“Farscape” Season Three: Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun
Claudia Black’s Aeryn Sun looks like a human, but is actually a Sebacean. She first appeared in FARSCAPE as a fierce Peacekeeper, bred and trained military elite. Once contaminated by her time with John Crichton and forced to live with the other species on Moya, Aeryn started a journey toward self-realization. She developed more “human” traits and more emotions, under the influence of Crichton and away from the Peacekeepers.
Season three, Aeryn followed that journey as far as she possible could, learning about her own past and family, and taking her relationship with Crichton to the ultimate conclusion. Black reveled in season three’s storylines. She recalled, “In terms of the stories now, I think the focus has shifted a lot more to Aeryn and her history. There are a lot more personal issues for her to deal with.”
To begin with, she was brought back from the dead by Zhaan, who exchanged her life for Aeryn’s. Zhaan told Aeryn she should live for John. As Aeryn and Zhaan said their goodbyes, it was interesting to see how close these two had grown. Recalled Black, “It was sad working with Virginia. We got quite emotional talking about how we wanted to do the scenes. It was extraordinary seeing how much the bridge had been gapped between Aeryn and Zhaan. Virginia and I were trying decide how to mark the farewell between Zhaan and Aeryn, and I said, ‘What’s something that Zhaan would do?’ What I thought was a lovely suggestion, was Zhaan giving Aeryn one of her ear kisses, because they have shared unity, and Zhaan obviously gave her life for Aeryn’s. It was just a really lovely, affectionate moment between the two girls, but the god of timing sliced that one out of the episode.”
Aeryn and John then tried to deal with their relationship in a variety of ways. After John was twinned, Aeryn and the John on Talyn finally embraced their romance. It was obvious by the end of “Green-Eyed Monster.” Said Black, “What I loved about ‘Green-Eyed Monster’ was the fact that we had such domestic arguments. It was like two Earth people arguing, as a normal couple would do. We rarely see Aeryn doing that, and I think that is a nice signal of her changing. A lot of this season for me has been about Aeryn appropriating Crichtonesque behaviors, which in subtle ways affect the choices I make as an actor for the character.”
Aeryn continued to deal with Crais, who among other things brought her information about her mother. Aeryn’s mother visited her when she was a child, to tell her that she and Aeryn’s father had chosen to have her out of their love. Aeryn thought she had dreamed this, but it was recorded by the Peacekeepers. Now, the Retrieval Squad sent to catch Talyn and also Crais was commanded by her mother. In “Relativity” Aeryn faced her mother, Xhalax Sun, played by Linda Cropper, who is a well-known actor in Australia. Recalled Black, “Anthony Simcoe and Lani Tupu all had wonderful stories about seeing [her], moments in their lives, seminal performances that she had given in theater productions. I was just so excited and incredibly nervous. I remember the first day, I just couldn’t get my lines out in the right order. She said, ‘Just relax. Don’t worry about it.’ She started pulling funny faces, and joking around. She was just so lovely to work with, a guest actress who lifts your game, and really important for Aeryn’s character to have a strong woman portray a woman whose strength is bordering on evil.”
She added, “Linda and I got on so well. She was so supportive. It was such a different relationship to the on screen one. We had to block the fight scenes between the two of us. Linda is not used to doing fight scenes either. It’s not fun when your mother is strangling you, and we wanted to make it brutal without being gratuitous. It’s the first time really for me that the physical life of the character has been so important. I am not into martial arts, and you just hope you can convey some validity and integrity in what you do.”
By “Infinite Possibilities,” Aeryn and John were functioning as a couple, completely in love, and chasing the bad guys. Even though “Part Two: Icarus Abides” ended with John’s death, Black really enjoyed the chance to get physical making the episode, out on location in dune buggies. Recalled Black, “It was great for me. There was a sequence where Aeryn pushes over the jeep. It’s such a funny, gratuitous, action-heroine moment. It’s like, push it over and go, ‘Gee that was hard work.’ I wanted to put in the humor of what isn’t possible. I needed to get the shot, because you never know with these one-take wonders, where I am going to end up in the frame. So I pushed it over and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find camera.’ It comes from accommodating the camera department, and also wanting to be cheeky with it.”
At the end of the episode was Crichton’s death scene. Black remembered crying as she watched the dailies on set, seeing Aeryn so hurt. This took her character to “The Choice,” as she dealt with her grief over John’s death, and her mother’s betrayal. Said Black, “[Director] Rowan Woods and I didn’t have much prep time on that. I was so liberated. Rowan just said, ‘What do you think? What do you want to do? Just give it a go.’ I’d say, ‘Okay, how about this? I think this is appropriate. I’ve experienced a lot of death and grief in my life and it just felt right.’ He would say, ‘Great. You just do your thing and I’ll shoot it.’ It was a calm, really simple shoot.”
