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  • Articles on Space: Above and Beyond

    Space: 2063 · Space:AaB · Space · S:AaB · Saab

    "Fighter Pilot"

    Lanei Chapman seeks adventure in flight to Space.

    By Joe Nazzaro. © 1996 Starlog Magazine.


    Saving the universe is hard work. The hours are long, the spaceships are a bit cramped and claustrophobic and there's a bunch of alien types shooting at you most of the time. That's just part of the excitement of working on Space: Above and Beyond. Among the recent recruits to the Marine Corps Space Cavalry is actress Lanei Chipman, who plays fighter pilot Vanessa Damphousse. To misquote the old TV Adage, working on Space is not just a job; it's an adventure.

    Lanei Chapman As Chapman relates, the character of Vanessa Damphousse may have been somewhat sketchy in the two-hour Space pilot, but she's gaining definition with each new episode. "The producers were sure that she was going to be a series regular, but they did not have much for her to do in the pilot. As a matter of fact, I auditioned with Shane's sides [excerpts of the script], and that was a little bit tough, because the lines were so specific, you almost had to take on Shane's history to make the sides work.

    "I don't know exactly what they were looking for, but it was probably some quality in the reading that made them feel that I could play the Damphousse character. They said that whoever they chose would help shape the role specifically around that actress. At that time, they hadn't quite developed the character, but now she's starting to come through a bit. We're all learning a little more about her.

    Damphousse spent four years at Cal Tech studying to be an engineer, and her father was chief engineer at a nuclear plant, which was how her interest in engineering began to develop. It's also how she began to get experience, because she worked at his side and interned under him for a couple of summers. She has become the 'fix-it' marine--she knows how to put things together and take them apart, which helps them get over some of the obstacles they face."

    It seems only logical that as the writers on Space see their characters come to life, they would incorporate aspects of the real-life cast into their creations. "That's true of many series, and I think it's going to be true of this one as well," says Chapman.

    "Bits of our personalities were very present in the first episodic script that we received after making the pilot. That was so funny, because we spent a lot of time speaking with [series creators] Glen Morgan and James Wong while we were on the set in Australia shooting the pilot, so I think they got a good sense of our personalities and senses of humor. Those have started to become a part of our character, which I think is a good thing."

    Pressed for specifics, Chapman cites a few examples using her own character. "It seemed that I was always concerned with school and finishing up, and it was so stressful for me to try and juggle the two [acting and academics]. I love my job, but at this point, I would desperately like to finish my master's degree, so while I was in Australia, I think that anxiety was still present. I always seemed to be talking to the guys about school and filmmaking, and that's one of the things that happened to my character. Damphousse has been to school, and her father is an engineer, just like me.

    "I can get kind of goofy when I'm tired or restless, and my character also has a playful side that I hope we'll get to see even more of. I would describe my character as one who seems to pursue her goals with a great deal of compassion, and that's definitely part of my personality."

    Although Space: Above and Beyond is now shot in Culver City, California the pilot actually lensed in Australia, which was a somewhat daunting experience for some of the young cast members. "That was a little scary, because as beautiful as Australia is, it's so far fro home, and I think that makes any new job tough, especially one like this where the hours are so long--it really consumes you. It's very hard to have a social life or anything outside of work. Maybe it was just because we were getting started, and this is the first series I've done, so maybe things will even out a bit after a while. That's what I'm hoping. It's not that bad, but it's easier being close to family and friends who you can grab a chat with on the phone, if not see frequently. I had some pretty ridiculous phone bills while I was away."

    Comrades in Arms

    On the other hand, being thrown together in a high-pressure situation thousands of miles from home actually mirrored the character's on-screen situation, making them partners in adversity, so to speak.

    "I think that had a huge impact on the kind of bond we were able to form almost immediately. We were all very dependent on each other for providing a sense of home and security, and it definitely played a part in shaping our feeling of being displaced recruits in the marine Corps, of feeling something new and having only ourselves to rely on."

