Mark A. Sheppard
The first person to step up to the microphone wanted Mark to tell an interesting story about meeting fans and what character he’s most recognized as. Mark was quick to note that he had “played a lot of memorable characters” in many different shows. “The fan reception is incredible.” As for anecdotes, he mentioned a lady who came up to him in a shopping mall while he was with his two young sons and called him a “creepy, creepy man”. Mark enjoys all the fan reception. “To be recognized for anything you do is an honor.” He feels that with the advent of the Internet, lines have become blurred between actors and fans and they can now communicate with one another more comfortably and actors can receive feedback for the work they do. “It’s looove.”
“By the way, all questions today must be in the form of a question”, Mark added before going on.
The next question was about Mark’s favorite and least favorite things about Badger. His least favorite was that he “didn’t get to do more.” His favorite was that “as soon as you saw him, you know who he was… you know exactly who he is. There’s a beautiful optimism about him. He actually thinks that Mal and Jayne are going to like him.” He goes on to talk about the scene where Badger, Mal, and Jayne have tea and how that was filmed very late at night at the end of the shoot in a different studio. Adam Baldwin had eaten an entire plate of sandwiches by the time they got through all their takes and they had run out of sugar for the tea. “We’ve done it before. We’ve done it on the show. There was a feeling of the three of us being together and trying to make something happen.” A small child yelled out while Mark was in the middle of talking. “Hey! I know that sound. I have two of them. I love that sound.” He continued, “The unifying thing was that we loved it. It was an amazing experience beyond the normal experience.” He asked the audience member if that answered his question. When the fan said yes, Mark replied, “Well, I’ll shut up then.”
The next question was whether Mark would be reprising his role on Battlestar Galactica. “Absolutely. Yes,” Mark replied to huge cheers. A big part of his return is the fan reaction. Ron Moore, while doing a book signing in upstate New York, him sent him a text, “You have *censormode*ing fans everywhere!” It was his favorite continuing show as a viewer before he got the part, but of course he pointed out that Firefly was also a brilliant show but is not currently continuing. He feels that both Battlestar and Firefly are staffed with incredibly talented people and he had similar positive experiences with both shows. “The geeks are taking over the world!”
The next question was about what music Mark’s been into recently. “I listen to everything”, was his answer. “I love music.” He did mention that his kid is into Guitar Hero, so a lot of what he’s listening to now is whatever’s on those games. “There’s a lot of stuff I listen to, from Amy Winehouse to AC/DC. I love the fact that my 7 year old is into AC/DC!”
The next person wanted to know what his most rewarding experience in acting other than sci-fi has been. Mark feels that he’s been gifted by good writers. “There are only two types of characters that are worth playing to me. The first is the last sane man in the universe. That’s the only person that has a clue to what’s going on. It’s basically Eddie Albert in Green Acres… The other type of character worth playing is the guy who sells the whole human race out before you’ve left the planet, which is Dr. Zachary Smith or Gaius Baltar.” He feels that “Badger has a bit of both. He thinks he’s the last sane man in the universe, but he’s actually the one who sold out mankind.”
There were a couple of quick questions next. One wanted to know what Mark’s favorite character was. “It’s always the next one. I like all of them.” Another wanted to know how tall he was. “Seven foot three and a half inches. And growing.”
I went up to the mic to ask the next question. “I know you! You’re doing a bad job at stalking me if I keep recognizing you.”, Mark quipped, much to my embarrassment and everybody’s laughs. The question was about his character on The Bionic Woman and how much we would be seeing him during the series. “I’m a regular on the show.” He’s all for seeing strong female characters on TV. When talking about his character, Anthony Anthros, Mark said, “I may or may not have been incarcerated at a certain prison which I may or may not escape from aided and abetted by the great Thomas Kretschmann… and I may or may not be setting up my own world domination enterprise or whatever, but I am very much the creator of Sarah Corvis… I get to be a creepy, incestuous creator.”
Mark then decided to share his favorite Ron Glass story since Ron wasn’t there. He was a big fan of All in the Family and Ron. There’s an episode where three characters are telling their versions of a story and in Archie Bunker’s version, Ron’s character is like something out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and he’s eating an apple with a knife in a menacing way. When it came time to do the scene in “Shindig” where Book approaches Badger with a Bible, Mark asked for an apple to use in the scene as an homage to Ron. Later, Mark told Ron why he used the apple in the scene to Ron’s amazement. Ron told him that the hardest part of that All in the Family episode was doing the Uncle Tom parts. The admiration was clear in Mark’s voice when he called Ron an “amazing actor” and one who “always pushes the boundaries.”
The next person noted that many of Mark’s characters are shady and wondered whether it was just coincidence or was something that came from Mark. “Have you been talking to my ex wife?” he joked. “I have this argument with everyone. I don’t think there’s any such thing as good and bad. When we’re dealing with stories like Firefly, we’re dealing with necessity and we’re dealing with opi
nion. We’re dealing with what is needed to be done. What has to be done to survive? We’re talking about life and death… I tend to play characters that are the either the last sane man in the universe or guy that sells them out in the beginning, but I never play the bad guy. I don’t play bad guys. I play people who have differing opinions on the war and are ready to go to any lengths to execute that opinion.” He feels that an actor has to “absolutely believe in” whatever the character believes in order to be convincing. The best writers give room for that moral ambiguity.
