters, because I think that the greatest, most compelling drama is always man's struggle with himself.

Of course, the opportunities for this are not always utilized, in fact, most often not, in plot-driven television, which I'm afraid comprises the majority of televised sci-fi, and certainly soap opera (Let me here exempt the latest incarnation of "Battlestar Galactica," only the first season of Chris Carter's long dead "Millennium," the original "Star Trek" and the first couple of "Star Trek" films). I read some of your other interviews in preparation for this one, and I can't remember if it was Joe Straczynski or John Varley who was, to some extent, lamenting the nature of plot-driven as opposed to character-driven TV, but I could certainly relate. It's one of the most prominent places in this business where creative integrity is regularly eviscerated on the alter of the business model.

Speaking of... I've just gotta stop here to note that I very recently watched the DVD of Danny Boyle's film, "Sunshine." Okay, so here we have a group of astronauts from Earth on a mission to the Sun, because the Sun is dying, and they've gotta drop some sort of nuclear device into it in order to bring it back to life so that it can continue to serve as life-giver to the Earth. It's already far too much science-fantasy for my taste, but I'm with it, because here's the thing: They're flying behind this huge umbrella-like shield to protect them from the killer force of infinitely intense solar heat and power. Any course deviation from the nose of the vessel first, and their back end is exposed unless properly compensated for, and from the very beginning they've shown how the Sun's rays will vaporize anything that is exposed to it in a nano-second. Well, of course, they are compelled to deviate from their course to answer a distress signal, and the navigator does not feed the data to the ship's computer in a way that changes the vessel's trajectory with sufficient compensation for the rear, exposing it to the Sun as it begins to peak from behind the protection of the shielding umbrella. The first thing to go is a rotating radio antenna, that terminates their communication link with Earth. And on and on... Fantasy notwithstanding, I was hooked. I'm thinking, "You've got the perfect built-in villain. You've got to get very close to the Sun, and the Sun don't play! What sort of things do you have to do to deal with this deadly enemy in order to get to it, get back home, and make it your friend again? You don't need any more jeopardy than that to build a truly compelling adventure story." But, of course, in a textbook case of formulaic, Hollywood, plot-driven bullshit, some studio exec must not have felt that the science within the fantasy was going to be interesting enough to the target audience. The next thing I know, there's some creature on-board ship messing with them. As if they don't have plenty of nearly plausible problems already, right? And he's like some guy who's been out there exposed to radiation too long and he's ugly and pissed off, but his prosthetics are bad, so they can only really show him in quick jump-cuts. So it becomes this story of this thing chasing these poor slobs around the ship which, ya know, you could have done in some house on Earth and saved yourself the FX budget. They had me at "Hello," and then... Plot-driven vehicles, and creativity by committee. Forgetaboutit!! Okay, another tangent. Sorry. Thanks for letting me rant.

R3:
Oh, rant on, my friend. They never even bother to explain how the psycho killer got on board, since he was lost in space years earlier. Not a thing in the second half of that movie makes the least bit of sense, and no one connected to it seemed to even notice they were talking nonsense.

COBB:
No, I have never played Hamlet. I've always wanted to attempt it, and I fear I'm rather old for it now by traditional standards. An insightful and courageous director could still make it work, but I don't know many of those, and I'm afraid that very few know me. One holds out hope. Hamlet says. "...the readiness is all..." With regard to that particular role, my time might now be better spent figuring out how I might direct someone else in the part, and thus play it vicariously through some younger talent.

R3:
What would you bring to the character - directing or acting - that you feel would be a uniquely a part of yourself?

COBB:
I'll keep you posted.

R3:
You’re a big, handsome guy, and physically very imposing. Your characters always seem quite a bit smarter and self aware than anyone else in the room, which is probably at odds with how a lot of people would immediately think to cast you. “Oh, he’s a big guy, let’s have him be a legbreaker for the mob, or the dumb guy who beats up his neighbor,” that kind of thing. I can’t think of a single “Dumb Guy” part that you’ve played. Is it difficult to get the parts you want, given your obvious preference for intelligent characters, or do you simply take the role and then bring to it a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t on the page?

COBB:
This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. It's actually several questions, so I'll do my best. I think the first piece about the characters I play seeming smart and self-aware has to do with much of the stuff discussed above. Tyr was written in the first season of "Andromeda" by Robert Hewitt Wolfe as smart to a fault, and hugely self-aware. Add to that an actor with size, skills, and presence, and that character is going to dominate the screen.

