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Mira Furlan

Friday, 22 February 2008 09:05

This actress may have been Delenn in Babylon 5, but now she's much more ...

 

I had a certain trepidation about interviewing Mira Furlan. Not every actress you speak to has fled from a war zone to the relative peace of the good ol' USA.

"I had to stop giving interviews in my former country," notes former Yugoslavian Mira Furlan, "because both sides would try and twist my words to suit their purpose". We sit together in the plush penthouse suite of the Warner Brothers London office, and she sips fresh orange juice, pausing to contemplate the radical change in lifestyle the 1990s have brought her.

Mira was a household name in her former country, known for a string of features and a couple of TV series. She had been a shining star on their silver screen, winning two Golden Arenas (the Yugoslavian Oscar) for Best Actress. With the start of the troubles, neither side would allow her to stay neutral. Frosty attitudes from former friends and neighbours, and eventually even death threats, meant that Mira and director husband Goran Gajic had no choice but to emigrate, choosing to relocate to the States.

While there is obvious sorrow in her voice, she has been able to find positive points about her move. "I had a long-term frustration as a human being and an actress with the roles I used to be given in TV and film back home. I would always be cast as a bad woman, the femme fatale, in very sexist scripts. While I used to get to play the entire classical repertoire in theatre, I longed for characters on film with dignity, strength and intellectual powers. These never came - until now."

Mira struggled to find work when she arrived in America. The idea of auditions was new to her, having been such an established actress. Agents were something that she couldn't come to terms with, either. Facing a brick wall of a system which doesn't allow you to go to an audition unless you are on an agent's books somewhere, she finally decided to enlist with one.

The benefits soon became apparent. Within days she had a demanding theatrical role, and the Babylon 5 auditions were some of the first she attended, 'under new management'.

"America is just so huge compared to Europe, and there are so many wannabees, with no schooling, trying to get on in Hollywood. Even my dentist has a script he wants to sell!"

As Delenn, the ambassador of the spiritual Minbari, Mira has found a character with all the qualities she always hoped for. "Strangely, I felt frustrated in the opposite way when I first began to play her. With so much make-up, it was difficult to see how I really looked. I guess that was my vanity taking over!"

That objection gradually melted away as Delenn transformed over the years. From the harsh, sexless form of the pilot movie, the image was immediately made more feminine for the first season - keeping the bald head and a wide bridge on her nose, with her ears "lowered". The episode "Chrysalis" at the end of that first season saw her transform into a much more human incarnation - long, dark hair and a sensuality emerging which represented, in physical form, the alliance being formed between Earth and Minbar.

Delenn's assistant is Lennier, played by Bill Mumy, whom those of a creaky disposition will remember as the cute kid on "Lost in Space", over twenty years ago. "That's just another of those strange coincidences happening in my life at the moment. I used to watch "Lost in Space" as a child in Yugoslavia. Now I get to perform alongside the grown up Will Robinson! We've become great friends."

Mira's starting to find out all she can about Science Fiction. Her enthusiasm for the genre has come about from having spoken to SF fans. "Conventions came as a big shock to me. I'd never gone to anything like them before. In my experience, the people I have met at them have had very admirable qualities - they're anti-racist, void of prejudice, intelligent, and with a positive, attentive approach to life - it's very uplifting."

She notes with pride how well the videos of Babylon 5 are doing in Croatia. "I might be unpopular with the government there, but obviously not with the people!"

In the first season of Babylon 5, we see an interesting relationship building up between Delenn and Jeffrey Sinclair, the former station commander, played by Michael O'Hare.

"We both had a common grounding in the theatre, which meant we got on very well together. And then we had Bruce Boxleitner in charge. Bruce brings an incredible amount of experience to the set in a very different way. He's very relaxed about things, a real charmer!" Captain Sheridan soon revealed his feelings for Delenn, which once more brought a new aspect to her character.

Like the rest of the cast, Mira is very evasive about the background of Michael O'Hare's departure. Some say he was pushed, perhaps by TV network executives. Others say it is all part of creator J Michael Straczinski's master plan, which noted experts describe as having echoes of "Lord of the Rings" about it.

"Weeks went by between my first auditions and being finally cast. Then we had the long wait between the pilot movie being made and finally going to a series. We have five seasons before we conclude telling our story. It's a big commitment".

Furlan has been receiving many offers of work following her high profile appearances on the show. "When I received my contract, it was for the pilot movie, with an option for five seasons. It was difficult imagining that far ahead. As far as I was concerned, it wasn't certain that we'd run for that long, so it wasn't a problem. Anyway, I managed to do other work in the summer breaks, including some theatre. Besides, while I have no objection to staying on until the end, I don't plan. You never know what Joe Straczinski has in mind."

She smiles broadly, keen to carry on the mystique which her fellow cast members help to maintain. The story arc is again protected until the big reveal on-screen, and who in truth really wants to spoil the surprises?


Interview conducted in 1996 by Alex J Geairns

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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