(Once upon a time, I interviewed actor Peter Jurasik about his role on Babylon 5 as the alien ambassador from Centaruri Prime, Londo Molari. He was at times jovial and introspective, but mostly it was apparent he enjoyed his work and the people with whom he worked. This was published Oct. 18, 1996, as B-5 was ending its third season of syndication and Jurasik was already working on Season 4.)
On a recent October morning, actor Peter Jurasik — who breathes life into Londo for fans of B-5 — talked with The News Herald from his California home, commenting on the autumnal weather, the evolution of his TV character and an upcoming book release.
As the interview began, Jurasik was interrupted by a phone call from fellow B-5 cast member Bill Mumy (formerly Will Robinson of Lost in Space). Mumy wanted to play a round of racquetball, but Jurasik had tickets to the Dodgers-Braves game.
The exchange brings home the fact that these guys are just regular folks. And yet, for the entertainment of thousands of fans world-wide, they're seen as enemies on a galactic scale, their actions determining the fate of worlds.
Babylon 5 follows the activities aboard a massive space station in the 23rd century, located in deep space where a quarter-million aliens and humans mingle to work out their differences. But earth's government is reeling from civil war, corruption at the highest levels, and the return of an ancient Shadow race that seeks conquest among the stars.
Londo, long considered a washed-up politician in a backwater assignment, has emerged as a major player in the conflict — and on the wrong side.
Jurasik says the role was a perfect fit for his needs as a character actor.
"Initially, when I went in to read for the part, we had a short chat and I asked (B-5 creator Joe Straczinski what he'd like for these people to sound like. He said, 'These guys are from outer space. They can sound any way you want them to.' Which is great for a character actor. Character actors will inevitably put on a wig or an accent or a costume, and I've done all of that."
Jurasik has appeared in numerous TV incarnations over the past 20 years, including a memorable turn as sleazy "Sid the Snitch" on Hill Street Blues. He's also appeared on Dear John, L.A. Law, MASH, Taxi and Dave's World.
Picking up the theme of change, Jurasik says circumstances have either "conspired or inspired" Londo to great personal changes. His drive to restore the lost glory of his homeworld led him to bargain with a shadowy alien race for greater power and influence.
"I hate to go '90s on you, but his priorities have changed. Four years ago, when we first met Londo, he was pretty buffoonish, pretty much a drunk. But there was an underlying bitterness, almost an anger, black and biley. He's always been very concerned about his people. So the change, for me, tracks very well."
If that sounds like the kind of evolution that real people experience, then B-5 has accomplished something few other sci-fi shows attempt: to allow characters to grow. Similar shows generally present self-contained stories that always leave the characters pretty much at status quo. Miss an episode or two and you'll still recognize the characters. Not B-5.
"With Babylon, you will get some satisfaction by watching one episode. We have great special effects, exciting storylines. But the real hook is the big story arc. I think that's what has really grabbed the imagination of English fans, the Dickensian tradition. It's something that's just not emphasized on American television."
Meanwhile, Jurasik has recently completed his first sci-fi novel, Diplomatic Act, (from Simon & Schuster//Baen Books, spring 1997) which takes a sardonic look at Hollywood and contains more than a few veiled references to the set of B-5.
"What do I know more about than that? It's about an actor working on a science fiction show playing a diplomat, who is abducted by aliens because he reminds them of somebody. They are from this `watcher' society, and are intrigued by TV."
Regular B-5 viewers (and alien watchers) will know that Londo has had a vision of his death — and a time travel episode last season reinforced this vision. But Jurasik hints that the future is malleable.
"It's not really a cop-out, but it's the out all the actors use, at least on our show. Joe Straczynski is really The Great Maker, and he indicates to us that these dreams and prophecies are just that — it doesn't necessarily mean they will come true."
Now beginning its fourth season, B-5 was plotted as a five-year storyline. But Jurasik, dangling a bit of intrigue, said his character may not even survive to the series finale.
"I have always taken the line that I think audiences like to have happy endings. I don't know that Joe will subscribe to that, at least in Londo's case. I mean, he's made some heavy mistakes and will have to pay for those. He's in a fight for his people in the fourth season, and he'll have to come to terms with the `deal with the devil' he made. Those things will have to be straightened out."