Usually, the second-in-command on a science-fiction battleship is a bland foil for the likes of a Captain Kirk or a Captain Picard. But as Battlestar Galactica executive producer Ron Moore has explained, Colonel Saul Tigh was written as a break from tradition: a chronic drunk with a temper, a volatile wife, and a death wish, he's also loyal to the end. He's the kind of guy people put up with in good times, because during bad times, he'll always watch their backs. Or so it seems. [Warning: major spoilers for past BSG seasons are ahead throughout this intro and interview.]
Since BSG relaunched in 2003, Michael Hogan, a veteran actor of stage, screen, and radio, has inhabited one of the grimmest characters on a consistently unhappy show. Col. Tigh was held captive and tortured by the Cylons, who took one of his eyes; he executed his own wife for treason; and at the end of season three, he discovered that after fighting the "toasters" in two wars, he was actually a Cylon himself.
Hogan rarely speaks with the press. But with the second half of Battlestar Galactica's final season set to begin on the SCI FI Channel on January 16, The A.V. Club spoke with him about his take on—and frequent objections to—Col. Tigh's plot arc, plus where he got his start as an actor, his passion for research, and his love for performing on horseback.
The A.V. Club: How did you get into acting?
Michael Hogan: In the mid-'60s, I quit school and wandered across the country, hitchhiked back and forth a few times, and ended up in hippie times, in the street in Toronto, in Yorkville. And I figured, "You know, I'd better go back and get my high-school diploma if I'm going to do anything here." I went back to get what we call "junior matric."
At school one day, one of the English teachers caught up to me and said, "Hogan, we just had a meeting of the drama club last night, and you're going to be in the play this year." And I said, "Oh, man, I'm not going to be in any play. I've never seen a play, I got no interest in seeing a play, so no, I'm not your man." And then of course the other teachers would say, "Hogan, you're in the play!" "No sir, I'm not in the play." And the gym teacher would say, "Well, why don't you do another couple laps around the gym there, Hogan?" It was all good-natured.
AVC: Did they see something in you, or they were just trying to rope people in?
MH: I think it was because I'd had life experience. I was older, and you know, I had long hair and a moustache when I went back to school. And also, I am sort of an outgoing person when put in that circumstance. So I could see where they'd go, "Hogan would be good to be in this play."
I was Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. I still remember some of those speeches in there, and sitting at home at night learning those speeches, just being amazed at the power of words. And the fact that one monologue could send you laughing, crying, send you through the whole loop. I enjoyed that part of the experience—not thinking that I was going to do this with my life. At that age, you can do whatever it is you want to do.
The head of the English department, after we'd done it, caught me in the hall one day and said "Hogan, after all your bitching and moaning and whining, what did you think of that experience?" And I said, "You know, sir, I would love to do that once with some professional actors. Because it must be an amazing experience." All the students that were in [the play] weren't really into it. He said, "Oh, you should go to the National Theatre School." So he got me some brochures, and I sent off an application and auditioned in Toronto.
And that summer, I was working in the mines, in the bush, and I was enjoying the job I was doing at the mines. I thought I would stay there for a year and save enough money and go to University, or do something or other. And I got a letter in the mail saying, "Welcome to the National Theatre School." So I thought, "Well, that'll be interesting."
While I was there, in the first year, I met Susan King, who was in the third year, and the prettiest girl in Canada. Fell in love with her, and I decided not to go back. Susan had lots of work out of theater school, she had the Shaw Festival and the major theaters across the country. She was working in the film and television business at the time as well, and so I left with her and just was an extra, or a walk-on. She'd get a call saying, "Hey, would you come and do this play or whatever?" And she'd say, "Yeah, I will, if there's a part for my husband in it." So I'd be a spear-carrier, [or] a collection of waiters and porters, while Susan did these shows.
Paxton Whitehead was running the Shaw Festival at the time, where Susan worked, and I got along very well with him. At one point he asked me to audition, and I landed a major role at the Shaw Festival, in O'Flaherty V.C. But it wasn't really that great an experience. I was a prospector's son from Northern Ontario, and at the Shaw Festival, I played these upper-crust British folks.