Interestingly, the character did not exist in the show's original bible. However, the partners at Tribune, after having utilized me, sort of, in "Beast Master," decided that the show needed "color, " or "weight," or something. Except for Kevin Sorbo, it was a completely Canadian cast. While I shouldn't name names, some smart person at Tribune thought there was an element missing, and asked me to sit down with Mr. Wolfe. You would need to ask Robert if the Nietzschean race existed in his mind before that meeting, but I'm rather sure that the character of Tyr was conceived there.

I often referred to Tyr as an intergalactic legbreaker, but of course, he was a great deal more than that, and I think that that same smart person at Tribune was well aware of that fact from the start, and of course, so was Robert. Others, perhaps not so much.

Just as interesting as this above is, were I to share some small section of my Hollywood auditioning history, you would see that, while I was often seen for roles that required some large, thug-like, Black presence, in the room I was very seldom if ever thought "thug-like," OR "Black" enough to be given the role. This is probably ultimately all for the good. But it does point up one actor's unusual persona, or industry ignorance, or both. In the role that I'm currently playing with The Denver Center Theatre Company, the role of Commander Osembenga in Lynn Nottage's "Ruined," ( http://www.denvercenter.org/shows-and-events/Shows/ruined/home.aspx ) it is fairly easy to perceive the character's most prominent traits as sinister and dangerous, and it would have been easy to cast someone who much more typically "looked" the part. But I think someone simply chose to be a bit braver, a bit smarter than that. And despite his status as villain, which he surely is, Osembenga has clear drives that inform his choices, which make him, I think, at least slightly compelling to watch.

Perhaps some of your readers will come and judge for themselves. This sort of interesting casting happens more in the world of theatre than in tv and film unfortunately.

R3:
I'd love to see it. I wasn't familiar with the play before researching for this interview, but the glowing review here http://www.westword.com/2011-04-07/culture/ruined-denver-center-theatre-... makes it look pretty fascinating. They're pretty glowing about you, as well: "Keith Hamilton Cobb gives a mesmerizing performance as Commander Osembenga, a handsome monster, exulting in his power to hurt and destroy. (Someone should cast this man as Othello, Hotspur or Henry V.)"

COBB:
With extremely limited exceptions, it is difficult for all of us to get the roles that we want, or the roles that we think we could bring something beautiful to despite what casting directors and producers think, who have very particular and most often divergent agendas. While I like intelligent characters, I am much more interested in characters that are proactive regardless of anything else. Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire," is not particularly bright, but he surely knows what he wants and goes after it, and that is what creates the drama.

And yes, that "bringing a whole bunch of stuff that isn't on the page" is the actor's work, but generally is best done after the role is firmly in hand. I never would have gotten the roles of either Noah Keefer, or Tyr Anasazi if I had brought all of my myriad thoughts and ideas to the table at the first meeting. And, in fact, I just recently lost a role as the lead in a staging of a popular Shakespeare play because my ideas were bigger than the frame of the production, (read bigger than the business model).

Success in the field of acting is largely a matter of opportunity and then indulgence, in that order. This is something that everyone, both inside and outside the industry would do well to know and remember. This is all that has ever made anyone's career in the business. An actor's talent only ever augmented their career once these two factors were first put in place.

R3:
That's interesting about your own spin coming after you get the part. I never thought of it along those lines, but it makes sense. Presently you’re performing in two plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Ruined.” Do you consider yourself primarily a stage or screen actor? Where are you most comfortable?

COBB:
Actually, the Production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has concluded. "Ruined" runs until April 30th for anyone who might still like to try and catch it.

R3:
My bad. Sorry about that.

COBB:
When a student gets up in front of a class to do his work in acting school, he/she is working in front of a live audience. I suppose there are schools that teach on-camera skills primarily, but generally, I think we all come out of school being stage actors. When we begin to book gigs in film and TV we rather quickly begin to learn the skills required to do it well. That's how it happened with me. Which is not to say that I was a particularly good stage actor before acquiring some skills that were essential for television; skills having to do with doing less and trusting that the correct emotion was present and active within me without my having to do anything but stand there. I wouldn't have been a good Tyr if I hadn't learned this first, and am also better for it in the role that I currently perform.

