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“I’m all about fun!”Chiana, ‘John Quixote’ – S4, Ep7
Chiana exploded onto our screens as a hyperkinetic ball of smoke and shadow in Farscape’s ‘Durka Returns’ (S1, Ep15). Initially intended as a guest character, the positive reaction by fans to this fae-like alien transformed Chiana into a key cast member.
One of the core elements is the exotic beauty of Chiana, yet there is far more to her than just a manic pixie dream girl or a stereotypical green-skinned space-babe. For one, Chiana is grey. There is also a justification for her wildness. Chiana had fled her homeworld of Nebari Prime – where all forms of dissent are prevented through a mental cleansing procedure that erases all thoughts of discontent – in fear of her identity being obliterated.
But who could play such a capricious and flighty character?
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“Every time I think that there’s more to you than a pair of pushed-up loomas in a corset, you disappoint me.”Rygel, ‘Liars, Guns and Money – With Friends Like These’ – S2, Ep20
Gigi Edgley had grown up with the circus in her blood. Her father was a famous circus promoter with Edgley International, who had introduced Australia to the likes of Cirque du Soleil. Edgley was also a massive fan of Jim Henson’s work, so the chance to work on a Henson production was too good an opportunity to miss.
“I’d never seen Farscape because they hadn’t shown it yet on Australian TV, but I knew it was a Henson show,” says Gigi Edgley to The Companion. “Growing up as a kid obsessed with the Dark Crystal – my all-time favorite film – and Labyrinth – those creatures were completely unbelievably believable.”
Farscape’s ‘strange alien lifeforms’ (to quote the show’s opening monologue, narrated by Ben Browder as John Crichton) already included the diminutive Rygel puppet, the insectoid animatronics of Pilot, an alien plant in the form of Zhaan (Virginia Hey with a shaved head, blue body-paint, and prosthetics) and the towering Luxan warrior D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe under heavy prosthetics). In order to create an entirely different look for the character, the creature effects workshop could not rely on prosthetics or palettes that had already been used.
“Chiana was an interesting process because everything was coming together when we arrived. They had only just cast the actors and were trying out the makeups,” recalls Dave Elsey, the creature designer and creative consultant on Farscape. “The Henson Organisation had done these great illustrations, and they looked really beautiful, but when those illustrations were translated onto the characters, especially the straight-makeup characters, it wasn’t as successful. It looked unbelievable and a bit more graphic than you would want.”
The initial design for Chiana was akin to the later character of Sikozu, with a hint of orange in the center of the face. This design soon changed when Edgley was seen by Farscape’s makeup and hair supervisor Lesley Vanderwalt, who won an Oscar in 2016 for Mad Max: Fury Road. Vanderwalt realized that the proposed design would not suit Edgley. Instead, using Edgley’s audition tape, Vanderwalt redesigned Chiana’s look to match Edgley’s facial structure.
“With Gigi, we wanted Chiana to have some variation in her skin tone; to be broken up more than you would normally do,” says Elsey. “We didn’t her want to look like she’s wearing clown makeup. We were responsible for going in and working with the makeup department to finish that and work out how they do that and achieve that on a daily basis.”
Another aspect of Chiana’s initial design that never made it to the screen was that she was intended to have rodent-like qualities, with sharp rat-like teeth. However, when fitted to Edgley, the prosthetic teeth became impractical, as they caused her to speak with a lisp and dribble.
Accompanying Chiana’s silver hair and grey complexion are the oversized black irises of her eyes. This required Edgley to wear special contact lenses that limited her peripheral vision. Their restrictive nature partly led to Chiana’s exaggerated head movements, as Edgley needed to turn her head more to look at people. “She was so beautiful and mesmerizing,” recalls Edgley. “I love those big black eyes.”
The entire makeup process for Edgley to become Chiana took approximately three and a half hours. This meant that Edgley needed to be awake at four in the morning in order to be driven to the studio to begin the process of becoming Chiana.
Clothes complete the person, and in Chiana’s case, they had to reinforce her mystique. Chiana’s introduction, as the mysterious but dangerous prisoner in ‘Durka Returns’, meant that her initial costume needed to be equally enigmatic. “That first costume had cute little fluffy shoulders. It was good too because I could move in that costume,” recalls Edgley. “The costume after that; we had to do a few different versions of it because when I went into the ‘Chiana position’, half my backside would be hanging out.”
