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Kevin Sorbo adds the genial to Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda By Patrick Lee

Kevin Sorbo, star and executive producer of the hit syndicated SF series Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, said that the show is undergoing several big changes as it enters its third season in North America, with an order for at least one more after that.

First, Robert Engels (Twin Peaks) joins the production as head writer, and will bring a lighter touch to the series. Second, Sorbo's character, Capt. Dylan Hunt, will loosen up a little himself.

Big changes have also taken place for Sorbo behind the scenes. Sorbo, 44, and his wife, Sam, 36, recently celebrated the first birthday of their first child, a son named Braeden Cooper. Sorbo is learning how to balance family with Andromeda's grueling schedule.

Sorbo took a moment in October to speak with Science Fiction Weekly about Andromeda during a break in filming at the show's Vancouver, B.C., studio. Sorbo also talked candidly about the departure of Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who created Andromeda based on notes from late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

You're now balancing fatherhood with work?

Sorbo: [Braeden]'s the only thing that's important now.

Having a child kind of changes your perspective on things, doesn't it?

Sorbo: Yeah, it does. No question. It's cool. I love it. Absolutely love it.

Where are you at in the production process on Andromeda?

Sorbo: Episode 17 already. We're flying. I think only two or three have aired in the States so far [the season began Sept. 30]. ... We start [production] much earlier in our TV [season than big network shows]. We start shooting in April, when most people are just finishing up their previous year. And it's good for a number of reasons. Number one, you get out of here before the real rainy months. But we don't go outside that much anyway. But still, I kind of like the fact that I get mid-December through mid-April down in L.A. or wherever else I'm going to be.

What do you do on your hiatus?

Sorbo: Those four months I'm sort of bopping around. Hopefully, other projects will come up. That's one reason I love the show so much, because I get such a bigger break. Never got that on Hercules [The Legendary Journeys], you know? Just a couple months a year.

And you're not so far away?

Sorbo: Yeah, New Zealand wasn't exactly a hop, skip and a jump, that's for sure.

How many episodes are you shooting this year?

Sorbo: Twenty-two a year.

And you've already been renewed for season four?

Sorbo: Four is already picked up, so we're definitely coming back next year, and unless we totally explode or implode, we will get season five. I feel pretty confident. I think we've got a good fan base now, and Tribune [Entertainment, which produces the show,] seems to be pretty solid behind the show and where they want it to go

There are some changes this year. You have a new head writer?

Sorbo: Bob Engels.

What does he bring?

Sorbo: I think it's just different in the fact that there's more of the humorous beat to it. There's more of a quirky beat to it. We're not going to go so overboard of what he did with Twin Peaks, but there's still just more strange twists and turns. But I think we're making it just more accessible for everybody. I think we're making it easier to follow. We were getting off the track, and the show was getting too dark and too hard to follow. And I think season three just brings a lot of shows that just have a beginning, middle and end. Pretty much like the original Star Trek was. If you weren't watching every week, you could, boom, pop on and still see what's going on and have fun.

Even season two had too much backstory?

Sorbo: Robert Hewitt Wolfe was replaced midway through season two. ... He just had a different vision of ... what everybody thought the show was going to be. So when one guy wants his vision, and the other producers and the studios and the financial backers are all saying, "Well, this is not what we want [and] thought the show was going to be," unfortunately for him—because Robert's a very talented guy—he loses that battle. But he wasn't willing to change, so all the power to him if he doesn't want to be that way.

What did he want?

Sorbo: It was just ... very dark. ... We want to stay true to Gene Roddenberry's vision, which had the show being, "Let's have some hope. Let's have some happy endings." Every ending was kind of a downer. We've won the battle, but oh my God, we really didn't, because now look what we've got. It was just kind of dark and sad, and I think that was putting a shroud over everybody in the cast and crew. I mean, it was just, "My God, can we have some levity, you know?"

