"Ready to play Six Degrees of Gen Con Separation? Sure you are! Let’s start with our two celebrity interviews for this issue, Gen Con guests Jamie Bamber (Apollo on Battlestar Galactica) and Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda). It’s a hop, skip and a jump: Sorbo just wrapped up shooting Last Chance Café for Lifetime, in which he plays the husband of Kate Vernon, who in turn plays the older femme fatale who’s frequently trying to seduce Bamber’s Apollo on BSG. Two steps!
Or if you want to cheat and use reality TV as a shortcut, they both appeared together on Celebrity Poker Showdown, in which they got their clocks thoroughly cleaned by Jason Alexander (another piece of evidence for the Nerds Rule theory, elaborated upon elsewhere; below you can read Sorbo’s version of why he came in last, right behind Bamber).
And to bring mythology into it, both of their best-known characters, Apollo and Hercules, are Greek gods, sons of Zeus, half-brothers who — er, it’s probably best to leave the rest to the fanfic writers.
Jamie Bamber got his start in acting as a boy in London when his mother cast him as the Wicked Witch of the West in a grade-school production of The Wizard of Oz. Since then his roles have been decidedly less gender-ambiguous, including portrayals of soldiers on Horatio Hornblower and Band of Brothers before taking on Captain Lee Adama in BSG.
NUVO: You’ve done a string of military roles now; how did that come about? How do you craft each character, one after another, from that mold?
Bamber: It just comes out that way; when you’re a young guy, a lot of the drama out there is war and armies and dramatic times. It makes for very good stories. It’s much like shows with police or lawyers; there’s built-in drama. There’s something very intellectual about being a soldier, learning to follow orders and give orders and make a smoothly functioning machine, while at the same time making a balance between the conscience of the soldier and the good of the group. The characters I play always have a personal conscience — they have a sense of duty and a sense of personal duty as well, which I suppose is what makes them distinctive.
NUVO: You’re a relative newcomer as sci-fi icons go; have you been to many conventions?
Bamber: I’ve had a little bit of experience with conventions so far. It’s a strange departure as an actor to show up and just be yourself. But I really enjoy meeting with fans of the show, the biggest fans in fact. There’s some memorable stuff — once I had my photo taken with a group of Jedi chefs, who literally dressed up as Jedi who were chefs, except instead of cooking implements like knives and forks, they had lightsabers.
NUVO: Why do you think BSG has struck such a cultural nerve?
Bamber: I think our show is mold breaking — it’s good sci-fi, it holds a broad appeal, it has a wide array of interests. I hope it raises the bar and gets most of the creative community’s mind on what’s important: the characters and development and ideas, rather than the effects or the outfits. I think it’s important that sci-fi stick to its roots, which is to comment on the world in which we live. To ask “what if?” George Orwell’s 1984 is benchmark sci-fi to me — it’s very social and political, even though there’s not a lot of science in it, and I’m hoping our show is bringing sci-fi back to its benchmarks, helping make sci-fi respected as a serious genre. I have misgivings about remakes, when there are so many original ideas floating around, but when I read it I thought it was very bold to heighten the reality rather than the drama. The characters all jumped off the page, they were all conflicted. The tone of our show is that we change things and accelerate. Things that other shows might take a year to unfold are done in two hours for us. It’s distilled, purified drama that’s right up there on the screen. I think that our show is going to be watched for years to come.
NUVO: What other goals do you have as an actor and a member of the creative community?
Bamber: I’m very keen to play as many different characters as I can. I would love to produce and direct someday. I’ve been very lucky in the people I work with. I’ve learned a lot from watching our director, Michael Rymer, and from Edward James Olmos, who has such passion and conviction. He’s written and directed and acted, as well as being a social pioneer. I love the industry I find myself in and I want to be involved with it as much as I can.
Jamie Bamber is hosting a Q&A session at Gen Con on Saturday, Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. Check the Gen Con schedule for location and details, which are subject to change.
‘Just ask me my favorite color, pal!’
