Recently, thanks to the folks at Fan Expo Canada, I had a chance to sit down and chat with none other than Edward James Olmos – Admiral William “Husker” Adama himself – about the style of leadership his character brought to Battlestar Galactica.
Why would I do this? Is it because I’m a sci-fi junkie? Is it because I’m a slavering fan-boy devoted to exemplary pieces of geek-culture? Is it because I simply want to get as close as I can to vicariously enjoying the experiences of a starship commander through Olmos?
Well, the answer to all three of these questions is probably: YEAH! So while it might have been an odd topic for an interview, the fact is that this year, Fan Expo Canada was privileged to play host to not just one starship captain, but four. Olmos was joined by Nathan Fillion (Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly), Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek: The Original Series).
So in due deference to this great assemblage of commanders, I wanted to talk about what set Adama apart from the other captains.
PM: What do you think is the most important aspect of command?
EJO: A captain needs a true understanding of the situation presented before him. This gives you clarity of thought in dealing with the obstacles and the prolific nature of human behaviour in an extreme situation. In Battlestar Galactica, there was a clear violation of humanity – I mean, the technology we created had reduced the human race to 49,000 people. Things don’t get any more extreme than that.
PM: What was your captain’s biggest challenge?
EJO: To grasp the immensity of what had just taken place. My character experienced an incredibly difficult position he was thrown in. We were ill-prepared, piloting an obsolete museum of a ship with zero ordinance and we were tasked with the responsibility of defending the human race. We had archaic, analog technology against cutting-edge killing machines. I think my character was well-suited for the challenge because he was that type of guy, but he was still faced with the task of defending humanity against efficient killing machines with out-of-date weaponry, which he didn’t have enough of in the first place. The biggest challenge was the whole story itself.
PM: How are you like your captain?
EJO: Thought process… I think Adama and I think a lot alike. We have the same type of character and the same approach to a lot of problems. I like to think our characters are similar and we tackle problems in the same confrontational approach. Our backgrounds are similar – we’re both fighters.
PM: How are your cast mates like your crew?
EJO: [Battlestar Galactica] was the best usage of television I’ve ever seen. The casting of the program was superb and the crew was like the family to humankind… and like a family to each other. We are probably closer now than when we did our show. The unity we experienced is immeasurable. Jamie Bamber and his wife had three children on that show and I’m the godfather to one of James Callis’s children. We maintain reunions throughout the year – sometimes at Michael’s house, Tricia’s or Katee’s… or Mary’s house. The best cast… or best crew a captain could ever hope to command.
PM: If you could give a role to any of the other captains at Fan Expo Canada, what positions would you find for them?
EJO: They would all be admirals in my fleet. Even though we may be in different series, there are definitely similar scenes in which a captain has to make hard decisions. Like Adama says: sometimes you just have to roll a hard six. Every captain has had to face the same situations.
PM: If there was a final word you could give to a crew of fans, what would you say to them?
EJO: Because of you, we survive. So say we all!
Olmos is one of the great American actors. With performances on stage, television and film, he has truly established himself as an American icon, but Battlestar Galactica provided him with an outlet to demonstrate the immensity of his talent and to take his place as one of the great starship commanders in sci-fi.
The most dominant impression I got from our conversation was the passion with which he described his captain’s character. Though BSG is a work of fiction, this wasn’t a fictional character Olmos was describing to me; this was a real human being to him. Perhaps it was simply his professionalism, but I truly got the sense that everything about Adama and his experiences as commander of the beleaguered and obsolete battlestar were completely valid and authentic as you could imagine.
This was like talking to a war vet about his years of service. That’s how real it felt.
Still, there was a degree of humility and graciousness in the conversation. The real strength didn’t lie in Olmos’s ability to command, but in the strength and trust in those he led as Admiral Adama. The crew and cast he described seemed as genuinely loyal and close-knit as you can imagine. Indeed, they seemed more like family than crew, which places them in direct contrast to some of the stories you hear about other starship captains’ crews.
In short… this was a great interview as well as a golden opportunity to learn about the nature of commanding a space-faring vessel. I may never get my own starship, but if I do, at least this fan-boy will have had a few pointers about how to captain it from one of the best captains in science fiction there have ever been.