|Karen Cliche as Baylin in “Flash Gordon”|
The role of the sci-fi bounty hunter has a sort of cult following behind it. From Boba Fett and the plethora of other bounty hunters in “Star Wars” to Jubal Early in “Firefly,” the tradition of cool has continued, even spilling over into anime, comics and other mediums with characters like Spike Spiegel in “Cowboy Bebop,” Samus Aran of “Metroid” fame, Death’s Head in the self-titled Marvel UK comics series, and even Marvel’s Deadpool has been known to take a bounty or two. Now, with the new “Flash Gordon” television show on SciFi, a new bounty hunter’s story begins, that of Baylin of Mongo.
Karen Cliche will already be familiar to fans of Marvel’s late “Mutant X” television show, where she starred as Lexa Pierce. Cliche’s body of work includes series about vampires, musketeers, aliens, mutants and even porn stas. CBR News caught up with Cliche as she was getting ready to enjoy one of Wade Wilson’s own favorite past times, watching an episode of the “Golden Girls.”
For those who didn’t see last Friday’s premiere on SciFi, Cliche told us a bit about the first episode. “Basically, you’re introduced to all the characters and you find out that Flash’s father is…” Cliche told CBR News, before cutting herself off, realizing she might give away too much.
Cliche quickly changed the subject to her own character, the beautiful bounty hunter Baylin. “My character only comes in the last ten or fifteen minutes of the show, and comes in full force on assignment from the evil Ming from Mongo,” she said. “I’m an alien and I just come and I basically get stuck on Earth and kind of team up with Flash, Dale, and Zarkof and the whole gang. As the episodes roll on, we befriend each other but basically Baylin’s kind of a nomad. She doesn’t have her own tribe, when she discovers this other planets she maybe doesn’t even feel partial to her own planet.”
As for why Baylin feels that way, Cliche said, “She doesn’t feel attached to her own planet because she has been alone for most of her life, so that’s kind of her back story in one minute.”
Obviously, playing an alien can be a lot different then playing a human, as the whole world is new to them and they have a completely different state of mind. Some actors might find this difficult but Cliche found it interesting. “[In] my career I’ve played so many of these genre type things,” she said. “I’ve played a mutant [and] now I’m playing an alien. I’ve actually played an alien before in this really great show called ‘Galidor’ and I played a musketeer girl disguised as a man [in ‘Young Blades’]. So I really enjoy that whole challenge of going, ‘Okay, I have absolutely nothing to draw from, what do I do?’
“So, it’s just this little combination of finding subtleties that make that character distinct as an alien or a mutant or whatever it is but then also making her relatable to humans as well and have her have emotions that people, like people in the audience watching the show, can relate to. So it’s a nice little challenge, I actually really like it but it’s funny because the more I play with these kind of characters the more when I play normal girls I’m actually like, ‘Yawn!’ I’m a little bit like ‘Hey, where’s my superpowers? Where’s the challenge here?’ It’s interesting if it’s a well written human being but I think I’m starting to lean towards the ‘Gimmie some alien’ business.”
Though traditionally seen as a male-dominated area of fiction fandom, Cliche’s work in genre television brought her an appreciation for sci-fi and the like. “Yeah, absolutely,” she remarked. “I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m completely turned, I mean I just told you I was about to tune in to ‘The Golden Girls,’ but I certainly [have an appreciation for it]. Before I started doing this stuff, I didn’t understand it therefore I didn’t want to look at it. You know, ‘It’s too ‘sci-fi’, it’s too technical. I don’t get it.’ I just assumed that that would be the truth but once I started playing these roles I really realized the underlying theme to [them] whether it’s ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ or anything, it’s always very relatable to humans; it’s just they’re in a spaceship. That sometimes is the only difference. So, I’m not afraid of it anymore, actually I really have a bigger appreciation for it now that I’ve done it for sure.”
One might think that with Baylin being an alien, it might be difficult for Cliche or her audience to relate to the character she portrays, but as it turns out, that is not the case. “Well, most of the characters I play always have kind of the same running theme,” Cliche explained. “It’s always a girl who has been hurt or abandoned or whatever in the past that makes her create this really tough outer shell and be very protective of herself and very standoffish and very on guard towards others.
“So, I think just from the letters that I get and some of the young girl fans that I have, I hear that they totally relate to [the characters I play]. The girls that are really sweet and soft inside but because they’re so afraid of getting hurt they put on this tough act and there’s even some things about those characters that I relate to, which is probably a big reason why I play them so often because I really get it. So I feel like I’m kind of a spokesperson of tough girls with mushy little insides, I think that’s kind of my role or my characters roles in life for some people. It’s kind of interesting.”
With Baylin being an alien new to Earth, she is not aware of our culture and how things work — like peeling a banana. “Baylin gets put in these situations and [I] actually I like filming [them] cause I really like playing comedy, said Cliche. “We really wanted to make sure we kept in mind and played off that she is an alien. If you have someone that’s from a completely different culture coming into your home they will do things that you find either inappropriate or rude or funny or outrageous and that’s the same things we always want to keep playing with Baylin. I mean, she is from another planet the differences are going to be huge. So I’ve tried to eat a whole head of lettuce or a banana without peeling it first.”
Cliche didn’t actually have to eat an unpeeled banana, as “Flash saves the day!” she said. “He spared me, as an actress, to have to eat a banana with a peel on it and I’m really thankful for that.
