Interview with old fart Babbage, played by Hal Dace
It’s not everyday I get to interview an old fart who’s also a cosmologist. Babbage, one of two the main characters in MISS WISENHEIMER AND THE ALIENS, is of those brilliant people you’d find through the dusty crawl spaces of a super collider. If asked a question, he’d respond in one of two ways: talk your ear off, or chew you out for having a question when the answer is obvious, at least to him. As previously posted, MISS WISENHEIMER AND THE ALIENS is about man’s golden age in the universe, when although energy is plentiful and space travel is easy, no alien intelligence has ever been discovered. An old atheist and a nubile Christian develop feelings of love while exploring the universe to prove the other wrong about whether everything was built by God for man, or if there are aliens. In the film, Babbage is responsible for launching the 2nd most ambitious and comprehensive expedition the coperniverse has ever known. He was involved with THE most comprehensive expedition which despite the massive resources of the federal government brought to bear, failed to find intelligent alien life.
Director, producer, animator, co-author, and actor Hal Dace plays the role of Henry Babbage. In between these many roles (movies don’t make themselves), I pulled him from work for an interview.
Playing a crusty old fart is quite a strain, I’m sure. What has prepared you?
In high school I won seven awards for acting, one of which was the school’s Best Actor award. That first year in London was spent acting in three plays at a prestigious theatre in Islington. But I always thought that the other actors in the plays were lousy. The only reason I’ve taught myself how to do motion capture engineering is so that I can fulfill my dream of playing every part in a film all by myself. Finally I can act with other decent actors!
The two main characters are Zipporah and Babbage. Zipporah, a hardcore Christian, and Babbage, a devoted atheist, spend a lot of time arguing about the existence of God. The two of them then go on an trans-universe adventure to settle the question of God or aliens, once and for all. How was verbally sparing with Elena Kolkutova (playing Zipporah)? After each scene, did someone have to hose the both of you down to stop your fights?
Elena and I frequently burst into fits of the giggles in the middle of recording. Although the film isn’t a comedy, we’re both surprised at how hilarious the script is. It showcases how intelligent people, even when using the others’ own reasons against the other, never changes anyone’s mind. This week we’re going to have our final recording session together. It’s taken us a year and a half so it’ll feel like the end of an era.
Is Zipporah Babbage’s sidekick or is Babbage Zipporah’s sidekick? If push came to shove and the characters decided to duel to the death, would Zipporah or Babbage win?
There’s no question that Zipporah is stronger and more dynamic than Babbage. When Babbage doesn’t get what he wants he whines and he resents it when he follows the rules and then doesn’t get the reward he deserves. Zipporah is quite resilient, especially when you consider the way she bounces back from the humiliation of having failed to kill herself and her friends.
Babbage is a crotchety old geek but a genius. How strongly do you identify with Babbage? Do you feel compulsions to lecture people for misunderstanding the world and then leave them agape to attend to some gardening?
Babbage is most certainly my alter-ego, I’m ashamed to say. I too seek a lifelong quest for success that may arrive late in life. I can be extremely opinionated and somewhat overbearing. Luckily my friends are not afraid to tell me to shut up. I’m not particularly interested in gardening but I think I should be. So although Babbage is a certified jerk, he’s at least a better man than I.
Most of the film work is being done in Xiamen. What brought you to the beautiful island of Xiamen, China’s ancient city of romance and home base for Fujian pirates?
I’m a wishy-washy romantic. I’ve lived abroad for years but I’m not actually very interested in traveling. Both times I moved abroad it was to marry a woman who didn’t like me enough to bother traveling to Kansas. Xiamen’s not bad because it’s subtropical and the air’s a little cleaner than other cities in China. That’s pretty much all that made it bearable. Aside from meeting pirates, the best part was meeting that genius science fiction bastion, Lancer Kind!
Ahem! That Sir is flattery and will be encouraged. Tell me about the start of your life so the public can understand that despite your parents’ good intentions in raising you well, you put yourself to the task of seducing good hard working expats into working on your film.
I was born in a small college town called Manhattan, Kansas. My father was a theatre professor at Kansas State University and my mother was an English professor and also a well known theatre critic in New York, Boston, and London. And yes it’s true that I’m something of the black sheep of the family in that I never even attended college. I moved to London when I was eighteen and got a job as a trainee assistant film editor with the BBC a year later. I’ve been in the TV and film industry ever since. My brother did better: he did go to college and now he’s a famous philosopher. Lesson: don’t ruin your life when you’re eighteen.
How did MISS WISENHEIMER AND THE ALIENS come together? What was the inspiration beyond finding a way to get a young women interested in old geeky men?
Miss Wisenheimer had been knocking about in my skull for about twenty-five years when I met Lancer for the first time at The Londoner pub in Xiamen. I told him the story and it was all he could do to stop himself from laughing in my face (sorry Lancer, I never told you I could tell from your face turning blue). I had written a terrible version of it all those decades earlier, then I wrote several other screenplays over the years. All of them abysmal. It took Lancer’s TLC to finally get it working. The inspiration was a conversation I had once with my old friend and colleague, the famous cinematographer Alan Dunlop, in his flat in North London. We were just talking about physics and the idea of a cosmic meeting place at the “center of the universe” popped into my head. Alan duly informed me that my idea was scientifically ridiculous.
Speaking to director Dace rather than actor, what is the most important thing that this film brings to the audience?
When I was young the general attitude of the public was that the whole idea of aliens was silly and that there was no other planet in the universe with intelligent life. Sure, there were believers, but they were very much in the minority. I knew both religious and non-religious people who did not believe in aliens. Then science came along and consistently publicized the fact that the odds are very strongly in favor of there being intelligent aliens, not just in the universe but in our local neighborhood of the galaxy. And Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon and now most people think it’s just a matter of time before we meet the Vulcans. I wanted to challenge that assumption. Drama can be generated in a story that flies in the face of the odds. One might also assume that religion will decline over the centuries. That trend might reverse if we fail to discover intelligent aliens. Another opportunity for drama.