GALACTICA.TV website: September 23, 2005
ME: I'm Mike Egnor and I'm here with Marcel Damen and today we're interviewing Terry Carter of Battlestar Galactica on the Friday before Screenheroes. Mr. Carter, I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.
TC: Please call me Terry.
ME: Terry, the first question I have is what made you decide to go into acting?
TC: Whoa... boy...! Let me see, because I have to think back, because I...we're talking about 1950s. I went to law school, I wanted to become a lawyer, and in the course of things I met a number of people in show business. Morris Carnovsky who was a well known name in theatre back those days... and Howard Da Silva I remember. They told me I should think about studying acting, because they felt I had some kind of potential. So I started studying acting with Howard Da Silva - he had an acting school...
ME: ...Now was this after law school, or did you...
TC: ...It was during law school, which was a big mistake (laughs) because I found myself spending more time studying my acting and kind of neglecting my law. After my second year in law school I dropped out, and I got a part in an off-Broadway play and joined the theatre group in Greenwich Village. From then on I didn't do anything other than acting for 30-40 years. It was fortuitous, that's all. Just being at the right place at the right time.
ME: Let me ask you this. Usually when I ask actors what got them started is that they can usually point to one specific point, one thing they did, with the audience and how they reacted and they thought: "Oh my goodness, this is what I want to do!". Did you have one specific play that you did or something...?
TC: I must tell you, I started out in theatre and the stage! I started working off-Broadway and that was in 1952...and I remember the first evening I was on stage in front of a live audience. I found myself thinking: "My God, these people are all listening to me!" and the next thing you know, I lost my lines... I forgot my lines (all laughing). It was terrible, it was terrible! And the stage manager, who was backstage, threw the line at me. I had to pick up the line and I went through the play and it was... I just DIED! And from that moment on it never happened again. It was a lesson. It was so dreadful an experience that it helped to shape me. It helped me to shape up. Within a couple of years I was on Broadway I played opposite Eartha Kitt in a Broadway play called Mrs. Patterson. I've done several things on Broadway. I played the title role in a musical called Kwamina. My first television series was Sergeant Bilko. It was in the 50's. I don't know if you had that information.
ME: What I had was that you did The Phil Rivers Show in 1955...
TC: Phil Silvers!
ME: Oh, ok. You worked on Playhouse 90?
ME: A lot of other people who appeared on Battlestar Galactica started doing The Steel Hour, Playhouse 90...those types of shows. Did you meet anybody doing that before Battlestar Galactica, any of the Battlestar Galactica actors?
TC: No, the interesting thing is that we did Battlestar Galactica in 1978. I didn't know any of the actors of Battlestar Galactica before we did Battlestar Galactica. I had worked for the producers, Leslie Stevens and Glen Larson, because I was on McCloud for 7 years and both of them had been associated with that show.
ME: Ok. Can you tell me if this is true? You're listed as the world's first black television news anchor. Is that true?
TC: Yes, it is.
ME: That happened in 1965 at WBZ in Boston.
TC: Yes, it is. That's true. Well, the interesting thing is that back in those days there wasn't much television around the world, you know. And places like...let's say we're in Holland now...they had probably one television station. I know it's true that Scandinavia had one state television station. There was not a lot of television and everything was black and white. In the United States the idea of being the first black news anchor man...I mean it's no accomplishment on my part. But Westinghouse Broadcasting owned WBZ in Boston and they felt that they wanted to hire somebody who could fill this bill. Again, being in the right place at the right time, I happened to be walking down the street in New York down 6th Avenue and I ran into a producer friend of mine, Chet Collier and he said: "Terry, would you be interested in doing this?" and told me all about it. I said: "I have no journalistic background other than working in the newspaper at school" and he said: "Why don't you give it a try?" So I met with them and told them my about my experience in black narrative. They gave me a few tests, they had me write some stories and they liked what I did. They brought me up to Boston, they tried me on camera and of course being on camera wasn't a difficult thing for me having been in the business for, you know, more than 10 years. So next thing you know I was there. Yeah, it was a very interesting experience. The reaction of the people in Boston was virtually, as far as I was concerned it was unanimous, I had no negative reactions.
