If I had just been a house painter or something like that, I would've destroyed
myself a long time ago," muses Rodney Rowland. "Acting forced me to be sober;
it forced me to constantly search and learn to take myself apart and figure out
who I was. I needed to become healthy so that I could function as an artist and
see if I could handle the pressure when it got tough."
In Fox Television's Space: Above and Beyond, Rowland portrays Cooper
Hawkes, an "In-Vitro" (a genetically engineered human gestated in a laboratory
and "born" at the developmental stage of an 18-year-old). According to the
show's backstory, the In-Vitros were initially designed to serve mankind in its
war against artificial-intelligence beings, but things didn't go exactly as planned.
The In-Vitros - or Tanks, as they're often called - refused to fight and thus
became pariahs in Earth society. But now, with the AI War concluded, they are
beginning to gain the same rights as natural-born humans and integrate into society.
Hawkes serves with the 58th Marine Squadron in Earth's new war against a
mysterious alien race.
The son of a preacher, Rowland spent most of his youth in much the same
way as his In-Vitro character; rebelling in every way he could possibly
imagine. "I was the epitome of the black sheep in the family," he admits
candidly. "My brothers and sisters were born a year apart from each other,
and I was born four years apart. I was very much a loner, looked down
upon and made to feel worthless. But on some level, I knew I was something.
That's Cooper as well. If he was a rebel just for the sake of being a rebel,
I couldn't relate to that . But he is a rebel based on protecting himself. He is
not going to be put down. There is something in him that is good, and it's
going to come out one day. It's kind of like how my life is now. I guess I'm
no longer the black sheep."
Born in Newport Beach, Calif., Rowland spent much of his youth interacting -
against his wishes - with authority figures. Then acting offered him an outlet,
and he dove into it with abandon. Soon after committing himself to the actor's
life, he scored roles in the on-the-edge New York theater productions such
as Fuel, Who's Got the Edge, Hazards Ahead, Waltzing in Wonder and
Short Fuse. His off-Broadway success led him back to California, where he
broke into the film business in B movies like Just Looking, Let's Get Lost,
and The Dice Game. Then came his mainstream breakthrough in Space.
"It's interesting to play Hawkes because he's a 24 year old guy who's actually
only 6 years old," Rowland says. "That's real trippy and it keeps me on my
toes. At first, I was thinking, 'How can someone be born at 18 and know -
for instance- not to drop his pants in the middle of the street and take a dump
on the corner?' I decided that someone programmed all kinds of information
into his subconscious so that he comes out with all that knowledge. But there's
still a very real innocence there that's challenging to play. To me, acting is so
much more of a risk than anything else," he says. "For me, personally, I chose
acting because it was the scariest thing I could imagine doing. It is so terrifying
on some levels, and then you do it and you forget you're up there and you get
lost in this feeling that takes over. Then you're gone, and it's a much greater
rush than any of the other thrill-seeking things I used to do. To be able to do
this, I had to have a spiritual side going strong. I knew I needed to do
something that was going to challenge me, or I wouldn't have a life. It was that
Space: Above and Beyond often referred to as Combat in outer space, especially
appeals to Rowland because he grew up on the dramatically textured action movies
of the `70's, films like The French Connection and Mean Streets.
"I love the unique quirks of the show and the straight-out drama," enthuses Rowland.
"I get these moments were I walk in and can just be this complete lunatic, standing up
for everybody and saying, `I'll do it' and not care - just to be a showoff with some
classic one-liners. Then there is the opportunity on other occasions to play the true
innocent. So it fulfills all of my fantasies as an actor. It's just so interesting; it's so much
fun to do all of this, to put on army clothes and say `I'll kill him! Look out!' It's like
playing army as a kid. You get to do it all."
Though Rowland is a science-fiction fan, he doesn't really identify Space as such,
preferring to think of it as a dramatic series with a genre premise. "People have
called this a sci-fi show," he says, "but I don't care what genre it comes from as
long as it has the emotions underneath that connect with me. I feel the same way
about music. If something is good., I react to it. So, do I love science fiction?
Well, I love Star Wars. But Star Trek was so intellectual - or tried to be - that
it really wasn't appealing to me. I'm not an intellectual kind of guy. I relate
emotionally, very much like my character."