Aaron Douglas is best known as Galen Tyrol, the beloved Chief and possible Cylon sleeper agent on Battlestar Galactica. His other sci-fi television credits include Stargate SG-1, Smallville, Eureka and the new Netflix original series Hemlock Grove where he plays a small-town sheriff on the trail of some big secrets. A jovial, upbeat man in person, he was happy to sit down with the press for a roundtable interview shortly after wrapping his shoot on Hemlock Grove. Hit the jump to read on.
AARON DOUGLAS: I can’t either. I’m unemployed as of right now. You better be paying me for these interviews.
So I take it you play a sheriff?
DOUGLAS: No I just borrowed the coat. I’m actually a small Korean grocer. [Laughter.] Yes, I play the sheriff. Sheriff Tom Sworn. That’s what I do. That’s all I’m allowed to say. Thanks very much, it was great.
Since you wrapped, what’s been your favorite memory?
DOUGLAS: It’s a tough show. The material’s pretty heavy. The days on set are pretty exhausting emotionally, a little bit of physically sometimes, but mostly emotionally. Really, really draining. But my favorite time is — and it’s the same on other shows — away from set when you’re spending time with the actors and the producers. And you just have an opportunity to sit down and goof off, tell stories, tell old Hollywood stories, stories from your past, their past. It’s those connections, those friendships that I always take away and miss the most when we’re all said and done. Set is pretty damn boring. It’s hurry up and fracking wait. It’s nice when you’re not filming sometimes.
How does your character fit in with the show itself?
DOUGLAS: I am the sheriff of the small town and I am holding onto 10,000 kite strings in a hurricane. As things spiral out of control, I try to figure out what’s going on, how it’s going on, and who’s making it go on. I’m sort of the Columbo figure, but with both good eyes. I don’t do a lot of this, “Just one more thing.” Sheriff Sworn is really the heart of the show. He’s the center that everything spins around, and he’s very much that anchor, and all this is going on out here, and the audience can always come back and have a little settling point and find the humanity in the moral, straight line with him for a few episodes at least.
What’s his relationship like with the Godfreys?
DOUGLAS: Sworn has a good relationship with everybody. He’s the sheriff, so he has to be that politician and there’s no mayor or anything, so he’s the leader of the town, at least the political type figure. The Godfreys tend to run things otherwise. I would say that if he had a best friend, it would probably be Norman, who’s played by Dougray Scott. A great guy, both on and off camera. That was a treat, working with him.
DOUGLAS: I would think so. It is a bit of a whodunit and a what-the-hell-is-going-on sort of thing. I guess he would be the investigative eyes that the audience would sort of get piecemeal information as to what’s going on through Sworn. That makes sense. Look at me, I’m just making it up.
Are you funny on the show as well?
DOUGLAS: Nobody’s really funny. It’s a bit of a dark show. But they’ve given me these weird non sequitur lines that they talk about, even in the editing, these funny lines that are just out of the blue and out of nowhere; they just love the way that I delivered a few of them. I hope they become the lines — I have Battlestar fans that come up and quote Chief lines all the time — and I’m hoping I have Sworn lines. “Hey Sheriff!” Instead of yelling Chief across the street, yelling sheriff. “Good evening. Are you the sheriff of Hemlock Grove?” “I am.” “You’re on that Battlestar show, aren’t you? ” “Indeed I was, you nerds.”
So what kind of arc does your character have during the 13 episodes?
DOUGLAS: Oh god. Well, like I said, it’s a small town where everything is going along swimmingly and then bad things start to happen. So as the sheriff of that town, when bad things start to happen and the spiraling gets even more sprialesque — that’s a word now — that arc becomes “what the hell’s going on” and then he sort of gets drawn into it a little bit more personally as well. So by the end of the show, he’s nowhere. He’s a thousand miles from where he started.
Can you tell us how this experience has differed from other shows that you’ve worked on? I feel like it is really pushing boundaries in terms of edginess but also in terms of its approach to storytelling.
