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  • Articles on Space: Above and Beyond

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

    "Wild Wolf"

    As an artificial human in Space, Rodney Rowland
    has an energy level above & beyond the norm.

    By Joe Nazzaro. © 1995 Starlog SF Explorer.


    Cooper Hawkes

    "I guess I'm more of a Wild Bill than the others," admits Rodney Rowland, "more of a primal guy." Is the actor referring to himself or Cooper Hawkes, his character from Fox's SF action-adventure series Space: Above & Beyond? The difference, as members of the cast and crew will probably tell you, is not always that evident.

    "He's very inexperienced," says Space co-creator and co-executive producer Glen Morgan, "and that makes him tremendously exciting. He's a very dangerous actor, and I really believe if it's not this show, it will be something else."

    "Rodney is a wild child," notes Rowland's co-star Lanei Chapman, who plays fellow rookie fighter pilot Vanessa Damphousse. "He's such a interesting person, because he has this wild side that's very much like Cooper, but underneath, or maybe alongside, every now and then, or even in the same breath, comes this very innocent, insecure person."

    Let's start with the character of Cooper Hawkes. As explained in the Space pilot, he's one of a race of "In Vitros" or "tanks," artificially bred humans originally raised to be soldiers. The futuristic version of test tube babies, distinguishable from humans by a navel on the back of their necks, are the new focus of racial prejudice, as seen in the attempted lynching that introduces Cooper to the story.

    "I see him as a domesticated wolf," offers Rowland. "There's something wild about him that can never really be domesticated. He's slightly dangerous and untrusting, and he has a certain look in his eye. He's like a wolf I once saw when I was in New Mexico, and it was just incredible to watch him walk around that cage. They may not be looking directly at you, but they can sense everything that's going on around them. There's no trust there, and that's the way I see the guy."

    As the actor explains, defining he emotional parameters of his character wasn't easy by any means. "It took me until the third episode to really understand the guy. To begin with, I wanted to play him with a kind of innocence. He was born at 18, so he has a certain innocence and also a lack of compassion in some areas. He's constantly learning, and because he's always dealing with new emotional situations, they kind of shock him. And yet when it comes to anything that has to do with fighting or anything violent, he has less to lose, so he tends to be a lot more ballsy and crazy."

    Rowland's acting career only started in recent years. Before that, he had worked as a successful model, with major campaigns for such clients as J. Crew and Calvin Klein. It was well-known photographer Bruce Weber who finally encouraged the young model to try his hand at acting.

    "That was an illuminating moment," remembers Rowland. "Do you know how sometimes you really feel like you can do something? That's how I felt about acting. Modeling was just the first stage of it; you stand in front of a camera, and that came very naturally to me. I had done a lot of athletics and some other things on a high school level, but nothing like this, where people responded in a way that they never had before. From then on, I never looked back. I took a million classes, and went to New York for a couple of years and did some theater."

    Perusing the actor's growing résumé is a bit of an eye-opening experience. Ask him about a documentary called Let's Get Lost that was directed by Weber, and Rowland says he's not sure he's in it any longer. "I think I'm edited out, but I have to put something on the résumé."

    The Enlightenment? "I don't think that was ever finished. Whose résumé are you looking at?" asks Rowland, bursting into laughter. "What else is on there?" Fox's biographical notes from Space are read to him. If Someone Only Knew? "That's some idiotic movie-of-the-week. I only had a small part in that, playing the brother of some guy that gets killed by his wife. It was based on a true story and she actually gets off. I play his brother, it's like the eighth lead, so I'm in a lot of scenes with one line.

    "The only one that's worth talking about is The Block Party for Showtime, with Jimmy Smits and James LeGros. It was a good little hiatus part between the time I finished the pilot and when we started the series. I came home all insecure, thinking 'It was all just a joke that I got it,' so it was nice to get the little message that this wasn't a joke, that Rodney, you've chosen the right business."

    Space Cadet

    Rowland's breakout role may well be Cooper Hawkes, the rebellious loner in Space. Ironically, the actor might never have made the first cut if not for the backing of Randy Stone, VP of talent at 20th Century Fox Television.

    "Randy said, 'There's this guy who you've got to see,'" recalls Glen Morgan of Rowland's first ill-fated audition. "He came in a read for us, and we said, 'No, sorry, Randy.' Randy said, 'You've got to see him again; there's something about this guy.' He came in again, and I think he had a fever or something, and I said, 'Randy, he sucks; don't do this to us!' but Randy said, 'I would really like to bring him in front of the network.' He just wouldn't let go, and as a favor to Randy, we brought him in to the network, and after the network readings, we said, 'Oh my God, this guy is great!'"

