Alexander Siddig is a beloved genre actor with quite a number of sci-fi and fantasy credits to his name. Best known for his role as Dr. Julian Bashir on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, Siddig appears in the new sci-fi action thriller SKYLINES as General Radford, leader of a mission to save humanity from extinction. I recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Siddig about the movie. We discussed his time on “Deep Space Nine”, the appeal of working in science fiction, and how much fun he had on the set of SKYLINES.
You’ve had quite a varied career, but you have done a lot of genre work, obviously, especially within science fiction. Is there anything in particular that draws you to science fiction or that you enjoy about it?
Alexander Siddig: I think it’s my comfort zone. I started there, you know—well, not entirely, but certainly, that was my adolescence, if you like, metaphorically. I was lucky enough to spend seven years at Paramount Studios, and basically, that was my second home. So I know that space and when I get a chance to go back I kind of jump at it unless I feel like I’ve just done way too much and I’ve got to do something else. But I liken it to, you know, my old room at my mom’s house that I can always go back to whenever I break up with someone. It’s my comfort zone.
This is the third film in the Skyline series. How is it different coming into a series later on, like you did with this or going into “Game of Thrones” in season five, versus inhabiting a character for the full run of the series like you did on “Deep Space Nine” with Julian Bashir?
Alexander Siddig: I loved inhabiting a character for the full run. It feels more inventive to me. But I felt, in parachuting into “Game of Thrones”, I felt a bit of an impostor because those guys had done all the hard work to make the show the success that it had been. And I was just there to enjoy the accumulation of that success. But in terms of SKYLINES, I didn’t feel that kind of burden of history on my shoulders, that there were so many movies before that had, you know, created an idea for the audience that there wasn’t room for newness.
In a way, SKYLINES felt a more modest franchise to me, and there was a lot of space there to exploit, to really enjoy, to really try and make something happen. And Liam, the director, is such a sweet, lovely guy. He was so, you know, generous and welcoming and basically just let me do—he instructed me to do whatever I wanted, which is really dangerous with an actor. All he did was shout the occasional word at me like, you know, a captain of a yacht just telling one of his crewmen just to jog the sail a little bit left or a little bit right. And we got on like a house on fire.
And it was just a really pleasurable experience. I think it was a great experience—I can’t speak for the rest of the cast, but they looked like they were having fun, too. It was bloody hard work, because [in] the lower budget movies, you have to pull a lot more on set than you get to with the really high ones where they kind of basically limo you in right onto the set. But it’s really satisfying because, as an actor, you really want to roll up your sleeves. You want to do hard work. And it was just great fun.
Yes, that really comes through. Everyone seems like they’re having the time of their lives. You seem like you’re having so much fun on screen, which makes it such a pleasure to watch.
Alexander Siddig: I’m really glad you say that. I’m really happy you say that. I’m always nervous, you know, when I’m talking in press interviews because I’m meant to say the movie is fantastic, but you don’t have to. So I’m really happy when I do hear that.
Oh, yes, absolutely. One of the things I really liked about your performance in this—and it got me thinking about your other performances as well—I really like how you approach a character’s ego or lack thereof. Radford is this general leading a mission to save the world, but his early scenes are filled with this disarming humor and he doesn’t have the grandiosity you might expect from that kind of character. Do you approach characters, when you’re building them, do you think of their ego or their humility or anything from that aspect?
Alexander Siddig: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. I mean, I would use different words, but we’re talking about the same thing. Humanity is really where I’m building. That’s what I’m looking for. And if I can get an angle on that, if I can find a place where even the most out-there characters are reminiscent of people we know, then I’m on the right path. Because as soon as I leave the human race and go into sort of another area—and even if I’m playing an alien, ironically—you want to just get that, tap into the humanity and find that. Because that’s just so compelling to me. When I watch other actors, I’m just going, “Wow, that’s so familiar to me.” And I enjoy that. And then it’s all about their skill and polish, et cetera, et cetera. But I look for that, and I think “ego” is just as good a word. Because it’s, you know, the “I,” the self of it.
Yes, exactly. And I do think that’s part of the beauty of sci-fi, is finding the humanity in a person who is not actually human but still finding that commonality and being able to convey it.
Alexander Siddig: Yeah, yeah.
There are quite a few parallels between the world of SKYLINES and our own. I found the virus among the pilots quite interesting, given that we’re currently in a pandemic where we’re, you know, feeling where we’re distrustful of people we once would have trusted. How do you view the film’s relevance in that way and how has it been working as an actor in a pandemic?
Alexander Siddig: Oh, it’s been absolutely nothing as an actor in a pandemic. I’ve been at home. And my wife’s definitely had enough of me, and, it’s like, I’ve done nothing. I mean, I’ve had to invent things to do, which has been fine, but it’s, you know, not what I’m here to do. And like everybody else, I’m thinking about what kind of loan I might be able to get, et cetera, et cetera.
But in terms of the movie and the themes of it, I mean, some movies, they kind of force-feed you. You have to eat whatever they’re selling, whatever they’re serving up. SKYLINES is pretty sweet in the sense that it does all the heavy lifting for you. It’s going to take you for a fun ride if you feel like it. If you come back from a tough day—or a great day—and you’re exhausted, you sit on the sofa, you can just let it do the work, and that’s really important. I love that about it.