I think it's pretty disingenuous of actors when posed with the question of theatre versus film to wax all romantic about the stage when everyone knows that the comparison between the two mediums is the difference between almost never making a living, and making more money than 98% of people in the world. Once we get honest about that, and about the truth that anyone, given the opportunity to make a very comfortable living in television or film, would not say, "I'd really just rather make three hundred bucks a week off off Broadway," then we can talk about how television and film are mediums for directors, and editors, and directors of photography. These three trades in collaboration can make an on-screen performance with very little from the actor.

Stage, on the other hand, is where an actor has to be at least a little bit good at what he does. I personally am challenged by both mediums. I'm never comfortable in any of it. I'm just not that sort of actor. It's all work, and anything I do contributes the betterment of my skills, and to the expanding of that body of work. I'm grateful for all of it. I've yet to consider myself really good at any of it.

R3:
Ok, I have to mention your film “Eyes Beyond Seeing.” You play a modern day mental patient who claims to be Jesus, and who ends up helping his psychiatrist to recover his faith. This was an amazingly gutsy role, and the kind of thing that would have been so easy to blow so badly in so many different ways. The entire production just entirely stands or falls on your ability to convey some reasonable doubt about the protagonist not simply being crazy. Doubly difficult since everyone has their own concept of what Jesus should be like. I’m sure most of our readers will find the entire concept pretty offensive, but, wow, you pulled it off so easily. Some of your scenes were almost beatific. What was it like working on a production like that? That was also Henny Youngman’s last film, wasn’t it?

COBB:
Let's start with the last question first. Yes, I believe it was Henny Youngman's last film, bless him. "Eyes Beyond Seeing" was one of those strange adventures that, in the many years since its making, has taken on a life of its own, developing a cult following in outposts all over the world. I'm very humbled by that, and never know quite what to say about it. Its cult success does speak to people's hunger for spiritual growth and awareness, and has continued to fascinate me.

You know, I think it's a safe acting lesson to say that all my roles begin and end with a man just trying to proactively pursue his own perceived positive objectives under one set of circumstances or another (no different than Tyr). Unless you're doing "The Passion of The Christ," and maybe not even then, the objective would never be to "play" Jesus any more then Jesus would have been playing Jesus. Equally important to the character of Peter in the story, and not playing Jesus, is the need to not simply play crazy either. Just the simple, methodical pursuit of objectives. No magic. Just acting, I guess. And then, the audience can decide who he is without me tipping the balance in either direction.

Gutsy?... Well, remember what I said about opportunity and indulgence. This kid doing his senior project in film school comes to me and says, "I'm making this movie. I'd like you to play the lead. I've got about 5 grand in total to make it, so you won't get paid. But I think you're pretty great. Whadya say?" And who am I, but another dick swingin'? Some unemployed actor who has never really been asked to do anything, and now some kid wants me to embody the essence of a Jesus-like figure in a film. You've got to honor the energy. What was I gonna say, "No?" And then, there was the kid, himself, Dan Cohn. Remember what I said about film being the director's and the editor's medium? He was both. If I convey any degree of authenticity in that film, it's because he made it look that way through directing and editing. And still, as you say, it's up for interpretation, and strictly subjective as to whether the performance or the film hits it's mark or not.

For me, it's been an amazing experience to watch people's reactions to it over the years. I was very lucky to have been a part of it, though that was not, nor could not have been particularly clear to me at the time. Opportunity and Indulgence...

R3:
The ultimate question of whether or not the guy really was Jesus is left nebulous. In your opinion, was he really who he claimed to be?

COBB:
I have been admonished many times by Daniel Cohn about not putting forth my personal opinion regarding who Peter actually is. I think the "nebulous" question is part of the reason the film remains popular in certain markets. So I'm going to honor his wishes and keep my thoughts on the matter to myself. Dan might tell you more if you'd like to contact him directly, or learn more about the film and the other projects of this interesting artist.

R3:
Fair enough. Matters of faith break easily. I'll ask him about it, but I won't tell anyone the answer. So are you a religious man?

COBB:
No. Religions, in my opinion, are codified doctrines meant solely for the purpose of controlling people's behavior, and they are what comes of the bastardizing of sound spiritual principles for the purpose of serving individual agendas. This is not to say that they are without beauty or value. Myth, ritual, mysticism are important to every culture, creating and maintaining cultural identity while we remain spiritually immature. But, if we are to ever begin to transcend our primal, tribal drives that keep us bound to conflict and strife, it is also important to acknowledge the reasons for which our religious doctrines come into existence and begin to consider them from there.