Kevin Sorbo, the man whose characters span 12,000 years and whose haircut drove countless fangirls to despair, had a far more difficult challenge the day I got him on the phone: juggling two under-5 kids and one newborn while answering questions from a lifelong nerd. Most sane people would take the Twelve Labors of Hercules over that.
NUVO: You’ve been a genre mainstay for 13 years now; have you done many conventions in that time?
Sorbo: Actually, I was never available for conventions, because I was so busy with filming. I went to Dragon Con for the first time last year, and they’ve been inviting me for 11 years. In those 12 years, between those two series, I probably went to five or six conventions. I was invited to so many. I love to travel, I love shooting the shit with the fans and getting up there and talking, showing blooper reels and having a good laugh. This last 18 months I’ve probably done about 10 of these cons. I wouldn’t have a career if not for the fans.
NUVO: What are your interactions with fandom like?
Sorbo: I try to do auctions at these conventions to raise money for my foundations — A World Fit For Kids and Afterschool Alliance — and it’s interesting to see what fans will do to get the chance to go up on stage with you. I once auctioned off a pair of my underwear. People are nervous, their palms are sweating when they meet you. It’s amazing you can have that kind of effect on people. I was lucky to play two characters who were very likable; they were heroes, they made mistakes and they didn’t win all the time either. People feel like they know you already when they meet you.
NUVO: Is there a downside to that?
Sorbo: If you’re fortunate enough to have a career at all, you want your privacy. Once I went to a movie and I got recognized by the staff, who called friends and family. There were 70 people waiting for me outside the theater with things to sign. I just wanted a bit of privacy, but I also understand the flip side of that. You sign, you smile and you move on. I don’t want to be a jerk. The best compliment I ever got was from a director on the fifth season of Hercules, and he said, “Wow, five years and your crew still likes you!” Which is quite telling, I think.
NUVO: You’ve got the unusual position of having been the star of two very different, very successful genre franchises. Is there much of a difference between the Hercules and Andromeda fan bases?
Sorbo: Oh, there’s a big difference. Hercules has a very laid-back fan base; it’s a family-friendly, fun fantasy show. There were moral issues there. I never killed anyone in the show; it’s quite different than [Hercules spinoff] Xena, where you’ve got a full-on lesbian show and killed 20 guys a show! I did one of the Xena conventions and it’s a totally different fan base. The Andromeda people are a more educated base who know more about the show than I do. I had a guy in San Francisco who had a 10-inch-thick binder that he asked questions from, and I sat there with a glazed look and finally said, “Just ask me my favorite color, pal!”
NUVO: When you cut your hair after Hercules you must have killed a thousand fangirls’ dreams. I’m not sure my fiancé is ever going to forgive you, actually.
Sorbo: When I cut it, people were upset! Girls like that bad-boy image, the different, unbusinesslike guy.
NUVO: What’s next for you from here?
Sorbo: I’m not really sure. I don’t quite understand the TV world. I did a sitcom pilot about sports, from the guy that produced Coach, and we were the No. 1 tested pilot for ABC, and they didn’t pick us up. I don’t understand the logic of these guys. I just finished filming Last Chance Café and Walking Tall 2 and 3, which are going straight to DVD. That’s the place studios are finding the money at these days.
NUVO: Last question, since we’re talking about a gaming convention: Who’s a better poker player, you or Jamie Bamber?
Sorbo: Me. I had to throw my game in New Orleans against Jamie last April because I had already committed myself to golf at the Hootie and the Blowfish celebrity charity event. But I did live in Vegas the past 13 years! I learned a thing or two.
Kevin Sorbo will be hosting a Q&A Session on Friday, Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. Check the Gen Con schedule for location and details, which are subject to change.
A lifelong nerd reflects on Gen Con
Nerdi Gras, Nerd Prom, Nerdbekistan Geekzapoppin’ — I could come up with euphemisms for Gen Con, “The Greatest Four Days in Gaming,” all day long. Post-ironic hipsters like myself enjoy coming up with euphemisms no end, especially when it comes to reclaiming that once-hated term “nerd.” But now it’s a term of pride and endearment — ever since the point at which we realized we’ve pretty much taken over the world.