One of the key elements of Chiana is the physicality and movements that Edgley developed for the character. The animalistic cocking of her head and crouched movements reinforced the notion that Chiana was not human. “The very first time I walked in, I asked the director how they wanted me to show that she’s alien and he goes ‘I just want to see if you can act!’” laughs Edgley.
“I wanted her to be an alien. I didn’t want to be a human in alien makeup. I’d seen sci-fi before, where people have prosthetics or makeup, but they still act human and I decided that she can’t be that. She’s got to be from the Uncharted Territories and wild.”Gigi Edgley
The voice that Edgley brought to the character went through a lot of changes during Chiana’s development for ‘Durka Returns’, which continued for much of the first season. Initially, Chiana was envisioned as having an American accent, but Edgley was later asked to give the character an Australian accent. The collaborative nature of television means that actors will often have multiple sources of guidance regarding the portrayal of their characters and sometimes that guidance can be contradictory.
For much of Farscape’s first season, Chiana alternates between an Australian and an American accent. “At the end of Season 1, we end up doing an Australian voice, but then the Australian producer left and other producers came in, and they wanted to dub over as much as they could with my American Chiana,” explains Edgley. “From Season 2 onwards, I started to get back into the flow of the voice that I’d originally found for her.”
Here to Stay
Crichton: Listen, Sunshine, you want to be part of this crew?‘Through the Looking Glass’ – S1, Ep17
Chiana: On the good days.
Chiana was originally scripted to die from Durka’s pulse weapon in ‘Durka Returns’. However, the positive reaction to the character meant that the script was revised so that the shot would only graze Chiana. Additional scenes were later filmed to incorporate these changes, such as where Zhaan patches Chiana’s wound.
The final scene of ‘Durka Returns’ delivered an iconic moment for the character of Chiana. In it, Crichton questions Chiana about who killed Salis (played by Tiriel Mora). The mocking smile that Chiana offers in return deliberately left the question unanswered.
“Whether she did it or not was irrelevant, it was merely the ambiguity that was the point in terms of her character, to make her potentially dangerous and someone we weren’t sure of,” says co-creator Rockne S. O’Bannon on the Farscape Chronicles – Starburst Edition DVD v1.3. “It was something we were doing with all the characters, including Zhaan, who seemed the most benign of all.”
Edgley’s first indication that Chiana had become a recurring character on Farscape was when she was delivered a script for the next episode with her name on it. “I got delivered a script in a dressing room that I was sharing with Lani Tupu [Crais and the voice of Pilot]. I didn’t believe it, as I was not in the next episode,” recalls Edgley. “We sat down on the couch and opened it up together, and sure enough I had a couple of lines in the episode.”
With Friends Like These…
“Is everybody aboard this ship kinkoid?”Chiana, ‘A Bug’s Life’ – S1, Ep18
Chiana’s interaction with the crew of Moya was the most interesting out of all the characters. The crew already knew each other when viewers first encountered them in Farscape’s premiere episode. However, Chiana joined the series after the other characters’ relationships with each other had been established. As such, Chiana’s very presence became a disruptive influence, as the group’s relationship dynamics were irrevocably changed to incorporate her presence.
Crichton and Chiana share an intense and physically affectionate friendship, which was initially underscored with distinct sexual tension. It seemed at first that Chiana could become a potential romantic rival to Aeryn for Crichton’s affections. However, as the series progressed, and Crichton’s relationship with Aeryn developed, Chiana’s relationship with Crichton evolved into a sibling-like friendship, exemplified when Crichton started calling Chiana ‘Pip’; which is Browder’s nickname for Edgley.
In many ways, the character most similar to Chiana is Rygel. Although Rygel is the complete physical opposite of Chiana, both are portrayed as being materialistic and with a loose approach to personal property. Following the death of Zhaan in ‘Self-Inflicted Wounds – Wait for the Wheel’ (S3, Ep4), Rygel and Chiana enter Zhaan’s quarters, seemingly intending to claim Zhaan’s possessions for themselves, but in the end, neither of them can go through with it.
“When Brian asked me to host the Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge, they brought out Rygel’s head in a box, and I [cried],” recalls Edgley. “I couldn’t help it. I hadn’t seen Rygel in years and he’s like a brother to me. It just seemed weird. I was looking at his head in the box; it was a bit moldy and a bit scratched up.”
Rygel: It’s chancy, and will require lashings of deception and trickery.‘Dream a Little Dream’ – S2, Ep8
Chiana: Finally, you and I get to play to our strengths.