On the other hand, the spiritual experiences and teachings of many of the mystics, including Muhammad as well as Jesus as well as Gautama Buddha, to the extent that I am able to receive them unadulterated, are fascinating to me, and all speak of ways of being that are a perpetual challenge for me to attempt to emulate if not internalize. I am a stumbling spiritualist, and a bit of a fair weather mystic. But it is really too big, and complex a question to answer here in any greater depth or detail.

How's this for a religious practice? Do no harm. Don't be a dick. If the entire world could wake up every morning and practice just that much with the religiosity that they put into telling other people how to behave, we'd all be in bliss. Try it sometime. See if you can get through three days without doing something that has an excessively negative effect somewhere else on the planet, or treating someone, even in some small way, differently than you would wish to be treated yourself. It's a whole lot harder than going to church.

R3:
Ok, let’s hit your genre stuff: You played “Dillah” in “Total Recall: The Series,” a show that really should have gotten a second season. What was that experience like? Anything that really jumped out at you as an introduction to SF on the small screen?

COBB:
Actually, you are in error. I've never heard of this role, and only vaguely recall hearing of this show. I was never offered, and certainly did not enact any such role.

R3:
Wow, that's really, really embarrassing. I'm so sorry! Republibot 1.0 and I both remembered someone we thought was you on the show - this was like a decade ago when last we saw it - IMDb confirmed it. I'm really sorry about that.

COBB:
This happens a lot where people have thought they have spotted me on some show, when it was, in fact, some other long-haired, brown-skinned man, several of which seem to have appeared in the wake of Tyr Anasazi. I remember there was loud on-line noise a few years back that I had turned down a role of a character called Ronin in one of the "Stargate" incarnations in order to do "Noah's Arc" instead.

R3:
You were up for the role of Ronan in Stargate: Atlantis? I never even heard a rumor about that. No disrespect to Jason Momoa, but, man, you would have owned that part. Is there anything you can tell us about the auditioning process for the role, or how they made their selection?

COBB:
No. That's the thing. I was never up for the role. It was never even mentioned to me in passing. I had never heard of it until some irate fan on line started screaming about how I must be gay because I had taken a job doing the second season of "Noah's Arc" instead of taking the Stargate people up on their offer to play Ronan. I guess the furor just sort of metastasized from there. I have never seen a single episode of "Stargate: Atlantis." I don't know the actor who is playing the role in question, nor have I ever seen him. It is true that the Stargate franchise and I have had a long history of auditions, but it never resulted in them making me an offer of anything. Go figure... I was even one of the million actors who auditioned for the original series role of Teal'c in Los Angeles way back a hundred years ago. And when everyone at "Andromeda" was so off-the-wall excited to get Christopher Judge for an episode, I was hubristic enough to think that they, over at "Stargate," would have been just as thrilled to have me for an episode or two. Silly me! So no. Never had a thing to do with it.

In fact, "Stargate" auditioned me more times for more roles than any other show and always ultimately chose otherwise. The only sci-fi character I've ever played (I don't know if Akile and Skyles qualify) is the role of Tyr on "Andromeda." You would think that such a role would parlay into all sorts of other sci-fi type offers, but it was never the case. This may have been owing to the nature of the show itself that I will discuss a little when I get into the questions below. But regardless, I did not play Dillah. And I think I must be the most famous sci-fi personality to never get cast in another sci-fi television show or film that I know.

On a side note: Several years ago, I believe in 2004, TV Guide Magazine did an issue, The 25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends. Joss Whedon's, "Firefly," and its Captain Reynolds were in the list after airing 11 episodes and then being canceled. "Andromeda," at the time, pumping out twenty two episodes per year, would have been in its fourth season, and was never mentioned. I'm not saying that "Andromeda," or any of its characters deserved the monicker of "Sci-Fi Legend." But the fact that ALF and The Coneheads took up spots on the list might speak to what sort of show "Andromeda" really was.

R3:
[Laughing] Yeah, they're pretty capricious lists...

COBB:
It was made specifically for syndication, never meant to be a network show, but rather to be sold to any market who wanted to pony up the dollars to buy it. There were many foreign markets, where it was better that we not say too much, since most nuances of speech and language were going to be lost in translation anyway; better as well to have less science, more explosions and bare flesh, things understood in any language. It was not watched on Tuesday nights at 9pm on CBS, but rather on Sunday afternoons at 2pm on channel "whatever." It lived it's life beneath the traditional radar, and none but Sorbo really had the recognizability that would make other more high profile sci-fi shows step up with offers.

