When you’re a character on the grim, brilliant Battlestar Galactica, which returns for its fourth and final season starting Friday, you’re guaranteed to endure an almost impossibly high level of mental anguish and daily heartbreak. But no one has suffered as profoundly as Colonel Saul Tigh, the ship’s curmudgeonly executive officer. The guy was forced to kill his beloved wife for collaborating with the enemy, lost an eye in a prison camp, and keeps on battling the bottle. Then he finds out he's a Cylon? The actor who plays Tigh, TV vet Michael Hogan, shows none of his character's trademark surliness as he talks to Vulture about life as a Toaster, interacting with fans at inopportune moments, and what song he wants blasting at his funeral.
How does it feel to be a Cylon?
It’s not an easy question to answer. A switch didn’t go off in my head that goes “Oh, I’m a Cylon.” Hearing the music in my head … Saul Tigh has been through so much in his life. Taking over the ship from Adama. Being incarcerated and having his eye taken out. Being involved with the resistance. Having to put his wife away because we’re behind enemy lines and she’s collaborated with the enemy. The man wakes up every day in a very confused state. So hearing this music and being drawn to the source, me as Hogan – and I think Tigh, too – treats it more as a mental illness. “Whoa, what’s going on here now?” It’s almost like you’re developing schizophrenia. You wake up in the morning and all of a sudden there’s a ringing in your ears.
How did the news come down that you were one of the Final Five Cylons?
The rumors you hear about all the security are very true. Starting last season, we weren’t e-mailed the scripts anymore. We knew there was going to be a reveal of the Cylons. Someone told me that on the Internet last year the viewers voted on who would be a Cylon, of all the people who were ever on Battlestar Galactica. And Tigh was second from the last on it. But I would get teased by certain people when I got on set: “Oooh, you’re a Cylon.” Maybe it was Eddie Olmos. And I’d be like, “Yeah, right!” And then I talked to [executive producer] Ron [Moore], and he said, “Okay, here’s what’s shaking.”
Did it bother you? Tigh has always been one of the most vehement Cylon haters.
[Executive producer] David [Eick] and Ron return my phone calls within five minutes if I have a concern. When they wanted to send me down to New Caprica, I just happened to be reading a book on the Battle of Trafalgar, and it was interesting the parallels between what we were doing and the sailors at that time. So I had a good defense: “I would not go down to New Caprica, Tigh would not leave the ship, I’m a career soldier.” And they sent me down against my will, but it worked out well because Tigh didn’t want to go down either. And look at what happened down on New Caprica as an actor – what a gift they gave me. Over the three years to that point that we’d been with each other, you can argue, but in the long run, Ron and David certainly know what they’re doing.
Now that your wife on the show is dead, do you think Tigh will find love in this last season?
With Moore and his band of fools, you never know what’s going to happen. They write these things in … and you watch it and it’s pulled off — it’s amazing. But they have more nerve than Dick Tracy. So who knows what relationship possibilities lay for Tigh in the near future, because who would have thought the boy would ever be a Cylon?
What did you think of the use of “All Along the Watchtower” in the season finale? Does it have any greater significance in the show’s upcoming episodes?
That was another moment of me reading a script thinking, “You gotta be joking! Aw, c’mon! This is kitsch!” But then when you get into it … oh man. It’s funny: That very song I’ve always been close to. It’s always meant a lot to me. I would crank Jimi Hendrix’s version of that up in the truck full tilt. And I’m tempted to say to my children, “When I die, at my funeral, put that on and crank it.” What that song means, I don’t know if I can really say … [laughs] Ron Moore’s standing over my shoulder saying, “NO! DON’T YOU SAY THAT!”
If you had the power, how would you want the show to end?
It’s never crossed my mind to think about it. The show is such a parallel to what goes on in the world. To a certain extent, I certainly would like it to end on a hopeful note, but what they decide to do, it’s hard to say. Saul Tigh would like to not wake up in the morning. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t live life to the fullest and serve and carry on with dignity, 'cause that’s the man he is. But it is not easy.
What are fans saying to you when they see you in public?
Right now, they want to know if I’m a Cylon. I was on my way to Costa Rica once last year. And in the layover in Houston, I realized I didn’t have my passport. They should be great big orange things — passports should be. So I finally went up to the counter at the airline I was flying with and explained to the guy. And he stared at me and stared at me as I was telling him this. When I finally finished my story, he said, “Are you really a Cylon?” And on and on he went! So finally I had to say, “Hey, buddy, please, let’s talk about my situation here.” –Tim Grierson