Actress Virginia Hey Finds Her Religion as One of the Regulars on Farscape
By Michael Helms
Actress Virginia Hey, best known to sci-fi fans for her role as the Warrior Woman in George Miller's action classic The Road Warrior, is blue. No, she's not sad about her current circumstances - in fact, she's quite the opposite. Blue just happens to be the skin color of her character Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan, a native of the planet Delvia and a regular on the Sci-Fi Channel's Farscape.
"I've never seen anything like Farscape, ever!" Hey raves on one of her rare days away from the show's home at Sydney's Fox Studios. "They've gathered department heads from all over the world. People who have worked together on all sorts of blockbuster projects have pulled together for this. We've got the best artistic and technical people around."
Barely drawing a breath, the actress lowers her tone and continues, "I don't know if this is true, but I've heard it's the most expensive sci-fi- TV show ever produced. It's something like $3 million per episode. The stuff we're doing now, on my God! - it just keeps getting better and better. When we first started, we were all doing backflips, so to speak - it was the most amazing production we'd ever seen in our lives. And it just got better from that moment on. You should check out the animatronics being put out by the Jim Henson Creature Shop - you'll faint."
Beyond the show's top-class technical qualities, Hey was also attracted to her Farscape character. "What appealed to me most was that she's a priest," Hey says. "I'm a bit of a hippie in the sense that the older I get, the more I'm searching for balance and serenity in life. I believe we should respect everything, every living creature, and I'm still striving towards that, although I'm only human and still wracked with twisted thoughts like everyone else. [laughs] Zhaan is so above all the insignificant worries that plague us mere mortals. She' s a ninth-level Pa'u - meaning priest. when I first read about her, it said she must be statuesque and serene, and that she's highly spiritual. I thought, 'how wonderful.'
"But the great thing is that she doesn't remain serene and priestlike all the time, " Hey continues. "she has a really dark, violent past. This doesn't come out until we're well into the series. Most priests on Delvia are highly spiritual and, like Buddhist priests, enter the priesthood at birth. Well, she was a political activist and rebel who was having an affair with the Pope of her race and killed him. for this act she was thrown in jail. While she was in there over a period of several hundred years - she's actually 800 years old - she found God and became a priest. She thought she had completely eradicated her past, but then it reappears. This is great for me, because there's equal amounts of light and dark in the character. It makes for interesting work."
Hey has never been far from work no matter where in the world she has been based. Before and after The Road Warrior, she regularly appeared in Australian soap operas; around this time, she also landed a role in the superhero satire The Return of Captain Invincible. Relocating to England, Hey went anywhere the work took her, including the James Bond thriller The Living Daylights. eight years ago she returned to Australia, and has since graced such international TV projects as Flipper and Mission: Impossible before venturing back to the genre in Farscape.
"The wonderful thing about sci-fi is that you can keep inventing as you go. There's a huge team of writers who create interesting stuff for us on a daily basis. They get so excited; they come down and go, 'Virginia, guess what I've written? I hope you like it.' Most actors aren't writers, so we leave them to their area of expertise, but if we think of an interesting storyline, we're invited to put ideas across."
A significant part of her role is the highly detailed makeup, which takes almost four hours to apply and remove. "That was designed by about 20 people," Hey laughs. "Most aliens aren't terribly attractive because their features re altered, but you learn to find them attractive, like some of the Next Generation [characters] with strange foreheads. After a while, you get used to seeing them and you begin to find the women very beautiful. In my case, the makeup is designed to be quite attractive."
A somewhat greater challenge involves working with the show's special effects. "Quite often," she notes, "we're pointing at things that don't exist. It is tricky, but you get used to it - and it is funny what you can get used to. Working with the animatronic characters is pretty extraordinary as well, because you become so involved with them. In the past they might have obviously been blobs of plastic, but with the Henson Company on the case, the work is often so incredibly lifelike that you often forget what you're working with until you trip over a cable operator [laughs]."
When asked if Zhaan develops any romantic links during the course of the show, Hey offers, "So far there have only been flirtations. In episode 8 I had my first love interest, but we didn't get very far because our main aim was to rescue John Crichton. The character I was flirting with was also a priest; in our galaxies priests are allowed to flirt, they're not celibate. We only put our powers together to save Crichton from this mad sorcerer. Then the priest I have the flirtation with dies because he exerted so much power."
playing a serious religious figure isn't an entirely serious business, however, as Hey relates. "Although the main characters all speak English, occasionally we do lapse into our own languages and this is where the creativity comes in. Once I was supposed to be praying and I can't tell you where I got the actual language from because those people might be offended, but I changed it slightly. "I was supposed to be praying to God to help us save the ship, but I was actually saying, 'We're not picking any bananas today, we're going to pick the bananas on Thursday' [laughs]. We get a real sense of enjoyment our of stuff like that, because no one really knows what we're saying."