R3:
Yeah. You end up with people saying things like "Babylon 5 wasn't as good as Star Trek Voyager, because it never got as good ratings." Well, swell, but B5 never had a network slot, either. Visibility is no measure of quality. Drives me nuts.

Next up, you had a recurring part as “Akile” on the “Beastmaster” series, which - inasmuch as they ever bothered to define it - takes place in a parallel world. How did working in a low-tech maybe-kinda’-sorta’ genre show like that differ from other more traditional SF productions you’ve worked on?

COBB:
Akile was a three episode recur that ended up only being two episodes. "Beastmaster" had the same executive producer and same American producing partners as "Andromeda." It was shot on Australia's Gold Coast in the winter time, which was fine during the day if it was sunny, but if it rained, or we were under the canopy of the jungle when the sun started to set, it was a very cold place to be running around in a loincloth. It was my first foray into this sort of work; my first time experiencing how such productions operated, and how business concerns drove them, what was important, and what could be considered less important, what being number 1 on the cast list meant as opposed to being number 5, etcetera. We were outdoors most of the time. It took sixteen hours to fly to Australia, which, for a 6'4" guy, is torturous even in business class. But once I was there, I met some interesting people and had a good time. There was no Blue Screen, or any of that, and at the end of the day, Akile was never much of a role, but there was a real river to swim in, real trees to climb and swing around on, and real horses to run from. It was fun, and it had its place. It was exactly what I was supposed to be doing at that moment in my career. Without it, there would never have been an "Andromeda" for me.

R3:
Are you up to talking about Andromeda a bit?

COBB:
Sure.

R3:
Your character, Tyr Anasazi, was far and away the most compelling thing about the show from the get-go. You brought a kind of quiet imperiousness to the role that I simply can’t imagine anyone else handling. For instance, in one episode you save the day amidst much gunfire, and Captain Hunt thanks you. You blow this off by saying “Are you kidding? They were playing Wagner. I haven’t had so much fun in years!” That’s the kind of line would have just been cringe-worthy coming out of anyone else, but you sold it so well I kind of believed you went home from the set, listened to Tannhauser, and maybe sharpened your knives.

It was rumored at the time that the part was partially written with you in mind, and that it incorporated a lot of your real-life personality. Is this true? How much of Tyr was you and how much was written? What did you bring that wasn’t there when the writers thought the guy up?

COBB:
Much of the answers to these last few questions you can extrapolate from things that I've said above. Tyr was a compelling character for the audience because he was equally and always compelling to me as well. It's what made the character a joy for me to act, and because he was a joy to act, he stood out. Robert Hewitt Wolfe did, in fact, write the character specifically for me at the behest of some of the development executives at Tribune. Wolfe is a formidable writing talent. He had created a very layered and interesting show bible which, if stuck to and not abandoned after two seasons, would have given "Andromeda" a very different sort of life.

Again, this is an example of the business model adversely impacting art. The business model called for the show to be sold in any and every market possible, sheerly as a matter of making the most money. In order to affect this, it had to be simple. It had to be a show where every episode stood alone, not connected to what came before it, or what might come after. Plot-driven, where in every show there was a new plot. Serialization, or a five-year story arc was out of the question. The characters needed to be there purely to service the plot of the day. If the plot said that Tyr was the rabid Darwinist on one day, and liked playing with Barbies the next, then that's what the character did.

Anyway, Wolfe added the role of Tyr to his bible, and in doing so, I think, in many ways, perhaps inadvertently created a character and a race of characters that had the potential to loom larger than anything else in the show. Then, you add a somewhat talented actor with a strong presence who has the skills to take what you hand him and run with it, and Shit!!!... Whaddya do?!!! After two seasons of serialized story telling that the American fans seemed to be very excited about, and where the developing character of Tyr was intrinsic to the plot, they abandoned both Robert Hewitt Wolfe, as well as many of the character imperatives of Tyr in order to better serve what they considered the more important things, their lead actor, and the business model. Who am I to say they were wrong?

