I think the first time I met Julie was sometime in 2005, she was representing William Shatner at Collectormania in Milton Keynes. The penny did not drop me with me at the time just who I was talking to. In the early 90’s I was working for Games Workshop (GW) and enjoying the initial run of Babylon 5 which made a nice change in the world of Sci Fi in that there were strong female characters that for 99% of the time weren’t sexualised, and the story line was pretty epic. In particular I was enjoying the characters of Delenn, Garibaldi, Ivanova and Na’Toth. Na’Toth was clinical and brutal, so much so, that in playing the GW game “Space Fleet”, my Eldar Wraith Ship was named after her. I won a lot of games.
So when I realised who Julie was, I was very keen to meet and interview her. The stories of how tough the makeup was for the Narn’s on Babylon 5 litter the internet, and a good friend of mine had said that if I ever got the chance to ask Julie about how she got the role, then I should do so. He told me the gist of what had happened, so I definitely wanted to hear it first-hand. At the Showmasters events though, she is often managing some of the guests, and every time I’ve seen her, she has been very very busy. Seeing her at work, if I was a celebrity and needed someone to look after my interests at Comic Cons etc, then I would absolutely hire her.
Julie is an accomplished writer and producer, and in a herculean effort of burning the candle at both ends, she is also a terrific singer and guitarist with her first CD, “Sheddin’ My Skin” released in January 1998 and her second album, “Struck by Lightning”, released July 2002. Finally, at Collectormania in Milton Keynes, I managed to catch Julie in a quiet moment, and she very kindly agreed to do an interview with us!
Some time ago – Babylon 5, Na’Toth; that was a hell of a role. Talk me through how you managed to get and then deal with that role because it wasn’t an easy one to do was it?
No, it wasn’t, and it was a very funny story about how I got it. Are you familiar at all? Is that why you’re asking or do you really not know how I got that part?
No – nobody’s told me exactly what happened.
I knew the casting director rather well and I had worked on Stak Trek a couple of times by this point, done prosthetic makeup and come from Broadway. I was going out for a lot of science fiction roles and becoming known for strong women who could kick butt and all that. One day I was at home and my pager went off – back then we didn’t have cell phones – and it was the casting director. I said ‘why are you calling me, why didn’t you call my agent?’ She said ‘well your agent’s office isn’t open yet and I need a favour’ so I thought ooohh-kay.
She said I have a job for you. I said a job? You mean you have an audition? She said no, I have a job. I said I wasn’t really sure it was cool but yeah, what do you want me to do and she said can you get out to the set of Babylon 5? Now I had auditioned originally for the role of Delenn and then Ivanova and I didn’t get it, but they all knew me. She said can you get out to the set today by one o’clock so I said fine, thinking I’d be going to a meeting. I get dressed all cute, my hair’s all done and I go out. It’s lunchtime and one of the producers is there – I said hi, I’m Julie Caitlin Brown and apparently you need to see me, and he said yes, can you go and do a makeup test right now? I went ‘what…? ‘. He said ‘can you just go into this room and do a makeup test’ so I’m thinking what the hell has been going on on this set? I walk into the makeup room… have you ever walked into a room where there’s been a bad fight? Like mom and dad have had this horrible row and you can feel it in the air? That’s what it felt like in this room. I’m thinking what went down in this room because everybody’s really tense.
So I meet John Vulich who’s from Optic Nerve – he was the makeup artist – and he says ‘this prosthetic wasn’t fit for your face but if you could do me the favour of letting me put it on you…’. So they take all my street makeup off and prep my skin and they start gluing this face mask on me. I’m a reptile. I was thinking oh my god… you have to understand I’ve seen no script, no audition piece, I don’t even know what this character is. Sitting next to me is Bill Mumy getting his prosthetic makeup on and he looks over at me and says ‘acting – good career choice, right?’ and we just started laughing. Apparently he didn’t know what his makeup was going to look like either when he took the job.
Now they’ve got this thing on my face and I start to have a bit of anxiety because the producers are saying ‘Are you ok? Can you do this?’ I start to wonder what’s going on and why they keep asking if I’m ok. I step outside into the hallway and I say to myself ‘Just breathe, y’know? It’s an acting gig. You don’t know how long it’s for – it could be an episode, or a couple, you have no idea.’ I go back in and they say ‘we’ll take it off now’ – really painful – so they take it off and say Joel Straczynski would like to see you’. So I go into Joel’s office and he says ‘here’s the deal – you’re doing to do five episodes but we’re going to put you through one episode and if we like what we see we’ll give you the other four. Here’s the series bible, a video of the pilot and two scripts’. I haven’t even talked to my agent yet, I don’t know what my deal is – I know nothing. Finally I go home and I call my agent and she says ‘look, you’ve already auditioned for this series, they know you, the casting director knows you, just do it. Do the first one’.
I get back to the set the next day and they say ‘let’s show you the rest of the prosthetics.’ Full head cowl, and lenses so big that another human being had to put them in my eyes. By the time they dressed me the only things exposed to air were my lips. And now… go to work! It was so hot that other actors would take little fans and blow them on me so that I would cool off. My first scene was ‘you will know pain, you will know death and then you will die’ with Andreas, which was fun, and then I had to kick the crap out of him. That was hilarious. It was really his stunt double but it was fun.
