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Women at dark heart of Battlestar Galactica

Humanity has been all but wiped out, and less than 50,000 survivors of the human race are floating through space in search of a new home world, all the while fending off predators. Yet there's more than this simple space opera premise to the worldwide hit Battlestar Galactica.

The ground-breaking U.S. TV show, an emotionally exhausting reenvisioning of the classic 1970s show of the same name, explores issues of stress under fire, democracy, trust, love and religion, all with the strongest ensemble of female characters ever assembled in one TV show.

"Certainly when we were embarking on Battlestar in 2003, it was more uncommon to have not just one or two, but the bulk of the strong characters on the show being women...maybe too many," Grace Park laughs as she talks to The Daily Yomiuri during a visit to Tokyo to promote the newly released Battlestar Galactica Season 2 DVDs.

"Sometimes it was like, 'OK, I'm tired of saving your ass Helo [played by Tahmoh Penikett]. Because you are five inches [13 centimeters] taller than me, you could kick me to the moon and back, and I shouldn't be saving you. I think maybe it was a metaphor for the weakness and the vulnerability of human beings and men in general, because they were not as strong as we think, and they were all flawed as well," she said

In the case of Park's character Sharon "Boomer" Valerii and Six, played by Tricia Helfer, the characters are not merely two strong women, they are two of many copies, giving each of the actresses multiple versions of the same characters to play. Early in the pilot episodes, it becomes clear the two women are infiltrators, human versions of the Cylons, a race of robots created and abandoned by humans. Six is dangerous from the outset, sexually manipulating the top mind in the solar system to leave billions of people defenseless to the coming Cylon invasion. Sharon, however, is a more complex character who is in love with at least two other characters and is unaware or unaccepting of her intended role in the war against the humans. For Park, this variety within the same character proved a challenge.

"The point was to have all these different characters to enhance the story, not to lose people," says Park, who made her Hollywood debut in Jet Li's Romeo Must Die.

"I think [the challenge] was really to make [my characters] believable for an audience member...[so] you'd be able to tell, and continue to be able to tell [who was who] all the way through. There's no guidebook on how to do this. I kind of longed for [Trisha's] characters, because they seemed to be more differentiated. When I seemed to be getting my characters far enough away [from each other,] something would happen that would get them intertwined once again. That was kind of the bane of my existence.

"I [also] enjoyed watching her do what she did and the ferocity she had. I was definitely scared of her," she says.

Arguably strongest among the characters is that of Viper pilot Kara Thrace, best known by her call sign "Starbuck." Played by Dirk Benedict in the original 1978-79 series and by Katee Sackhoff in the current incarnation, which will end this year, in its fourth season, the reaction to the Battlestar writers' decision to change the womanizing, cigar-smoking man into a woman met strong resistance and flak from hardcore fans of the original cult series. Park, however, escaped unscathed from that backlash, despite the original Boomer having been portrayed by a black man, not a Korean-Canadian model-turned-actress.

"I did not get that. I always say I owe Katee my first child or something. She took the brunt of the negativity. Essentially it was a backlash, because some people were into the old Starbuck. But we put it out to him [Dirk Benedict] to be part of our series, but I guess that wasn't his cup of tea."

The strength of the female characters and the strength of the stories even led one TV critic for Britain's Guardian newspaper to call Battlestar Galactica the best TV show ever made. The script for the 2003 miniseries, which would serve as the pilot, was good, Park says, but she didn't realize how good. "I didn't really have the eye that [Edward James] Almos and Mary McDonnel did. They praised the series, and those two had said they wouldn't go into sci-fi, either for the first time or again. They recognized something in the writing that made them willing to sign a five- or six-year contract. I knew it was good, but I didn't know how great it was. I don't know how many people really foresaw it getting to the level that it really did.

"Is it the best television show ever made? I think that's obviously subjective, I think there's room at the top for more than just one," she says. "Do I think it's going to last the test of time? I think it's making history."

(Feb. 27, 2009)
AP News
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