“Farscape” Season Three: Ben Browder as John Crichton

Ben Browder as John CrichtonBy Anna L. Kaplan

Season three of FARSCAPE brought series star Ben Browder new and different challenges. He wrote his first script, “Green-Eyed Monster.” He played two John Crichtons for almost half of the season. Crichton finally got the girl, died, and yet lived on to fight the good fight, all in 22 episodes. This prompted executive producer David Kemper to say, “When I praise somebody it’s because they’ve really earned it. Ben is an astounding actor. People don’t even know how good he is, because they are only seeing the cut film. They don’t see what he goes through and how he prepares. They don’t see how he makes it look effortless, and yet it’s hard work. That’s what separates brilliant actors from the ones that are just walking through a crime drama. This guy is outstanding.”

To begin the season, Crichton was restored during “Season Of Death.” Although the neural chip was removed, the Scorpie clone somehow crossed into John’s mind and was left inside. John wrestled him into submission, beginning a whole new relationship with the guy he calls “Harvey.” Crichton’s life was radically altered. Explained Browder, “He’s not insane in the way that he was last year. He’s a little more centered this year, but it’s still not easy. When he stresses this year, there is some residual nuttiness, but that’s because it’s an effective way of coping with strangeness, more than anything else.”

In the first group of episodes, Crichton had to deal with the loss of Zhaan, just as Browder had to say goodbye to actress Virginia Hey. Browder misses Zhaan, just as the fans do. He recalled, “The sadness is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a sign that the show works on a lot of levels. There are people I know who have been dead for fifteen, twenty years, who I still miss. There are moments when I think, ‘Oh my gosh, they are going to walk back through the door.’ In the sci-fi universe you sort of expect them to walk back through the door.”

Zhaan’s demise played out in such a way that fans would know that she was really gone. Her death contrasts with many other FARSCAPE deaths. Laughed Browder, “If you are dead in a different time frame, that’s a whole different deal. There were some dead people in ‘Eat Me,’ but there is a closed mystery there for the first half of the show, where the people are being twinned. D’Argo’s dead, but D’Argo’s not dead because there are two D’Argos. You get a little more of that in science fiction.”

At the end of “Eat Me” there were two Crichtons, equal and original at the moment of the twinning. Chuckled the actor, “It’s not easy being two people. John Crichton is quite normal in both his incarnations, well, sort of normal. It depends on how you view it. It’s very interesting. He’s exactly the same, but see how he is in a given situation? What is the situation that makes someone manifest certain things? It’s really interesting. Then try keeping it straight.”

The John on Talyn with Aeryn turned out to have the most adventures and the shortest existence. Finally, John and Aeryn’s love story played out. Most fans were thrilled, as were the actors. Enthused Browder, “How fantastic is that? It’s very scary, two-and-a-half, three years into a process that feels like we get along better, work together better than we did in the early days. It’s very unusual in my experience, for a leading man and leading lady to get on as well as we get on.”

Viewers saw John and Aeryn’s romance begin in earnest at the end of “Green-Eyed Monster.” Only a few episodes later, in the two-part “Infinite Possibilities,” they were working as a team, talking like a married couple, and planning on returning to Earth together, but Crichton died a heroic death. It may be a long time before Aeryn looks at the other John as a lover, or perhaps she never will. Browder for one will miss the relationship. He explained, “You build to a point, and then it’s suddenly, ‘You guys are done now.’ ‘No, no we’re not done. I’m not ready to be done with it. This is just getting good.’ To me it felt like a death. I was upset when he was dying. I was watching the rushes, going, ‘John’s dying. Do we have any more scenes to shoot?’ At least it was out of order. I had one or two more scenes to shoot afterwards, going out to the sand dunes. I got a moment afterwards to go, ‘Yeah, we’re still happy and chasing aliens around.’”

Following that, the actors could not count on their usual chemistry to guide their performances. In “Fractures,” the crews reunited, and Aeryn wanted nothing to do with the other Crichton. Explained Browder, “She’s not talking to him. She’s not looking at him. How do you deal with that? Just on a philosophical basis, how do you deal with the fact that the person who you love, and that you are waiting for, goes away, and finally consummates this thing. Then he dies, and she comes back, and she isn’t even going to talk to you. It was heartbreaking to me. We’d be on the set, and it was very difficult, because our usual way of working is, I just bounce off of her. If I need to know what to do in a scene, and I’m not sure, I just watch her, and take my cue from there. We just bounce off of one another. We have a great rapport, and repartee. Then to come in and be unable to bounce off of one another [is] really interesting, difficult, and hard.”

Before that, the other Crichton was aboard Moya and getting into trouble. In “Scratch ‘N Sniff” Pilot threw John and D’Argo off the ship. While it didn’t make Crichton look very good, Browder certainly had fun making the episode. He got to play Crichton wild and intoxicated, and once again worked with his real-life wife, Francesca Buller, who played Raxil. The episode was directed and re-structured by Tony Tilse. What began as a linear adventure, in which D’Argo and Crichton had to rescue Chiana and Jool, allied with the not-very-trustworthy Raxil, turned into a story told in flashback. Crichton had to explain it to Pilot. Browder said, “Crichton was basically drinking through the whole thing, without being overtly drunk. Then the scenes with Pilot – improvising with a puppet. The pages came late in the day as they sometimes do when you are juggling the script. Sean Masterson who does Pilot is phenomenal. It was just a phenomenal performance by a puppet and a puppeteer. You see Pilot in a way you’ve never seen him before. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen John quite that way for such an extended period of time. But I loved the idea that he is retelling this story, and he’s telling it from his slant, so you have Earth-style music. Guy Gross did a great job with the score on it.”