I ended up getting the part and then found out it was a series regular, which I didn’t know either. It was just one of the wackiest ways to get a job ever.
Now you’ve gone into the management side of things, if I was a celebrity (which I hope to be one day) I’d have you as my agent because you’re pretty sharp.
Aww, you’re sweet!
Is that because you see a lot of young people going into business and getting taken advantage of?
I only do the convention market, I’m not a theatrical agent, I’m a manager of bookings. I did see a lot of people being taken advantage of when I first started going out as an actor from Babylon 5 and Star Trek. I realised that there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure or organisation – it was ‘oh I’ve got a show, would you come and do an autograph thing?’ It wasn’t formalised and it’s now become a very, very big business. I think it’s good for someone to be represented by another person – I don’t think it’s good to represent yourself, I don’t think it’s as strong a position… plus you’re busy acting, trying to have a family life. This was a niche market that I came into and now it’s become a big market.
How come we’ve not seen you back on screen because you did really well in Star Trek and Babylon 5, and it’s a shame you’re missing.
That’s nice of you. I actually wrote, starred in and produced a short film called ‘Thoughts of Suicide on an Otherwise Lovely Day’ in 2009 that came out in 2010. That same year I did a little horror film black comedy called ‘All About Evil’ with Thomas Dekker and Natasha Lyonne – I played Natasha Lyonne’s evil stepmother, Tammy Tennis, and she kills me with a pen to the neck, stabs me like 30 times. First and only horror film, thank you! It was really a lot of fun but at my age the roles that I would do for my age range… that’s the problem you see, because I don’t look my age. They see how old I am on IMDB and expect me to look a certain way when I walk in the room, and then I look like I do and they say we can’t cast you for that’. I would rather create my own content – I’ve done a lot of producing and working on scripts with people, a lot of editing. I’d rather be on the creative side that way. If someone called me and said I’ve got a part for you in a film or I’ve got something I think you should do on TV then of course I’d do it but I’ve been away from it for so long. I don’t think I’ve done an audition in twelve years, since my son was born. I guess my last audition was in 2010 for All About Evil.
I was hoping you’d go for Game of Thrones or something.
Oh, wouldn’t that be nice? Everyone on Game of Thrones is either a big big man or a little tiny woman, except for the one gal. She and I met two weeks ago at a show, and we just laughed because we both looked at each other’s feet. She’s 6’3″ and I’m 6″. They don’t hire a lot of Americans – I think Peter Dinklage and Jason Momoa are the only Americans on the series; everyone else is British.
Lead female roles are quite hard to come by, I feel – it’s usually low cut tops, or just of a certain age…
Well, they’re window dressing in a lot of it.
If you want to look like that, great, no problem, but it’s lack of choice…
You have to remember that first of all most of the writers are men so they do tend to see the women as window dressing, they’re not necessarily driving the plot. There’s a few really great writers out there where their series’ are carried by women. When you think about it, Revenge, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder – a lot of them are female driven. In sci-fi, Sanctuary and Continuum.
Stargate wasn’t female driven because it was headed up by Richard Dean Anderson. It had good, strong female roles but if you’re talking about who’s in charge it’s still the men because… it’s not what you think. Everyone thinks that the fandom of sci-fi is all male – they think the demographic for gaming and all that is male. It’s changing now, but Supernatural, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries – it’s women who are spending the money. It’s the female audience that’s out there spending the dollars, so now the producers are starting to notice that but here’s the fallacy – they’re spending the dollars on male characters, not the female characters. That’s why there are certain actresses who break all of that apart. One of them is Amanda Tapping – she just crosses all of the socio-economic categories and she’s a star. There are a couple of other women who live in that place but for the most part… if I take out Misha Collins from Supernatural and then I have an actress from Supernatural, the person who’ll get all of the business is Misha because his audience is mostly women. It is a money business – you can’t really deny it unfortunately.
The TV sci-fi/fantasy genre allows the actors to keep a little degree of anonymity in their private lives. If you’re Tom Cruise everything would be out there in the open, but I think you get a perfect balance because you come here and people love you but you can still go out and have a normal life. What’s your experience of that?
I was in Russia with Misha Collins for the first Russian Comicon and he couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed.
What about you?
Oh, nobody knows me because I was in prosthetics, but it was also years ago that I was on a show so he’s relevant – he’s absolutely right now. Amanda was at the hotel and the woman who took room service to her room knew exactly who she was and asked for an autograph. We’re in the middle of nowhere and she said ‘can I have your autograph? I grew up watching Stargate!’ It really comes down to how visible you’ve made yourself because remember that Misha has a huge presence on social media. If you choose not to do that and stay more behind the scenes you will be more behind the scenes. It comes down to your own personal preference and how comfortable you are with it.
A huge thank you to Julie for her time. Julie has joked in the past about her being a cheaper Sigourney Weaver, but in truth although she’s being remarkably humble, I don’t think that’s warranted at all, she has a presence equal to that of Weaver, it’s just a shame we didn’t get a chance to see more of her. In chatting with Julie, it was good to hear her points of view, my only regret is that we couldn’t grab more time because she does so much. It would have been great to have asked more about her music and books, but maybe next time!