It Takes A Thief
By Michelle Erica Green
Chiana Struggles To Grow Up
Gigi Edgley's a little cross-eyed these days, and not just because of the colored contacts she wears for her role as Chiana on Farscape. "I think we're shooting four different episodes at the moment," she explains. "We're up to the finale of season two, so we're trying to finish all these elements, and jumping between three different ADRs for dubbing. You get to a scene, then, 'OK, here I am - what have I done with you before? Do I still like you? Did we have a fight? Oh no no no, we've just made love, of course!'"
The young Australian actress, who came onto the series for what was originally supposed to be just a couple of episodes, has barely had time to catch her breath since becoming a series regular, playing an alien criminal from a planet where nonconformists face mental reprogramming. Despite her knack for lying, stealing, seducing, and using deadly weapons, Chiana has since discovered that she may have a heart of gold - but it's a pain in the butt to deal with in the treacherous region where Moya travels.
"I think she's still learning the ways of the world, and the spirit of adventure constantly whisks her away," says Edgley, who relates to that aspect of her character. Nothing she studied in her drama classes at Queensland University of Technology could have prepared her for the cutting-edge prosthetic makeup and the state-of-the-art puppetry on Farscape, which are unlike anything else on television at present.
"At the university, we studied parallelling things in our lives to get the emotions and the depth of the scene," recalls the fast-talking, bubbly actress. "So I'm an alien, and my brother's life disc is inside me, and we're warding off these other aliens that are trying to mentally cleanse us...how can I parallel this to my life?"
Through the Looking Glass
Edgley underwent five rounds of auditions and grueling makeup and optometry fittings to win the role of Chiana, which she wanted desperately because she loved the character and was excited at the prospect of being in a Jim Henson Company production. She thought she might have miscalculated when she tried to behave in character for her first reading. "I sat down and did my meditation, walked into the room with my headphones in, my hair in a mat, and there were these six gorgeous creatures sitting there just beautifully immaculate, very comfortably dressed, no makeup, nothing, and I thought, 'Oh god, what have I done? You've gone a bit too far this time, Gig.'"
But the producers were impressed with her acting, and when Chiana emerged after five hours in the makeup trailer, she became part of Farscape's universe. "I was over the moon. I went onto the set to meet the producers and directors. The whole time, they were testing out these contact lenses that were ink blue all the way over, so I couldn't see a thing. Moya's pretty dark, this set that I've never been on before, so I'm tripping over cables and shaking the wrong people's hands. I'm much better behaved, usually!"
Still, it was very intimidating to join a cast that had been together for most of the season already. Edgley credits her comfort level partly to Ben Browder, whom she jokes is "absolutely nuts" but praises as a terrific professional in his role as Crichton. "Ben treats everyone really well," she notes. "I've been in some productions where they treat the supporting cast very separately, but on Farscape it seems to be really equal. He is really respected and deals with his position extremely well."
Browder also helped her deal with the complexities of playing Chiana, who isn't always the nicest person. "Nothing like me," laughs the actress. "I was having a chat with Ben the other day because the writers wanted me to do a pretty nasty thing, and I thought, no one's going to like me after this! She becomes quite intimate with one of the opposing team, against Moya's crew's wishes, and it was making me feel out of line. Ben said, 'Chiana is right on the edge, and she will use her sexuality to fool around with other people's heads. She will use her manipulative wiles because she's not that strong.' He told me, 'It's like this. If you were human, you'd be a slut, but since you're an alien, you're just out there.' Fantastic - thanks Ben!"
Chiana's flirting with Crichton when she arrived on the show disturbed some John/Aeryn relationship fans. She's not going to come between them? "Well, after she has John's baby, it's sort of tense, definitely," jokes Edgley. So who's she been fooling around with - the fan favorite, brutish, brooding D'Argo? "I think you'd better keep an eye on them, is all I can tell you right now. There's some business going on and it's nice stuff to watch. Definitely, they have nice adventures together, shall we say!"