But yes, for about a season and a half, Tyr was an exciting thing for me to come to the set for. His characteristics and backstory, as written by Wolfe, left him with so much room to behave in truly striking and surprising ways. The mail I got seemed to suggest that the character enjoyed a large cross-section of fans, many of whom were not sci-fi fans per se, but who found a certain affinity with the character and his motivations. One letter I received that stands out in my mind was from a group of Black businessmen in Texas, who felt that the character of Tyr was a sort of a paradigm that mirrored the behaviors and perspectives that the emergent Black-American capitalist needed to adopt and adhere to in order to remain successful. In short, he was, as you say, just a very cool character. I always felt rather heart-sore that the producers did not ever really care to recognize or utilize that. It is what it is.

You ask the question, "What did you bring that wasn’t there when the writers thought the guy up?" I brought me, which always seems to be a little bit more than anyone bargains for.

I liked the Wagner line as well. I think it was an ad-lib in the moment that came straight from Tyr's psyche as it had developed thus far, and the director was smart enough to leave it in the edit. The actors often brought improvisational moments to camera to create depth of character or sense of intention where there had been none written. Many other of Tyr's greatest hits never made it to screen.

You used the word, "imperious." Great descriptive word!!

imperious |imˈpi(ə)rēəs|
adjective
assuming power or authority without justification; arrogant and domineering : his imperious demands.

Well, isn't that, in fact, what the Nietzscheans were as conceived by Wolfe? Tyr, however, was also for many reasons conflicted, and I think his conflicts lived in the silences. There was much too much space between his thought and his actions for any unevolved, Dragonian (see Ancestors' Breath) Nietzscheans to have approved of him. For Tyr, whose human versus Nietzschean traits were always a case of too much of both and not enough of either, quietly imperious is all that he could have been.

R3:
It pained me to see the character whittled down by degrees. First they took away the elbow blades and made him ‘just’ a human, but he was still more compelling than anyone else on the show - arguably moreso because of his defiance to his loss. Then randomly deciding to turn him into a bad guy. That must have been agonizing to go through, particularly with a character that suited you so well. If you’re up to talking about it, I’d love to know what the hell happened there, and what it must have felt like going through it.

COBB:
Again, I think you can pretty much intuit much of what might have occurred in Tyr's final season from what I've said above. There is really no integrity in my going into deep detail.

R3:
Oh, certainly don't violate any confidences or anything, I'm just curious to know what you feel you can share.

COBB:
Tyr was an opportunity that I was grateful to have been presented with. Short on indulgence perhaps, but an opportunity nonetheless. I think I executed the task fairly well considering.

R3:
I think you did brilliantly. Tyr is pretty much *the* reason to watch the show. The fact that you were able pull all that off under some duress makes it just the more impressive.

COBB:
I was happy to see the blades go. I never liked them. They were a poor prosthetic made of rubber that you can actually see bending if you look closely at a couple of episodes. The way they chose to have him lose them was, I think, somewhat clumsily executed, but I was relieved to have them gone. I would have much preferred to have had him walk around with the broken remnants protruding from his forearms for an episode or two, with stories of how he had shattered them all smashing them repeatedly into the black, obsidian-like face of that alien whatever that had taken him captive. But instead, they just sort of turned up missing.

And you're so right! My thought was, "Let's have Tyr show all comers that bone blades don't make a Nietzschean, and that he can still kick their asses, fuck their females if they're remotely worthy, and steal their shit, bone blades notwithstanding, simply because his heart and mind and internal Nietzschean imperatives are just that huge."

The choice to bring the character back for a couple episodes in the fourth season only to turn him into a moustache-twirling villain and give him a cliched, ignoble death was just beyond odd to me. I was ill at the time, with an injured back, and in the middle of a bad break-up. I was in no position to argue. One day, perhaps you'll have the opportunity to ask someone who actually was responsible for those decisions what they were about.

R3:
If I ever meet those people, I've got a looooong line of questions for 'em. Andromeda was originally conceived of as an epic five-year arc story that - if they’d pulled it off - would have made Babylon 5 seem like a minor family spat by comparison. So in one sense, what happened to you and your character is also what happened to the series as a whole. How much of Robert Hewitt Wolve’s “Grand Design” were you aware of at the time? How did that knowledge inform your performance?

COBB:
Again, read above. The "Grand Design" was abandoned after about a season and a half, and so was Wolfe. And yes, I believe that your take on the deterioration of the character mirroring the deterioration of the five-year arc is quite astute.