“There is a bunch of funny situations like [with] a water bottle. Baylin wouldn’t open the cap and drink it; she has no idea. So she takes out her foot long knife, stabs it, and squirts it in her mouth. That’s just normal behavior to her. So there’s lots of little cool scenes that we play, little moments that I really really enjoyed because it adds a little silliness and a little reality. If Baylin shows up from another planet and she’s completely normal, she’s just like everybody else it wouldn’t make any sense
Her role on “Flash Gordon” has required Cliche to do physical training. “I’ve actually done a lot of training for the past few years just on the TV shows I’ve done. I’m always kind of a butt-kicking girl. There’s not actually too much physical stuff [on ‘Flash Gordon’]. Actually, when we come back after this little two week break, we are starting episode eleven. I know that that one is action packed. Tt’s very, very physical. Baylin meets her nemesis, this other hot sexy alien, and they have a big fight so that’ll be really, really fun to do. I really look forward to those things but I don’t necessarily have to do any training for that. I know how to sell a punch for the camera, that’s already kind of been trained into me about six years ago.”
Looking back on what she has already taped, Cliche determined that she has a favorite episode. “I don’t remember what number it was, but I’m thinking it’s either eight or nine. It’s where you find out a little bit about Baylin. There’s this big monster on Mongo called the Night Hunter and he’s this huge about 7 [to] 8-foot creature and he’s blood-sucking. Anyways, you basically find out why I’m so afraid of him and it has to do with what happened to my parents. So there’s a scene that Flash and Baylin have where you find out [why]. She basically finally exposes herself a little a bit and describes why she’s afraid of them and what happened to her parents and there’s a really touching bonding moment between the two.
“I really liked that it happened not in episode two but almost halfway through the show, so you don’t wait too long to find out why Baylin is the way she is but just at the right time. She kind of gives a little, here’s a little door that opens and you see in to her and you understand her a little bit better so I think it was really good timing. That was my favorite episode because you never really get to play that when you’re playing these tough girls the opportunities are rare to expose yourself and show another kind of range of your acting ability. I really like that it was a nice moment to just be calm and get a little teary-eyed.”
As this is a sci-fi show, special effects are par for the course, which always means there is some green screen work. Thankfully, “Flash Gordon” is filmed in Vancouver, B.C., which doubles for the planet Mongo. “We’re very lucky on the show that we shoot on these fantastic locations that give us the opportunity to feel like we are really on Mongo,” Cliche said. Because we’re in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. forests so you really don’t have to fake it very often.”
Cliche doesn’t find herself on a set too much, as “a lot of times we shoot on location, because often Flash and I are running through some forest of Mongo and a lot of the stuff we do is shot outside, which I absolutely love. Where as Ming and Rankol, they have a lot of stuff in the studio, and Dale when she’s at her office she’s in studio, but Flash and I get to do a lot of running around in the forest which is great.”
“It’s so much fun and I know that every actor says ‘Oh, it’s so fun. We have so much fun, it’s so great,’ but we really do,” Cliche confessed. “I’ve been so lucky, first of all, on every show I’ve done going to work, whether it’s four o’clock in the morning, I don’t care it’s just such a blast. Eric [Johnson], who plays Flash, is just so fun and always upbeat and very positive and hilarious and just great. Gracious, humble, the whole package. So it’s so wonderful working with him and most of my scenes are with him, so I am very lucky. Everybody else is just so wonderful, it’s just a great, great group of Canadian actors who are just really talented and really humble and it’s just a great time and the crew’s fantastic. You know, I have nothing bad to say.”
Flash Gordon has been around for over 70 years, and with such a lengthy history there’s certainly plenty of material to study up on, although Cliche wasn’t really afforded the chance to do so. “As soon as I got the role, the next day, practically, I was flying out to Vancouver [and] we started shooting two days after that. So, my time has really been consumed playing Baylin and reading our scripts and working. But then as my character is a new character, I didn’t need to do any previous research like the other cast did. I didn’t have to get to know my character and what people expected of my character prior to this so there was that relief from it.”
As SciFi’s “Flash Gordon” is a re-imagining of the classic franchise, Cliche found that she “didn’t want to know too much because our story and our take on it is, I don’t want to say quite different, but it is it’s own thing,” she said. “Its contemporary and its changed. Last time we ever saw Flash Gordon on screen was 25 years ago, so a lot of it’s changed; the cast is different and the characters have a new twist so you know I did just enough to know what I was talking about but that’s about it. I didn’t really feel the need to go into too much detail with the old stuff.”
“People love the old stuff. [There are] such fans out there, and especially for the movie, too. People are really, really excited about that movie.”
Comics fans are used to the comparisons between live action versions and the source material, but with SciFi’s “Flash Gordon,” it seems that most people are comparing it to the cult classic film than to the original comic strip. “Yes, that’s what I find too,” Cliche agreed, adding that that she hasn’t seen the movie. “At one point I was going to, someone had it in their trailer and we are all planning on watching it and I got called on set. I’ve never seen it but I hear it’s just a bunch of campy fun and it’s fantastic.”
As for the differences, there are no longer any Hawkmen, at least in name. “Our Hawkmen are called Dactyls and the lion men would be called the Turn. I really like the Hawkman episode we did and [former ‘Mutant X’ director] TJ Scott was our director for that one, so I think I might just be partial to that that episode because it was so cool and it was so amazingly fun to shoot.”
When asked if she had a favorite race of Mongo, Cliche said, “It really depends on how the writers write it in and how we meet them and what happens in the story that kind of makes me have a favorite.” Cliche was quick to add,”[The episode featuring] Tyrus, who is one of the lion men, that was a really good episode. I think that’s the one that’s airing next week. I really like that one, too. He’s my ex bond mate, as we say on Mongo, and he comes back to Earth to get me back, so it’s a pretty cool episode.”
Genre fiction has been very good to Cliche, and she’s eager to do more. “I have to say, I didn’t see ‘Elektra’ but when I saw the trailer for that I was like, ‘Wow.’ I would’ve really loved to do a movie like that were its just so kick-butt, I just thought that would be really fun in itself.”
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