A Chat with Chiana
by Sarah Kuhn
Farscape's newest alien, Gigi Edgley, talks with
IGN Sci-Fi about getting into character, growing
up, and what it's like to be the galaxy's resident brat.
Gigi Edgley listens attentively as I read the "official" description
of Chiana, her character on Sci-Fi Channel's smash hit original series, Farscape.
"To survive in some of the Uncharted Territories' roughest hellholes, she's
had to lie, cheat, vamp, and scam. Fortunately for her, those are her four best
"Oh, nooooo!" Edgley wails, laughing. "Sometimes, when I read the script, I think, 'Oh my God, she's Sydney off of Melrose Place! The psycho one who wants to do all the really bad things and gets on the wrong side of everything. But, (Chiana) wants to stir the pot, she wants to challenge people. The writers said, 'Look, just treat (the other characters) as grandparents, and say they're just stuck in the mud and play. You know, push their boundaries.'"
Indeed. Since joining Farscape's cast several months ago, Edgley, 22, has pushed plenty of boundaries. Her Chiana is the youngest member of the Farscape crew, a sexually-charged upstart adolescent whose loyalties are still in question. As the normally cool and collected Zhaan (Virginia Hey) put it: "She's a brat."
While Edgley herself acknowledges that such a quality exists within Chiana, she attempts to further explain the reasoning behind her character's actions. "(Chiana)'s got this amazing spirit, that wants to go on the adventures and wants to hold the gun and wants to have the stand off," she says. "And she's always been searching for the scam in which she can always come out on top. (Initially), I thought 'That's not very nice! She is a bit of a brat!' And then I thought, as long as she's got a really good reason within herself for achieving it, then it'll work, as opposed to (her) just being a bitch or a brat or whatever."
Though her character is labeled as such, Edgley herself is about as far from "brat" as you can get. Rather, she's disarmingly talkative, playful and hysterically funny, a mixture of otherworldly sprite and the kid who used to crack you up in grade school. Chatting on the phone from her home in Sydney (she lives with her musician boyfriend and a group of students: "We're still sort of young kids in Sydney, so we've got five people in a three-bedroom house"), she speaks enthusiastically of what's in store for Chiana, the respect she has for her castmates (she affectionately refers to Ben Browder as "the ultra-cool American handsome hunk boy"), and an unconventional childhood spent in her native Australia, where Farscape is filmed.
Though she may not be quite as freewheeling as Chiana, Edgley does share some of her character's otherworldly qualities. A large part of her youth was spent on her mother's free spirited farm on the inland part of Australia's Gold Coast. "(Mom) would have new age lecturers all the time," Edgley remembers. "She'd have people coming out with bizarre instruments trying to suss out where the energy flow was in the farm, and finding secret caverns, drawing on the natural beauties and the natural wonders of life, and (asking), 'What on earth are we doing on this weird planet in the middle of nowhere anyway?'"
When we were kids and stuff, we'd just go out into the farm and would literally leave at six in the morning and come back at six at night and all we had done all day is hunt for fairies. You know, just so we could play! (Mom) really was amazing at keeping the imaginative and the fantasies...she made that part of our actual reality, which is beautiful."
Not everyone was so eager to see the magic, however. Edgley remembers encountering resistance from all facets of her "nice, private girl's school" -- kids, counselors, and parents. As she tells her story, her voice automatically morphs from character to character, from wonder-filled child to nasal, snooty authoritarian. "I'd go to school after hearing about these amazing worlds that are so foreign to us, and that there may be a possibility that they are out there and stuff, " she remembers. "And I'd tell my friends that, 'Maybe one day the aliens (are) gonna come down!' and all this kind of stuff. Quite often, I'd end up in the counselor's room, and (they would be) going, 'Now, listen Gigi, there are no aliens, there are no fairies! And, I'd go, 'No, it's not true!' The parents of the kids I used to hang out with would ring up the school and say, 'This girl is mad! She's believing all this weird stuff and she's really scaring our kids, and we don't want her hanging out with them."
In stark contrast to her mother, Edgley says her father is "really good at keeping total feet on the ground and a perspective of life." In fact, it was he who convinced her to actively pursue television roles. Originally, Edgley's heart was solely in the theater -- her credits include Romeo and Juliet, Princess and the Pea and Les Miserables for the Gold Coast Arts Theatre. From 1994 to 1995, she trained at various workshops at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and in 1998, she received a B.A. in Drama from Queensland University of Technology Academy of the Arts. "The initial transition was Dad saying, 'look, you know, I don't want you to be a showgirl, but you can be that as long as you can support yourself through it," she remembers. "And the way to support yourself through it is by getting a good gig in film and TV, because that's basically where the cash flow is.'"
And, as Edgley is quick to point out, there are certainly other rewards involved with being a part of such a unique show as Farscape. "Going onto set, it's like you literally are walking onto a different planet. And you just think, 'Oh, this is so precious.' And inside Moya...you walk through the corridors, and you feel like you are walking through the body of some really bizarre creature. And they give you so much amazing stuff to work off of, it's just the best opportunity I've ever been given. Every night, I go to bed and I think, 'thank you! I must be doing something right!'"