ME: No hate mail?
TC: Nothing what so ever. People...well considering I was not a threat to anybody. I wasn't trying to marry their daughter or move next door or anything like that, so…Some people thought I was doing a good job on television, so they were fine. I remember I walked by a construction site one day when I was working in Boston as a newscaster...and hey, everybody in town knew me because I was the only black face on TV. So this construction worker, he said: (Terry speaking with a Boston accent) "Hey, Terry! I want you to stay out of my bedroom!" (all laughing) "Everytime I come home, I come into the bedroom my wife is watching you on television!" (all laughing). But generally speaking, the reception was quite good.
MD: You said in acting it's all about who you know or knows you. But how lucky were you that you were approached by three agents, for three shows and you picked McCloud, only because you like Dennis Weaver? Because this got you connected to Glen Larson.
TC: Well, it's a combination of things as I see it. An actor, first of all, has to prepare. You've got to have what they're looking for when the time comes. A lot of people think that acting is just as easy as riding a bike or something like that. It takes a great deal of preparation. There are lots of people who are considered actors and don't have any big background. They end up usually playing themselves, because that what's the best they can do. But it does take a certain amount of preparation and as a consequence many actors continue studying throughout their career. In addition to being prepared as a craftsman, it's very important to meet the right people at the right time. And so it's, of course being at the right time at the right place with the right thing. I think that's the case. Was that your question?
MD: Yeah, you got connected with Glen Larson then. He approached you for the part of Lieutenant Boomer and you got injured in a skating accident.
TC: Yes, what happened is when McCloud finished we'd worked on it for 7 years, they... when they were putting together Battlestar Galactica they thought of me in the role of Lieutenant Boomer. Just between you and me, and I've never said this to anybody before, I think it was a mistake. Because Lieutenant Boomer as you see him now with Herb Jefferson playing it... He's a kind of gung-ho, young fighter. And I was a little more mature. I'd been in the business for 30...no, no, no...20 years, 20 odd years or something like that.
MD: You were already 50 then!
TC: Oh yeah, easily. Yes, as a matter of fact, but who's counting! (all laughing) So...it was ok with me, I mean I was willing to play it. But as luck would have it, I was...I went roller skating with my daughter, my little daughter, at that time she was 6 years old. We went out to Venice Beach, and I'm a good skater. I hadn't skated in many years, but there was not a problem with that. But as we were leaving the area, the skating area, the sidewalk where we were walking was broken and there were holes in the sidewalk. And I remember the last thing I said was: "Look out for the holes in the sidewalk", and the next thing I know, this hole reached up and grabbed my skate. (all laughing) I had shoe skates on and I lost my balance. I went over and my foot stayed in the same place. It broke my ankle, and it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I had to be carried, you know, and be put in a splint. So naturally I called my agent and I said Jack, this is what happened and he said: "What the hell are we going to tell the Battlestar Galactica people?" Well, fortunately for me they were still writing, and writing, and rewriting, and planning, and postponing the start date of the show. And we were just hoping that maybe my leg would heal. So they finally did call me for the show and I had designed with my agent what he was going to say. They said "We're starting on Wednesday and we need Terry at 7 'o clock Wednesday morning" and he said: "You know what I just found out that Terry broke his leg" and they hit the roof! They said "Why the hell didn't you tell us?" and he said: "I didn't know, I just found out myself". I had to get him of the hook of course. So there I was without a job and you know… uhmm... You asked me about being in 3 different jobs and how did I get into Battlestar Galactica? But I'll go back to that...
MD: No, no... I asked the Battlestar Galactica question.
TC: Oh...ok. The thing is that I just saw that the boat was leaving without me. And Leslie Stevens and Glen Larson, one of them got the idea: "Hey, why don't we...what about Terry for Colonel Tigh?"
MD: Because it was supposed to be a Caucasian part.
TC: Yes, yes!
MD: You got in really late, because Boomer was already in when they started shooting. Didn't they have anybody else yet for Colonel Tigh?
TC: Evidently not, no... I don't think he [Herb Jefferson] had started shooting. I know he was cast, because they had a big casting session after they lost me.