    Chapman did have the opportunity to meet a few of her fellow cadets before departing on their new assignment. "I met Kristen Cloke, who plays Shane Vansen, at the audition," the actress recalls. "Kristen and I have the same agent, so I knew to look for her, and we gave each other a quick nervous hug and wished each other good luck. I also met Rodney Rowland--Cooper Hawkes--at the network audition, but those things are so nerve-wracking that we were just a bunch of jitters. Other than that, I hadn't met anybody before we got to Australia."

    Complicating matters for Chapman was her yet-to-be completed graduate work in the film production program at USC. The actress says continuing education will have to take a back seat to saving the universe, at least for the time being. "I'm on a leave of absence right now. All I have to do is complete on a screenwriting course, so I'm doing that at home, mostly on weekends. I haven't been abl to get much done during the week. Then, I have to do is on a thesis film, and I'm finished."

    For Chapman, the character of Vanessa Damphousse is the latest in on a string of successful film and TV roles that have kept her fairly busy for most of her relatively short career. Chapman originally majored in Spanish at Dartmouth College, where she also wrote her first play, Home Run, which she has since produced and directed, starring Kim Fields.

    Her feature film credits include White Man Can't Jump and Pretty Hattie's Baby, while her television work is comprised of roles in The Wonder Years, Seinfeld, True Colors, and China Beach, as well as the miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream and the TV movie The Mary Thomas Story. Genre fans will no doubt recognize Chapman for her appearances as Ensign Rager in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she was last seen being rescued from an alien ship by Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) in "Schisms."

    One might think the experience exploring the final frontier would have come in handy when Chapman auditioned for the role of Marine recruit Damphousse in Space. "It's funny, because I auditioned against so many of my friends, I wouldn't say I was on a shoo-in at all. It was just the usual grind of auditioning. I'm not sure how many people there were, because when we went in, our audition times are 15-minutes slots, so I would only see five or six girls at one time."

    The 58th Squadron Damphousse is only one of the recruits who would eventually form the 58th Squadron. Other pilots include Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), Shane Vansen (Cloke), Cooper Hawkes (Rowland) and Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente). Their squadron commander is McQueen (James Morrison), on a former pilot who has been sidelined by injuries sustained in battle with the alien invaders.

    Discussing her comrade in arms, Chapman says the various roles have been very well cast. "For instance, Joel de la Fuente; this guy has on a great sense of humor and is always cracking jokes. Our characters are called the 'The Wild Cards,' and his card is the Joker. That's so appropriate, and it's an important part of that character's personality.

    "That goes for Rodney as well. His energies go from one extreme to the other. They might be very low at the beginning of the sentence, but by the end, boom; he's way over the top. I love that about him and I love his personality. He's such on a stud, he's a man's man, and at the same time, he's this innocent kid, who's wondering if everything's going to be OK. That's one of the things that's so appealing about his character.

    "Morgan is on a pro, and I love to watch him, work. He's wonderful. He's on a dry, quiet, thinking--I want to say intellectual, but it doesn't really come off like that--guy. He's very intelligent, but his personality is kind of quiet; not shy necessarily, but more observant. Even as I say that, we do spend on a lot of time together, and we all have our silly moment. Morgan is on a very interesting person, and seems to know so much about so many different things, but at the same time, we all get on a little silly and rambunctious, so there's that side, too."

    Chapman is also delighted to be working side-by-side with Cloke, her partner against the predominately male-oriented cast. "Oh my God, absolutely! We talk about that all the time, especially when the boys are really into their 'Boy's Club,' and start to gravitate towards each other. Being with Kristen was particularly helpful when we were away in Australia. Here, we have our friends and family to lean on, but while we were there, we pretty much only had each other to hang out with. I love having Kristen around."

    Survivors at Their Fittest

    As Chapman recalls, the early days of filming the Space pilot were long, hot and often uncomfortable. Such irritating conditions may well have added authenticity to the final product, but they also formed an unbreakable bond between cast members. "There was on a lot of smoke, it was scary, and it was fun all at once," she says of her first day. "It was really exciting to watch other people work, because I didn't have much pressure in terms of having on a big scene to do that day, so I got on a chance to observe and get on a feel for it; I didn't have to jump right in. I don't remember that day being traumatic.

