Friday 29 March 2013

Interview: David Jackson (Gan from Blakes 7)

Leicester's Space Centre had it's very own month-long science fiction season, with all manner of SF authors and actors coming to visit the futuristic museum and talk to the public.

Among them was actor David Jackson who played Oleg Gan in BBC cult space opera Blakes 7. Ever the gentleman, David agreed to talk with me and my pal Aanant over a cup of tea and a round of twixs in the cafe. What followed was a very fascinating--and very forthcoming--interview...

Jackson as 'Gan', far left. "You had to learn to act around Gareth's sleeves.'

"Oleg Gan was quite the part, alright,' says Jackson in his trademark thespian, some might say plummy voice. 'It would have been easy to play him as just a big henchman, a nimrod, what with his imposing build.  But I took a more multilayered, context-sensitive approach. Standing behind and left of Gareth (Thomas, 'Blake'), say, required Gan to be the fist of Blake's wisdom, a sort of... rugged frame to the boss's enigmatic charisma.

 'On the other hand, standing behind and left of Paul (Darrow, 'Avon') it was more a case of adding a contrasting dimension of menace to Avon's own. Standing behind and left of Michael (Keating  , 'Vila') was, of course, an invocation of the eternal comic duo: Falstaff and Pistol, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, all that stuff. No two days on set were the same.'

I ask him if the part of Gan ever pushed him to the limit.

'Oh, absolutely. Those scenes where some cool customer--a space pirate, say--wasn't being forthcoming to the crew and Gan would have to step past Blake and make the scoundrel more... obliging, for instance. I had to dig deep into Gan's past and ultimately my own past for those. When you think of the hell that man must have gone through:  a violence-inhibitor chip in his skull, for Pete's sake. A gentle giant knocked from one Federation prison planet to the next. Makes you weep...'

"Jaqueline (Pierce, B7's villainess 'Servalan')would get in quite a tizzy whenever I'd filch a slice of her Black Forest Gateaux. 'Jaqueline', I'd quip, 'what's good for the goose is good for the Gan!' She got the joke..."  

At this point during our chat I decided to risk asking about the after-shoot hell-raising that allegedly took place, as documented in the small press memoir Blakes after 7.00, by ex-crewman Ray London.

'Hands up, all true,' he says, grinning, 'every line that ruddy reprobate wrote! The night we toilet papered the Tardis I can just about remember, but in mine and Glynis Barber's defense, the Dr Who lads TP'd the Liberator set first.' Jackson shakes his head, laughs. 'Mac Adams, our lighting man--a force of nature, that one. Olly Reed with a tool belt--was a bad influence on me. I woke up one morn in a phone box on a bleak heath, one pair of y-fronts and 10p to my name. 'Maccy, you stupendous bastard!' I yelled down the phone to him. 'You minicabbed my arse to Penrith!''

What were the cast like on a night out?

'The more they drank the more they became like their characters. Paul Darrow would leave you behind if you fell unconscious, whereas Gareth Thomas would revert to Blakeisms; 'Paul, He'll miss the last bus. Doesn't that even bother you?'' Michael would try to avoid getting a round in whilst Jan (Chapell, 'Cally') would yarble on about seeing people's auras.'

The fast living began to take it's toll on on-set relations. 'Neither me nor (B7/ Dr Who creator) Terry Nation were the kind of personalities to back down,' says Jackson. 'It was the elephant in the room. And when you consider he'd overheard me slagging off his beloved Daleks to some Mutoid extras, well... that was the room inside the elephant inside the room.' It all came to a head by the beginning of season 2. 'It led to the well-documented 'cast mutiny' of '78 of course. We were sick and tired of the same hokey teleportation special effect and we weren't taking no for an answer.'
David Jackson at Leicester Space Centre

'I admit I threw the first punch--I'm no angel, guv'nor--but Chris Boucher (script editor) had a bike chain in his desk. Things got serious. If you watch the old episodes, you'll notice a haunted, broken look in Gareth Thomas's eyes after episode 2, season 2. He simply wasn't the same man.' Jackson looks down at this point, shrugs. 'Anyway, I was out.'

I ask if he still spends any time with the old B7 crowd.

'Check my Wikipedia page,' he says. 'I think it's fairly clear I don't get out much anymore, work or play. I'm taking retirement easy.' He grins. 'I still hang out with Mac Adams, though. Believe it, buster! Either you'll find us sinking a few jars down at The Pride Of Carthage--our local--or buying a round of scotch eggs, kicking back at mine and seeing what the deal is on Netflix.

'But mainly it's time with the family. My granddaughter, Anette, she loves those choose-your-own-adventure type animated films--where everyone's been done up with computers like Gollum in the films, you know? She's loopy for one of them--Mass Effect. Heard of it?'

I've played it, I tell him.

'Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun, a lot of action and zip. But it hasn't the weight of Blake; I'm sorry but it hasn't. Those Krogan, for starters. They can stand behind and left of their captain well enough. Pretty menacing all right; all swagger and teeth. But I'd dread to see them have to walk in Gan's shoes, even for one day.'  He laughs in that lovable way of his. 'Still, they're all good kids, the Mass Effect cast. Let 'em enjoy the limelight. You have to grab it while you can in space opera...'

"A gentle giant knocked from one Federation prison planet to the next..."

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