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Mark A. Sheppard

Mark A. Sheppard - "Battlestar Galactica" Tv Series - Ign.com Interview

Friday 30 March 2007, by Webmaster

When I first began to talk to Mark Sheppard about his new role on Battlestar Galactica, the actor put it to me as simply as he could, saying, "I think I have the best character on the best show on television." Sheppard is a very familiar face to TV fans, including notable roles as Badger on Firefly, as Ivan Earwich (AKA "Yellow Tie Man") on 24, and as the evil Dr. Charles Walker on Medium. He made his debut on Galactica this past week, as the memorably named Romo Lampkin, a defense attorney who takes the case of none other than the infamous Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis). Sheppard will be appearing in the final three Galactica episodes of the season, and the day after his first appearance aired, I spoke to him about his experience working on the acclaimed series.

When I asked how he got the part, Sheppard replied, "I’m a huge fan of the show. Absolutely huge fan," and noted that he is friends with Galactica executive producer Ron Moore and his wife Terry. "I know Ron through [CSI Executive Producer] Naren Shankar and [Medium Executive Producer] Rene Echevarria. They all started at Star Trek together. Ron and I got to be friends and talked and talked and I said, ’When I grow up, I want to be a Cylon.’ And he tried to make that happen. It was gonna maybe happen last year, and I wasn’t available and it just didn’t work out. I was in the middle of doing Medium. I was totally crestfallen, because it’s my favorite show, without question. Battlestar is, I think, the best written show on television."

Sheppard then recalled being at a party with Moore and Galactica’s other Executive Producer David Eick, "And David said, ’You still want to be a Cylon, right?’ I said, ’David, I’ll play anything!’ He said, ’We may have a trial coming up at the end of the season,’ and I said, ’Keep me in mind.’ Then I was at Ron’s house, and he said, ’I have something for you.’ And I said, ’What’s that?’ ’Three episodes of Battlestar.’ I nearly fell over! I read the first script and Michael Angeli’s characterization of Romo, which I think is fantastic. There’s a lot more stuff then was in the episode. The intro scene [for Romo] was a three page monologue about fear, which was taken out. There wasn’t room for it. But it explains the puzzled look on Laura Roslin’s face and, ’I’m glad to hear you’re not afraid about defending the most hated man in the universe!’ Because I’d just given her a massive speech about fear, very weirdly."

Sheppard recalled arriving in Vancouver to work on the show, "and everybody’s like, ’Okay, why does smarty-pants here have all this amazing dialogue to say? Who is this guy?’ And we sat and did a table read, and as soon as we finished the table read, everyone was like, ’Oh, we’re gonna have some fun!’ I was welcomed with open arms. Edwards James Olmos is the most extraordinary individual. Lovely, lovely, open man. Very much into the acting; very much into the doing. If people are there to play and to make it better, there isn’t anything he won’t do to support that. The same goes for Mary [McDonnell]. They really do lead from the top."

Sheppard talked about how delighted he was to explore his character’s connection to Joseph Adama, the lawyer father of Admiral William Adama (Olmos) and grandfather of Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber). "I’m sort of like the real son of the grandfather in a way," Sheppard observed. "I was always described as the protégé of Joseph Adama, which I think was fascinating to play. Because obviously, without giving away too much of what’s coming up next, I’m fighting what Baltar calls ’The Emerging Aristocracy.’ I’m fighting the Royal Family. And I’m fighting with a bunch of people who believe that Baltar doesn’t actually deserve a trial, which is kind of frightening, really, if you think about it. Because that therefore makes me the last custodian of sanity in the universe. [In this] military-industrial complex, which has now been reduced to 40,000-odd people, if we throw out the conventions that make us civilized, everything goes. We’re worse then the Cylons, and we’ll never survive. And I think that’s the major point of my argument, and the major point of Joe Adama’s argument, is that not only is everybody entitled to a trial, but everybody’s entitled to a good one. They’re entitled to fair and reasonable representation and a chance at proving a point."

Sheppard revealed that the "bonus scene" at the end of this coming Sunday’s episode ("Crossroads, Part 1"), "Is Lee saying, ’Well you know he’s guilty, right?’ To which the answer is, ’Well, he’s guilty of something. We all are. But is he guilty of an actual crime? No. Absolutely not. Has he done anything separating himself from the royal family? Absolutely. Will they kill him for it? Quite possibly! But has he actually done something? I don’t think so. I don’t think they can prove he did anything at all.’ So I’m fighting a system that unfortunately breaks its own rules, continually. I think it’s a fantastic character to play. And now I have two [more] episodes to take apart the entire structure I think."

