Exclusive Interview: Mark Sheppard, from 'Battlestar Galactica'
Exclusive Interview: Mark Sheppard, from 'Battlestar Galactica'
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
Over the years, Mark Sheppard has developed quite a resume of memorable television characters: Bob the Caretaker (The X-Files), Badger (Firefly), Dr. Charles Walker (Medium), Ivan Erwich (24) and the aptly-named Chameleon (Special Unit 2). But his most recent work as Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica has broadened his fan base in ways even he could not have imagined. As Gaius Baltar’s attorney in the climactic last three episodes of season three, Sheppard was dropped into a cauldron of simmering emotions and intense plot lines all coming to a head – yet he still feels compelled to compare Romo to someone as normal as Oliver, Eddie Albert’s character on Green Acres.

This week, Mark talked with BuddyTV, discussing at great length and in great depth his Battlestar Galactica character, Romo Lampkin. The full mp3 audio file is below, along with a transcript that has been edited due to length.
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Today I am speaking with actor Mark Sheppard, who has played many different roles on many different television shows, most recently as Baltar’s smarmy lawyer Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica

I object your Honor. I object to the word “smarmy.” What gives you the idea I’m smarmy? What a terrible thing to say about somebody. Why do you think I’m smarmy?

Smarmy is…well, that’s how he’s perceived as being. That’s how you played him, right? Wasn’t that the intent?

Perceived as being by you, not perceived as being by me. He’s not smarmy in the slightest. The smartest man in the universe as far as I’m concerned. The last sane man in the universe.

Oh, that’s right. I did listen to your podcasts, by the way, which I thought were fabulous.

Why thank you.

I know it was a little difficult, especially the last two that you had to do on your own.

Yeah, I was just watching. I was enjoying it too much, I think.

Well, still. I know that you were actually a fan of Battlestar Galactica and watching the show before you were even approached for the role, and so, I mean, you had all sorts of great insights. It’s definitely beneficial that you knew what was going on going into it.

Yeah, I did. I was lucky enough to – I know both Ron [Moore] and David [Eick] through mutual friends. Ron used to be roommates with Rene Echevarria, who is now executive producer on Medium, which I’ve just now done my third episode of Medium. So we were introduced that way. It actually all started with Javier [Grillo-Marxuach], who introduced me to Naren. Naren Shankar is a great friend of his, and Naren and Rene and Ron all went to school together.

So, it’s all Javi’s fault?

So, thanks to the great Javier Grillo-Marxuach, I am introduced to a gaggle of friends who tend to keep me employed. Which is a rather wonderful thing.

Yeah, and I think he’s employed you in a gaggle of roles as well.

He has, some of which never made it to screen. But he’s definitely written some wonderful roles for me. I’ve had a lot of fun with Jav. He’s a great, great writer. That does help when people are writing for you. “Hey, I’ve written you something really good.” – and it’s terrible, would be really, really sad. But the Romo thing is fun. Sorry, what were you going to ask?

No, that’s alright.

It’s because you called me “smarmy” – I got the right to interrupt you now…forever. Smarmy…

I’ve got your dander up?

No, you just reduced a character of, I hope, somewhat reasonable depth and weight, as “smarmy.”

I’ve totally stereo-typed you. I’m sorry, your character.

Not stereo-typed – pigeon-holed is what you have.

I’ve pigeon-holed you. Well, you broke out of the pigeon-hole. And you have the rest of the conversation where you can defend him as being “non-smarmy” all you want.

No, I’ll just keep coming back to “smarmy” for the rest of the conversation. Go on. Ask me a question.

When I listened to those podcasts that you did, you mentioned that Romo is your favorite character that you’ve ever played. Is that true?

Yeah, I think so. There’s an awful lot to Romo. I mean there’s a lot to – I’ve been lucky enough to play some wonderful characters. And there’s a lot to a lot of them, if you know what I’m saying.

But as far as layers are concerned and possibilities are concerned, I think Romo is a truly wonderful character. Ron said something nice when he was in. He told me that they had written this, and said, “Oh by the way – I’ve got you something. Three episodes of Battlestar.” Which is a very bizarre way to startle me in his kitchen.