But you know, I did keep going at it. In the early '70s, when we started all those theaters in Toronto, I did a play called Something Red, written by Tom Walmsley, and it was the first time I knew that I could do everything that was required of me in this play.
AVC: It's said that you do a lot of research for your roles.
MH: Well, that's my passion for it. I think that's what keeps me in this business. I've played a heart surgeon, [in] a play that dealt with the God obsession with heart surgeons. Because you know, for a brief moment, you hold the entire history of mankind in your hand while you're transplanting or fixing a heart. So I went and watched open-heart surgery, and I stood there with my stomach four inches from the patient's head. And then a little while after that, I did a docudrama where I played a heart-attack victim, and we got an ambulance, and we went to the hospital—it was all prearranged, needless to say—and when the emergency room got quiet, in we went with all the bells and whistles going, and the whole staff came, and I was treated like a heart-attack victim in the emergency unit.
Doors open to you every time you get a different role. So, yeah, the research is my passion, that's why I keep doing it.
Anytime I've done a television series, [I say], "No, no, I don't want to be a regular in this." So it takes a long time to work the contract out that I'm episode-by-episode. Being a regular in a television series, for me—if I wanted to be a cop, I woulda went to cop school. If I wanted to be a doctor, I would've gone to medical school. You get trapped in your normal episodic television shows, basically doing the same thing. And that's not artistically to put those down. I'm just saying for me as Hogan, that's not what I signed up for.
And Battlestar Galactica, I almost didn't audition for. You've probably heard that tale.
AVC: Right, until you found out Michael Rymer was involved.
MH: It sounds pretty presumptuous or pompous to say I only auditioned because I heard Michael Rymer was directing it. I don't think that's how it went down. It might have been that I heard Rymer was directing it and went, "Boom…" and then found out that Eddie [Edward James Olmos] was in it.
AVC: Did you know Rymer personally, or by reputation?
MH: I'd seen Angel Baby, and holy smokes. So that's how I knew his reputation. That's what made me fascinated, wanting to meet the man who wrote and directed this piece.
You know, this happened before. When I did Monk, I almost didn't go in an audition for that, either. Kind of the day before it happened, I was saying, "No," and then I went, "Hogan, what are you doing? This is what you do for a living. You go and audition for these things." So I went, and we had a great time, and then I got to work with Tony Shalhoub, and that was an amazing experience. They'd say, "Hogan, you can go back to your Winnebago now, because we're covering Tony," and I'd say, "No, I'm going to stand and watch this man work!"
AVC: You were also in a show called Cowboy King, where you performed on horseback.
MH: That was an amazing experience. Caravan Farm Theatre [where it was staged] used to go from town to town with Clydesdale horses, and they would do the show in the wagons. Ergo, caravan farm theater. And then in '77, I think it was, they bought the farm that they wintered the horses at, and have done the shows there ever since. They do a summer show and a winter show.
There was a field of rye when I got up there, and they cut that down, and we built a corral with a ranch gate, and a bandshell right beside the ranch gate, and bleachers on the outside of the corral. And it's a huge field, and there's a rise as you're sitting in the corral looking out through the ranch gate, that's about a quarter-mile away. And then it dips to a valley that you can't see, of course, because of the rise. And then about 10 miles beyond that is a massive red cliff.
At the beginning of the play, the band is playing, and I am with six drill riders hiding over the rise, and we got walkie-talkies. And at one point, the walkie goes off, "Go"—and we ride, full tilt, up over the rise. The audience listens to the band, and then they go, "Whuh—holy fuck! Woah!" And we come barreling across at full tilt, me in the center and three drill riders off to each side, and whip right into the center. I pull up in the center of the riding ring, and the drill riders ride three times quickly around me and then go out and park their horses just outside the corral gate, and the band goes, "WHOMP—just like a cowboy." And I get off the horse and say this cowboy poetry while they do their thing.
My wife Susan was in it, and at one point, she was hiding behind some hay bales that just blended into the field, hiding on a motorcycle. And someone comes running on and goes, "Cowboy King, there's a headlight coming up the drive!" And Susan comes barreling in on a motorcycle, with leathers on, and pulls her helmet off—and of course she's stunningly beautiful—pulls her helmet off and runs up and grabs the microphone on the stage, and sings.
