I Married A Vorlon…And Other Tales From Beyond The Rim: A Conversation with Patricia Tallman (Part 1)
Posted on September 1, 2003
Originally published in September, 2003 on Modamag.com
Yes, it’s true that Patricia Tallman married Jeffrey Willerth, the man behind the mask of Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire, but there’s no alien funny business going on there. No sir or ma’am. And while Pat will more often than not be recognized as having played tough uber-telepath Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5, her other roles genre related or otherwise have helped to round out an impressive resume. Does a resume really tell you everything about a person, though? No, especially in this case.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Pat a few months ago and doing my first face-to-face interview. “Delightful” doesn’t begin to describe this actress! Not only does she have her hands full designing a brand new Sci-Fi radio show and maintaining a website for fans and fellow actors, but she’s also featured on a series of audio plays (Lives of the Cat and Anne Manx and the Ring of Minotour) with fellow Babylon 5 alumni Claudia Christian, found lending her support and fundraising skills to Penny Lane and, last but not least, busy being a mother to her son, Julian.
Kristoffer Gair: I was pleasantly surprised to see you’d done some stage productions in Saugatuck, Michigan. I’ve been there a few times.
Patricia Tallman: You know, when I was in Saugatuck, that was my first Equity Theater experience, so it was summer stock and it went towards getting my Equity card. That was when I was 15 years old.
KG: So, not so long ago.
PT: Yeah, that was about…ten years ago.
KG: Aside from what the majority of viewers know you for in the Sci-Fi genre, you have a huge amount of theater experience behind you, which is essentially where you started. How did you go from theater to TV and film?
PT: It was really a matter of economics. I was in New York City going to Carnegie Mellon University to study acting and I was kind of a theater snob. You know, I wasn’t really interested in television and movies as far as becoming a star. A lot of people go straight to LA right out of theater school. Well, I wanted to make it in New York. I wanted to make it on the Broadway stage, which I didn’t do, but I got a lot of tremendous experience. I had been in New York about nine years, worked as much as I could possibly work, and I think the crowning moment for me was when I was auditioning for the Alaska Repertoire Theater, which doesn’t even exist anymore… But I’m talking Alaska Rep, okay? Boonies. (laughs) I was auditioning for Major Barbara, which is a George Bernard Shaw piece and I’m trained for this, classic theater, and Elizabeth McGovern was given the role because she was going to bring in the ticket sales. I was like “Okay, you know, I’m better.” I was perfect for the role, but I didn’t have any television recognition, so I decided I needed to have that, and that’s what took me out to LA.
KG: So how does an actress end up a member of the Stuntwoman’s Association of America?
PT: When I was still in New York at Carnegie Mellon, I got involved in stage combat. It was just sort of physical and fun to do and I enjoy the idea of using action to tell a story, to further the plot of a story, and I was good at it, but I didn’t think that a woman would ever have much cause to sword fight or take a chair in the face or fall down the stairs. Anyway, I took stage combat courses and different period sword techniques. I’m a total geek about this stuff. I just liked it. It’s like taking dancing courses, only it was like “Okay, we need broad sword, we need sword rapier, rapier dagger, shield work, quarter staff…” I can do any of it and it was really fun. While I was in these classes, I met some stunt people and one of them was a stunt coordinator for One Life To Live and he said “I need a woman 5’9″ with red hair to double this actress and fall down stairs. Will you do it?” And I was like “Sure!” You know, I was working at Macy’s in the Little Girls Department trying to make a buck. “Yeah, I’ll do it.” So I fell down the stairs maybe three times for different camera angles, got paid $1,200, which is as much as I made in a month at Macy’s, and I was banged up, but, you know, it was a really, really sweet deal! It was also going towards my pension and health plan and all that. That’s when I started meeting stunt people and it really took me a few years before I realized “Hey, I’m a stunt woman. I’m working all the time.” I never planned on becoming a stuntwoman.
KG: It wasn’t a conscious decision.
PT: Right, and when I moved to LA, I introduced myself and pretty soon I was one of the top 5 working stuntwomen working in LA.
KG: What do you enjoy more? Is it the stunt work or the acting?
PT: With stunts, it’s overcoming fear and proving I could do it, something I never thought I would ever be able to do. I never thought that I would be able to get hit by a car or fall off a building or be set on fire. I mean, I’ve always been kind of a chicken, so to have that on my resume and actually do that in front of hundreds of people on a movie set is just amazing to me. But acting is really who I am. I’m an actor, so the two are completely different. The stunts are an achievement in self-discipline and the acting is what I love to do and all I really want to do.
KG: It’s your passion?
PT: It’s my passion. It’s who I am and I’ll die acting. I hope I’m the Fruit of the Loom lady! I hope I’m the “Where’s the beef?” lady! I want to do this until I can’t. With stunts, I’m pretty much done with them. I pretty much did what I wanted to do there and I don’t want to hurt anymore bones.
KG: Now, you played an underwear model on TV’s Generations…
KG: …and later did a voiceover on the Better Sex video series.
PT: How do you know this stuff? (laughing) Where did you find this shit?
KG: Did those play any part in you doing The Vagina Monologues?
PT: (loud laughter) Okay, it’s all related. It’s all about vaginas.
KG: (laughing) This is usually the point where I turn red on the phone that you never get to see!
PT: That was a fabulous experience doing The Vagina Monologues! That was just a fabulous piece of theater, I’ve never been more solid on stage now in my 40′s…just to be on stage, it’s like “This is it, baby!” That was also just about being a woman. All experiences lead to the next experience. The humiliation of being an underwear model on a soap opera…
KG: What’s humiliating about it?
PT: Because I’m wearing skimpy outfits and I’m not that comfortable with that, but I needed the money. When they first wrote the role, it was just a one shot deal, and they liked me so much and they said I was funny, which is nice, and I think I ended up doing like eight episodes. They kept bringing me back and then they brought me back as another character. It was quite flattering that they really liked me so much, you know? It all leads to the next thing.
KG: Now did they ask you to do The Vagina Monologues or is that something you pursued?
PT: I pursued. I auditioned for it. I had seen The Vagina Monologues in 2000 and I was so blown away by the experience. A gay girlfriend of mine had said “Come see The Vagina Monologues” and I’m like “Oh, God, great. A night of vaginas. Okay, you know, I’m up for anything. Whatever.” And it was fabulous. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend them enough. You don’t have to be super open-minded or anything either. It’s not like that. It sounds intimidating, but it’s not. When people go and they actually see it…and all these old ladies were there… I mean, I had old ladies coming up to me, Methodist old ladies, uptight Midwestern old ladies going “I’m just so glad you did this. This just changed my life.” Well, better late than never, but you know… The monologues are just really funny and wonderful.
KG: You mentioned once that you were considering writing a book about your experiences in the industry. Is that still just a consideration or have you moved past that phase at all?
PT: I have a lot of ideas about it, but I think I just have to get over feeling like it’s egotistical. Like who’s going to want to read a book about me? Maybe if I can get past that and say “Hey, it’s the experiences of a mad stuntwoman”, something about experiences that most people haven’t had and maybe they’d enjoy knowing about, then maybe I could get around to it. It keeps coming up, so I have a feeling I’m going to need to do it.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.