We just finished an episode that Peter DeLuise directed, first-time director. Peter's out of [21] Jump Street and all that. Great director, had a blast. I'm saying this without seeing even just the first cut of it. I think it's by far and away our most entertaining and funniest show that we've ever had, and I want more shows like that. I'd like about one-third of the shows to be like that and a third to be sort of middle-of-the-road and then another third to be the darker and heavy, more dramatic ones.

The one we're doing now ["Twilight of the Idols"] is a more dramatic one. We have Michael Ironside in, playing a really good foil. Oh, he's great. We had a great day yesterday. This is a very talky episode. I think I have more dialogue in this episode than I did in three combined. Michael says more than I say in a season. They just gave him chunks of pages. ... He plays a guy that he's good, but he's evil, but it's "Who knows?" We definitely left it out there that he can come back, which I hope happens.

What other surprises can we expect this year?

Sorbo: Like the last episode we shot ... we end up in a system that we didn't want to go into. It's basically a garbage system. It's a very poor, bad side of the tracks. The people that run the system are half cracked-out anyway. It's literally the garbage dump of the universe. They have toxic waste floating in space. ... And because of that, and because of the high radioactivity and everything else, we can't even find a way out of it. And they have to navigate the old way, basically by stars and knowing where you are.

Well, we don't know where the hell we are. So we have to actually employ these lunatics to get us out of this system. And in the process, we come upon a princess within their royal court area that's really not a princess. She's a con. We find out she's a con, but she's got these monks. ... And then the guy at the royal court thinks she's a princess, and she's conned everybody, but she's also stolen all their money. And I'm stuck in the middle of it, and they're just going to kill her on sight, with an android who's a judge who's only operating at about 70 percent anyway.

It's just funny. And Peter made it just hilarious and a howl. Everybody reacts to each other, and in the middle of this all, I'm obviously very attracted to the princess. I kind of like the bad-girl image she's got, because she's also very hot. And it was just a fun episode, and Peter brought in a lot of humor to it, which I like, because we always did that in Hercules. ... Hercules in space is what that episode is. It was fun.

So Dylan's going to be a little more Han Solo this year?

Sorbo: Yeah, I think so, and I think that's where the episodes are starting to go. ... This season you'll see us running into more and more problems with the Commonwealth that Dylan formed, because it's not the Commonwealth that he wanted. It shows you right away all the political crap that goes on. It doesn't matter what country or world or wherever you're from. Politics are always going to be there, and [with] politics comes people's own personal interests. They sort of get in the way of what I thought the Commonwealth was going to be. There's all kinds of corruption.

So he becomes disillusioned, and pretty much before the season's over, I think people will see Dylan say, "You know what? Screw the Commonwealth. You know what? Let's just go out and do good for people. I don't have time." He's going to become a little bit more impatient. Sarcastic, but in a fun [way]. ... He's going to be, like you said, more of a renegade. He's going to be more of a guy [who's] just going to say, "You know what? I got nothing to lose anymore. I've lost everything. Let's just go out and have some fun."

Isn't that where you wanted it to go all along?

Sorbo: Oh yeah. I think just [that] this guy has lost everything. Why should he be so conservative? ... People like action shows like this and adventure shows like this. You know, we all want to be that hero. That guy that just says, "What the hell? I could die, but at least I'm doing something good for something." That's what I call being a hero. You put yourself in harm's way for the good of somebody else.

Is the show becoming more Hercules and less Star Trek?

Sorbo: Well, for lack of better reference, yeah. I mean, you know, because that's where I came from. ... And I don't want people that didn't like Hercules to be turned off by that. It's still a science-fiction show. It's still a show about the future. It's just that we've brought [a] lighter tone to it, and I think we've made it ... a funner show. It's more of a "Butch and Sundance" type of feel to it now than it was about just being dark and depressing. Because there's enough dark and depressing crap out there every day right now, and I think people want to have an escape. And hopefully we're one of those shows that can give people an hour of just having a fun fantasy.

Can you talk about balancing the dual role of star and executive producer?

