Enid-Raye Adams speaks exclusively on playing Minbari healer Firrel, fruit baskets, big heads, gargling... and the wonder of Betty Boop Lunchboxes
Enid-Raye Adams follows in the footsteps of a number of distinguished actors in bringing a Minbari to our screens. Enie, however, knew nothing about the Minbari race, or even Babylon 5 for that matter, before her audition. This allowed her the freedom of having no preconceptions when reading the script for the first time. "My agent called me and said 'I've got an audition for you, for some alien, for a movie that might turn out to be a pilot for a series,'" she explains. "So she told me a little bit about it, as I'd not watched it before, and I read the script. The way Joe [Straczynski] writes stuff is very specific, it's all very clear, and that really was the best tool for me. I went in to the audition, and I go to do this character, then he just threw out a couple of words to me in the way of direction, and it took the character in to an entirely new sort of area."
Enie's performance immediately gained JMS's attention, as he pointed out in an interview. "I explained that [Enie's character] is a warrior priest, and that logic, therefore, is that she's the closest we're going to have to a nun. She then turned around, and on the next take, she was that character. She was a Minbari. And that was it – no one else came close," said JMS.
Even with her telemovie role filmed, Enie isn't rushing to see B5. "Even now, I haven't watched it. I've caught a couple of scenes here and there, but I won't watch it because I don't want to imitate anyone's work. I find that the written word is very informative, so if it does go to a series and I need to learn all kinds of background, I'll just grab hold of old scripts or any literature that's out there."
Want the role? Time to deploy Betty Boop...
Enie obviously dazzled JMS at the auditions, but how did she approach the role? Did she have any special weapons? "It's interesting you ask me that," she says matter-of-factly. "I brought in a Betty Boop lunchbox. I don't know if that helped or hindered, but it put me in the right frame of mind. I think acting is about dress up, you take in what you can. What can I take? Well, I'm a doctor so I need a medical bag. All right, well here's my Betty Boop lunchbox and there you go, that picks up the character quite nicely."
Props aside, Enie found the strength of the script helped her in approaching the role. "I went in there, and I don't know... he was just so clear in the writing. Whenever you walk in to an audition with Joe (I've auditioned for him a few times since then for other projects) there's such a lovely energy in the room. One of my favorite ways to audition, and whether you hit it on the right away or not, is to have a sense of play with the folks behind the desk. It shows to me that they're interested in the work, and that they want to play around and discover, and collaborate. Certainly that energy was in there, so it certainly helped me to find the character."
Casting the warrior nun
The character of Firrel presented a fresh challenge for Enie, and was completely different from any of her previous roles. "She allows me the opportunity to take time. She's quite aloof, and she's shy, and she doesn't have the greatest bedside manner. So interacting with other people is not her strong suit, so she always sort of steps back and really takes her time to fall in to whatever it is she's saying. That's lovely, that's very refreshing. In TV land, I've been very fortunate to be a young woman who really doesn't fit in to any mould; I really don't get put out for the pretty girl. When I do go out for the pretty girl, it will inevitably not go my way. I've been very fortunate in that I consider myself a character actor, and Firrel is definitely a character.
"Joe said that she's the closest thing to a warrior nun that this crew has, and I think that's an interesting description. Those are definitely her tactics, and I will say as an actor the kind of toys you get to play with [when portraying] someone who doesn't take the conventional methods of healing someone are fantastic. Little bleepedies and boxes, remotes, and lasers and crystals... she was just cool."
One of the skills on Enie's varied résumé is that of stage fighting. This could perhaps be a handy skill for playing a Ranger, but Enie is not sure that it will come in to play. "She didn't get to fight at all, I don't know that she will. Who can tell, if a series goes, what the exact path will be of this girl. But I don't see her taking a club and beating someone over the head with it. Although, who knows, if they piss her off....
"But, certainly I have done stage fighting in the past, and I can't help but feel it would be comical if she were in a situation where she had to fight. She's so aloof!" laughs Enie. "If the captain asked her to shoot someone in the head with a laser gun, I just think the exchange between those two would be more interesting than the fight itself."