She very much enjoys Chiana's scenes with D'Argo so she can work with Anthony Simcoe. "He taught me how to really focus and stay edgy. It's a long day, so if you don't conserve it, by the end of the day you're buggered, so I love working with Anth. But you've got to be quick with him. You've got to keep your eyes and ears open! I did a short film with him, which was fantastic, because I think his passions are in directing. The whole cast works in very different styles and different ways, and everyone's always ready to push you and really make you work for what you want out of a scene."
Though Chiana's relationship with Crichton is becoming rather filial - he often acts as a sort of big brother towards her, even when she's trying to use her feminine wiles to distract him - there's more tension between the newcomer and former Peacekeeper Aeryn Sun, played by Claudia Black. "She really has a lot of respect for Aeryn that's coming out, but there always seems to be a rift between the two," agrees Edgley. "You'll see us constantly trying to play with the good stuff that's coming from women and their beautiful connections, whether it's maternal or sisterly. The writers seem to have a habit of putting us into one on one, and Claud and I are like, come on, just let us bond for a scene!"
The most fun yet toughest part of the job is acting with the Creature Shop puppets, whom Edgley describes as "phenomenal, just indescribable. To work with them, these creatures that only live in your nightmares or your fantasies, it's scary sometimes in really intense scenes. The animatronics are amazing. You look into these eyes, and they are feeling emotion." However, when the sound system changed so that the voice which came first season from the puppeteer under Rygel began to float in from off the set, it threw the actors for a loop. "I was doing this scene with him and a few other people, and when Rygel said something, I kept looking off-set to where the voice was coming from. And everyone said, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'I'm listening to Rygel!'"
Taking the Stone
Chiana was originally meant to be killed off after episode 15 of the first season. "You know that bullet that just sort of skimmed around? Well, that was meant to get you good, girl!" executive producer David Kemper told Edgley later. Thus she became part of the "bizarre, surreal" ensemble, including the large crew necessary to animate the puppets. "It does become your life, so the support around the set is phenomenal," the actress says. "It's a very intense production to be a part of, because of the prosthetic makeup and the puppetry. You do have to spend a lot of time on the tech. You've got the sound person and the makeup person and the wardrobe person and the director all coming up and saying, 'Don't forget this!' You have to have a clear focus point: what's the one thing I want to do, the one thing I want to get out of each scene."
Though Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe, and guest actors with even more complicated makeup get their own rooms, Edgley shares the main makeup room with Browder and Black, who spend a lot of time joking around together. "I usually get there about four in the morning and go through about three and a half hours, I rarely see the sun," Edgley sighs. But she admits the makeup helps her get into character. "Chiana, she's a little bit sultry and foxy with the makeup. I'll be rehearsing at home in front of the mirror with no makeup, and my boyfriend will walk in and go, 'What are you doing?'" she laughs. "I think Chiana really found me before I found her. She's given me the courage to let fly."
An interesting choice of words. In the episode "Taking the Stone," after Chiana learns of her brother's death because of the failure of his life disc, she takes up with the Clansmen, a group of young people who tested one another with deadly rites of passage including drugs, violence, and leaps into a subterranean pit that killed many of them. Facing down the specter of death, Chiana takes the risk, jumps off a cliff, and "flies."
"The writers are great, and if you have a problem with your lines or a choice that they've made, you can go up and have a chat and they'll tweak it for you," she explains, recalling some difficulty she had in this important Chiana episode. "My brother was originally going to be my sister, but I went through the lines and wasn't coming out with anything good. So I imagined that it was my little brother, and sure enough, the emotions started to well up inside. I went in the next day and said, 'Dave, what would you think if we could change my sister to a brother?' And he said yes."
Edgley calls the writing staff "the gods," and enjoys wandering up to the production office "where they're all playing up there, brainstorming. They're a fantastic team of writers, they put your imagination into play. Quite often they will tweak a scene to make it a little more true to our characters, based on what we do on the set."