(George W. Bush may be profoundly and proudly anti-intellectual, but even he owes his lofty status to Karl Rove — a dyed-in-the-wool nerd if ever there was one.)
It’s one of the signs of Indianapolis’ strength as a convention hub to nail, for four years in a row, one of the trifecta of all nerd crossroads (alongside the Electronic Entertainment Expo and the San Diego Comic Con, both the biggest conventions of their kind).
Gen Con focuses on games of all sorts — collectible card games, dice games, board games, miniatures games, war games — but the beginning and end has always been role-playing games. They’re the central hub for a surprisingly vigorous subculture.
When I was growing up in small-town Indiana, RPGing was something of an aberration, still looked upon with deep suspicion by the teen mainstream and parents alike. I still remember the time in the late 1980s when my mom took all the Dungeons & Dragons books in my collection and burned them so I wouldn’t get taken in by the devil. Now my mom watches South Park religiously. Times change.
But for the young gamer in a small town, where it was a 40-mile drive just to get a new set of dice, Gen Con was something magical, a distant conclave of the gaming elite, complete with God’s own gaming shop and tens of thousands of people just like you. For the 13-year-old self, leafing through well-worn pages of Dragon magazine, it was magical.
Four years into Gen Con’s run in Indianapolis, it still is.
10 essentials for the ultimate Gen Con backpack, abridged
courtesy of Randy Porter, Indianapolis’ Keeper of Ancient Gen Con Lore
(Much more at http://mypage.iu.edu/~wrporter/)
1. Registration book, tickets and all the stuff they send you. Even a map so you can memorize downtown Indianapolis.
2. An umbrella, in case it rains.
3. A water bottle, unless you love $3 Indianapolis Convention Center Cokes.
4. Meds. There’s nothing worse than getting sick at Gen Con. Plus throat lozenges so you don’t lose your voice.
5. If you’re chilling at the auction or just waiting around, its good to have something to read and, of course, it’s better to have bought it in the Dealer’s Room.
5a. Eyeglass prescription, spare glasses and contacts.
6. Cell phone, Palm Pilot and Family Service Radios for the tech savvy Gen Con attendee. Oh, by the way, always have some batteries ready to go. Cell phone reception in the ICC is terrible, so you are warned.
7. Smuggled-in food. Unless you also love $4 hot dogs, your backpack can hide that sandwich you want instead of the food in the ICC.
8. Game crap, dice, pencils, pens, that sort of stuff.
9. Money. I recommend travelers checks, they are just like cash but better. Most of the hotels have safe or lock boxes to place cash. There are ATMs all over ICC, but in the first year Gen Con wiped out most of the ATMs.
10. Last but not least, one of those little inflatable pillows so you can zonk out and catch some zzzzzs in the hall.
Get Your Game On after Gaming
Parties and bands make four days of gaming worth every second
So you have a crush on that sultry dark elf magician Linzeal you met on Everquest last month. Are you curious if she is really a he? What about the trash-talking bard you gamed with on Sunday? Is he really 21 years old or a mere 14? Trade in your controller and keyboard for a martini and step away from the realm of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (… and Texas Hold ’Em and Dungeons & Dragons) during this year’s Gen Con after-parties. You never know. If you stay up late in Indy this week, you may find out Linzeal really is as hot as she seems online.
After warming up thousands of visitors to the Indianapolis Convention Center, Gen Con after-parties attract sci-fi fans, goths, gamers and computer aficionados to the best nightclub events of the season — as memorable as your first triumphant win at a Magic card game.
Indy promoter and bartender Chris Conner organized this year’s events, booking everyone from sideshow artists to national electronic recording artists. For the 24-year-old sociology graduate from IUPUI, nightclub events celebrating goth and industrial music — often of interest to gamers, and the highlight of this year’s after-parties — “are a destination that transcend all time and space,” Conner says. “They’re kind of sacred.” For those over age 21, afte"