Interview by Shiromi Arserio
I spent my teenage years watching Babylon 5, so Susan Ivanova and the actress that played her, Claudia Christian, was a big influence on me growing up. When I learned she had written a new memoir, Babylon Confidential, I knew I had to interview her.
Claudia had left it up to me whether or not to do an email interview or phone. Not wanting to pass up a chance to speak with “Susan Ivanova” I chose phone. But of course I was nervous. Would I pull a Troy ala Community and freeze up? Luckily I didn’t. Claudia was easy to talk to and we chatted about many different topics, such as her time on B5, her love of Game of Thrones, and a treatment for alcoholism called The Sinclair Method that saved her life.
IGPNicki: What did you most like about playing Ivanova?
CC: It was so rich. You really got to know her, after the first season. Her sense of humour; just the great Russian one-liners; the sardonicness. I also loved the fallibility of all the characters on Babylon 5. Nobody was perfect. Nobody was a hero. Everybody had issues. Ivanova had emotional issues; an inability to commit and open her heart. Garibaldi had issues. I mean there were drug and alcohol issues. I just felt that it made it more interesting and real than a lot of programs, where “I’m going to save the day! I’m perfect!” We were far from perfect. We were a bunch of misfits, stuck on a giant station, dealing with each others issues.
And also there was religion. Sitting shiva, and lighting menorahs. I don’t think that had ever been seen before. That was interesting. Especially given my name! There were many different belief systems and religions.
And the fact that Ivanova was possibly bi-sexual. The beauty of the Talia/ Ivanova story was that if a child was watching it they could perceive it as “Oh, she spent the night because her quarters had a leak.” Because we weren’t in bed together, we weren’t making out or anything, it was very subtle. It could actually be perceived as whatever somebody wanted it to be perceived as. Of course lesbians wanted to perceive it as a lesbian relationship but there was never actually anything really shown. People actually think that we filmed a kiss, but we never did.
IGPNicki: Did you get to keep anything from the set of B5?
CC: The only thing that I had that I gave away was a couple of earrings that Ivanova wore. I gave those to fans. I gave away all of my memorabilia, and all of my crew jackets and sweatshirts to charities over the years. I have nothing left except one of each of the dolls. My last memorabilia sale I even got rid of all my original scripts. I was raising money to make the videos and publicity for The Sinclair Method. So I just did a huge auction. Our costumes were turned into trading cards. Although somebody told me that that’s not really true. I saw somebody at a convention once and they had what appeared to be an original costume and they said they found it in a dumpster outside of the production offices where we used to work.
IGPNicki: Are you still in touch with the rest of the cast?
CC: We usually have a Babylon 5 reunion dinner once or twice a year. Mira’s husband recently had his 50th birthday the other day so I saw Bruce, Mira, Billy, Walter, and Theodore Bikel. Pat Tallman and I are very good friends. Andrea is now back in L.A. and I just adore her. I see Mira all the time. I love them all. It’s amazing that when we see each other after 15 years, we still have this amazing group of friends.
IGPNicki: As a teenage girl watching Babylon 5, Ivanova was very much a hero to me. She was strong, self-possessed and independent. Who were your own heroes growing up?
CC: I always had great admiration for my mother. Going through the war and then coming to America and not knowing the language. Taking her not very extensive education and rising up through her career. To me, that was heroic, I thought that must be extremely difficult to do. Especially in light of the anti-German sentiment in America after World War II when she came over. So I admire her greatly.
As far as public figures, I actually had this thing for an abbess from many centuries ago called Hildegard Von Bingen. I always thought she sounded like a very feisty woman who had her fingers in many pots. She was a naturalist, an herbologist, a musician. She went up against the leaders of the time, at a time when women should be seen and not heard. I always thought that she was interesting.
IGPNicki: You’ve played a lot of strong female characters. Ivanova, FBI agents, more recently you were a Lieutenant Colonel. Was that something you sought out intentionally?
CC: I think it’s more because I’m tall and I have a deep voice. My physicality has led me to be viewed in an authoritative position. I’m just known in the industry as playing an intelligent strong woman. I don’t think people go “Wow, I’ve got a great bimbo role, let’s get Claudia Christian.” But on the other hand, I play bimbos really well because you kinda have to be smart to play dumb. I’m one of those actresses that take anything because I love to work, so it wouldn’t matter if it’s an alien or a stripper or a hooker or a cop. I’m always finding something positive in every role.