    Looking back at those auditions, Rowland has no trouble explaining his less-than-stellar performances. "Three friends were in a big auto accident the day before, and one died and the others were almost paralyzed. Then, I came down with a really bad case of strep throat and a fever that was just unbelievable. It's probably the sickest I've ever been. I only had 20 percent of my voice. The producers weren't buying it, they were saying, Why hasn't he done a good reading?'

    "The first time I was in the office, I did a good reading for Randy, and he said, That's great, you're it!' That's what he was feeling, and he kept bringing me back even though I wasn't doing so hot. I kept blowing it, and something was missing, all the way up to the network auditions, where they present you in front of 30 network people. That's when I finally did what I thought was a great audition. They wanted to go with another guy to begin with, because he had more experience and more of a name, but when I walked out of that reading, they knew that the dark horse had come in!"

    Cooper Hawkes

    After nabbing the part of Cooper Hawkes, Rowland had to fly to Australia, where the Space pilot was being shot. For the fledgling actor, that first day on the set was hell. "They threw me into a really big scene, which was the one between me and Shane [Kristen Cloke], where I try to kiss her. They wanted to check the dailies to see how this kid was turning out, whether they should fire me or not, and I didn't understand the pacing of a set yet. I had done a lot of theater before, but I didn't pace myself too well.

    "That scene ended up working great, but my mind was beating me up the whole time-- 'You suck, Rod, you're blowing it; you're the worst!' We were there all day, shooting the same scene, listening to her over and over, talking about her dream. When we finished I'm saying to myself, 'That's it, I'm going to be fired!' and I walked over to Glen, who's not a very excitable person, and he said [Rowland assumes a deadpan voice], I'm so excited!' and walked away.

    "Then I saw the dailies a week later, and I was actually terrified to go see them, since I had never seen myself in dailies because I hadn't really liked anything I had done on film before. But I finally got up enough courage to go see them, and I saw that what I did worked; the look, the work, the energy. I was really pleased with the way it was coming out."

    One of the advantages of shooting on location was that it gave the cast an opportunity to bond, much like the cadets of the pilot. Rowland gives high marks to his Space co-stars. "Morgan Weisser [Nathan West] has been around for a while, and he's just one of those actors who can walk in a do the scene and do it really well, whereas I had to really prepare and work and work. It's a different tension level. He has been on sets, he grew up with his father as an actor, and being on a set is a part of him; it's no big deal. He's from Venice Beach, and I grew up in Malibu Canyon, so we have the same kind of timing and style and humor. Then, there's Kristen Cloke, who plays Shane Vansen. She's cool and beautiful. She's tough, strong chick, who plays a tough strong character.

    "James Morrison [who plays squadron commander McQueen] and I are both tanks.' He comes from a theater background like me, so we get along well; we sort of have the same heads. He has a great attitude."

    Space Launch

    Rowland also recalls the work of R. Lee Ermey, who plays Sgt. Major Bougus in the pilot, in a role reminiscent of the character he played in Full Metal Jacket. "He was incredible, and it was worth going in just to work with him. I was terrified at first, wondering, My character is supposed to defy this guy; how am I going to defy him? When he opens his mouth, I'm going to melt! He ended up being one of the kindest men I've ever met; humble, down to Earth. He works nonstop as an actor. He's really easygoing, but suddenly, he wold be doing his thing, walking up to you and screaming, 'You maggot!' There would be so much wattage, so much energy coming out of him that it would completely shock you, and you would have to stay stoic in the face of all that noise."

    Directing Rowland and his fellow cast members was David Nutter, veteran of several X-Files episodes as well as numerous other film and TV projects. Nutter, who also directed the show's first episode, had been recruited by his former X-Files cohorts Morgan and Wong to help launch Space.

    "The thing that's really good about his work," says Rowland, "is that sometimes he's more technical than an actor's director, who can get totally lost technically. With an actor's director, sometimes things aren't happening on the set, they're getting jumbled up, he doesn't quite know the shots so the director of photography has to jump in. The actor feels all of that, because while everything is disorganized and rushed, he still has to go in and do his work.

    "With Nutter, everything is so clear. He knows how one shot leads into another, and he knows every little beat. Sometimes, directors misread these little captions between dialogue that give major subtextual things that happen to the character. You've got to hold on to the character while this whole dilemma takes place in his eyes, that leads to that whole monologue at the end. Nutter never misses those beats, and he does give you direction. Before we started shooting, we sat down for an hour or two and together we built the character's past. We knew exactly where the character was coming from, and he helped with the childlike innocence that he wanted there to be in Cooper. That naivete when he tries to kiss the girl, how he did it and why, and how he reacted--David was able to fill in some of those spaces for me."