Though Edgley's transformation into Chiana might seem a simple matter of make-up (about three and a half layers are involved), she notes that she actually has a whole ritual of preparation that can involve "breath work," mood music, and "having a play in front of the mirror."
"The more and more I get into it, (the more) I realize how much courage you need," she says. "Even in the simple stuff, like preparing before a scene, if I do just a bit of physical work...I'll look around and be sussing out the scene, and finding my objective and whatever else, and then I'll see a crew member going, 'what the **** is she doing?' Like with breath work and weird hand movements and stuff like that, and your little critic inside goes, 'Oh, I'm acting really stupidly right now,' and (I go) 'No, no, just use it, use it, find her.' But more often than not, she finds me."
Edgley may have to work a bit harder to find Chiana in episodes to come -- it's been hinted that the character will be going through some changes in both the four-part first season finale, which airs in January, and the second season, which begins in March.
"It's interesting, because, just as you think you've sussed out the character, (the writers) introduce this whole other aspect, where you go, 'Oh, OK, so she can do this as well!'" says Edgley. "Like the other day, we did this beautiful scene, and there's sort of a supernatural characteristic that come out of her, which is fantastic, because since I've been on set, everyone's been saying, 'So, what alien things can she do?' And I said...'Well, she can sort of smell pheromones, and she can release it like nothing else.' And they're going, 'Yeah, but what other, like, spooky stuff?' And the other day she came up with a new little characteristic which was really nice. So, I hope they bring it up more. It's beautiful. It's very sort of physical stuff and...it's really fun stuff to play with. So, she's got some little surprises coming up which is great."
In fact, Chiana may even start displaying some signs of...growing up. "It's really interesting some of the stuff they're pushing her with now, and she does mature a bit," says Edgley, of the second season episodes currently being filmed. "I'm hoping the fans won't go, 'Oh, no where did she go?' But it's interesting, because just as you think 'Ah, she's changing, ah, she's really becoming part of the crew,' something happens and sure enough, everyone goes, 'Hang on, is she? Or was she just playing all along?' That sort of mystery -- if is she going to be sticking around and helping them out, or if she is just sort of out for herself still -- is kind of what I'm wanting to leave open for the audience. To get that trust within her, and then she does something totally erratic and they go, 'What?' (I want) to keep them asking what and why and how."
And, of course, there's the inevitable unique reward that comes with being a part of any cult sensation -- action figures. "Oh my God!" Edgley laughs. when the subject of merchandising is broached. "Isn't it every little girl's dream? It's amazing, I can't stop giggling about (it). Ben (Browder) said to me the other day, 'Oh, look there may be some sort of baseball card deal coming out and we're gonna have to sign a few,' and I went, 'Oh! Oh! Are you serious? And he went 'Yeah,' and I went 'Great, man!'"
And, of course, there are the fans. Edgley loves nothing more than getting feedback from those who watch Farscape with a devotion that's slowly building to near Star Trek proportions. "I went and had a look at the (online) b-board, and there was a really beautiful comment from one of the guys: 'Did you see in Chiana's first look, there was vulnerability, sexy and dangerous, all in one,' and I just went, 'Yes! Aww, it worked!' And comments like that are fantastic, just to see if you're on the right track. And (there's) interesting stuff, (like) 'She better not come in on Aeryn and Crichton (or) I'll get my gun out!' and I'm thinking, 'death threats on the first day, that's impressive!' And Dad's going, 'Now, you do have secure locking at your house, right?' and I'm going, 'Look, Dad, it's in the States.'"
Though Farscape is occupying much of her time these days, look for Edgley in an upcoming episode of the syndicated surprise hit, Beastmaster. She's also spent what little off time she has shopping for a computer, so that she can better converse with fans. "I know fans have been asking, 'Where's Chiana on all the morning chats?' And I've gotta tell you, I don't have a computer at the moment!" she laughs. "I had this computer I've had since grade 10, and it's sort of falling apart at the edges. Just recently, Anthony Simcoe (D'Argo) helped me find a laptop, something I can take to work and use and stuff. So I've got to apologize for not being on the 'net as much as I want to be. Any day now, the computer will be arriving, and I'll be a lot more punctual."
In the meantime, expect Edgley to be engaging in her usual tactics to "find" Chiana ...though she's still nowhere near the bratty, supernatural, Melrose Place-suitable alien she plays on TV. "About a month and a half into (working on the show), I came onto set one day. I think it was my day off, and I was walking around and I was just in my trackies, and I got asked by three crew members whether I was allowed to be there! They'd never seen me without the Chiana make-up, and I was almost sent off-set! And I'm saying, 'No, I play Chiana!' And they go (affects gruff voice) 'Aww, come on!'"
And how did she prove to them that she's the real deal? "I got into the stance and did the breath work, and they went, "Aww, where have you seen that before?'"
-- Sarah Kuhn