Sorbo: I think I've gotten better at what I believe my role as executive producer is. There are other executive producers, but we all sort of look at things in our own ways. ... We all get a little piece of the pie, so to speak, and our say in the show. And sometimes it becomes overwhelming. ... [Production companies] Fireworks [Entertainment] and Tribune will say, "We got to get this done, blah blah blah." But I enjoy it. ... I did on Hercules, too. I mean, I never got any final say in terms of editing, but now I get to look at the cuts. I get to say, "Look, why is this shot gone?" Or "Can we make that quicker?" Or "I know we took a shot here of Harper doing this and that." So ... you know, I get in my say. And I think I have a good sense of the show. I think I understand it. So I'm one of the many cooks.

It's not that I get final everything. But they certainly will look at my suggestions, and the majority of the time, they actually implement them in the final cut because ... I think I'm making good decisions. I think I'm making good choices. If they don't like what I've asked, they'll tell me why, and I don't be a baby about it. I'll sit there. I mean, I'm always open for open debates and arguments. You know, it's just nice to have a say in there.

From the start, I hired the cast. I had final say on really what the cast was going to be. We'd see a selection of three, and I had in my contract to say yes or no. And they trusted me, and I think that's why they brought me on board to get the show off the ground in the first place. I think the success of Hercules had something to do with a series of this nature being guaranteed 44 episodes before we even hired actors, show runners, anybody. And, you know, I wanted that credit on Hercules and never got it. So I'm in there. I'm not just saying my lines. I'm also actively involved in the things that happen on the show.

How does that play out on the set? Do you exercise leadership?

Sorbo: Oh, certainly. But I felt it even on Hercules. I think I was on shows as a guest star, and you see the way actors are, good and bad. And I said I don't want to be one of those bad ones, you know? I want to be a guy that people still like. I mean, we all get in our moods. We're not up every day. But I'm a bit of a joker, and I like to have fun on the set. I always like to have fun on the set. When you work long days, you might as well. And I've been on shows where the lead actors were not very friendly and not very nice. And you can see the crew. It's not fun. Nobody wants to be there. Nobody wants to do anything with this guy. These guys will bend over backwards for me, and I'll bend over backwards for them. It's a good working relationship on both sides of the camera, and same thing with our actors. Today with [co-stars] Lisa [Ryder] and with Gordon [Michael Woolvett], we have a very good time on the set. And I appreciate their talents, and I believe that they appreciate what I bring to the table as well.

What can you tell us about guest stars this season? You asked Bruce Campbell to appear?

Sorbo: Bruce pulled out, dirty bastard [laughs]. He pulled out because of his book [If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor]. He'd done a book, and he's going on doing the second release of it, and he's just traveling all over the country, signing things. So he says he wants to do it, so hopefully we'll get him back. ... It'd be great. We had such a good time on Herc, and he wants to do it. It's just a matter of finding him. He was actually supposed to play the part that James Marsters ended up getting in season two, the Nietzschean [Charlemagne Bolivar]. So that was originally written for Bruce. But James did a great job with it, so we're actually trying to get James back now, too, to play that part again. But we gotta get something with Bruce, and we're going to get [Sorbo's Hercules co-star] Michael Hurst back to play a different role again. So that'll be fun. We've got John de Lancie back. We've got Michael Ironside this episode.

Jason Alexander?

Sorbo: I did Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? [with him]. Jason is a huge Gene Roddenberry fan. So he would love to do it, so hopefully we'll get him too. I mean, it's out there, and people want to do it. Who's the guy from 24 [Dennis Haysbert]? He sat behind me at the Emmys, and he said, "I'd love to come and do your show." I said, "Do you have time?" And he goes, "I'm in the show, but I got time." I said, "We'd love you to come on, you know?" It'd be great.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura [Sorbo is a native of Minnesota]?

Sorbo: Jesse said he'd love to do it, too. So now it's a matter of just putting it out there. You know, it's really up to the writers. I'm giving them a list of people who want to do the show. ... Meat Loaf wants to do it. I'd love to get Meat down here.