R3:
Can you tell us something about Tyr that didn’t appear on the screen? Where he was going, or some aspect of him that maybe was intended to be revealed later, but they never got around to? Something only you know about him?

COBB:
Well... after a couple of seasons, I think it had come fairly clear to everyone that the character wasn't going anywhere except further into soft focus and obscurity. When you're writing show to show, and your concerns are not necessarily those of character, it is easy for this to happen. They weren't going to tell anymore Tyr stories that didn't subjugate his sensibilities and purposes to those of Captain Hunt. At the very same time that the character was being pushed further and further into soft focus, the on-line community was clamoring for more of who and what he was about, not unlike the way you're inquiring above. They too wanted to see more of his stories, and see his compelling persona featured more prominently in the episodes.

In response, and to help deepen my own sense of the character, I began to publish on my website a series of essays in the form of Tyr's personal journal entries entitled "The Ancestors' Breath." It was never really completed, from my perspective, and does have some flaws, as I never claimed to be a sci-fi writer in the tradition that I admire (i.e. the scientist, not the fantasists. Robert Wolfe did offer a slight bit of guidance on a couple of the entries.), but it did delve much more deeply into Tyr's perspective on the Universe around him, into the Nietzschean psyche, into his sense of self, his radical politics, his perspectives and opinions regarding some of the characters with whom he interacted, and provided a much more revealing look into how the character was shaped.

Of course, this was all my fiction, and not the company's. But it was well received by the fans, and, I think, allowed them and myself some "first hand" knowledge and deeper intimacy with the character, even as it was being taken away from them.

R3:
I'd never actually heard of that before now. I'd love to read it.

I always found the odd friendship between Tyr and Harper kinda’ charming, and wondered if it extended into real life. Are you still in touch with anyone from the show?

COBB:
I run into Kevin Sorbo from time to time, but really have no contact with other members of the cast. Tyr/Harper was an interesting development, and I was happy to explore it. Certainly, the caring about any of the characters to his own detriment was always challenging for Tyr, as it was contrary to Nietzschean imperatives, and the conflicting emotion/intellect/instinct was always juicy stuff to play.

R3:
What really jumped out at me about the Tyr/Harper friendship - besides the awkwardness from Tyr's perspective, as you mentioned - was the contrast between your very composed manner, and Gordon's slightly unhinged take on Harper. The Emperor and the Madman. Was that a natural evolution, or something you guys worked out among yourselves?

COBB:
The relationship evolved from the initial pairing by itself. Our characters were really clearly drawn coming into it, so that the obvious contrast just naturally did most of the work. Of course, like everything in "Andromeda" they could have gone deeper.

I don't remember the episodes anymore with any degree of detail, but there was one Harper episode where he suffers the death of a brother, or a cousin, some last remnant of his family or something like that. And in the end, he's singing a verse from the Irish folk tune, Danny Boy, and Tyr sees him on some camera, or something, and sings the last little bit of the song as well. It was cut because I guess no one believed that Tyr would know the words to Danny Boy, much less sing them. But I thought, "Why not?" He knows the emotion that Harper is evincing. And if he can sit down to candid discussions with a Magog, or teach marshal arts to a blue thing with a tail, why can't he indulge his emotion which, if we were true to Nietzschean genetics, would be far more intense than anyones?

Anyway, some of it worked. Some, I thought was just plain silly. But it's all just my opinion, and no longer really matters.

R3:
So I have to ask: what the hell happened? The show never quite hit its stride in that first season and a half, but it was really enjoyably unpredictable, zigging when it should have zagged, ducking when you expected it to weave, it was well cast, it felt fresh, and then, suddenly it just melted down, obviously because of some behind-the-scenes intrigue. How much of that are you willing to talk about? How did this affect the rest of the cast? That must have been awful to live through, but at the same time it’s really hard being a working actor. It’s really hard to walk away from a paying high-profile job, even when it goes south like that.

COBB:
Well, here again, many of your questions have already been answered. I don't think I've really said anything that most people involved wouldn't more or less cop to. It's always difficult for actors when what they are bringing in terms of their creative commitment to the project is not being embrace whole-heartedly, but rather is perpetually being abbreviated. I assume that everyone in the cast had their own experience with this. It was ultimately easier for me to leave the show after three seasons than it would have been for me to stay for a fourth. I'm just that sort of actor.