    Shooting the Space pilot in Australia was a somewhat different experience from working in the Culver City Studios where the series is now based. "It was a different vibe, because we had much more time to shoot, and the crew knew exactly what was going on. They're trying to keep that quality now, but with a third of the time, so it has been getting a lot crazier. They're trying to save money, because they're spending so much money on these FX, so they hire fewer wardrobe people, and these outfits have so much stuff going on. We just have to keep an eye out now, and the actors have to work much harder.

    "Before, it was just knowing your lines, walking in, 'Where do they put us, where are our doubles sitting, where is our motion?' and we had plenty of time. David Nutter would gladly give you all the little key points-- Look up here; I want you to look right, you're going to do this.' There's none of that now. If you happen to walk off when your double comes in, you don't know what's going on when you come back, because no one has the time to tell you!"

    Reflecting on his work in the pilot, Rowland jokes that his first reaction was relief that certain scenes turned out OK. "I guess the high point for me were the Shane Vansen scene and Pag's funeral scene. That's the one where I go back later to talk to him, and it was a very strange scene to shoot, because they wanted to come at it from 20 different angles. It was an important scene, and I'm pleased with it, but that was the hardest scene by far to do. I had a couple of friends die a month before, so it was a trip, relating to how Cooper emotes. Plus the tension of shooting it, because I knew it was important to the pilot, and it was all me."

    With the first season of Space well underway, Rowland says the series, as well as his own character, is starting to fall nicely into place. Each of the early episodes deal primarily with a single character.

    "The first one ["The Farthest Man From Home"] is about Nathan West and shows his dilemma and his conflict. The second ["The Dark Side of the Sun"] deals with Shane and the third, 'Mutiny,' deals with me. It's about a mutiny that takes place on a space freighter, and has to do with the In Vitros getting all riled up about the politically correct stuff. I turn into the Martin Luther King of the In Vitros. It's an amazing episode. The first two were great, but the third is less action and more intense drama.

    Space Spats

    Because of the series' hectic shooting schedule, the cast members have discovered that there isn't time for much of anything above and beyond Space. "I have no personal life!" says Rowland, only half-jokingly. "You can't. You come home and you can't even call people back. You just say, 'Guys, I'll see you in nine months!' It's an important part of your life, you've worked hard for this moment, and you've got to do the job. It's really hard to come home after 14 hours and putting in all that energy to making that scene work, and the weekend is really just prepping for the next week."

    On the plus side, the actor says the producers have been very receptive to suggestions from the cast, who are now starting to gel very nicely. "It's just up to you to grab it and go. In the pilot, they take you, but the series is different. The actor has to really take charge, or he's out. You almost have to be your won director, and go and look at every frame and see where you are, where the mark is, were the light is, and some scenes aren't quite complete, because these scripts are written much quicker, and you'll notice some little glitches, and you can't sit back and ignore them. You have to take it into your own hands and change it.

    "Last night, we were all sitting around realizing what was happening, and we made a pact to look out for each other. The cast is wonderful. We all get into our little vibes because we're working so closely together, but everybody has the same fear. None of us want to make idiots of ourselves, but we're all exhausted, and sometimes you hate what you're doing, and you hate yourself and you hate everybody around you."

    Rowland continues, picking up steam again. "Or somebody will say something insensitive. You'll wake up and say, 'Did I screw up on that last take?' and you want them to lie, but they'll say, 'Yeah, you kind of sucked!' and you think, 'OK, just wait until you're feeling insecure and need support!'

    "Or someone will think they're the acting coach for the day--'You need to speak from your gut, lift your face up, your neck looks fat' and you say, 'Shut Up!' They've already printed that take and moved on, so now you're stuck with it and they've left you with this little nightmare. In the pilot I was a putz. Everybody was so nice to me but a little condescending. I just went off and did my own thing, but we all get along really well now."

    As for the future of the series, Rodney Rowland says he hasn't given a great deal of thought to the idea of Space: Above & Beyond becoming the next X-Files or Star Trek. Confronted with the prospect of making public appearances, dealing with piles of fan mail and doing the endless interviews that are part and parcel of being a cult hit, the actor becomes contemplative once more.

    "You know, I've just heard little things about that, but I don't give it a lot of energy. I'm not a big science-fiction guy, so I don't know how that world works. I'm learning about all the PR stuff as I go along, but right now, I just care about going to the set and doing a good job. That's all I can really worry about."


    HTML Copyright, 1998, Web-Worthy Productions.
    Copyright and TM, 1996, FOX Broadcasting Company.