I’d like to be startled that way.

It’s very, very weird. It was a very, very, very weird day. But it was kind of brilliant. I think he took great delight, and as I take great delight, in the fact that most of the time I tend to play what are termed “villains” – I don’t think of people as villains, but people with massively different agendas than the heroes usually in our pictures, especially in sci-fi. And this, I think, is very, very different. I think Romo is very, very different. I mean…somebody asked me, “Do you think he’s a cylon?” First thing Eddie [Edward James Olmos] said was, “The first thing I’d be thinking was: he’s a cylon.” I’m like, but does it really matter? Does it matter whether he’s a cylon? It actually doesn’t. I mean, his principles are extraordinary. His logic is I think extraordinary.

It’s just because he’s very deliberate in the way that he executes what he does. As a character – the character is written very deliberately, in a manner that he has a very different set of moral values than the people around him. Which I think is an absolutely amazing thing to play. Plus being a kleptomaniac, you know – if you have a bizarre trait it doesn’t hurt along the way. Michael Angeli’s [writer] kind of brilliant when it comes to that kind of writing.

Oh yeah. He’s fantastic. I like what you said in one of the podcasts, I think it was for “Crossroads, Part 2,” you believe that Romo is truly the only sane person.

I got the quote. The “last sane man in the universe.”

“The last sane man…” I like that.

All the great characters, I think, that have ever been in films and on television have been the last sane man in the universe. I think there are two; my two favorite characters are usually the last sane man in the universe and the guy that sold everybody out before it started.

That was Badger, right?

No, no, no – the guy that sold it out before everything started is Gaius Baltar. Or Zachary Smith from Lost in Space. I mean, before the show starts, he’s already sold everybody out. I love those characters. Those are the great characters to play. The other one is the man who wanders through. Like the Eddie Albert in Green Acres character. I think Romo is like Eddie Albert in Green Acres. How’s that? He’s Oliver in Green Acres.

Oh really? There’s an interesting analogy. I was thinking he was more like the Jiminy Cricket.

Nah.

He’s Apollo’s Jiminy Cricket – he was his conscience; he’s the one who brought that out, don’t you think?

Nah, I’m not Apollo’s conscience. I don’t think I have anything to do with Apollo’s conscience. No… but I like the fact that people have different opinions about where Romo is, and I think it’s kind of a brilliant thing about him is that – all you gotta remember is that his rules are different than anybody else’s. And I think the easiest way to remember it is – it’s the result that counts. It’s not the methodology by which one achieves the result. And if you look at Lee and Admiral Adama and the President – it’s all about the methodology. It’s agonizing about whether they’re doing the right thing while they’re doing it. And with Romo it’s like – f*ck it, just do it. What you need to do is achieve justice.

I mean, that’s the point. Is justice achieved at the end of “Crossroads, Part 2”? I think so. I think that’s the point. I think there should be no other outcome to the trial. And I think that is Romo’s job – by any means necessary.

Well also, he revealed the flaw in the system – the fact that there was no system anymore.

Right. You know, I think Jamie [Bamber] put it best in that lovely piece of writing and a lovely piece of acting with that section – I don’t know where the writing ends and the acting begins in that speech he has, but there’s a lovely piece where he says basically we’re a gang. Jamie was always talking about -- these are rules for 51 billion people. This is a system for 51 billion people. This isn’t the system for the 40,000 people that are left. It’s not. It’s a completely different thing. You can’t run this type of system with a very quickly disintegrating human race. It needs to be looked at in a different way. The pomp and circumstance are there, and they’re all very caught up in the methodology.

And that’s the point. That’s why Romo wins. They’re all caught up in the romanticism of the trial. And it’s quite right. They want to throw [Baltar] out of the airlock so they can move on. That’s the point. And he didn’t do it. He didn’t do what they accused him of doing. He did do an awful lot of things, I mean, we know as viewers of the show – forget about what Romo knows. That’s a separate issue as well. But as viewers of the show, we know that he did something that we would all be guilty if we did it. …isn’t it?