Browder added, “From Crichton’s point of view that’s exactly the way it happened. I think most people have that experience where they’ve had a night or a day when they were off the rails, and they don’t really remember the way it was. It’s trying to tell the truth, and maybe embellishing here and there, but it’s part of telling a story. I love that bit where John goes, ‘Just let me tell the story my way. I am telling it my way.’ You know he’s embellishing at points. It’s actually built into the way we did it.”

Browder had some favorite moments from the episode – like wearing fishnet stockings in a window. He laughed, “I had to pitch performance in an area which is borderline. Standing in fishnet stockings – that’s a borderline thing. He was written, ‘…naked in the window.’ We were in the window for quite a while so I wasn’t sure how long we could cover the fact that he was naked. You get dressed in the process of the scene, but you can only cover it for so long. I thought, we need a good gag at the end of this, so I had wardrobe scrape up some fishnets. I got the idea because the girls in the bar were wearing fishnets. I don’t know how I got in them, but I am wearing them.”

What else did Browder enjoy about “Scratch ‘N Sniff?” He answered, “I loved Fran’s performance. Anthony in the bar scene – he did not tell me that he was going to do a pratfall. He just comes, boom, and the table goes down and drinks go everywhere. He’s seven foot tall, hitting the ground like Jerry Lewis in prosthetics. It’s not an easy thing to do. He didn’t warn us he was going to do it. He must have told Tony. He certainly told the camera operator. But it’s just fantastic.”

The next Moya episode, “Revenging Angel” was just as crazy but in a different way. A near-dead John hallucinated Looney Tune-style cartoons, in which D’Argo chased John (see sidebar). The Scorpie clone tried to convince Crichton that he could save himself by taking revenge, but Crichton realized that his love for Aeryn would keep him alive. This was important, so that the viewers remembered that this John also loves Aeryn. Said Browder, “For me, it’s one of those keys to John that I’ve played from the beginning. What’s really, really important, and difficult, he doesn’t talk about. He didn’t mention Aeryn once since the time that she left. The audience is going, ‘How come you don’t talk about Aeryn?’ The same reason he doesn’t talk about his mother, and a few other things, that I am aware of, the critical, personal, emotional things. He’s like a typical guy. ‘She’s gone? I am not going to sit down and have a conversation.’ D’Argo comes in and says, ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ ‘Nope.’ He just doesn’t do that. That’s just who he is.”

So during the course of his talks with Scorpie, John got the chance to verbalize his feelings and make sure the audience knew. Browder said, “He is basically having a problem in is head of – ‘How do I survive? What is important to me?’ It starts with the Letterman list, which is off the cuff, but you still get the final thing that is important is, ‘I love Aeryn.’ For me, thinking of the character, and what was important, and how he is going to deal with the next phase of his existence, it was critical.”

As Browder finished the last four episodes, he had nothing but continued praise for the show. He noted, “We look at episodes and we judge them by what happened while we were shooting. The experience of shooting always informs the way we watch. But I watched 321 [‘Into The Lion’s Den Part Two’], and just thought ‘Oh my goodness.’ This series is huge. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes. It’s just a massive piece. [Director] Rowan Woods did a superb job with the script. Lani and Wayne were fantastic in it. You see stuff from them that you have never seen from them, and you’ve known these characters for two and three years. The series is interesting that way. You’ve never seen Aeryn like she is in ‘The Choice,’ until over two-and-a-half years into the series. You’ve never seen Scorpius like he is in 321, or Crais like he is in 321. I think that it’s fantastic that we are still able to surprise ourselves.”

In Australia oftentimes the cast feels like they are working in a vacuum. But they got a boost when FARSCAPE won the Saturn Award last year, and Browder came to California to be a presenter at the ceremony. He met fellow SCI FI Channel star, Vincent Ventresca, of INVISIBLE MAN. It was on INVISIBLE MAN that the first known FARSCAPE reference was made outside the show. Although the writers of the episode “Going Postal,” Gabrielle Stanton and Harry Werksman, Jr. previously worked on FARSCAPE, it was the actor, Mike McCafferty (Eberts) who injected the word “frelling” into his dialogue. Laughed Browder, “I just think that it’s so cool that we are going to seep our way into the pop culture lexicon of other shows. One day the whole world will be saying frelling, and most of them won’t know where it came from.”

He added, “I think I created drannit.”

Aeryn called Crichton a drannit in “Green-Eyed Monster.” So what does that mean? Answered Browder with a wink to the audience, “I’m not telling what it means. I knew what it meant when I wrote it, let me put it to you that way. Of course, we know everything.”

Copyright 2002 by Anna L. Kaplan. A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the >June 2000 issue of Cinefantastique (Volume 34, Number 3-4). Other articles from this issue are in the Archives for June 2002.

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