Is Brent Stait (Rev Bem) coming back?

Sorbo: We just shot an episode with Brent. It's an interesting metamorphosis he goes through. He changes his look. He's still an alien, but the Magog turns into kind of a bizarre Magog-human-like transformation.

Is that an attempt to address his makeup issues [Stait left the show in part because he didn't like the elaborate makeup]?

Sorbo: Oh, certainly. Certainly. But I think the look is kind of cool. I'm trying to get him to come and do more episodes next year.

Any chance he'd be a regular again?

Sorbo: If I had my way, yes. But beyond that, I don't know. It's still up in the air.

Do you guys do a lot of practical jokes on the set?

Sorbo: Let's cut to the chase. The force lance looks like a vibrator, OK? I mean, it looks like a penis. It does. The first season, they actually were, like, flesh-colored. It was ridiculous, and you couldn't help it. The minute anybody sees them or looks at them or holds on to them, you can't help but think of it. So I constantly do things, the pig that I am, [to] every female co-star we have on the show. I basically pull it out at the end of every take, and I ask them, "Have you seen my force lance?" And it's become an ongoing joke. I actually put it on the first year's crew gift. I gave boxer shorts out. On the back it said, "Have you seen my force lance?" with the Andromeda logo on the front. It's become a standard-issue joke.

Gordon Michael Woolvett, who plays Seamus Harper, is also writing an episode this year?

Sorbo: Gordon has a bizarre, twisted, incredibly intelligently, funny mind of his own, and ... he's right now writing the next episode which we'll shoot. ... Number 19 will be his episode. He wrote two other scripts that I think are really good. The studio doesn't know what they're going to do with them yet, but they commissioned him to do this other one. But I'm hoping the second episode which I just read that he wrote is a great episode. And we're hoping that we end up using them.

Are you planning on writing or directing any of your own?

Sorbo: You know, I'm ready to do two episodes a year in my contract. ... Physically, I was supposed to direct the 19th episode this year as well, which would have been my sixth one to direct. I keep turning them down. I like my life right now, and directing just adds another 20 hours onto a work week that's already 80 hours long. So I just look at it and go, "You know, I've got a kid." I've got a different life now than I had on Hercules. I was a single guy, and I was so far out of the loop of Hollywood. Here in Vancouver, it's the same time zone, it's two and a half hours away. So even though I'm out of the loop, I'm not out-out-out of the loop. So I'm just trying to get other things going in my life. I'm trying to get open some doors for future films. I've got a meeting this weekend to potentially do my own sitcom, so there's other things I want to do.

When would that be?

Sorbo: Well, this show's got at least two more years on it. But we're putting out the feelers, and I've had some good response as a guest star. I've done Just Shoot Me, four episodes of Dharma & Greg, and I just had good response from the different studios ... saying they wouldn't mind maybe having something happen. Yeah, two years is still sort of a long way away, but then again, it's not, and I want to keep the door open. I mean, I don't know what's going to happen with the show. They haven't said anything beyond five years, so I've got to think of my own future, you know?

Any feature-film work?

Sorbo: I just did a small film called Clipping Adam, which is a small independent film with Louise Fletcher as well. I play a priest that works with this kid that's kind of going through a lot of issues since his mother and young sister died in a car crash and his father's an alcoholic. It's kind of a heavy drama, very touching, and I hope it gets distribution. I think it's got potential to do well at maybe film festivals and things. But it was fun to do something different. I shot that in August on our hiatus, and I'm looking for a couple things right now. I've got a script that I'm in love with. I don't want to give a name right now. It's out to a feature-film actor, but I don't think there's really any difference between feature-film and TV guys, since everybody in movies is now doing TV as well. So, you know, I'm hoping for something else. I do want to break the mold and kind of get to do other things and sort of stretch the acting muscles and show people that it's just not all Mr. Action Guy.

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