by Stuart Banks
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.
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.
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?
was no auditioning - just an offer. Which in television
is dangerous," said Walsh, while rolling a
cigarette in a crowded London pub.
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."
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.
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...
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,"
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!"
this premise, Walsh was convinced that the writers had
made a mistake.
the beginning when they set up Majestic as being a super
secret organisation which nobody knows about," he
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."
that aside, what sold Bach's character to Walsh was the
potential to make him far more rounded.
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."
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.
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...."
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.
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
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
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
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."
in the same kinds of things that Jesus talked about in
the Bible-of seeing strange lights in the sky?
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...'"
does he he think that we are truly alone, then?
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.
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."
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."
creators of the Dark Skies, however, were - and
presumably still are - convinced of the existence of
extra terristials. Did this bring clashes between them
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?"
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."
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
(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."
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.
is a struggle. But I don't mind. I will just keep