Playing a Minbari was the first time that Enie had dealt with prosthetics, an experience she nonetheless enjoyed. "That was quite an experience," she recalls. "The first couple of hours were a bit tricky. My first day, my call time was 4:30 in the morning. So I was up at 3:30 in the morning to get there, and I was tired, and they started glopping this stuff on my face. And they said 'close your eyes' and you're sitting in the chair, and an hour and a half later it was an absolute transformation. I was so excited-I could not believe the change that had just happened! It was just phenomenal. In fact, I was so beside myself with glee, I was just like a little kid. They took a picture of me, and it's on my website actually. It was six in the morning, and I was so happy.
"It's really, really cool. It's amazing how they make it so flawless. The protruding brow, how everything joins up on your nose. It's amazing, it's an art what these folks can do."
So an art... but with a "head the size of a football," as Enie commented at the B5TV.com messageboard once. "In real life, I'm pretty tiny, and I have a pinhead. You put this thing on me, and chrome dome, crystal ball, the whole bit... my head has easily doubled in size. It's quite funny."
Channeling Firrel's calm
It's now well know that the cast got along well in filming the telemovie, so it wouldn't be hard to imagine mischief taking place on the set. However, Enie claims she's not misbehaved (as if we believe that!). "I never get in to trouble, I think what's interesting is that you put all of this prosthetic on me, I come out being this quiet, staid very centered character. In many ways I am very centered, but as soon as the camera cuts, anything that's in my head is coming out of my mouth. Enie comes through, so to speak. The contrast there you can't help but find trouble in, you can't believe some of the stuff coming out of my mouth.
"Occasionally we like to dance. I remember Alex [Zahara, Dulann] bought a car, and he brought it to set. He was so excited about it because he'd got such a good deal on it, so at lunchtime he brought the car out, and we all went outside in full alien gear. He turned the radio up real loud and opened the doors, and we were all dancing like a bunch of crazies. The security guards were all looking, 'Oh, there's the Rangers crew, typical mayhem'. It's quite funny to watch the rest of us. I think Gus [Lynch, Tirk] was there that day, so it was like all of us – Minbari and everything across the board – dancing. It was funny. I said this before, it's the best way to sum it up: it's really like getting together with your favorite cousins at a family reunion, and just laughing. And [there's] your favorite uncles, Joe, Doug, Ron. It's just great."
Actors, whether they are from B5 or not, seem to be unanimous in their positive thoughts about director Mike Vejar, and Enie is no exception. "Mike is fantastic, he's just a real sweetheart. I love his sense of fun. When makeup is involved, there can be a lot of long days, lots of hours involved. He just embraces the fun. He's got a job to do, and he does it really well and really beautifully, and he really facilitates a relaxed atmosphere with a lot of humor. He's great."
Setting the tone on set
Enie also holds executive producers JMS and Douglas Netter in high esteem. "Those guys are unlike any other producers I've worked with before. I remember Myriam [Sirois, Sarah Cantrell] was doing green screen work, so she had to be up in a harness. She was just absolutely sore and her muscles were aching. The next day Joe brought her over a fruit basket, for all of her hard work and in way of thanks.
"You walk on to some sets, and the producer's on his cell phone in the middle of mayhem trying to convince some starlet to take her clothes off for the integrity of the picture, and he's just some jackass. And he looks over at you, and he's like 'Hey, Enid. Your two front teeth are too long, you're going to scare small children!'" she explains, putting on her best 'jackass producer' voice. "He just berates you in front of the entire crew, and you're dissolved in to tears, and it's like 'Hey, where's the fruit basket?'
"You walk on to B5 [and] it's unlike any other set, it's an absolute pleasure to be there. There's no egos, no one's out to get anyone else, no one's there to make anyone feel badly, as sometimes unfortunately that happens in this business. But not in this case, it's a real treat. I remember calling my agent from set saying, "I'm just so happy to be here."
But didn't Enie feel left out, not getting her own fruit basket? "I didn't get a fruit basket, but I will say that I made my way through the chocolate at craft services. I was never stuck up in the air, the way Myriam was. But I'm sure if I had been, I would have been sent over a box of chocolates. I enjoyed the chocolate," she says seriously.