MD: So you don't know if there was any other Caucasian actor...
TC: No, no, no...No, if they had cast somebody that would have been the end of it. No, there was no other person considered. They just hadn't got around to that role. So by the time they started shooting, I was already part of the show. So that's how I got that...but you'd asked me...
MD: I'd asked you about McCloud. How lucky it was that you had three parts to choose from, that you choose McCloud just because you liked Dennis Weaver.
TC: Before I answer your question, what I'm trying to figure out is how did I digress so much that I answered the question you didn't...you didn't ask me that question. How did I get to that?
MD: I asked you the question later about Battlestar Galactica.
TC: You did??? Oh... Okay! (all laughing). I'm kind of tired so, you know... Alright! The only time in my life it ever happened that I was offered three different series at the same time was at that time. There was a show called San Francisco International, SFX, which had to do with San Francisco airport and the problems they had with lights and lots of different things, I guess, whatever...It was that [style]. Then there was another one called Douglas Selby, D.A. and it was about a detective, about a district attorney and stuff like that. And then there was McCloud. I knew nothing about any of the shows, except that I knew that Dennis Weaver was hired to play McCloud. He happened to be one of my favorite actors. If you ever saw Touch of Evil, you saw what a brilliant job he did and so many other things that made him…you know actors have their own favorites and he was one of mine, of my favorites. So that was no big choice. I put my money on the horse that I believed in. And what happened...San Francisco International, they did a pilot, but it never went to series. I think that's what happened. Douglas Selby, D.A. I don't know what happened, but it just...they all floundered. And we, with McCloud, we worked for 7 years. So it was quite lucky on my part.
MD: Can we go back to Galactica now? (all laughing) I'd like to give you some names and I'd like your short reaction to each and every name. Lorne Greene who played Adama?
TC: One of the nicest people I have ever met. Really warm individual, very professional actor, full of humor, very funny man. Even when we were not on the set or even in between takes, he was a very relaxed fellow. I think everybody loved him. He was…he had a paternal quality. And the warmth and his professionalism exuded and set a high mark for everybody.
MD: Was he really like the head of the family?
TC: Yeah, kind of, he was, yeah! And uhmm...he was a wonderful man, we miss him so much.
MD: David Greenan who played Omega?
TC: I didn't know David very much other then on the set. Very pleasant fellow, very nice to work with, but we didn't socialize off the set.
MD: You did shoot a lot of scenes together.
TC: Yeah, we did, that's true. He was a good man to work with.
MD: Maren Jensen who played Athena?
TC: Very pleasant young lady. Very, very nice girl and we didn't spend that much time together, but our scenes were pleasant.
MD: Do you think she got...there's always been the story that she was [written] far more in the stories but it didn't get worked out, later in the scenes.
TC: I really don't know too much about that.
MD: Sarah Rush who played Rigel?
TC: Sarah Rush, lovely person, fine actress, and I really enjoyed working with her. In fact I got in touch with her about this and the last convention to see if she'd come, because we all really wanted her to come. She just had a baby...
MD: Yes, she adopted one.
TC: Yeah, adopted child, exactly. But she's a lovely person and a fine actress.
MD: Richard Hatch who played Apollo?
TC: Yeah, Richard and I, we spend a lot of time together. He's a good guy and very... he's very dedicated. As you know, he was trying to revive Battlestar Galactica after they went south. There are not a lot of people with his tenacity.
MD: Dirk Benedict who played Starbuck?
TC: Dirk is a great guy, we got along fine. We didn't have a lot of scenes together, but we had a few I could think of. I can think of (laughs) some funny scenes we had together, that's true. But fine guy, and a good actor...
MD: Herb Jefferson Jr. who played Boomer?
TC: Herb and I got along...I didn't know Herb before we did the show, but we got to know each other on and off stage and I like him a lot and I respect his work and I respect his mind.
MD: Noah Hathaway who played Boxey?
TC: (laughs) You know, Noah, I think he was 6 or 7 years old when we did the show. Certainly we did get to know him well then and parents. He's a cute little guy and now that he's grown up he's a fine young man. We've had some nice chats. Good actor.
