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'Farscape' star Claudia Black on playing Aeryn Sun, ‘the heart of the show’
Aeryn and John Crichton were destined for “an epic love story — and not an ‘alien of the week’ love story.”
Claudia Black stars in a new movie this month, the slow-burn suspense thriller DEUS: The Dark Sphere, about a human space crew who discovers an unexplained object in orbit around Mars. It’s the newest science fiction project the fan-favorite Farscape and Stargate SG-1 alum appears in — but as longtime fans know, it’s only the latest in a long line of TV, film, and video games (she’s the voice of Chloe Frazer in Sony’s Uncharted series) to feature the Australia-born actor.
Black recently spoke with SYFY WIRE about the fresh leading role she plays in DEUS, a film that finds her human character grappling with past Earthly trauma while facing new existential mysteries in space. But, she also took time to share her thoughts on the wider sci-fi legacy she’s built on the small screen, including her four-season run as space soldier Aeryn Sun in Farscape, a rich and complex role she rounded out in 2004 with the SYFY's (then called Sci-Fi Channel) series-capping miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars.
More than two decades removed from its 1999 debut, Farscape continues to collect new fans who discover its ambitious character development and unique visual style — a collaboration between creator Rockne S. O’Bannon (Alien Nation) and The Jim Henson Company (both O’ Bannon and Brian Henson were among the show’s executive producers.) Black says the Farscape story-verse remains rife with creative potential even today — though with changing times comes changing attitudes about how distinctive female heroes like Aeryn Sun might someday appear again, should the franchise ever see a revival.
Tag along as Black candidly reflects on Farscape — as well as the cult following the series still enjoys:
Looking back, Aeryn Sun can be viewed as one of the earlier strong female characters to gain an enduring fan following on sci-fi television. What’s it like to have played the kind of role that fans still so favorably respond to, even after 20 years?
Well, that’s lovely to hear. I think, first of all, it’s built on the back of giants. The Henson legacy is very strong through the DNA of this show, and they’re a visionary company. Brian Henson’s way of operating in storytelling was to not understand the word “no” — from a gracious place. So when people would say, “Oh, we can’t do that; that can’t be done,” his response was “Why not?” And it was an open question — just honestly, explain to me why it can’t? Why? Why can’t it be done? And so in that very…broad, expansive thinking, a lot of creativity was possible.
Was it a perfect environment in which to work for females? Not necessarily! But there were things emerging in that space that were very innovative and forward thinking, and especially with regard to storytelling. And for Rockne to have embedded something so personal in the role of Aeryn Sun, and his connection to her and how she would evolve, I connected with that deeply. Ben [Ben Browder, who starred opposite Black as displaced Earth astronaut John Crichton] and I connected with, I think, Rockne’s intentions more so than anyone else’s, in that this should be an epic love story — and not an “alien of the week” love story. And so those things combined helped to give Aeryn the space to really grow and want things, and love things, and fear things, and experience dire consequences of choices others would make for her — and choices she would make for herself.
[Aeryn] really became the heart of the show, because we experienced the loss through her, and it was a brilliant device [spread across Season 3 opening episodes “Season of Death” and “Suns and Lovers”] that was used to create that reset for the “lovers.” It’s really rare, in any kind of drama, to find elegant ways to not lose that tension between the two leads; the two lead characters…I think her complexity, her vulnerability and strength to have to be so guarded and protected and militant, in order to just survive what we would refer to on Earth as “patriarchy” — she’s now full on into these really unexpected terrains, literally and metaphorically, where she’s forced to explore aspects of self, and what will help her to continue to survive. And what I don’t think she had on her list was emotionally and psychologically thriving — I don’t think that was on her dance card. It might be the hope and wish of all humans. But since she was literally created in a test tube, she wasn’t designed to thrive on her own terms. So that’s a really empowering and enduring universal message.
In your opinion, is the Farscape world complete, as the story’s been told? Is it something you’d be game to revisit creatively? Or do you think it’s better left as is?
I think Hollywood has proven that [shows can be rebooted]. It’s sort of Hollywood-adjacent, in its own way, because it was a cult show that could barely get the right time slot. The fact that it has enjoyed, and gone on to influence, so many current filmmakers in the Marvel space and elsewhere, and science fiction has gone from becoming the ugly stepchild of the business to now being the biggest business, and Hollywood constantly rebooting things…whether things should be [remade or rebooted], and whether they are, is an issue for people who are very clever at making this a thriving business. Creatively, I think if the right people are involved — whether I’m involved; whether Ben’s involved with it or not — there’s definitely more stories to tell in that universe; for sure.
Does it need to be updated? Absolutely. Can it exist with continuing to center whiteness, and a lot of masculine concepts? No. Do we need to make space for it to be genuinely diverse — meaning, not just painting people a different color? We need to be seeing a diverse range of participation onscreen.
So there are ways that it would really have to grow and grow up, and I am sure those are things that Rockne and Brian have been thinking about. For me, it’s always: “What’s the point? Am I bringing something new?” If I was contributing, what am I bringing to it? Do I want to be — would I do a cameo, walking in the background when I’m 80 in a Zimmer frame [an assisted walking device]? Possibly! You know, If that brings joy to the fans, what it would do for me might not be relevant. What would it give to the fans? Maybe a lot. And in that context, of course I’d consider it.
What would I bring to it right now? That remains to be seen. I certainly haven’t read anything yet. I haven’t been handed anything to read. I know that there’s been a lot of intentions to, and desire, and a lot of interest. So it’s how they can make it relevant. I think there’s a lot of stories in that universe to tell, but can they make it relevant with [what's] current — with the way it was left? Where we left off with it, how can it become relevant? That’s the million-dollar question, I think.
Missed out on Farscape the first time around? Catch the groundbreaking sci-fi series on demand for free at Pluto TV, as well as via Amazon Prime’s Freeve service. It’s also available at both iTunes and to Apple TV+ subscribers.
Looking for more sci-fi? Stream Battlestar Galactica, Resident Alien, and much more on Peacock.