At the end of “The Choice,” Aeryn had strapped on her Peacekeeper gear and outlook. It seemed like the only way she could continue. When the crews reunited in “Fractures,” Black felt it was extremely difficult to even get Aeryn out of the transport pod and greet the other John. Said Black, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say the line, ‘Hello John’ when I walk down the steps and see him for the first time. The writers didn’t know what to do. How do you keep them apart? How do you show the pain? They also didn’t know to what extent Rowan and I had stretched her anguish in [‘The Choice’], which is then resolved by her making the firm decision to be strong. For me, I felt that Aeryn couldn’t possibly go back on the ship, unless she just imagined that the other Crichton just wasn’t really there. It was such a difficult moment to place. I felt so many beats had been skipped. To then have to look him in the eye and say hello, how could I show in that beat, vulnerability, and a woman desperately trying to cope?”
Not only did Black have to convey all that, Browder as Crichton slowly realized something was terribly wrong. Noted Black, “He really sold it. He had me in tears. I couldn’t go on set to do my take, because I wasn’t supposed to be crying, I was supposed to be strong. I said, ‘Ben, you are breaking my heart.’ One of the head cameramen came up to Ben and said, ‘You have just taken me back to sixteen years old.’ We haven’t seen much of that Crichton in several seasons now. We saw a bit of it in season one, but not about Aeryn. This is the first time we see him getting fidgety and really being excited – that boyish charm and excitement. [Director] Tony [Tilse] played that scene out so long, all the different angles, so many different perspectives of Crichton feeling lost, and realizing that something has gone terribly wrong, and the implications of losing a man that was you, that was probably very close to the woman that you love, and what that means for him. How can you be with a woman who has already been through the pain and anguish of losing you, and yet you have missed the dance? He’s missed the experience. It’s a clever device, unprecedented in other genres.”
Aeryn would not really talk to Crichton about what happened in “Fractures.” Her silence told him a lot. Continued Black, “It’s quite heartbreaking really, when the crew is standing out in the corridor trying to decide what they are going to do about the three prisoners on Moya. There is this extended shot of the back of Aeryn’s head from Crichton’s point of view. He just looks at her, and realizes he is going to get nothing from her, so he moves on. The next episode, with Peter Andrikidis, we follow that through. There is not much for Crichton and Aeryn in that episode. You’ve just got to find the opportunities as a performer to honor your character. It’s beyond being a background act trying to create opportunities for yourself. It’s about the lead actors, the ensemble saying, this beat is important for the sake of the story and the through-line we have to honor it.”
Although the final episodes had more to do with Scorpius and the much larger political issues, Black continued Aeryn’s personal journey. She said, “She’s actually quite quiet and lost when she goes onto the Command Carrier. She’s just trying to support Crichton and what he wants to do. She makes a very strong and specific decision that she doesn’t want the other Crichton’s death to have been in vain. If she can support the other Crichton she’ll go in, she’ll do her job, she’ll get out, whatever that means. There was a scene which really needed to happen, and part of it I ad-libbed. I needed to raise the stakes and let the audience understand and let the other Crichton, Crichton/Moya understand how great the relationship was. She just says, ‘It was perfect. We were perfect. You’ve gone, and I can’t watch you die again. It just can’t happen. I’ll help you, but I can’t go through it.’ He says, ‘All right, then don’t come.’ She says, ‘No. We started this together. That’s how we’ll finish it.’ She just makes this choice to be calm in the face of adversity, and you know that she’s in so much pain, but she’s going to be able to do what she does best, and that is to be in that Peacekeeper environment and support Crichton.”
After the two parter, there still remained the last episode of the season, called “Dog With Two Bones,” written by David Kemper and directed by Andrew Prowse. Everyone brought whatever they could to make the season-ender work. Black recalled, “They had a lot of ways to go with the end of the season. David has a long arc in mind for the show. But each time he has to make sure that he can fit it so that whenever it finishes, he can be satisfied that he has given the fans what they deserve, a legitimate and profound ending to the series. Ben, myself, Andrew Prowse, David Kemper, spent a lot of time on-set, in between shooting scenes, trying to finesse and polish scenes and the direction of the episode so we were all confident it would sit in the right place. Andrew and David were completely open to the process of us contributing. It was this great forum where anyone’s contribution was valid, and we would just go with the good idea. We all cared about it enough to be losing sleep over it. We had to find solutions. I’m proud to say I contributed a major part to it. I was just happy that I came up with an idea. It’s like in advertising – you all put your heads together and pow wow, and whoever comes up with the idea, you’re just grateful when you finally break it.”
After finishing season three, Black and the rest of the FARSCAPE actors came to Southern California for the second official FARSCAPE Convention. Then she, Browder, Francesca Buller and David Kemper went on to the first official New York convention. Black, who has been seen in PITCH BLACK and QUEEN OF THE DAMNED was nominated for a Saturn Award for her portrayal of Aeryn Sun.
Black recalled, “I got a great card from one of our assistant director’s daughters and she said, ‘You are role model. Don’t mess it up or disappoint me.’”
“‘I’ll do my best,” was her answer.
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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