But if you’re interested in social issues, they’re there. And all you need to do is peek and it talks. It doesn’t talk quite loudly, but it can talk to you about inclusion, about misogyny, about the Other, all those things. But sci-fi does that beautifully, and when it is doing it well—and sometimes it doesn’t, obviously—but when it’s doing it well, you don’t notice. You don’t hear the word “Democrat.” You don’t hear the word “Republican.” But you spot the archetypes and you form opinions. And so next time you come across a Democrat or a Republican, you go, “Well, wait, you remind me of the guy in the sci-fi movie. I’m not sure that’s cool.” (laughs)
But the minute you shape it, you dress it up as a modern-day realistic piece or project, you better deliver because people just can’t—right now I think people are just too vulnerable and too hurt by this pandemic and all the other horrifying things that are happening all over the world to really need to see the reality. And it’s—I mean, we do need to see the reality. Let me not be—I was mistaken. We absolutely don’t need to hide our heads in the sand. But sci-fi just lets us off for a minute to go, “Hey, you can look at it this way,” and I love that about this movie and about sci-fi In general. Star Trek obviously is a master at doing that, and that’s their genius and Roddenberry’s particular talent. But this film lets you not get engaged with that if you don’t want to. You can just sit back and forget about it.
Yeah, I agree 100%. When you touched on how much fun it was to make the movie, was there a particular scene or moment that stuck out to you from filming?
Alexander Siddig: You know what, there was. There was a moment when Lindsey Morgan, who plays Rose, the lead, when she was doing a fight scene and she was rehearsing it. And then she came from doing her fight scene and she had to take a couple of seconds just to get her breath back. Because it’s exhausting, choreographing fight scenes and everything. Everyone’s double-tasking, we’re choreographing fight scenes while they’re doing the acting with a camera over there, and we try and be as quiet as we can, or vice versa. And she just, like a swan on water, just glided into the scene, so serene and so just charming and charismatic. And I knew that 10 seconds before she’d been beating the crap out of something.
I’ve seen a lot of actors in my time, but I haven’t seen a young action star—I don’t want to get into her gender, particularly, but obviously she is a woman—who can encapsulate the brass sort of ferocity, the steeliness that an action hero requires, the athleticism, the Olympiad AND be the kind of amazingly charming Audrey Hepburn figure. That’s pretty tough. That’s a tough thing to pull off. And I’ve seen actors fail that, you know, A-movie stars fail that. I’ve seen, you know, I don’t want to mention names, because I’ve been doing it all day, actually. It’s pretty uncool that I’ve done that, so I probably shouldn’t. You know who they are. They couldn’t pull off those movies where it was this incredibly strong female commando who leads a hit squad of troops into battle. And you go, “Well, I just don’t believe any of this.”
But I do believe Lindsey doing it, and that was pretty remarkable for me. That was a career first. I’ve not seen that. And I’ve seen young men do the same thing, just fail at being charming and charismatic when they needed to be, because all they were was just muscle and testosterone. So, she’s done a pretty cool thing.
She has. Yeah, she was fantastic. I was really impressed and really enjoyed her performance as well.
Alexander Siddig: Yeah, me too.
You’ve worked as a director as well as an actor. You’ve directed theatre and two episodes of DS9. Are there any dream projects you’d like to direct or anything somewhere on the horizon that you can talk about?
Alexander Siddig: No, I’m producing right now, which is…I sort of skipped the directing passion in my life. You know, I haven’t got time to start a new career, and I would have to start again. But producing, because it’s already behind the scenes and I know everybody, so relationships and picking up the phone and the difficult things for young producers getting into the business would be to do, I have no problem with. And they’re always like, “Yeah, we’ll talk.”
So, we’re very early stages of a production company, because one of my best friends, Alistair Petrie, who’s also an actor, and myself, we’ve both got an eye on our pensions now. It’s like, “We might need something for the future.” And we’re both the same age, and we were both in acting school together, and we both had reasonable careers as actors. And we know what we like and we’re obsessed with the idea of identity. And so we’re finding shows and books that juggle with these things. And we’re looking at several…we’ve got writers. We’ve already got scripts and we’ll be able to announce something, I hope early next year, for the first show and shortly thereafter on the second, because we’re getting both done at the same time. This is what COVID will do to you.
Right. Well, that’s very exciting. I wish you all the best of luck with that.
Alexander Siddig: Thank you. I need it.
There’s another film of yours that feels quite timely at the moment: Doomsday, which is one of my favorite films.
Alexander Siddig: Oh yeah, Neil Marshall.
Yes, I’m a huge fan of his.
Alexander Siddig: What a great director.
Oh, he’s fantastic.
Alexander Siddig: Liam is a bit like him, actually.
Alexander Siddig: They’re very similar in genre, and they’re very similar, like, unassuming people who then do this, create this monster. You go, “How could that guy have done that?”
Yeah, I was going to ask what it was like working on that film, if you have any particular memories or fond memories of that one just because I’m such a big fan of that movie.
Alexander Siddig: Yeah. I loved making that film. I loved being in Cape Town. It was also the only time I ever worked with my uncle [Malcolm McDowell]. Even though, ironically, I didn’t get to meet him on set, we were at least in the same movie. And Rhona Mitra was in it, which she’s in SKYLINES as well. So it’s all very familiar. I loved Doomsday. I thought it was, again, another really generous role. You know, you want your artists to throw everything they know onto the canvas, you want them to go, “Here’s everything I’ve got. I’m not holding anything back, and now I’m exhausted. I’m going to go and learn some more stuff, then I’m going to come back and do it all over again.”
And I feel Neil Marshall and Liam O’Donnell do the same thing. They throw everything they have, that’s it. They’ve got no more good ideas up their sleeves because they’re on the screen. And I love that about Doomsday. And I knew that making it, I knew that was happening.
Yes. Like I said, it’s one of my favorites. It’s a really special movie, probably for the reason that you mentioned: it feels like everything is on the screen. Everyone gave their all, everybody put all their ideas up there.
Alexander Siddig: Yeah, I loved it.
SKYLINES is now available in select theaters and On-Demand. If you want to learn more about the film, check out our review!