Actress Claudia Christian (Babylon 5, The Hidden, Clean and Sober) joins us to talk about her tell-all book about Hollywood, a new way of coping with an alcohol addiction, and more in Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Addiction. Part one of our interview deals with her illustrious start in Hollywood and inspiring people as Commander Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5.
DIGBOSTON: Thanks for joining us to talk about Babylon Confidential.
Claudia Christian: Thank you for having me.
What I expected was a Hollywood tell-all book and what I got was much more than that! An inspiring story of recovery, as well as stories about Hollywood and your relationships. Can you tell me about the interesting things that happened when you first moved to Hollywood?
Back in the ’80s, it was a much easier profession, I think. Nowadays with the advent of reality shows and so forth it is difficult for actors or actresses to get a job. My beginning is almost a joke. I met an actor in Laguna Beach when I was 16 working in a coffee shop, he gave me the name of a manager. I met her, she signed me, I booked a series! It was so easy.
There was much less competition, you didn’t have families moving out for pilot season with children in tow.
That was really exciting, I worked all the time, it was a new environment. I wanted to be on my own since I was a little kid. I loved being independent. I moved to LA when I was 17.
The beginning was fun. When I look back now, I didn’t understand I was working with people like Faye Dunaway and Bob Hope, George Clooney … at the time, they were just people. I wasn’t really inundated with star-struckness. It was just work.
Unfortunately you had some negative experiences with some famous actors you talk about in the book, such as Cliff Robertson and William Shatner.
The Cliff Robertson thing was kind of shocking because I had never been treated like that, it was a silly incident and he pulled a very dramatic, sort of violent gesture toward me and I thought, “Wow, is this what Hollywood is like?”
I only had one real classic “casting couch” incident but that was with Bob Evans.
I’m sure every actress in town has one of those with him! That didn’t make the book.
The other incidences were men making passes or just being inappropriate or lascivious or whatever. I think I got a pretty good deal compared to some actresses I’ve talked to.
You were so young, and I don’t want to discredit it at all but it’s also like a life lesson more than just a reflection of Hollywood that you were experiencing this stuff.
I had dreamed about this since I was a child, and it was all falling into place because it was supposed to fall into place. I had never thought about not succeeding, it had never occurred to me. I think that that complete naiveté made me look courageous, when in essence I was completely naive.
I came from Connecticut, doing school plays like Annie and I thought, I’m going to go to Hollywood and get on TV. Sure enough, I did and thought, “Well this is easy.”
I think that helped me in a way, because that taught me being confident or naive can be sometimes beneficial in life.
You’re a strong, beautiful woman, and a great role model to a lot of young girls that are into sci-fi. As you said before though, the Hollywood model doesn’t go that way any more. This was the ’80s.
Absolutely the most satisfying thing was playing Ivanova on Babylon 5. It really is a role model that is still around. I recently got a letter from a little girl in Russia who said, “You’re my hero.” She is 14 years old. This is a whole new generation that’s seeing it. She was a good role model. Encouraging little girls to be the commander, I don’t have to be the person on the left pushing buttons.
And it also helped in a lot of ways because a lot of people came out of the closet because of the portrayal.
They decided if Ivanova can be bi-sexual, then I can tell my parents.
It really was amazing. That was an incredible role.
Sci-fi never dies.
That’s true. I know that I caught Babylon 5 on reruns. Tell us about conventions.
I think the most fun one was the Babylon 5 reunion in Arizona this year, and we are going to do another one next year because we had so much fun doing it. That kind of convention I like doing because it’s all the cast members back together again. Believe it or not, we’re still friends, it has been almost 20 years. It’s very rare, I’ve talked to people on other series and there are a lot of contentious relationships with their fellow actors and there wasn’t a lot of love. You don’t see them 20 years later having dinner parties.
We have reunion dinners a couple of times a year just on our own.
JMS (J. Michael Straczynski), the actors, we genuinely like each other. I’ve never seen such camaraderie on a set than I had on Babylon 5.