Judging by Enie's comments, and her various messages about food at our messageboard, it's fair to say that Enie loves her food. Perhaps she could create a Minbari cook book? "That's an excellent idea. Although Minbari, as I'm learning, are not to eat certain foods, so it would be wonderful to try and find my way through that." No foods containing alcohol for this cook book then.
Fearing the fans
The attention by fans to shows and their cast illustrates the dedicated community that forms in fandom for shows such as Babylon 5. Conventions are a big part of fandom, and Enie is a bit scared that she might have to take to the stage at a convention. "I'm not looking forward to that day when I have to go up in front of thousands of people in way of a convention, because I'll guarantee you that they'll know 1000% percent more than I do about the history of the show."
Perhaps the audience could be distracted? "I'll distract them, I'll throw them off with the Betty Boop! If they ask me about critical details, I'll be like 'Look, it's shiny! It's Betty Boop' and hope that they'll fall for that!"
What we're all waiting to see, naturally, is if Rangers gets a series. Enie, like us all, is in the dark and waiting to see. "You know, if I had my way it would [get a series]. If the fans had their way, it would. But we're not able to make the decision. There are all kinds of factors involved in making a decision about green lighting a series. Certainly it makes sense in terms of numbers and money, to greenlight a series. But, yet here we are waiting until the ratings come in. I have to admit that's a bit confusing, as the fan base is just extraordinary and I know that it'll do well wherever it airs.
"Just an indication about the fan base, and how supportive and how well a series would do... as you know, before we'd even finished wrapping the film, before we finished filming, my name was out there on the 'net because of B5. The fan base is so extensive, so I thought I'd put out an official website to have some official information, and within the first week I'd had over thousands of hits on my website. For someone who's a complete unknown, that's pretty extraordinary. That's just a reflection on the craving and hunger for this show, for a series, that's out there. So I think it'd certainly do well. I'd be optimistic about how the series would do if it went, but I honestly can't tell you which way they're going to go, in greenlighting or not."
Even if they do commission a series, it won't happen just yet. If Enie were to get other long-term work in the mean time, would she be torn in what to do? "Certainly I hope that nothing will clash, but I will be honest with you. Actors: it's do or die. If you have an opportunity to play a role and play some money, and make a living out of it, then you have to take it nine times out ten. Every now and again I'll turn down a role because I think it's inappropriate, or because there's nudity involved or something that makes me feel uncomfortable in that sense. Certainly I've turned down work before. But the longer they wait before they green light a series, the bigger the chance of losing one of us is.
"Certainly our fearless leader Dylan is such a beautiful man, and TV loves him. It's not surprise to me that he's getting all of these sorts of offers. I don't know how many he can turn down, he and his wife Beckie need to make a living as well. Certainly the longer SCI FI takes to make a decision, the more likely it's possible. In this business your whole career can change overnight. When I get off the phone, I could get offered a role. That would be unbelievable; it could change everything. That's how it works, that's how Babylon 5 works. I got offered a role, and it really threw my career in to a whole new path, and it's been great. The longer they wait, the more opportunity there is for that to happen. I just hope that they make a call, one way or the other, because it would be great to know."
If a series does go ahead, how would Enie like to see her character develop? "I've been told that Joe has an eye and an ear for keeping abreast of you as a person. He's known to really throw a lot of ideas in to the work based on what he sees about you. I'm a bit of a wisecracker, and I just think who knows where she would go. I'd love to see it go to a series, first of all. And I know Joe's a very creative fellow, and whatever he sort of threw my way, would be lots of fun because he's such a creative guy. He's always so aware, cognitive of what you're doing as a person and I just know that there would be a lot of really cool ideas coming down the shoot."
Putting things in perspective, Babylon 5 role is just a small part of Enie's varied career, and she has many other credits to her name. However, that didn't come easily. "As an actor I have had a really difficult time of it, nothing has come easy for me because when you look at me I don't fit in to any category. So it makes it very difficult for people to get in my corner and support me. Certainly when I moved to Vancouver, for nearly two years I couldn't even get an agent at all. I brought a demo with me, and a decent résumé. Nothing. Not even a small agent, nothing, no one would take me on. So for two dismal years I was left with not even the opportunity to audition for anything. In that time I did a one-woman show and stand up, and that was a saving grace."