IGPNicki: What has been your favourite role to play, and why?
CC: I obviously loved Susan Ivanova. I loved Katherine in Highlander (the series), that was just a really fun role. I played an ancient immortal. I got to swing swords. My flashback was medieval which was wonderful. I did a little-seen film called Running Home that I really enjoyed. It’s a Canadian film. I play a woman who gave up a kid for adoption at birth, and he comes back after 15 years and it’s just about her relationship with him and figuring things out. It was just a really sweet, beautiful little film.
I think the film that I had the most fun with, was another little-seen film called True Rights where I had to wear a fat suit, a wig and everything. I play this really obnoxious producer of schlock television shows. It was just a kick. Elaine Kilgore. That was one of my favourite characters I ever sunk my teeth into. I created a new walk for her and a new way of eating. She was just nasty. She was a piece of work. Every day I would be so excited to do the scenes because I just hated and loved her so much. She was just a heinous person and I loved playing her.
IGPNicki: Is there any particular role you’d like to play, or television show you’d like to be on today?
CC: Put me as an extra on Game of Thrones and I would be happy. I’m a huge Game of Thrones geek. I would love to do anything historical, whether it be a program like Rome, or any of those. Anything that’s costumey, historical, anything like that would be marvelous.
IGPNicki: I understand you were recently back in England filming a Starhyke short. (For those Stateside readers, Starhyke was a British scifi comedy that only ran for one series.)
CC: Yes. Last time I was in England we did a little Starhyke thing. It’s going to be a Starhyke ride. We’re still hoping we can do a second series of Starhyke. It was a really fun cast. I just love them. Everyone is so funny. Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), the man is just hilarious. And Rachel Grant and Sueanne Braun, everyone’s just lovely. I had a really good time.
IGPNicki: You’ve spent a lot of time in England. When are we going to see you in an episode of Doctor Who?
CC: I keep wondering how come my agent over there couldn’t get me in to meet those people. I have a wonderful agent in London. I did a series for the BBC called Broken News which was a lot of fun. Then I did the Edinburgh festival. I was nominated for Best Actress for Killing Time which was the play I did there, and that was a lot of fun. But my big complaint was why can’t I get on any UK scifi, especially Doctor Who. I did play Nicola Bryant’s mother in the Big Finish audio production of Doctor Who but other than that, that’s the closest I’ve come to anything Doctor Who-ish.
IGPNicki: What can you tell us about Red Fury, the Babylon 5 fan fiction story you co-wrote with Morgan Grant Buchanan?
CC: Red Fury is for the fans who have tried to help us get our pre-sales up. It follows from the JMS story “Hidden Agendas” (a short story published in 2000 in The Official Babylon 5 Magazine). It takes Ivanova on a kick ass mission against the Psi Corps. It’s a story just to get the fans to help promote the book.
Babylon Confidential comes out November 6th, we’re running out of time. We want to make that last big surge to get onto a best seller list prior to release. So what we’re hoping people do is encourage them to help promote the book and then give them a quarter of Red Fury every couple of days.
The next books we’re working on is Wolf’s Empire which is a quartet of YA novels that Morgan Grant Buchannan and I are working on about a young protagonist, Accala Viridian who is a young legionnaire. It’s a Rome that never fell. It takes place in the future so there are aliens and everything, but all the humans are Roman. That’s been an exciting project to be working on and it looks like we have a publishing deal for that as well.
IGPNicki: Where can fans look for you next?
CC: I’m mostly writing right now. I do have a film coming out, it’s called Watercolour Postcards. I play the ex-wife of the lead guy, Sheryl. A big Texan with big hair and tight skirts and big boobs. And I do so many games. People can hear me in Skyrim. I also did Guild Wars 2.
At this point we had to wrap up. Frankly, I could have kept going, but I had already taken up way more of her time than I’d intended. Hopefully you guys enjoyed the interview, I know I had fun doing it.
To read more from Claudia Christian about her new memoir, check out the full interview over at IGP. And don’t forget to check out her new book Babylon Confidential. It’s for a great cause.
IGPNicki a/k/a Shiromi Arserio is web maven and all-around hat juggler of Inter-Galaxy Portal. In her spare time she writes, reminisces about her days as an extra on Lost and keeps a close eye out for xenomorphs.