There were some more microphone issues prior to the next question, which was about what Mark used as inspiration personally when developing Badger. “It’s written. It’s the same as Romo. I don’t go pulling things from the ether. I think when the writing’s good, and the writing is good… the character is there.” He feels that it is “collaborative in the best sense, not dictating what something is” because writers will rewrite and change things based on things they like the actor doing. “I don’t think any of them are me. They’re all me ‘if.’ Me, if this. Me, given a few circumstances.”
Since Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica was a bit of a kleptomaniac, the next question was whether people had taken props from the set. “Never. There was a sort of sacrosanct aura to the props.” Mark mentions how he took Baltar’s pen four times in the show but it was only shown twice. He really liked how he left the cane at the end of his last episode since it was like he was shedding the character. It all goes back to his theme of the panel, which is everything “comes from the writing.” The questioner noted that he’s luckier than Hugh Laurie because he got to put the cane down. “Oh, I love Hugh Laurie. I should have played his brother on that show. He’s such a good actor. He’s faking it too.”
The next person, an Australian, bantered with Mark prior to asking her question. “There’s a big fanbase for Firefly in Australia… That’s the thing about this, it’s the whole world is watching it now. It used to be years and years later but now it’s the whole world watching and sharing and talking about it. I do go on forums. I’ve been going on forums since it was scary back in the X-Files days. I was on the X-Files AOL forum ‘Hi, I’m Mark, I played Cecil on the show.’ They were like, ‘Liar, liar! If it was you what were you singing when you were on?’… I told them, then they were like ‘Yeah, it is him’ then they would never talk to me! I thought, ‘Did I do something wrong?’” He then went on to talk about how his dad’s a Klingon. “Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Movie. My father is the Klingon on the prison planet. This led to the actual question, which was about Mark’s father, actor William Morgan Sheppard, and whether he would encourage his own kids to act. Mark felt that he didn’t have a choice with his kids since they go to Comic-Con every year. He also showed a lot of pride in his father, mentioning some of his projects, like The Prestige, and the fact that he’s worked with him.
The next question was about what kind of character or storyline he would prefer if he had a choice to play a romantic lead. “I can see myself as Malcolm Reynolds. Problem with me as romantic lead is people think I’m there to kill them. I see myself as a romantic lead; I think Badger is a romantic lead, but obviously you don’t.” When the audience “awwed”, he said, “Wait until you see Bionic Woman.” He finds that “the perception of people is a very interesting thing” in that regard. “I’ve played leads in movies, but not so much on television.”
Segueing to another of Mark’s projects, Medium, the next question was whether Mark had met the real Allison DuBois and had any paranormal experiences of his own. “I have met Allison DuBois many times.” He even had a paranormal experience involving her. “My wife was seven and a half months pregnant when we were wrapping up the first season and Allison was there and I was talking to her husband who was trying to get away from people and he’s like, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute cause I’m trying to get away from those people.’ Sure! I had no idea who he was but he introduced himself Joe DuBois and I went, ‘How do I know that name? Oh my God, it’s him’… His wife comes right up…walks right over to my wife, puts her hand on her belly, looks at my wife and says, ‘Practically a rocket scientist, in case you’re interested.’ This was a source of great trouble for us because we’re like, ‘He’s practically a rocket scientist’ – does that mean he’s standing next to the guy who is the rocket scientist? Is he trying to be a rocket scientist?’ What I’m really coming at is that paranormal experiences could be more trouble than they’re worth.”
After more microphone issues when the next person dropped the microphone, she wanted to know how Mark would have liked to see Badger develop had Firefly continued. “I was happy to let Joss do what he wanted to do", Mark replied. He also “doesn’t want to get spoiled” so he’ll talk to writers about anything but the show they’re working on. “If the writers ask, I tell them but I’m happy to let them do what they do.” He shared a story of how Joss loved his turn on Battlestar, and actually sent him a fan email through Jane Espenson. He added that Joss thinks it is the greatest show on TV now. Mark added, “I like that writers are fans of good writers.”
Around this time some audience members started to leave, probably to get to another panel. “Is it something I said? Is it something I didn’t say?” There was still time for a few more questions, however, and the next one was about how intense Mark’s experience working on 24 was. “I felt remarkably unfulfilled”, was his reply. He felt that while the crew were quite talented and professional with what they do, the writers were “constantly writing their way out of things”, in contrast to writers on shows like Firefly or Battlestar where they know where they’re going in terms of plot and storyline. “I love the show… and I was very happy to have had the job.”
Prompted by the next questioner’s shirt (“More Romo”), Mark decided to let the audience know why his character was called Romo on Battlestar. “The first two letters in Ron Moore’s name are RO and MO.” The question was about Mark’s CGI snake story from the movie Boa. Steeling himself up for the tale, Mark goes into how they set up a green screen scene where a CGI snake was going to come up from an airplane floor and attack him. The loud fans start up (sound effects supplied by Mark), the director yells “Action!” and Mark does his scene. “Cut!” the fans die down (more sound effects) and then the director says, “It’s a little gay. Butch it up.” Mark also remembered seeing Dean Cain hanging on the end of the aircraft by his fingertips. “That man has more upper body strength than any human has a right to have! No wonder he was friggin’ Superman. He’s amazing!”
The final question of the panel was about magic and whether Mark does any. “Love it. I actually did it in The X-Files with the cigarette.” He feels that
a lot of what television and movies do anyway is magic and that it fits very well in the sci-fi world because it uses imagination. “There should be a place for magic in the real world too. Look at a kid watching a magician. It’s the most incredible thing to watch. Total suspension of disbelief.”
On this final magical note, the panel ended.