"I think Chiana has got a real smorgasbord of emotions she dives into, not only for her own truth, but to fool around with people and ultimately get what she wants," observes Edgley. "Sometimes I think she could be very young - the younger sister who follows you around and hassles you silly - but sometimes her maturity comes through when you least expect it. There's even a maternal quality there, in the oddest sort of circumstances - not nearly to the extent of Zhaan, but she's still learning the ways of the world. You see her take some responsibility and feeling more consequences she has created, which she needs to start doing, but you've got to keep an eye on her because as soon as you think she's learned, she turns around and does some awful thing.
"I don't think she's a bad girl at heart, but she's definitely the bad girl out of the group of goodies," she adds. "It's hard with her because she goes through ten different emotions at once. I think, come on, Chi, just settle on something, please! It helps to find something to pick up on what this little lost alien would be going through, some time in my life where I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, like her. Then my imagination just comes into play."
Is Edgley like Chiana? "Not at all!" she laughs. "I refer to her as 'she' because she'll get in my face. I spend so much time in Chiana makeup that I see more of her than of me. It's kind of bizarre. She allows me a lot of artistic license to play, and really challenges me."
A Bug's Life
"I love my work. I haven't stopped dressing up since I was three, I haven't stopped living in my imagination which is the best world to live in, and I'm so glad I'm getting paid for it!" exclaims the actress, who came to Sydney "with very little money" and got the role on Farscape after working mostly onstage. "It's such a treat to be doing something you really love, even if it's hard work. I was always based in theater, that was my initial passion, but then I got to Sydney and realized I couldn't survive on theater alone, money-wise - we had five students sharing a three-bedroom house for three years just to get by. So I think TV's the way to go." Edgley doesn't recall ever making a conscious decision to become an actor. "I ended up in the drama club, I did a play. I had a choice between psychology in Sydney and acting in Brisbane, it came down to a flip of a coin. My mom's very open-minded, she always said, 'Pursue your passion and create your own reality,' while dad thought, 'Work your ass off and you'll probably get somewhere.' So I decided to have a play at the acting for awhile. What an amazing career it is - to know that dreams can come true, that there are other life forms out there, and it's perfectly okay to believe in them."
During the upcoming hiatus, Edgley hopes to find short-term work on a film or play, "but it's very tricky to try to fit it into the schedule, which is pretty hectic already." On Sundays, her only regular day off, she practices kung fu for her own fitness and to enable Chiana to engage in more physical combat instead of gunfights. She also makes music samplers and plays with her puppy, "just getting my feet on the grass. I think that in the very limited time we've got off, I have to find my balance so I can get through the next week. I love the work, but it is exhausting, so it's very important to find that balance."
Her post-Farscape goals are still nebulous, as they were before she arrived on the hit series. "I really want to be happy, and I really want to be learning, no matter where I am and what I'm doing," she stresses. "I want to travel, and if acting can get me there, fantastic. I want to keep my options open, I want to go into different cultures and explore the different aspects. I think that on the day that I'm not learning or I'm not feeling the love for it anymore, that's the day that I've got to get out of it."
Farscape has just begun to air in Australia, and Edgley only found out for certain that there would be a third season a few weeks ago - a relief to her considering the cliffhanger ending for season two. "At the moment I'm going day by day, constantly happy and learning," she smiles. "But the world's so big, and I want to travel before I go nuts! We're going over to the convention [Creation in Burbank, California August 5-6], and I can't wait. I spend my days on countdown - I'm very excited about it! It'll be fantastic to meet the people who have welcomed us into their homes."
Because the show didn't air in Australia until recently, the actors have relied in the Internet for fan feedback. "It's been fantastic to get into the chat rooms and explore the people," Edgley claims. "I went onto the net the other day when everything was very tense. I saw this Chiana shrine, and I just fell over the keyboard and cried about all these comments from people who just really love Chiana's character."
She posted a message, and within minutes, fans were praising her interest and her work on the show. "It's really reassuring sometimes when you're working on four hours' sleep, trying to get through scene by scene, hoping the character's getting pulled off," Edgley says appreciatively. "I want to thank them so much for their amazing support and helping us be part of their imagination, allowing us to live in that space in the uncharted territories."