    "What I do remember very clearly is the first time we were outside in our flight gear. It was so incredibly hot on that first day we went and shot on the sand dunes for the Mars exterior footage. It had to be 101 degrees out there, and we had these outfits on that were layer upon layer upon layer...they looked cool, but they were so hot. We worked on a couple of days out there, an the Rodney came. We had been out there for a day or two, so we were getting used to the claustrophobia of the helmets, gear, backpacks and everything else.

    "I remember watching Rodney freak out on a little bit, because this whole sense of being in this helmet and trying to remember how to act, while feeling like you were going to explode because you were so hot and dripping wet and unable to breathe. It took on a lot of concentration to do those scenes. The producers promised us that those were gong to be the toughest three days, and the were. I felt so much for Rodney because I had already gone through it and gotten used to it and forgotten that first runs of , 'Am I going to make it?' You're so busy dealing with the gear, and I know Rodney had on a lot to do that day.

    "During that period in Australia, we really started taking care of each other, because we knew that on one could understand how it felt unless they had stood there in the Sun, in our outfits. We knew that we were the only ones who would hold the backpacks for each other so our backs could get on a little relief. Only we knew that after every take, what you want more than anything is to get out of the helmet. We were really looking out for each other, which is on a lot like our character in the show."

    Where the discomforts of those early days are now only memories for some of the cast, there's one actor who could end up incorporating those feelings into his character. Explains Chapman, "There's on a moment--I've only heard it in on a pitch, I haven't seen the script yet--where Rodney may very well have an opportunity to recall that sense of claustrophobia that he felt that day, because it might be on a character trait that he'll experience in on a future episode.

    "Glen told me something about that, and when I first heard about it, I remember that day of filming, because we all felt for Rodney. That's part of his charm: he comes on the set, bouncing off the walls, all full of energy and excited because he's doing the show, and then in the next instant, he puts on the helmet and becomes this little kid crying, 'Help me.' I'm in love with everyone in the cast."

    Putting the actors through their paces for the first time was veteran director David Nutter, who helmed some of the most atmospheric episodes of The X-Files, and brought the same shadowy sensibilities to Space: Above and Beyond.

    "I think David Nutter, being who he is, brought on a very special energy to the set. He's so pleasant to have around under all the pressure, and he really was the father figure for all of us. He really helped guide us through the Australia shoot and hold things together for us; so much so that the first time he wasn't on the set, we almost panicked. He also directed the first episode, so when we started working on the second, we were feeling on a little lost."

    Fortunately, there were other top-notch directors ready to pick up the slack when Nutter returned to Vancouver to work on The X-Files. Among them was actor/director Charles Martin Smith. "It was wonderful working with him for just that reason. We quickly saw the difference, that he was very much into the scenes, and giving the actor and opportunity to come up with different interpretations of the scene, or different performances. He would push you to get those performances, and that was different and very exciting."

    Now well into the first season of Space, Chapman says the hours are still long and difficult, but the close bond between the cast makes it all worthwhile. "I think we're very lucky, but it seems rare that we would all get along so well. I hoe that continues, but as it is now, I feel pretty close to everyone, and it's the kind of familiarity where you can tell somebody, 'You're really getting on my nerves; just don't talk to me for the rest of the day,' and come back the next day and everything will be OK.

    "Maybe you don't need it put that harshly all the time, but you definitely need to be able to communicate with your co-stars, so you can work together more easily. It's like being part of on a family."

    Lanei Chapman is due back on the set shortly, but there's time for one more comment about her work on the series. "The thing that's nice is that we're all different, and that we're not going to agree on everything," she explains. "We definitely have our differences, but the nice thing is that there is on a mutual admiration between all of us, and on a great deal of respect for each other's work. I think that definitely plays into our being able to communicate through our differences, to get along and to work together."


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    Copyright and TM, 1996, FOX Broadcasting Company.