DOUGLAS: It’s by far the best thing I’ve done since Battlestar Galactica. Without question. The writing is exceptional. I got the book and I loved it right off the bat. The way that Brian writes, it’s got a weird sort of cadence to it. He writes how Yoda speaks, which is kind of odd. But I found myself having to go back and reread until my brain clicked in. It’s like I forgot how to read. It’s like when you go to England: you forget how to drive, so everybody’s coming at you. The show’s like that too. You’ve got to wrap your brain around what’s really going on. I love it because it doesn’t spoon-feed the audience. It’s not like, “Oh here, now we’re doing this.” There’s no spoon-feeding. You will have to pay attention. And what I love about people who love watching this genre, and sci-fi fans and horror fans, is that they’re really intelligent. They can follow story and they can follow plot and they can follow character and they love the character development, so I think people that are into that would fancy themselves an intelligent TV viewer, they’re really going to love this show.
In terms of doing it, my favorite part about the show is I got to work with my buddy Mark Verheiden again. I did his first episode of Smallville way back in the day when I looked like my thinner younger brother. Then, of course he ran the writers’ room for Battlestar. Then when he read the book and got offered this job, he thought “Aaron Douglas is Tom Sworn obviously” and he got Netflix onboard. So it’s been six months hanging out with Mark, which is just a wonderful thing because he’s such an incredible human being. Then making friendships with people like Deran Sarafian, who’s just an unbelievable director, just killed it on this show. And then just working with great material and great writing and interesting stuff. It’s nice to be able to get back to the days of, you get the next script and you immediately just start poring through it because you have to find out what happens. Even though you’ve read the book, they’ve changed it enough that you don’t know what the hell’s going on. Battlestar, you’d flip it over and you’d start at the back ’til you found yourself and go, “Oh he tells the general to walk away and — Yes, I’m not dead!.” That’s really how you lived. This show’s kind of the same because we’re like, “Who dies now? ” So it’s… And I’m not splattered with blood. But maybe this isn’t my last scene. Working on has been wonderful from just every aspect. It’s been really cool. Other than being away from home. But that’s alright. I get to go home next week.
Do you think people will be happy with the changes that were made?
DOUGLAS: Oh yeah. I mean the book’s great, but the book’s only so many pages and to turn that into 13 episodes is a little thin, so they’ve really beefed that up and moved things around. Some of the characters that are a little bit smaller in the book have really been expanded. There’s a lot of people to fall in love with on this show. Even fat old guys like me.
DOUGLAS: I do.
What’s your dynamic like and how is it working with her again?
DOUGLAS: Kandyse and I are old friends. She was probably my closest friend on Battlestar. Between scenes, we would retire to my trailer and cuddle up on the couch and watch Family Guy, just to sort of let it all go. So getting back to hanging out with her again is always wonderful. I absolutely adore that woman and she quite fancies me as well, so it’s great to be able to spend some time with her and have a completely different dynamic. She and I really didn’t have any scenes together in Battlestar, but in this show, there’s a lot of Sworn and Dr. Chasseur. I’m the sheriff of the town and she is in an outside police agency who comes in and starts to oversee and frack with my shit.
Being sheriff, are you in charge of a bunch of constables? Is there an office dynamic that we get? Or are you the lone wolf?
DOUGLAS: We don’t really visit the office, but I’m not a lone wolf by any means. There are a bunch of deputies that arrive in the show and they all have different dynamics, just as you do in life. They’re all fun, cool, good guys — and ladies.
There’s such a fandom around Battlestar. Is this the kind of show that will get that kind of crazed fandom as well or is it a different kind of beast, so to speak?
DOUGLAS: It doesn’t have the complexity of the political and mythological story of Battlestar. But the fans will love it, I think; just for different reasons. It’s edgy, it’s dark, it’s wonderful, it’s gory and grotesque and sexy, so they’ll love it for that. But there are interwoven stories and histories that you can cast your mind back and make up, and the dynamic of the families is pretty interesting. I have no doubt that people will love this show. If this is their cup of tea, they will drink a lot of it.
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