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Space Nightengale Written By: Darrell 04-09-05
--Interview by Pat Jankiewicz for Starlog Magazine, 2001.

In playing Cassiopeia, a member of the ragtag fugitive fleet of displaced humans combing space for Earth, Battlestar Galactica’s Laurette Spang went from a destitute and hated – but very sultry – space hooker to a loved but practically virginal healer. As she became a series regular, any suggestion of the character’s past profession was completely obscured. “That change came about when I was signed to do the series,” Spang explains. “When I did the pilot, my character wasn’t meant to carry over into the series. When they asked me to do it, they said: ‘The good news is you’re on the show, but the bad news is we’re going to change you. We can’t have a hooker in a prime-time TV series for children!’

“After the pilot, I came back on set and suddenly I went from having skirts up to the top of my thigh and wearing high-heel shoes to wearing a dress that went to mid-calf in tan/khaki colours. I was disappointed that there wasn’t an easier transition. I didn’t mind toning her down, I understood that, but I wish they had just let me be a normal woman. I wanted to be intelligen and let the audience discover she had a brain,” Spang shrugs.

No matter how she was dressed, however, Cassiopeia made a big impression on viewers. Spang attributes Cassiopeia’s appeal to “her wonderful spirit. She had this naiveté in the way she saw the world.” The series also had a profound impression on Spang, who looks back fondly on her time aboard the Galactica.

“It was like nothing else on TV.” She says proudly. “The sets were huge. I loved my character’s romance with Starbuck. There was a reality to that,” she confides. “Dirk Benedict was so much like Starbuck at that time. He was so much fun. Dirk’s really going to hate this, but I mean this in the most loving way – he was this big ego, because he was gorgeous, wonderful and charming. I just adored him. He had every girl in love with him. Dirk and I were great pals.

As for Richard Hatch, who played Captain Apollo, Spang grows thoughtful. “Richard and I never got to know each other that well,” she admits. “Richard was very mysterious. I always felt that he either didn’t like me or he was too busy and intense. I looked up to him; he seemed to carry a lot on his shoulders. Whenever we were around each other, we talked very little. I regret that I didn’t get to know him better.”

Spang has nothing but praise for her Galactica Commander, Lorne Greene. “Lorne has a very special place in my heart.” She says. “He was always Ben Cartwright to me. When I got Galactica, I could not get over the fact that I would be working with Ben Cartwright!
“When I was 12 years old, his show Bonanza was on at 9pm. I couldn’t stay up that late on a school night, so I would listen to it from my bedroom. I would lie there hearing that music and Ben Cartwright. He was the father figure on Galactica. We all went to him for advice, and Lorne had us all to his house occasionally. He was wonderful. When my husband and I had our first two children, Lorne and his wife sent us baby presents. I don’t think there was anybody who didn’t love Lorne.”

Another Galactica girl who stood out was Jane Seymour. “Jane and I became firm friends,’ Spang laughs. “We would lunch together. Jane impressed me, because she was so beautiful and poised. Jane and I had our first babies together and we were in the same maternity class. She always irritated me because she wore a unitard! All the other women were covering their thighs and here’s Jane, sitting there with her big belly and looking great.”

And whatever happened to the other female cast member, Maren Jensen? “I have no idea,” the bewildered actress states. “None of us know. It’s a big mystery. A few people tried to track her down, but to no avail. We lost track of her mid-season on Galactica. She left the show and Annie [Lockhart] came in to replace her. Maren kept to herself and never had any problems. She had a good time doing the show, and then nobody ever heard from her again!”

Then there was Muffit, Galactica’s K9 counterpart to R2-D2. “Oh I loved the daggit,” Spang notes. “What made the daggit so lovable was that there was a monkey inside. Evie the monkey always let you knows how she felt. There was one day on the bridge ¬– with the whole cast – and the daggit came running in, with that funny little sound it made.

“We’re all very tired, it’s the end of a long, long day on this huge set. Here comes Evie, who decides to pull off the daggit head and throw it on the floor! The director yells: ‘Cut, cut, cut!’ We stop, the trainer makes sure Evie was okay, they screw the daggit head back on, start up again – and Evie does it several more times. This monkey had just had it! She was letting us know: ‘No more. I am done.’ I worked several times with the daggit and always felt it should have played a bigger part in the show.”

For Spang, one of the series’ high points came in the pilot, when she almost became larvae food for the grotesque insect-like Ovions. “That was great!” she exclaims. “I always wanted to do a horror film and that was as close as I got. They were scary, because I don’t ever recall seeing the Ovions with their masks off. Laying down with Ovions hovering over me and holding me down was creepy – then Starbuck and Apollo crash in. It was a little girl’s dream; to have these two handsome guys come in with laser guns to rescue you from the Bee People!
“That scene was just so real, and the set was marvellous too. They had trapped people scratching against their cage windows, people being eaten alive by the Ovions. The regular series pulled back from that, but I was waiting for it to rev up again. I think a second season would have done that.”

Battlestar Galactica arose while Spang was not under contract. “I was just freelancing in different things,’ says the actress. “For me, Galactica was just a pilot. I was only supposed to be in the pilot. By the time we finished, the network offered me a part in the series. My agent didn’t want me to do it, because he felt there wasn’t enough money in it with all of these regulars [already signed]. I was so excited by the pilot and had such fun making it, I said: ‘I want to do it!’

“The truth is, if we had gone one more season on Galactica, we could have covered a tremendous amount of material. I believe the show could have been big. First season is all about ratings and getting everything going, but by the season’s end, when Don Bellisario wrote and directed "The Hand of God," our last episode, I felt pretty good.

“Viewers wanted to know about the people on the Galactica, they wanted to get closer to the characters and feel something for them. "The Hand of God" finally dug into that and got some emotion out of the crew. It was the last one before we were cancelled, the show where the guys go off to fight. Sheba [Lockhart] kisses Apollo goodbye and Cassiopeia and Starbuck argue, fight and say they love each other for the first time. We fit in action, fighting and Cylons, but the emotional core of the show was there.

“The series’ cancellation was very tragic to me,” the actress states. “It was a particular blow because I was living my dream; I was one of the few people from my high school who decided to become an actress and actually did it.”

“My first role ever was a guest shot on Alias Smith & Jones, and then straight into Marcus Welby M.D. and a ton of TV movies. I did several episodes of Happy Days, playing Richie’s girlfriend a few times and Fonzie’s girlfriend once. Happy Days was like family – I still keep in touch with those guys.”

Spang also had a high-speed run-in with The Six Million Dollar Man. “I spent most of the episode standing on a beach,” she recalls. “I played a Navy WAV. Lee Majors was a nice guy. I didn’t get to see him do anything bionic though – our plane just crash-lands on the beach.”

Like many beautiful actresses of the time, Spang also got dolled up for Charlie’s Angels – but not too dolled up. “Doing Charlie’s Angels was an interesting experience,” she admits with a smiled. “Going into wardrobe, if you weren’t one of those three main girls [Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith] they would say: ‘You can’t wear that because Farrah’s wearing that and Kate’s wearing that and Jackie’s wearing those shoes!”

With today’s film and TV remake mania, Spang might find herself aboard the Galactica’s bridge once again. Sci-Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer was recently quoted in The Hollywood Reporter as ‘looking into’ doing a new Galactica.

“The have been talking about that for years. I will believe it when it happens,” Spang smiles. “In the beginning I got very excited about that [revival talk], but I know how things go in this business; it will be a new cast.

They’ll probably do it like the Lost in Space movie and bring in big stars. But it would be great fun to do a two-hour movie wrapping up Battlestar Galactica, showing what happened to all the characters. Did Cassiopeia and Starbuck get married? What happened to Apollo and Sheba? I would love to find out myself.”

As for Richard Hatch’s ambitious plans to re-launch Galactica, the actress has mixed emotions – and isn’t the least bit hesitant in discussing them. “I get in trouble every time I talk about it,” Spang laughs. “I have tremendous respect for Richard, for his talent, his writing and his pursuit of this project. But I believe it’s a fact that Glen [Larson] and Universal Studios own all the rights. Glen created the characters, so I believe there are no two ways around that. No matter what the fans of the show [want to] see, the legality is that the characters belong to Glen. Beyond that, it’s a spirited thing Richard has taken on and I hope he’s successful, but if somebody else owns it, you just can’t get past that.

“There are many shows like Galactica where people are in love with the show and want it to go on, but Battlestar Galactica will never happen again the way that it was,” Spang says quietly. “Still, it’s nice to know that it can be recreated in some way and explore what happens to the characters at the heart of that show.”

As for her own future: “I’m very happy being a wife and mother. Every once I a while, I see a role and think: ‘I could so that,’ but I have my kids to consider. I’m very happy. One thing I would like to do is another science fiction show; that seems right in line with the people who know me from Battlestar Galactica. The only things I appear in now are my son’s home movies.” Laurette Spang smiles. “Since he was nine, I can’t cut a tomato for a salad without being filmed by him.”
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Trivia- Laurette enjoyed working with Lorne Greene because she was a huge Bonanza fan.
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