Acting alongside puppetry and animatronics can be challenging due to the lack of shared empathy, but this was not the case for Edgley. The Henson creature shops designs were alien yet identifiable, to the point that Edgley could naturally act as if they were real. Due to their complex puppetry and animatronics, Rygel and Pilot could express a vast array of emotions.
Although Pilot is connected to the ship, the animatronic character reminded Edgley of her grandmother, due to Pilot’s motherly instinct that was wise, yet innocent. Edgley’s grandmother passed away while they were filming ‘Dream a Little Dream’. The long hours of filming meant that Edgley heard the news by telephone in her trailer. “I burst into tears, but you can’t cry in the makeup, so I was standing up bending over so my tears just fell straight on the ground,” recalls Edgley.
The greatest impact that Chiana had upon another character throughout the series was undoubtedly D’Argo. Initially, Chiana and D’Argo seemed to have little interest in each other, as they were diametric opposites. D’Argo was honorable and forthright, whilst Chiana was flighty and anti-authoritarian.
However, opposites attract. As the series progressed, Chiana and D’Argo began a physical relationship in ‘Out of Their Minds’ (S2, Ep9). It was one that was ultimately doomed. Although Chiana genuinely cared for D’Argo, they wanted different things. D’Argo wanted an exclusive committed relationship where they settled down on a farm, but this was something that the exuberant Chiana could not contemplate.
When Chiana learned of D’Argo’s plan, she fundamentally sabotaged their relationship in ‘Suns and Lovers’ (S3, Ep2), by seducing D’Argo’s recently rescued son, Jothee. “I had a very hard time with the whole Jothee thing,” recalls Edgley. “I begged the writers to not make me do that because there’s no coming back from that.”
The moment when D’Argo gives his heart to her, promising to marry Chiana and settle down, terrifies Chiana. “Her defense mechanisms kick in, due to being raped and tortured through the Uncharted Territories, and she does the most horrible thing that she could to push him away,” says Edgley. “That’s the only way I could justify it. It still makes me sick to my stomach. I wouldn’t forgive me.”
The Chiana and D’Argo storyline exemplified why Farscape was so highly regarded, as the show was ultimately about deeply flawed characters who made mistakes. This was not Star Trek, where a starship is crewed by the best that Starfleet has to offer, but a transport vessel crewed by escaped prisoners. “It was wild and heart-breaking; it really does take you into the Uncharted Territories,” says Edgley. “It’s not your typical sci-fi – it felt like a messed-up family that happened to be flying through space.”
Until D’Argo, the only other person that Chiana trusted was her brother Nerri (Simon Bossell), who abandoned her to fight against the establishment on their homeworld. This would become a foundational moment for the character, as the echoes of this would be felt throughout the series. Following her brother’s departure, Chiana never wanted to become close to anyone again. The one person that she loved had subsequently abandoned her; albeit not by choice, but to fight the revolution.
Nerri was originally intended to be Chiana’s sister. However, Edgley has seven siblings, including Jake, who is ten years younger than her. “I’d moved away from home to Sydney and I felt like I’d abandoned Jake,” recalls Edgley. “I said [to the writers] ‘If you make Nerri a brother, I can give you so much stuff.’”
Sexual Without Being Sexualized
Crichton: I thought you were Junior Miss Tough-Chick of the Universe.‘Through the Looking Glass’ – S1, Ep17
Chiana: Yeah, when I can kiss or kick or cry my way out of it.
Farscape was different from other late-’90s science fiction, as it was one of the few shows where they had an equal number of male and female actors in the core cast. Likewise, each of the characters had a specific area in which they excelled. None were there for purely their looks.
Chiana has exotic beauty and is incredibly sensual, but she is also a thief and con artist. As Chiana explains to Crichton in ‘Nerve’ (S1, Ep19): “The more they look at me, the less they look at you.” As such, the character is never exploited or sexualized by the camera. Instead, Chiana knows that she is attractive and uses that to her advantage.
Chiana is also used to discuss the dichotomy of society’s approach to sex and sexuality. For example, Chiana is confused about why it is illegal for sexually mature teenagers to have sex, despite girls being encouraged to dress provocatively. “I’m a big believer in body positivity and being down to earth about it. We all have the same bits and pieces and that is a beautiful thing,” says Edgley. “Chiana was definitely like that, although a lot of the stuff that she did was definitely way beyond anything that I would ever do, but she really taught me to be brave.”
“I say we just go get the guns and go steal the stuff.”Chiana, ‘Thanks for Sharing’ – S3, Ep7
When Farscape was renewed for a fourth season, a fifth season was commissioned as well. However, production costs, in addition to storylines being not as well-received as the previous season, meant that Farscape’s fourth season was the last.
