“Farscape” Season Three: Lani John Tupu as Crais and the Voice of Pilot
By Anna L. Kaplan
FARSCAPE’s season three kept Lani Tupu even busier than the previous two, playing Bialar Crais and also providing the voice for Pilot. Tupu was finally credited as a regular cast member and not a guest. Crais helped save the group in “Season of Death,” and then took off on Talyn until episode six, “Eat Me.” After that Crais appeared in all the Talyn-based episodes, and was especially important after the Crichton on Talyn died. Crais took Crichton’s death very seriously, and made his own sacrifice to honor Crichton’s wishes.
Tupu was very pleased with the arc of his character. Starting with “Green-Eyed Monster” – also called GEM among the cast – the dynamics between Crais and other characters exposed more and more about the very complex Crais. Recalled Tupu, “One of the biggest highlights for me was working on GEM, Ben’s episode. That was the beginning of a whole roller-coaster of highlights. My battle there with Talyn, was great acting stuff to do. The idea that Talyn had completely taken over that situation and fabricated the story was wonderful.”
Crais’ relationship with Talyn, who was sentient and had his own opinions, came through more graphically in GEM when the audience actually saw that Talyn could cause physical damage to Crais. Tupu explained, “If you look at it from the point of view of an absolute, errant, out-of-control teenager, that gives you some idea of where Talyn is. When the child actually starts having demands of their own, and you can’t control them, it’s a very interesting place to be. You know that eventually, they have to stand up on their own two feet. With Talyn, Crais knows that he is teaching him as much as he can. The other interesting thing is that Talyn is teaching him things.”
Tupu loved the fact that Crais’ behavior was often enigmatic. He noted, “It allows me to play subtle moments. I think that’s the beauty of someone like Crais. I don’t have to push anything. What is revealed is through his actions later on, or other people informing the story about what Crais has done. From that point of view, you just play the moment for exactly what it is at the time, never giving anything away. We’ve seen where he comes from. We’ve seen that when he makes a decision he’ll stick by it. Others may think that he’s made a wrong decision. In actual fact, through time, it’s born out to be the correct decision at that time, selfish, but also quite pragmatic.”
Crais’ relationship with the other characters was dealt with in a variety of episodes. He and Aeryn had a unique bond. Tupu recalled, “The last episode of the [second] season, you saw just another dimension to the man in terms of just how much he feels about Aeryn. He respects military status, but even more than that he respects Aeryn and where she is coming from. He has great affection for Aeryn Sun, and it’s just not realized at all. To play all those wonderful emotions was great. It works in terms of where we play it, Claudia and I. There is a nice kind of journey that starts really from the premiere, about our relationship or non-relationship.”
Something very new this season was bringing out the humor with Crais. He and Paul Goddard’s Stark had many funny moments on screen, for example in “Infinite Possibilities.” He recalled, “We just had so much fun together. I got blinded. It was like a Laurel and Hardy routine. There were just moments in there we he and I decided to play with it, going down the corridor and bumping into the ship. You could just bring a little touch of lightness in. Paul Goddard’s Stark is stark, raving mad. As characters we hadn’t paired together before. I ended up screaming a lot. Every episode I think I’ve been screaming.”
In a similar vein, Tupu had some wonderful scenes with Jool, when the two had to put together the Boolite in “Fractures.” Tupu laughed, “I work with Tammy MacIntosh putting together this mess, this creature which has exploded into a million pieces. I scrape it into these buckets, things like entrails, offal, eyes. How anybody could put something like that together is beyond me. We had fun doing that. That was one scene that we just played. Tammy looked at me, and I looked at Tammy, and it was kind of like, ‘Shall we?’ [We] yelled. We said, ‘Of course, that’s not going to get into the cut.’ That’s the one that actually got into the cut.”
When Crichton made the decision to go to the Command Carrier at the end of “Fractures,” Crais decided to go with him. During the penultimate episode of season three, Crais finally proved himself, saving the others at his own expense. Both he and Talyn were lost. Tupu embraced this part of his character’s arc, especially his heroism in episode 21, the second part of “Into The Lion’s Den,” which was directed by Rowan Woods. He said, “What Rowan Woods has done with 21 is just absolutely incredible. One of the pieces of music I love is George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ There is this wonderful sense of chaos through the movement, and then right in the heart of it, there is like this little oasis. This wonderful melody just comes sneaking in there, and that, I feel, is what 21 is all about. It’s when everything works in a piece of music, with the orchestration, and the direction, and the players.”
Crais proved so important through the course of season three that would be easy to overlook Tupu’s other work, as the voice of Pilot. Lead puppeteer Sean Masterson and many others on the Pilot team move the complex creation. Even so, Tupu has had the experience of being two FARSCAPE characters. He said, “They are two completely different people. When I am working, I just completely switch onto who I think Pilot is, and his emotional wants and needs at the time. Likewise with Crais, I explore all those emotions right to the hilt. I don’t have any kind of sense of censoring what I do, when I am working with the characters. Sometimes when I actually see the finished tapes, I go, ‘My God, is that what I did? Is that how the character is?’ Even when I am doing Crais, when I am looking at the taping sessions, I just go, ‘I’m amazed at what this guy does.’”
Although Pilot did not experience quite as many changes as Crais season three, Tupu, the writers, and puppeteers made a point to show that Pilot does have opinions about the others, not always complimentary ones. Laughed Tupu, “He’s coming through loud and clear now. When I am voicing Pilot, if I can work it in there I will. That makes it exciting for me as well.”
Speaking about “Scratch ‘N Sniff,” Tupu recalled, “There is an episode where D’Argo and Crichton get trashed, and Pilot basically tells them to pull themselves together or he’ll just send them off the ship. There are moments there where I am sure he would just go, ‘Why am I dealing with this bunch of space babies?’ He’s so much fun to play.”
After FARSCAPE finished filming, Tupu was cast to play a judge in an Australian television show called LEATHER AND SILK. There seems to be no future for Crais. Although there is always a chance of a sci-fi twist, at this point, Crais seems unlikely to reappear. But Tupu will still be around, providing Pilot’s voice.
Copyright 2002 Anna L. Kaplan. A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the the June 2002 issue of Cinefantatique (Volume 34, Number 3-4). You can access other articles from this issue here.