Well yeah.

But it is taken care of in “Taking a Break [From All Your Worries,” Episode 3.13]. It’s the greatest line – “it can’t be treason without intent.” If there’s no willful intent, it’s not treason. You understand what I’m saying? It’s a very important line. So morally yes – the moral substitute that is Baltar. It’s only…his brilliance is only marred by his guilt. He’d be a very different person if he didn’t spend his entire time going, “oh my god oh my god oh my god – I destroyed Caprica.”

Well, and if his motivations were less self-focused…maybe.

They have to be self-focused because it’s continuously self-preservation. I mean, one can be self-focused and one can be self-focused. I love his character in the context of he has no choice. He’s yet again another product of this society, which I think is fantastic. He’s privy to certain circumstances with Head Six [Tricia Helfer] and the stuff that happened on New Caprica and the subsequent stuff that happened with the cylons on the cylon ship.

He’s privy to stuff that is mind-blowing, I think. And, I’m constantly in awe of the way this universe has been created by Ron and David and the rest of the writers. I just think it’s fantastic the way it is done. It’s constantly making questions; not giving answers.

It’s one of the things – I know you’re picking on me about listening to the podcasts, but I’ve listened to every one of Ron Moore’s podcasts. And I don’t even have to watch it with the episode because he gives so much background and so much thought. It’s impressive just to listen to how much he’s put into this, and we get this one scene, but there is so much more that’s not there.

That’s why on the last two podcasts I did, I didn’t go into much detail because, I’m going, “you know what, it’s been done.” He’s done it. He’s told everybody what it is. It would be awfully presumptuous of me to repeat it.

He’s kind of fantastic at it, which is what I was alluding to. Ron is very good at doing these things. It’s different when I’m sitting with – the one with me and Angeli. It’s just me and Angeli having a great deal of fun. And it’s nice to have Angeli bring other aspects of the episode. But yeah, there is so much going on. He (Ron) has such an overview, such a purview of the characters and the world. It’s fantastic to listen to – and it actually doesn’t disturb your watching of the show, which is kind of bizarre. John Frankenheimer did a movie called The Train – he did a commentary on the laser disc for The Train and you can literally listen to his commentary and watch the movie at the same time and its fine. He gives you all this wonderful information. But yeah, the world is an incredible place. Ron and David’s world is an amazing place to play.

Ask me another question about the last sane man in the universe being smarmy.

How about that scene in the courtroom, in Baltar’s courtroom. Well, it’s not really a courtroom, but the big room they used.

The hanger bay.

The hanger bay that has been made to look like a courtroom. How was it being locked up with a bunch of the same actors in the same places for two to three days going over and over and over it? Was it fascinating for you?

That was two to three days? I thought that was more like a week. It was long – we were there a long time.

Was it like doing a play after awhile? Where you’re all in the same spots?

Yeah. It was like Twelve Angry Men. The takes were nine, eleven, fourteen minutes long. Each piece we did was between nine and fourteen minutes long, and [director Michael] Rymer would put up cameras, three cameras, and we’d shoot. And we’d shoot at the same intensity and the same ferocity from the beginning to end of whatever section we were doing. We’d go as far as we could go. So Jamie’s penultimate scene…Apollo’s penultimate scene – his wonderful speech at the end – actually the beginning of that take is the interrogation of Gaeta. So it starts with Chelah Horsdal, “Cassidy” starting the interrogation of Gaeta, and it goes all the way through to the end with “No further questions.”

And we did it all in a day. That was a day’s worth of shooting. And it was an amazing piece to do. And I remember Rymer looking at it and going, “Hold on a second, I, uh – our chapters are only nine minutes long. How the hell are we gonna get fourteen minutes into a nine minute chapter?” That’s for the commercials. It was great.

I mean, what a place to play. Everybody was laughing at us. We’d have the factions, of course, where the chairs were, you could see the set – very, very cool set – and you know, there would be Jamie, James [Callis] and myself, and we’d revert to our natural accents while we were sitting there, jabbering on.

I know, it was the Brits’ Table, I saw. Y’all had the Brits’ Table where y’all were all “defensive.”