MD: You remember any others from the bridge crew?
TC: Well, John Colicos.
MD: He's not on the bridge crew, he was more like...
TC: No, no...(laughs) But John Colicos was one of my favorite people and I'm sorry to see him pass.
MD: You didn't do any scenes together.
MD: Did you meet him off stage then?
TC: Yeah, only because we knew each other. We were friends. Ina Balin, who also died...we had some scenes together. I forget the name... Was that "The Hand of God"? I forgot the name of that show.
MD: She was in "Baltar's Escape"
TC: Ok. There were scenes then when we were really at each others throats.
MD: Yes, she was at the bridge then, giving you a hard time.
TC: Yes, she was a wonderful person and I miss her. Well, I don't know...of course Glen Larson.
MD: Did you get to speak to him a lot.
TC: Yes, well, I did a number of different shows for Glen. I can't remember all the names of the shows. There was one called One West Waikiki, I was in the pilot for that. There was a show he did on the FBI, I can't think of the name of, but I worked in that one. And one he did with Lee Majors where he was a stuntman, called... uhmmm...
MD: The Fall Guy
TC: The Fall Guy, yeah. I worked on that several times. Glen is a very talented guy. What was amazing to me when we did the show, I think Annie [Lockhart] told you about this...We would always get our script at the last minute, because he was constantly revising and making it better. Well maybe...whether it was better or not, it was his concept of what would may be better. We would come in the morning, having worked on the script...we would come in and get these different pages. So today we get blue, tomorrow we get green, and the next day it was orange, and the next day it was pink. And they'd run out of colors and go back to white again. It kept us all on our toes. But he was constantly striving to make that show work…a really admirable man. As you know, the whole thing was his idea.
ME: Let me ask you about Tigh as a character. He always seems to be at odds with Adama's command decisions in the series. I'm wondering if part of that was for the story to be able to have Tigh as the devil's advocate so Adama could show the reasons he had and the reasons behind them. Do you think that was the case or that Tigh found a middle where he did have a different style of command that Adama didn't...
TC: No, I think it's the former. I think that part of what Tigh felt he had to do was to bring, to force Adama to articulate his approach to a given task.
ME: Because Adama would rather turn from a fight to evade the Cylons, and Tigh would just as soon take the fight to them.
ME: If Tigh had a choice to be Commander of the Galactica or President of the Council, which would he have chosen and why?
TC: I think Commander of the Galactica, because it was a more active role, it was more hands on. I think to be President of the Council was more of an armchair...
TC: (laughs) Yes, right. And I think Tigh liked being in the thick of things and really would have gravitated to that challenge if it were offered to him.
ME: So he would have been, in that position of Commander, he would have been more aggressive like Cain and taken the fight to them unless...
TC: Not quite like Cain, I think. I think Tigh would have been kind of half way in between Adama and Cain, maybe. Well it's kind of hard, I couldn't say he was leaning one way or the other. I'd say halfway in between the two of them.
ME: Unfortunately with television in the 70's and the fact that there was only one season, we don't find out a whole of a lot about Tigh's background, you know. They didn't develop the supporting cast back then like they do now. All we know about Tigh from season one is that he was a Leonid, that he liked Mushies (Terry laughs), that he loved Triad, he loved to watch Triad (Terry laughs) and that one time in that episode you talked about with Siress Tinia you got pretty drunk (Terry laughs). What back story was given or did you create for Tigh up to that point?
TC: You know I didn't know that I was going to ask this because I would have gone through some notes. (all laughing out loud). You know, you're going back, what are we going back? 27 years...Uhmmm...it's difficult for me to recall, very difficult for me to recall, so much has happened since that time.
ME: Okay, let me ask you this. If there had been a second season how would you have liked Tigh's character to develop? Would there have been a love interest? Would you have been more at odds with Adama?
TC: Well, uhmmm...Yeah, I think both, I think both. Of course being at odds with Adama...they were really, they were certainly not adversaries. It's just that their approach was...I think Adama was more studied and more mature, if you want to call it that. I think there would have been much more of that conflict. Somewhere out there in the galaxy there must have been a woman for Tigh.
ME: Do you ever think that we would get a chance to see Tigh back in a viper?
TC: Well you know the one time of course Tigh was in a viper...
MD: ...was when you where talking to Adama when... (all laughing out loud)
TC: Yeah, that was kind of interesting. No, I don't think, I don't...you know, being a viper pilot takes a certain... uhmmm...takes a certain kind of a mental set, kind of the ability to react in a nanosecond to outside input and I don't think...I think Tigh is over the hill in terms of being a viper pilot.
ME: His reflexes...
MD: But Cain was in a viper...
TC: That's true! Well, he was an exceptional guy, Cain was.
ME: Which was your favorite episode of the series?
TC: That's a tough one, that's a tough one. I've been asked that before and I never really have been able to come up with a proper answer. I think the pilot, I think I like the pilot best.
ME: I remember a particular scene where you are trying to get the uniforms so they can make them think that they're on the planet and you run into Starbuck and Apollo. And you're trying to say: "Well, this is a surprise inspection".
TC: (laughs) Yes, I remember that.
MD: What of anything did you not like about the show?
TC: About Battlestar Galactica?
MD: Was it the scripts that came in late, or...
TC: Yeah, that was kind of a problem and it would have been nice to have them maybe a day before and be able to live with them. To find nuisances that are not necessarily on paper, but we were all under a kind of pressure that prevented that. I think the show, as good as it was, could even have been better if we had just a little more time to practice. I mean I come from a background...when I started doing television, forgetting theatre, when I started doing television, we would rehearse for three weeks. And we were doing a 90 minute show. You mentioned Playhouse 90, the Kraft Playhouse, we would rehearse for three weeks before we shot. So we really, it was not really a question of just learning the moves and learning the lines, because you could do that overnight, as we all have had to do many times since. But you bring a great deal more, you find so much between the lines, all of the unwritten things. Some of the things the writer never dreamed of, some of the things the director might not think of can happen under those circumstances, but the economics of television were sides that couldn't last. Now, as you know, people come on the set and they're lucky to have one rehearsal and they're ready to shoot. I think, I think television suffers as a result of it, but they're doing OK and they don't need my advice.
MD: So how has television changed since then?
TC: *Phew* Well, I don't think the stories are as good as they used to be, but, you know, how many stories can there be under the sun? I don't know, some people feel there are maybe 10 or 20 good plots and you just kind of rework them. If that's true, then you can't really expect much from television, because there's really too much...we're really bombarded with too much...fiction, you know. And they're reworking things and they're rerunning things and they're doing sequels and prequels and all that sort of stuff. I think that wears thin. One of the reasons they're doing these so called reality shows. It's not only because they're saving a lot of money and not wanting to pay actors, they're also running out of ideas, I think. I think we have too much television, I really do.
MD: So you were in this great family in 1978. Did you make any friends on the set you met later...you already talked about Herb Jefferson...
TC: Sure, sure, sure! You can see is we're all great friends right now. The interesting thing is as we came together...I started in the business 50 years ago, so I can say I've been steadily in the business because I've been producing documentaries and other things...but in the 50 years or so, if I were to go back in that time, this is the only show where we retained relationships with people...Battlestar Galactica. I mean, there are people that I knew that might be friendly off the stage. We had been before and are still that way, but as a family it has never been a situation where we would go back and spend a lot of time. Now, of course Dennis Weaver and I were close friends and we did a lot of things together, worked on a lot of projects together, community type projects. But somehow this is different. We were talking about 6, 7, 8 or 9 people here. And we are in touch with one another.
MD: Did you keep anything of the show? Like your scripts, any props or your uniform?
MD: Wasn't it allowed?
TC: No, I didn't even want to!
MD: Didn't just keep your scripts. Other actors keep their scripts with all the notes in so they can read back.
TC: No... No, as a matter of fact that's not true, I still have the script to the pilot. Yes, I do have that.
MD: So, you moved to Norway? That's a long way from Brooklyn!
TC: Yes, a long way from Brooklyn. Yes, it is. Well, in between, after I did Battlestar Galactica, I formed a film production company, and I started doing films for government agencies; Agriculture, Department of Labor, films on Occupational Safety and Health. I did some children's dramatic shows for education, for the Department of Education. And then in the 80s I did a documentary called A Duke Named Ellington, about Duke Ellington, a 2 hour program for American Masters. And in the course of doing that I myself spending a lot of time in Copenhagen because Duke Ellington...a lot of the archives that belong to the Duke Ellington Legacy are resting in Denmark. Mercer, his son, was married to a Dane and was living in Denmark. So as a result I spent a lot of time in Denmark in putting together that show. And after that I put together a series that is called Jazzmasters. It was a series of 12 programs of famous jazz musicians. Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, Marilyn... uhmmm... oh my God, I'm blacking... but many, many well known people. Carmen McRae! That's what I wanted to say. And that's how I met my now known wife. At that time she was working as a production manager and she worked for my company. So when I left the States, I moved...actually I left Los Angeles to move to Washington to continue doing projects and spent 5 years there. Then I moved to Copenhagen.
MD: You also spend some time in Italy. I saw in a chat session that you spoke fluent Italian.
TC: Yes, my first wife was Italian and we were married for 24 years and during that period we spent a great deal of time...we were in Italy all the time. We had an apartment in Italy, so my children can speak fluent Italian. No, Italy was my second home. I love Italy, I still do.
ME: Have any of your children got the acting bug?
TC: No, no, no. My son is a film archivist at UC Santa Barbara. And my daughter is an account manager for a big firm. And they, neither of them...I discourage them! I didn't want them to…(all laughing) I think it's a very, very tough field and I think it's really more difficult to get into and to succeed in today than it ever was. I think I was very lucky in terms of timing.
ME: In 1979 you formed and became President of The Council for Positive Images. Is that still going on?
TC: Yes it is!
ME: Can you tell us what that's about?
TC: Yeah, sure! I felt that I wanted to create audiovisual projects of film and television that would help foster interethnic and interracial understanding and appreciation. So I wanted to concentrate on projects that in the main dealt with the African American tradition, history, and culture. We found ourselves...we did a historical project, Alex Haley was our...not only our consultant, but he was also in the film. It was about the historical situation in post slavery Kentucky. It was received very well, it was on PBS. And we did a series, as I mentioned earlier for the Department of Education. It was a PBS series, mini series called K*I*D*S about a radio station run by teenagers. So we...part of that was, it was a multi racial group of kids, who were facing adult size problems and dealing with them in a collective way. Where the kids all work together. Despite the fact that they were ethnically from different backgrounds they work together and work well together. It was a success. So I've done things like that. And right now The Council for Positive Images, we're doing a couple of dance projects for the Library of Congress. We're putting together a...it's going be a 3 hour, it's going to be on DVD and will probably be distributed all over the country, about Katherine Dunham, who was an African American anthropologist, choreographer and her dance technique. In the 50's she was extremely famous and she ran all over the world. In fact we had to come to Amsterdam to do some research on her, because she and her company went all over the world and kind of took Europe by storm. And introduced a lot of dance movements that have now become part of the lexicon of dance in American dance theatre. She's 96 years old, so we're doing this project on her life and work. We're also doing this other project on her technique, so that's the kind of stuff we're doing.
MD: So in 1999 you got a call from Richard Hatch to do The Second Coming. He told you you were going to be President Tigh in The Second Coming. That's a nice step up for a Colonel!
TC: Not bad, not bad! (laughs)
MD: But you rather would have been a Commander?
TC: Yeah, yeah, but that part was taken wasn't it?
MD: Do actors ever retire?
TC: Some do, I suppose. I suppose so, but...
MD: What made you do it? What made it that great that you thought Richard Hatch should have another shot at it?
TC: Well, we all hoped that the show would be revived, because we loved doing it. And a lot of people in the audience thought it died prematurely. It was an expensive show and perhaps timing wasn't right for it. Of course, there was always an ongoing movement to revive it, to the degree that Richard Hatch was spearheading. That movement can only be to his credit. So I certainly wanted to participate in that in any way could help.
ME: Ok. We'd like to thank you for doing this interview.
TC: Well, it was my pleasure. It was a real pleasure in talking to the both of you.