It was during the filming of ‘A Constellation of Doubt’ (S4, Ep17) that Brian Henson announced to the cast and crew that Farscape had been canceled by the Sci-Fi Channel. “I went to my trailer and it was like the end of the world,” recalls Edgley. “I decided that as I’d only had a very limited amount of time with Chiana, to just enjoy it, because it’s going to be gone in a minute.”
The next scene that Edgley filmed was especially poignant, as it was about taking things for granted. “I remember shooting the scene where Chiana is crying about the rat dying,” says Edgley. “I was having a real challenge coming up with tears – I’m usually pretty good at it – but I was having a hard time.”
The director for that episode was Andrew Prowse (who was also one of the producers). He had gained a stern reputation, such that even the glimmer of a smile was considered high praise. “He was the one that said, in the beginning, he just wanted to see if I could act,” laughs Edgley. “After I came out of that scene, he was in tears, and he’s like ‘You can act.’ It took him four years!”
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Chiana Returns in Peacekeeper Wars
“D’Argo’s dead. Do you think I frelling care what I do to you?”Chiana, The Peacekeeper Wars – Part 2.
Although Farscape had been canceled, such was the strength of fan response to the abrupt end, that a one-off mini-series was commissioned two years later, to conclude major plot threads that had been left unresolved.
This was something of a double-edged sword as far as Edgley was concerned; happy that the Peacekeeper Wars had been commissioned, but the epic scale of the story meant that the series needed more than just a mini-series to do it justice.
One of the major changes for Chiana in the Peacekeeper Wars was that her character’s eyes were changed. This was to resolve the story arc involving the energy rider, that allowed Chiana to predict the future at the cost of losing her eyesight. However, this also meant that Chiana lost her iconic large black eyes, which became cat-like irises.
The Peacekeeper Wars witnessed a fundamental change in Chiana’s character. D’Argo was someone that Chiana loved dearly, yet had hurt so much, but ultimately came to care for deeply. It was only during D’Argo’s final moments when Chiana would never see him again, that she accepted the depth of her feelings.
“When they filmed the whole scene leaving D’Argo on the planet, I was like ‘There’s no way you would leave the love of your life after such a journey, to abandon them on this planet’,” recalls Edgley.
“I said to Ben you have to drag me off D’Argo, because I won’t let him go. In the scene, because I’m holding on so tight, I whack him in the face. It’s a true reaction from Ben and me.”Gigi Edgley
Following the conclusion of Peacekeeper Wars, Edgley has continued to appear in a variety of television shows, including as Lara Knight in Australian drama Rescue: Special Ops and hosting Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge on Syfy.
The Future and Return of Farscape?
It was expected that Peacekeeper Wars was the final story in the Farscape universe. However, in early 2020, Edgley received a most unexpected call. “Right before the world shut down, Rockne called me and asked if I was pregnant,” laughs Edgley. Farscape, O’Bannon declared, was coming back. It would be with the original cast and filmed in Australia at Christmas. “I tried to be as cool as a cucumber, but I was totally fangirling out,” admits Edgley.
In order to build momentum behind Farscape’s return, O’Bannon and Edgley, along with Brian Henson, brainstormed a promotion tour, visiting conventions to declare the news. Then, in March 2020, the world shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has disrupted everybody’s lives, but Edgley has used that time productively. “I was wondering how to use my heart and soul to see some light in this craziness, so I made different music videos,” explains Edgley. “I’m using them to help me learn about directing and editing and producing because that’s hopefully gonna lead down the track to directing feature films.”
Alongside this, Edgley has also been engaging with the science-fiction community on her Twitch channel, by interviewing the creative minds behind science-fiction, including Farscape’s O’Bannon and Star Trek: Voyager’s Garrett Wang.
The pandemic disrupted television and film production around the world, the repercussions of which will continue to be felt for some time. Nonetheless, interest in Farscape continues unabated. “It’s still out there in the ether,” concludes Edgley. “There’s still a big chance that it’s going to surface somewhere and I just cannot wait for this to happen.”
After ten years designing drainage systems, Peter Ray Allison finally realized sewers were full of crap. Rather than having a midlife crisis, he became a freelance journalist. Peter’s work has been published by the BBC, The Guardian, and The Independent, amongst others. Peter is also a regular podcaster for Geek Pride. www.peterallison.net
Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterRayAllison