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The Negotiator (1998) Pleasantville (1998)
Breakdown (1997)
Sling Blade (1996)
Dark Skies (1996) - TV
Executive Decision (1996)
Nixon (1995)
The Babysitter (1995)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
The Client (1994)
National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
Needful Things (1993)
Hoffa (1992)
Few Good Men, A (1992) .
Contact (1992)
True Identity (1991) .
Backdraft (1991)
Crazy People (1990) .
Defenseless (1990)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Right to Kill? (1985) (TV)
Eddie Macon's Run (1983)


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by Stuart Banks

For film and television fans alike, the death of actor JT Walsh in February 1998 came as something of a shocker. Stuart Banks revisits an afternoon in May 1997 - just before alien conspiracy show Dark Skies was dropped - where Walsh spoke about much more than just his experiences playing the series' sinister government agent Frank Bach.

The cancellation of Dark Skies back in 1997 came as no surprise to sci-fi watchers. For some time previous to the inevitable, magazines reported the poor viewing figures and, come the time for renewal, it seemed highly unlikely it’d get another bite of the cherry. However, as with all things in this game, the cogs of the PR machine had been well oiled, and some weeks previous the interview had been arranged, with only rumblings in the distant about the show’s imminent demise.

JT Walsh was an excellent character actor who was taken far too soon. His talent lives on, however, with Channel 4 and the Sci-Fi Channel both recently repeating Dark Skies, and the actor’s final role, as Big Bob in last year’s quirky fantasy flick Pleasantville, winning much praise. But as for Dark Skies, just how did Walsh come to find himself on the ill-fated show?

"There was no auditioning - just an offer. Which in television is dangerous," said Walsh, while rolling a cigarette in a crowded London pub.

"You don't know what the hell you are getting into with writers and producers. And after talking with my friends, the only thing I knew to look forward to was a good foundation in which to tell stories. It seemed to me to be a very good foundation: simply because it had the classic triangle of conflict between the government, the citizenry and another branch of government. Plus science-fiction is such a wonderful platform where you can tell all kinds of things that you want."


Born James Patrick Walsh on 28 September 1943 in San Fransisco, Walsh appeared in over 50 films such as Good Morning Vietnam, A Few Good Men, The Russia House, Sniper, and Outbreak. His fame grew as he appeared in bigger and bigger films such as Breakdown, appearing alongside Kurt Russell, and The Negotiator, alongside Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey, and it seemed as if he career was gaining serious momentum before his death.

His television credits are equally prolific, including appearances in other genre shows such as X-Files (The List) and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (Operation Blackout). But back to Dark Skies...

"They had the role already, but they wanted some guy who was a military type of asshole, and I fitted the role. There isn't much subtext that goes along with it," explains Walsh.


But what about those who sought to make comaprisons between Bach and The X-Files character, Cancer Man? Walsh wasn't even aware of him. In fact, it took a little explaining about who Cancer Man was. "Bach is a straight ahead guy. He isn't a shadowy figure at all!"

With this premise, Walsh was convinced that the writers had made a mistake.

"In the beginning when they set up Majestic as being a super secret organisation which nobody knows about," he revealed.

"But as soon as they allowed women and wives to come into it, I got into a fight on the set with them. I said that they were destroying the very thing that they were trying to set up! And when you let anyone get in through the side door - after setting up that it was impossible to do so - now everybody knows about it. It's not a knock on women, but within the story, if you let all these people with rolling pins get through the guards, and break the secrecy, it made it unbelievable."

However, that aside, what sold Bach's character to Walsh was the potential to make him far more rounded.

"If he was just like some guy who was a finger - ‘Go there, do this’ - he wasn't two dimensional. Also, I think Bach can see a little bit of himself in (series protagonist) Loengard. So there is this sort of father son type thing going on."


Touching upon the father and son aspect, Walsh grew up in a military family, where his father served in Germany. This certainly gave Walsh the chance to bring many of those influences to bear in the role of Bach.

"I was surrounded by these guys who were spies right after World War Two, when they were paranoid at the Russians. Well, it was a little bit like being paranoid over aliens. I had school friends whose fathers I would see arrive home in uniform, and leave the next day in civilian clothes, and disappear for a month. Sometimes they would come home, and sometimes not...."

With the conversation wading into deeper waters, Walsh began to open up about his beliefs about such things as alien existence. A chance opening that it seemed he had been looking for sometime to find.


"One of the things I have been arguing about - and slowly they maybe coming around - is tjat I personally don't believe in aliens. But, I do believe that there is something out there that is accountable for all these mysterious things that are going on: I think it is a spiritual thing not a material thing," argued Walsh.

"This is what I kept arguing about: why couldn't Bach have this separate agenda, where he believes what he believes, and is using these things to fight his own battles almost as a knight - as opposed to someone chasing spaceships?"

In a time where people are looking at the whole aspect of ufology with increased and intense interest, Walsh it seems, was looking in a different direction for answers

"These phenomena that most people account for as alien, I can account for in terms of The Excorist. Let's say the same kinds of things as that."

As in the same kinds of things that Jesus talked about in the Bible-of seeing strange lights in the sky?

"Yes," he confirmed.

"In fact, I am always reminded of Arthur C. Clarke when he was asked whether he believed in the existence of extra- terristrials. He said, 'No, I don't think there is any evidence of it. When you consider that we have radar that can pick up storms and objects the size of a needle, and there has never been any evidence to suggest that there have been things that have been picked up that cannot be accounted for...'"

So does he he think that we are truly alone, then?

"No, I don't think that we are truly alone. But, why does it have to be in these kinds of forms? I am reminded of Tesla, at the turn of the century, when he started talking about speaking out into space.

"All these drawings of space ships that came out of people at that point where culturally influenced; they were images of things that were appropriate to the time. Now we have space ships that are appropriate to our time. I am just of the opinion that not all these things can be explained materially. I think that is a limitation of this time. We are such materialists that all our metaphors are going to be material."

"I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Milleniuum is fast approaching. I mean, it's an event that only takes place every thousand years."

The creators of the Dark Skies, however, were - and presumably still are - convinced of the existence of extra terristials. Did this bring clashes between them and Walsh?

"Just in terms of, 'Well where is your evidence?' type of thing. In terms of Bach, I did win some of those arguments to change certain things: I said, 'Why can't Bach be doing some of this work?'. In the same sense that you have Loengard taking a double approach of going along, but having his own ends. Why can't Bach be going along and having his own ends?"

"I wanted (Bach) to be linked up with a Jesuit priest at Georgetown University, which is similar to The Exorcist: a place where he could find someone to talk about what he thought was going on, and his little secret association. So it becomes conspiracy on top of conspiracy on top of conspiracy. To me that would be a lot more fun."


Unfortunately with the series cancelled fans never got the chance to see the complex storylines for the series unfold, which might have proven to be the genre's loss, as Walsh teased a little with tempting nuggets of planned storylines.

"They (Dark Skies creators Zabel and Friedman) have grand distinctions between all kinds of aliens - they have got lizard beings. There will be stories where they have clashes between all these different alien beings for the souls of men. They have their bible - this ten year span which is gradually going to be introduced."

In closing, a fitting epitaph to Walsh could be neatly captioned when he commented on the struggle to make Bach a more rounded character instead of a two dimensional, steretypical "bad guy" - a theme that constantly ran through the course of our conversation.

"It is a struggle. But I don't mind. I will just keep fighting on."

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