In a way, oh yes, absolutely. We’d be blah blah and laughing, then suddenly I’m Irish, Jamie’s American, and even James’ voice changes when he’s Baltar, which is interesting, fascinating. And the funniest thing is that everyone had to sit in the bleachers, so Mary [McDonnell] was sitting in the bleachers and the rest of ‘em were sitting in the bleachers. And Tahmoh [Penikett] was there behind me and Alessandro [Juliani] and all the rest of those guys, but they wouldn’t talk to us at times. It was getting very…there were factions. I think Mary was throwing stuff at us occasionally, “I’m not talking to you.” It was like the different camps.

It was like a very bizarre play. But it was extraordinarily intense – it wasn’t light at all. It was very, very, very good. It was very deep and very good. I mean, we – it was an amazing way to play. It was a lovely way to play, and it’s a set unlike any other set, and it was a group of actors unlike any other actors. Even from some of the actors who I would presume to say, it actually does them a great disservice to say, may not have been as experienced as some of the others. I mean, they’re all fantastic. They’re all fantastic. Without naming names, they’re people there that don’t have much dialog who I think are unbelievable. Unbelievable at what they do. So it’s a nice place to go to work. Does that answer your hanger deck question?

Oh yeah. That answers my hanger deck question. You’re being mean.

I am not. It’s just convenient for you to feel picked upon. Remember – “we’re looking for results. The methodology is of no importance.”

Now you’re getting all philosophical on me.

I’m getting a bit Romo on you, I think.

You’re “Romo”-ing me. It’s now a verb.

You know – well, if you’ve seen the stuff on the internet. It’s hysterical. It’s brilliant.

Yes, yes I have, as a matter of fact.

I was in London and I was doing some publicity and some other things. I was in a couple of conventions, and I actually went and played poker on television – on Sky. And they introduced me and played a three-minute clip of Battlestar. Which they don’t do on the Poker Channel. It’s not what they do. So they were all standing and watching it – and Sky had obviously given them the clip. They were like “wow, this is really cool.”

I came from that and arrived home and everything was real fun. There was a little bit of a buzz going. I had seen people at conventions in England and it was great to meet Battlestar fans in England. I arrived back and I called NBC and was like “I hear something’s going on at the Cineramadome in Hollywood – Can I get an invite?” And they were like “Of course!” And I show up and it went bananas. It went crazy. First of all, there were like 200 people with “More Romo” signs.

Which was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. It was lovely. I was sitting with Eddie and Bob…the director, Bob Young, from – the director of fabulous episodes, he did the boxing episode.

He did that “Son Also Rises” one, your first one, too.

Correct. He did my introduction piece. Which – greatest respect to him – I think something that is post-Maelstrom…something that comes after an episode as big as Maelstrom is a helluva thing to follow. I mean, you’re gonna have pretty much of a downer episode and it was like a mausoleum on the set. It was extraordinary. But I think he made a very, very interesting study; it was the human study piece that really caught my eye.

So I’m with Bob and Ari, a young star with Eddie from court – fantastic Irish actor – and we got to watch “Crossroads, Part 2,” on the big screen. It’s incredible. And I’m just having this amazing day and red carpet, and…Lucy Lawless. Great pictures of Lucy Lawless hanging off me. Made my day. It’s lots of fun, press photos. And everybody was just so up, and the fans are so cool. And we did the big Q&A, and Eddie got up at the end and had me stand up and led a chant of “More Romo.” Which I will never forget and which I thought was absolutely fantastic. I felt much loved and much appreciated, you know? That’s what it’s about. I had an idea that the character was liked. It’s a great character – an amazing character to play. But I didn’t realize that it would have quite the impact that it had. You know?

Well, it was so different. It kind of put an everyman, you know, kind of a smarmy everyman, but an everyman nonetheless, in the middle of this universe that we already have established.

Wow. I like that. You see him as a “smarmy everyman.” That’s kind of interesting. No, I’m dead serious. It’s interesting to me. I wouldn’t – those two words would never enter my vocabulary. I’m not saying you’re wrong.



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