However, through perseverance, things did eventually take a turn for the better. "Finally, after this desperate and dismal time, I finally got an agent. Within a few months after that, I got my first role. It was for a television show called Da Vinci's Inquest. In Canada it is one of the finest television shows. It's actually one of the funnest television shows that I've ever seen. The fact that it's made in Canada makes me more even proud to be on it. This role was of a woman who had just lost her mother under suspicious circumstances, and that was a very emotional role. I was able to work with the fellow who was the lead on the program, Nicholas Campbell, and he was just fantastic. He's one of the finest actors I've ever worked with. What meant even more for me, in terms of that role, was that a few months prior to my having been cast, I actually did lose my mom very suddenly. It didn't feel like it was a sad situation, it felt like a bit of magic. It felt I was able to bring my mum in to something that was a very magical first experience after a lot of rejection in this business."
Following in her mother's footsteps
Her mother, the late Diane Law, was also an actress, and was an inspiration for Enie. "My mom was an actor in community theatre, she was an outgoing person but at the same time we all have our reservations and insecurities. Certainly as a young woman with two young children, I thought she was very brave to put all of that aside to be an actor in community theatre. There was no professional theatre where I grew up, it was just a small city of 13,000 people. When I was growing up, we were very poor, and my mom couldn't always afford babysitters, and the ones she could afford my brother and I quickly traumatized. So no one would look after us, so she had no choice but to take us to her rehearsals. Definitely she introduced me to a world of magic, unintentionally on her part. There was something so amazing about watching her up there, doing whatever character. It was just amazing."
Her father is a musician, and he has also provided inspiration to Enie, although her music talents are quite... unique, judging by her reported gargling at Christmas on her website. "I gargle better than I sing. I did train my voice several years ago, and then I turned in to a lazy sod. So I should get back in to it. But it's true that every holiday season I have to keep up with the insanity of the holidays. I think the best way to do that is to gargle", she says matter-of-factly. No water involved, you just gargle to Christmas melodies."
So what's the story behind her gargling? "I'm going to be the gargling freak! I'm sitting there on Christmas Day, we have eaten way too much, we're all stuffed turkeys, and instead of watching holiday classics we're watching Die Hard on the TV, and this guy has had a bit too much to drink and he's doing back flips and quoting lines from Bruce Willis, and the cat is climbing up the Christmas tree. So in order to do my bit, I just started gargling." (And, in a worldwide exclusive, Enie has gargled for B5TV.com – click here to download an MP3 of her.)
Sadly, Enie didn't take advantage of her father's tuition when it comes to her musical side. "Unfortunately I had a golden opportunity to get my dad to teach me, I stayed with my dad when I was at college for year, and my dad's a guitar player. I was so busy in college that I didn't get an opportunity for him to teach me anything. My dad played bands ever since I was a little kid, and he's since sort of given it up and he's pretty much the family man now. But he's definitely a wonderful musician."
Away from work, Enie likes to involve herself with people as much as possible in her spare time, and just spending some time relaxing "One thing I just really enjoy is just hanging out with old people, grandmas and grandpas, and going down and volunteering in centers, and homeless shelters and stuff. I love to hang out with friends, I love to host dinner parties, I love to bake. I love to be outside, Vancouver is just beautiful, and I love to be running outside, and playing outside. To be active."
So now we have to wait. Wait to see the telemovie, and wait to see if we get a series. Enie is very positive about her place in B5 history, whatever the outcome. "I think [the fans are] really going to love it. There's no pleasing everyone, certainly, but it's a beautiful beginning to something that could really develop in to an interesting series. I think fans are really going to like it. I remember when the cast was invited to sit down and watch one of the cuts, we were just 'Ooh, ahh' and really excited. You hang out together, and you forget 'Oh my God, that's you on camera'. You forget. It was just a really cool experience, and if I get to be part of the universe in a small way, I'll be very happy to do that."