Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Obsidian Stare Behind Citizen G'Kar - In Memorium

I heard the word on the Space channel’s “Hypaspace” a couple of days ago, and have since verified on Associated Press, that actor Andreas Katsulas has died.
With those eyes blazing like collapsars crouching beneath his brows, Katsulas looked the typical heavy, like he could be putting philosophers on trial in Athens or conspiring against Julius Caesar.
And he did play innumerable bad guys. You might remember him menacing Dudley Moore with a tiny set of sparking jumper cables and asking for verification of his English vocabulary (Katsulas: “…or I’m-a gonna fry your, how you say…?” Moore: “TESTICLES! TESTICLES!”) in that Disney ode to the follies of a Bronson Pinchot stint in the tourism industry in Venice called “Blame It On The Bellboy”.
More of you probably remember that flat, midnight tombstone stare of his as the One-Armed-Man with a haute couture addiction in “The Fugitive”.
But his finest role, the part that showed the greatest breadth and depth of his craft was that of Ambassador/Citizen G’Kar in “Babylon 5”.
To be sure, he played the bully to the hilt in the first season. But as the story evolved, so did G’Kar. Granted, J. Michael Straczynski’s writing is to be credited, but so is Katsulas for breathing life into the lines. Katsulas made us feel G’Kar’s frustration and desperation as the Centauri bombed his beloved Narn back to the Stone Age. In what was one of the finest, most powerful moments of drama on North American television – ever – Katsulas used subdued tones to deliver a tightly chained supernova of rage and contempt outside of an elevator, droning “Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.” for each drop of blood falling from the wound he’d sliced into his own hand – and not stopping! – ratcheting up our level of discomfort at home until we were squirming under the weight of those very many droplets as much as poor Vir Cotto (who was sympathetic to the Narns and only trying to apologize), followed up by a question so flat that his voice was as dead as those droplets and those Narns: “Can you apologize to them? Then you can never apologize to me.” Along the way, Katsulas’ G’Kar stumbled upon understanding and unearthed a measure of peace beneath it. Enough to show compassion for a sworn enemy. He even made us laugh a time or two.
Am I saying no other actor could have done a good job playing G’Kar? No. I am saying very, very few could have. So delicate became the portrayal of this seemingly obvious malcontent from the first season that few actors would have been able to convincingly show us his growth and enlightenment. Under another’s ministrations, G’Kar’s character could have been clumsy and unworthy of attention, let alone respect or the care of the audience. In fact, so crucial to the serious dramatic themes of “Babylon 5” was G’Kar that a performance by anyone of less skill would have gravely injured the entire show.
Much is made of Katsulas’ enduring the tons of makeup and costume for every day of shooting. I say his real trial was bearing the monumental weight of his character.
Andreas Katsulas died of lung cancer in his Los Angeles home on February 13th at the age of 59. He is survived by his wife and two children from a previous marriage.

“You see, I believe that when we leave a place, part of it leaves with us, and part of us remains behind.”
“Objects in Motion”, season 5, “Babylon 5”
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