Battlestar to Dollhouse: Tahmoh Penikett Talks Helo, Whedon

Tahmoh Penikett Interview

Genre television has been very good to actor Tahmoh Penikett. In only six years he’s appeared in everything from Dark Angel to Stargate SG-1 to Smallville, but it’s been his four season stint as Captain Karl 'Helo' Agathon on Battlestar Galactica that’s really put him on the map. His intense and layered portrayal of the idealistic captain has scored him loyal fans both with the audience and in the industry. So much so that his work on BSG has directly led him to his current roll as Agent Paul Smith on Joss Whedon’s upcoming midseason Fox drama, Dollhouse.

An avowed BSG fan, Whedon saw just what he needed in Penikett to play a FBI agent obsessed with finding and exposing a secret company called the Dollhouse, which programs humans called “Dolls” to be anything or anyone a paying client wants them to be.

Recently Penikett talked about the odd transition of finishing the last episodes of his beloved Battlestar Galactica and moving on to the new world of Whedon’s Dollhouse.

“It was sad. It was a grind,” the actor emotionally realls shooting the BSG series finale in July. “We were bumping scenes every day and trying to get it done in a very short amount of time. I just wanted to be present and enjoy every minute of it. This was the last time I was ever going to work with these people, probably for a long time – maybe forever with some of them. I just wanted to be there. We worked hard. I finished on a Friday night at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was a grind but good. I enjoyed it. I was there and like, ‘Let’s get this done! Let’s work our asses off!’ We were all exhausted but [executive producer] Ron Moore came to the end and celebrated with us after.”

All of the Battlestar crew have been to hell and back, and Helo has had his share of shocks and bitter disappointments. Asked if he is pleased with Helo’s grace note, Penikett deadpans, “Well Helo dies, so I’m very unsatisfied.”

He quickly adds, “Whoa, whoa! I wasn’t supposed to say that! It slipped out.”

“No, no,” he laughs. “There is definitely some resolution. The last couple scripts are perfect. Ron Moore did such an incredible thing with this series. The way he ends it – it’s brilliant. He got the job done and then some. There is a conclusion to a lot of the storylines we all need closure on. Those of us that are true Battlestar fans and have ridden the rollercoaster through thick and thin…we have been accused many times of being really dark, but listen man, you are going to watch this and be happy. And there will be some questions too, which you want. You want some questions, don’t you?”

As for specifics, Penikett says he doesn’t want to spoil but he did help adjust Helo’s ultimate outcome.

“We had the opportunity to go in one direction which I thought was the obvious direction and I fought against it,” he says frankly. “I talked with a few powers that be and said, ‘Let’s not do that.’ Everyone agreed and it was great, so I had a little bit of influence on that. I’m happy with the end of my storyline and it will surprise people.”

With the worst of mankind’s flaws served up on a platter in any given Battlestar episode, the actor says he’s pleased that Helo actually grew quite a bit over the course of the series.

“Every single person is guilty of a whole bunch of bad things, but I’m proud of my character, the arc that they gave him and the way they started writing about him and the man he became,” Penikett enthuses. “It was established in the miniseries that he’s a young man. He’s got a lot potential for being a leader. He’s a selfless man and gives up his seat [to Gaius Baltar] in a second but where he comes to at the end of the season…the whole arc is incredible.”

Now the born and raised Canadian has relocated to Los Angeles to shoot Dollhouse. The actor says he’s thrilled to jump from one sci-fi legend’s (Ron Moore) playground to another with Whedon.

“I think it’s totally a different world,” he says of his new show. “I’m looking forward to being privy to Joss Whedon’s writing style. You know I had to go to seven different video stores - I’m talking Canada and here - to find Firefly. I just found it at Amoeba Music in LA. They had one left and I got it!"

Getting to craft a new character from the ground up, Penikett says his goal with Agent Smith is “to keep it fresh and have fun with it.”

“I’m very, very intrigued about this character,” he continues. “When Joss told me about it, [Paul] seemed really interesting to me. I was, ‘Ok. This is good.’ I was sold because Joss was telling me about it but it wasn’t one of those things where there was right away a Helo connection, ‘Yup that’s it. It’s mine. Done. I understand this guy.’

"Once I read the material and the pilot I definitely understood it but…it’s hard to describe. With this guy, I need to be him for awhile. I need to do a few episodes to get to really get to know him. I made my own choices and Joss made some brilliant choices himself. I’ve got a really good taste for [Paul]. I’m excited about him. And what really intrigues me about him is that he’s really ambitious and determined. He’s a lone wolf though. I’m curious about that. What’s driving him? He’s a little bit self righteous. Where that goes and what kind of trouble that gets him into is really intriguing and I can’t wait to go there.”

Dollhouse starts as a midseason drama in 2009 on Fox.

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