It was an amazing experience. And every night after the curtain call, I'd ride up to one of the shacks to change, and every night, I thought, "Man, this is too much. This is heaven."
AVC: On Galactica, Ron Moore has characterized Tigh largely as a perennial screw-up, with obvious character flaws. But he's also the guy to count on when the chips are down.
MH: Exactly. He's loyal. He's old-fashioned loyal. He's got an old-fashioned dignity and a loyalty that is unwavering.
When the writers throw these curves at Tigh, I think it's interesting, because they know the heart of the man, and they're interested to see how he will react. [When] I was asked to go down to the planet [New Caprica, which was later occupied by the Cylons], I fought against that. "There's no way, I'm a career soldier! My job is to be [on Galactica], to protect, and that's what I do." But as an artist, what they gave me to do down there… I loved doing the argument for suicide bombing. I loved all that occupation stuff. I just loved it. And—I'm not going to talk about my politics, but that's got nothing to do with Hogan at all. But I certainly was proud to be able to go, "Hey, in two wars now, I've sent Vipers out on one-way missions, and this is no different."
And even the decision to make Saul Tigh a Cylon… Poor Tigh. Like, he's not well. Every day he is dizzy, he's sick, he's hurting, and you know, having to kill [his wife] Ellen, all that sort of thing—it's post-traumatic stress. It's the soldier's heart. It's all that syndrome, which was fascinating to research.
AVC: You were vocal in the past about not wanting to be a Cylon. But having seen where it's taken your character, do you feel now that it makes more sense?
MH: Well, of course, it makes sense to [the writers]. Every once in a while, we'd be doing a scene, and I'd say, "Boy, I'm glad I'm not a Cylon, I don't have to play that." If I'm playing a Cylon, then I've got to kind of deal with this unreality. I mean, how do I research that? What do I do here? I'm really going into performance mode then, I guess.
So, performance-wise, you know, am I happy with that sort of thing? Now, I've gotta say, I guess of all the people they could choose and they chose us, and they chose me—then I'm honored. That's an honor, to be part of it, therefore right through to the end to be a very important intrinsic figure in it.
AVC: This season, Tigh also formed a relationship with Six [the Cylon played by Tricia Helfer].
MH: See, there's another thing where you read this and go, "What am I doing? What's happening here?" He finds out, "Okay, there's a possibility of me being a Cylon. What do I do about this?" We know there's a Cylon in the brig. I can go down, open the door, and say, "Talk to me. Talk to me about anything. Just talk. What do you think? Do you feel? Do you?" I got nothing to lose. I can go down any time I want. And it's not because she's this beautiful, amazing thing. It could've been any Cylon down there.
AVC: At the same time, you guys develop a sexual relationship. It was strange to watch, because there wasn't a lot of explication about it until it turned out Six was pregnant.
MH: Well, you know, I guess there was a possibility at the beginning there'd be all these wild love scenes with Tigh and Number Six, which I just wasn't fond of. Why [would] we do that? Because you want to see an old man and this beautiful woman here?
If you did see Number Six and Saul Tigh making love, they would be making love. It wouldn't be just passion and "Let's do it, because I'm so horny," or "you turn me on so much." It just happens, and a love happens between them.
AVC: In the first scene on Earth, we see her just touching his back—
MH: Yes, exactly, it's those kinds of things. If there's any relationship there, it is a tenderness. And whatever comes out of that, that's it.
AVC: What's next for you?
MH: I don't really know. You know, I'm an old man, and there's always parts for old bald guys. I'm not too sure what is next. I'm always busy, and there's theatrical projects and a one-man show that I'm working on, et cetera. But I'm not sure.
As you know, I'm Canadian, and I've always lived in Canada, and I have been getting people asking me what's going on, why don't I come down [to Hollywood], and managers in L.A. saying, "Well, why don't I represent you here?" And so I might go and meet with a couple of these people. Because I'm in an interesting position where I'm in the twilight of my career. So if you really are thinking that I should be talking to you, what do you have in mind?