I think it shows on the screen and the movies that came afterwards, the actors are enjoying what they are doing.
Oh, we loved our work. Even if we were the ugly little step child in TV. We loved going to work every day. Every morning I got up I was happy, I loved my job.
They also didn’t overwork us—The Star Trek:TNG people were working 20 hours a day sometimes.
We had reasonable schedules, we ran a very tight ship because we had a very low budget.
If you don’t mind me asking … your relationship with JMS is fine?
Yeah, we’re good now. We saw each other in Arizona, had a good time.
You are also in so many other amazing movies, one that relates to the recovery part of the book, Clean and Sober, and The Hidden. What’s the difference between the movies and TV sets for you?
Well, Clean and Sober was amazing, I originally tried out for the Kathy Baker role but I was a little too young. Glen Gordon Caron offered me the role of Iris and I was thrilled to work with Morgan Freeman and Michael Keaton. These were actors at the top of their game.
It was a world-class set with trailers, people kowtowing to you even if it wasn’t a big role.
Just amazing, a very attentive director, we did a lot of takes. Morgan Freeman was phenomenal to work with, Michael Keaton was phenomenal. It was so different, you have more time, more money, the luxury of doing tons of takes. Whereas on a cheap TV show, you have to know your lines.
That’s hard with technobabble. It’s a whole different experience.
You also do audio recordings?
I do a ton of games, Skyrim. You name a game and I’ve done it.
My nephews couldn’t care less about my 30-year career, but when they found out I was in Skyrim, I became the cool aunt.
Doing games is a blast. You sit in a booth and play with your voice. There is no pressure as to how you look or multiple takes. There is a ton of dialogue in a very short time. It is a lot of fun, I do between 4-7 voices in a given game. You do that all in four hours.
Are you currently living in the UK? You spend a lot of time there.
I just came back from London. I just sold my flat there; I was there for 7 years. I was permanently there for 3 years but I couldn’t take the winters there, I’m a California girl. I started coming back and forth and I realized I really missed my friends and my family. Now I’m permanently in Los Angeles … for now!
You talked about your convention experience; you had your own convention, correct?
I did, that was a funny experience because that was like having a baby.
It took me 9 months to plan that. Twenty-five media guests and it happened to be on the weekend of the riots in London.
Out of the few hundred people who signed up and paid for their weekend and everything, I think 50 showed up. It was so embarrassing. I felt so bad for the media guests because they schlepped out to Heathrow. I kept trying to explain to people that were coming in, they were so scared, Heathrow was the safest place. The riots were happening in the city.
There was also a major bicycle race that weekend that wasn’t preannounced. I had two major events that weekend that screwed up the convention. You know what, that was a lesson. I put my heart and soul into it. I can honestly say I will never, ever do that again.
There’s always more conventions and I’m sure people are happy to invite you to them.
Yeah, let them do the work. (laughs) Between organizing the hotel and the actors, making sure everyone is OK, it was so much work. I’ll never do that again.
Our Boston Comic Con this year was supposed to be the same weekend as the bombing. So they had to reschedule. What ended up happening was we had a much better time, at a better venue with some space from these terrible terrorist acts, it was a few months later, we just banged it out and had a great time. There’s always more conventions.
Yes, there’s always something at the end of the rainbow I suppose. That experience taught me a lot.
I came across your book on social media, you seem to be very active there. How is it interacting with your fans there?
I have about 7 Facebook pages! I have my personal page, my fan page, my One Little Pill page, my C3 Foundation page. It goes on and on. I’m making a documentary about The Sinclair Method, I have a page for that. I have also got a great team behind me. It takes a little pressure off of me.
That’s great you have the support.
I couldn’t do this IT all this myself, my dear.
I don’t build websites, haha.
Grab the DigBoston paper today to see more in the Arts Section, and tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of our interview with Claudia!
EARTH PRIME TIME: BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL WITH CLAUDIA CHRISTIAN (PART TWO).
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