When I asked Sheppard what it was like coming in to do such a large part on a show with an already established cast he answered, "Once they got past the, ’Who is this guy and why does he have all this cool stuff to say?’, Jamie, James and myself, we became known as The Three Amigos, after ten or fifteen minutes. All of our stuff was together for three episodes. It was a wonderful experience working with Jamie and James. Two of the smartest men I’ve ever met." Sheppard also explained how Olmos took him out to dinner, "And I got the most extraordinary evening of wonderful stories, just trying to pick his brains about his experiences. And how much he loves the show and how much he cares about his cast. The same is with Mary." He added that the cast, "were actually surprised that I loved the show and had seen every episode to that point. Because there’s gonna be situations where some actors won’t. Episode five or so had just aired of the season, and there I was shooting episode 17."

Sheppard’s first episode actually came right after a rather massive upheaval for the show. "I arrived just as Katee [Sackhoff] had been killed off," the actor noted. "So Starbuck is dead and I’m like, ’What?! No way. Whoa... What the hell is going on?!’ It was the most extraordinary feeling on the set. It truly was mourning going on. It was a very, very odd energy around, which you can totally understand. It was a huge, tactile loss to the cast. And every question came up [for me]. ’How the hell is Caprica Six on Galactica right now? What is going on?!’ Eddie was like, ’Well, I directed an episode. I think you should watch this, because now you can know what’s going on with Baltar.’ And he was absolutely right. He gave me a copy of ’Taking a Break From All Your Worries,’ which I think is a fantastic episode. And I was like, ’Oh wow... All of this has changed!’ I didn’t know the Cylon position for the last ten episodes, and so it was such an extraordinary learning curve. It was such a wonderful thing. To be asked to play in this playing field is a remarkable thing. I have friends who are very good actors who want to kill me now, because I’ve done Battlestar, their favorite show. I would have played anything, but to be allowed to do this much..."

I was curious where the idea came from that Lampkin would wear sunglasses nearly all the time, and Sheppard explained, "That’s [Michael] Angeli. Angeli wears sunglasses a lot." Sheppard noted that Lampkin was, "Originally conceived as an older character. I think a 55 year old character." He elaborated on his feeling that Lampkin, by being the lawyer Bill and Lee are not, is, "almost like Joseph Adama’s second family, who actually followed in his foot steps. That’s where I started from. That was my theory. So I think there’s a very intense situation between myself and Bill Adama, because I know a lot about him. I know a lot about where he comes from, because I know his father. The glasses were there to hide."

Sheppard said he also felt, "Lampkin’s eyes are a weapon and a tool. As a major arch manipulator, he chooses his time to engage, the most important being with Caprica Six. That’s their star witness. If Caprica Six gets on the stand the way she’s feeling, he’s torn to pieces. All she has to do is tell what happened at the beginning, and it’s over for him, as far as Baltar is concerned. But I think giving Lampkin the ability to discuss things with her on a very deep level was lovely." Laughing about the fascinating back and forth dynamic in the scene where Lampkin speaks to Caprica Six, Sheppard said, "I get a ’make out’ scene with Caprica Six, using somebody else’s pen... which I stole!" Sheppard pointed out that he’d worked with Tricia Helfer ("Six") before on CSI, in what was one of her very first acting roles.

Sheppard added that it was also "Angeli’s idea that [Lampkin] steals; You want to talk about a fatal flaw in a character!" It’s revealed that Lampkin steals many items because he believes it can subtly change the perception of those he’s facing in court, and Sheppard felt, "It’s a beautiful thing to play. He’s absolutely correct."

As for what’s to come, Sheppard had to remain understandably secretive. "I don’t want to say too much about the last two episodes, but I will say this; It was amazing to sit in a room and actually shoot eleven minutes of dialogue and action in a row and then go back and do it again. Every actor was at their peak and able to do it, [and able to] transition between three different situations in a scene, as you’ll see in the [next two] episodes." As for his character, Sheppard said, "There’s so much more I can tell you about him, but it would blow your experience."

While Sheppard is definitely on Battlestar Galactica through the end of season three, it’s unknown if we might see his character again next year. When I asked if there was room for Romo Lampkin to show up in season four, Sheppard replied, "Well, there’s always an opportunity to come back on Battlestar. But I don’t know. I have no idea where Ron and David and everybody are taking the show. I would be honored to come back. I’d come back in a heartbeat. It’s a great character to play."