Friday, May 17, 2013

Flashback Friday: Garibaldi on the Firing Line

(Once upon a time, I did a telephone interview with Jerry Doyle, who was at that time playing Security Chief Michael Garibaldi on the sydicated sci-fi series Babylon 5. The following originally published in the Sept. 8, 1995 edition of the News Herald.)


Jerry Doyle shares many of the character traits — and flaws — of Security Chief Michael Garibaldi, the role he portrays on the syndicated sci-fi drama Babylon 5.

Both men have high standards, are outspoken and audacious, and both have a murky past. Both men sometimes take a side door to reach their targets, and neither man is above a little scheming if it produces the right results.

"I think a lot of acting is just life experiences, reality brought into a situation and interpreted," Doyle said.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Doyle received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona. His first job was marketing and selling corporate jets in New Jersey, but he never really wanted to leave college.

"I was having too much fun," he said. "It was a surprise when it happened. My wife and I have fond memories of the (Fort) Lauderdale area, and a dream of when we can get this great big ol' sprawling place on the water and just go sailing."

Doyle left a nine-year Wall Street career in 1990 to try his luck in Hollywood. He had endured the October market crash, company problems, daily pressure and what he termed an ambush from 60 Minutes. The place just wasn't fun any more.

"When 60 Minutes walks into your office, you know the day isn't going to go the way you expected," he said.

To get an acting job in L.A., Doyle needed a performance resume. But he had never acted before and "stocks, bonds and hostile takeovers" just wouldn't look good to casting directors. So he fudged a bit on his resume, creating a fictitious credit with the Harlem Dance Theatre.

"I didn't bend the rules — they snapped. I put a lie in there so blatant that I thought people would get the joke. If anybody had ever 'seen' them, there was a real good possibility that I wasn't touring with that group," Doyle said.

"In 4-1/2 years, nobody's ever questioned it," he said. "It's still on there, as my tribute to absurdity."

That side-door route landed him roles on The Bold and the Beautiful, Homefront, Reasonable Doubt, and Duckman.

Then came Babylon 5.

A COP'S LIFE

Garibaldi is a man with flaws. A recovering alcoholic who's lost more jobs than he can recall; who's lost at love more often than not; who's burned all his bridges and has nowhere to turn if things go wrong on B-5.

"We're all trying to overcome our demons," Doyle said. "We may conquer technology, cure diseases, but we're always working on ourselves. It's what the audience hopefully can relate to."

As Garibaldi, Doyle has turned a supporting role into the show's most popular character. A recent three-issue story in the B-5 comics adaptation focused entirely on Garibaldi, as did two recent novels. Doyle has also gained an international fan following, thanks to the show's popularity overseas.

In an integral first-season episode, Garibaldi has a vision of a future battle in which he and the station commander are trying to hold off unseen attackers while civilians evacuate B-5. Garibaldi volunteers to cover the retreat, yelling that this is the moment for which he was born.

"Yeah, a lot of people have said that they know what happens to me in the future," Doyle said. "But they're talking about a spin-off series (if B-5 lasts through its projected five-year mission). I was given the option of wrapping up my storyline or going on to the new show. I'm not going to tell you what I decided."

The role of space cop comes easily to Doyle, whose father was a career police officer in New York (his mother worked at home). His father provided a good life for the family, and put off his own joys for later in life. But he died at 41, having never done the things he dreamed of doing.

"I didn't want that to happen to me," Doyle said.

And yet, foremost in Doyle's thoughts are his family and the future he can provide for them. He said L.A. isn't the kind of place to raise kids, so he wants to "grab as much as I can as fast as I can, punch out and go where the air's nice."

He would like nothing better than to be able to "wear shorts, drink beer and take people fishing," activities he said defines the Florida vacation/retirement lifestyle.

But until then, he won't be waiting for projects to come his way. He's co-written two scripts, is developing a feature film, a TV movie-of-the-week and an old-fashioned Christmas special.

"I would love to be involved in a product that lives on ... something that's timeless, like a Casablanca," he said. "And I'd like to do a pirate movie. I think that would be way cool."
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(NOTE: The interview was accompanied by this sidebar that included more comments from Doyle:)
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Babylon 5 Info Guide

The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind, the year the Great War came upon us all. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5.

Two years before Paramount launched its space station-based Trek spinoff, television veteran J. Michael Straczinsky had tried to sell a network on his vision of just such a series:

--The space station Babylon 5 would be a hotbed of mystery, suspense and intrigue, where humans and aliens would scheme and struggle and join together in unexpected alliances.

--As forces behind the scenes plotted to seize control of the Earth government, a dark presence from a forgotten time would rise to challenge the champions of all things good and just.

--And in the third year of the series, a war of intergalactic proportions would erupt, and humankind would face its darkest hour.

No network nibbled, but Warner Brothers gave the concept a greenlight for first-run syndication.

In the ensuing years, B-5 has opened new frontiers in TV sci-fi. That pivotal third year is now upon us, when the galaxy's "last, best hope for peace" becomes its "last, best hope for victory."

In the meantime, B-5 has garnered an Emmy award for visual effects and Emmy nominations for make-up, hair and cinematography. It was nominated for a Hugo award from the World Science Fiction Association and received The Space Frontier Foundation Award for Best Vision of the Future from the National Association of Space Scientists, Astronauts and Engineers.

Though syndicated in the U.S., B-5 is carried on TV networks in other countries. In Great Britain, for instance, the show has developed a cult following similar to the Star Trek phenomenon.

"It's huge, like the No. 2 or No. 3 show in England, Ireland, France and Italy," said Jerry Doyle, who plays B-5 Security Chief Michael Garibaldi. "I'm going to Bristol in August and Dublin in September (for fan conventions)."

But unlike most television series, Straczynski saw B-5 as a complete story with a definite ending five years after the premiere. Each episode would be like a chapter of a book, each season would be a volume in the continuing story.

The show has also done something few series have accomplished: B-5 lost its hero and most integral character at the close of the first season.

Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O'Hare) appeared only as a face on a recorded message in season two, although a first-season episode revealed him to be "The One" who, in the future (or the distant past), will lead the forces of light against the Shadows.

The future Sinclair, in fact, was responsible for the mysterious disappearance of B-5's predecessor, Babylon 4 — snatching it out of the past via a time travel device for use as a base of operations against the dark enemy.

"I don't know what they're going to do with that character. We just try to play the beats as they're written out," Doyle said. "There's a strong possibility that (Sinclair) will resurface this season -- but whether it will be to start a new storyline, to finish a storyline, or as another recorded message, I really don't know."

To put it mildly, the show is complex and multi-layered. Characters change over time, literally evolving into new forms and revealing new facets of their personalities. Subplots that seemed minor grow into major plot points.

Psy-Corps telepaths jockey for political control; Home Guard bigots beat up aliens and want Earth out of space; the assassination of the Earth president is covered up; the mysterious Shadows aid a race war as another alien power grooms the new B-5 commander (Bruce Boxleitner) to battle the Shadows; and, behind the scenes, Sinclair gathers a secret army of "Rangers."

The Great War is upon us. And all eyes turn to Babylon 5.
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