R3:
Ok, enough of that. Next up, you did “Cold Fusion,” an episode of the third revival of The Twilight Zone, and co-starred with Gordon Michael Woolvett, also from Andromeda. How guest starring on an anthology differ from an ongoing character? Is there a different way you approached Commander Skyles? Was it more extemporaneous

COBB:
Was Gordon in that??? I really honestly don't remember him being there!!! I remember Sean Patrick Flanery. There wasn't much to Skyles. One good scene and then he dies. Not enough room to give him any real depth that would have better served the story in any significant way. The episode was written by one of the writing teams that wrote for "Andromeda," and I think they were just being kind to offer me the role. I was grateful to have it. Actors want to act. Beyond that, there's really nothing to say about it. He was just a guy.

R3:
Last question: What is one part that you have always wanted to play, one role you’ve wanted more than any other?

COBB:
Ya know, I can never really answer this question. There are so many roles that I would still love to play, and I've never been a one for favorites. So many of the great roles of contemporary theatre were not written for Black men, and are rarely cast as such. I love the role of John Proctor in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" for instance, the role of Pale in Lanford Wilson's "Burn This." I could go on and on. The classical theatre, Shakespeare in particular, offers better opportunities, and there are a plethora of kings and warriors that I have yet to attempt and would like to before it's time for King Lear. We'll see.

I like "Richard II" very much. He is most often portrayed as a foppish dandy of a king, but rather, I think it would be quite interesting to see him played as a strong and able man who has just gotten bad advice for his entire life, so that he is not emotionally, or intellectually prepared to by a warrior/leader. I think it would be that much greater a tragedy. But here again, most American theatres, when undertaking Shakespeare, avoid the Histories like the plague, and if they do chose to attempt one, it is not with Black men portraying English kings.

I have never been as taken with contemporary characters as I have always been with the mythic size and scope of Shakespeare's characters. Tyr was a Shakespearean character that Shakespeare did not write. So was Noah Keefer. So was Peter in "Eyes Beyond Seeing." They all had power, and presence, and poetry, and emotion that leaked from their pores. That's why they worked so well, and why people tend to remember them.

Departing from all of that, really, ya know, I was watching this little film the other day with Annabella Sciorra where she was playing a poor mom whose young son had AIDS, and she and her son and her son's friend were sitting at the kitchen table eating, and that's all. It was just a simple conversation, nothing dramatic, just eating food and talking. I used to always say to Alan Eastman, the executive producer on "Andromeda," "Doesn't anybody ever just sit down and have coffee on this Fuckin' ship?!!!" We were always running like hell down some hallway with looks of horror on our faces because the aliens were gonna eat us.

When we start to talk about roles that I would like to play, I always start to think about the simple things that are quiet and still, moment to moment. Just acting. No one has ever asked me to play the guy that's sitting at his desk, and he gets the phone call that his father, whose been sick for a long time, has just died, and he hangs up and he just sits there and feels it, whatever "it" is. I'd like a few of those roles. Because I'm really just an actor.

R3:
And that’s it. Again, I’d like to than Mr. Cobb for taking all this time with us today.

COBB:
The pleasure has truly been all mine. I haven't discussed many of these things in a very long time, and I truly am taken with the fact that you would actually be interested enough in my perspective to pose so many intelligent questions. Thank you.

R3:
I'm happy have been able to provide a forum. This was a lot of fun.

Keith Hamilton Cobb is presently starring in Lynn Nottage's play, “Ruined,” which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's running through April 30th in the Ricketson Theater in Denver, well worth checking out if you’re in the area, and you can find out more information about the production and times online here http://www.denvercenter.org/shows-and-events/Shows/ruined/home.aspx

His official website is online here http://www.keithhamiltoncobb.com/index.htm, well worth checking out.

COBB:
I feel like I need to apologize for my website. It's been nothing but a place holder for a very long time, and there is nothing at all to see there except for the link announcing the Denver Center productions. One of the things that I want to try and get to this summer is to really update my own on-line presence, which would include revamping the site so that it is at least slightly more comprehensive. I came kicking and screaming to this rapidly evolving technological age, and remain something of a Luddite at heart. But hopefully, for those interested parties who are looking for more data from the actors own mouth, I can make some things happen sooner rather than later. It's later enough already. Thank you again.

R3:
No, no, thank you! A full - and very complimentary - review of Keith's current play, "Ruined," is online here. Definitely check it out! http://www.westword.com/2011-04-07/culture/ruined-denver-center-theatre-...

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