STARLOG 151 - FEBRUARY 1990
Starlog #151 February 1990... War of the Worlds Meet Morthren
As Malzor, I am the head of this crowd of oddly-dressed extras milling about
on the set, " quips Denis Forest in his soft accent. A French Canadian, his name
is pronounced "Denee Foray." He sits in his dressing room, waiting out the heavy
rain outside. A photograph of an infamous dictator hangs on the door as a joke.
Slender, pale, ascetic, Forest herdly looks the part of the "heavy," but he is
the new villain for The War of the Worlds' second season.
"Malzor is a cross between Manuel Noriega and Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb," he continues. "He is a horrible autocrat who likes to sacrifice people to his power. Molzor tries to gather as many souls as he can, like an Aztec or Mayan warlord. He is ruthless. He thinks he knows how to stay in power, but he is an autocrat who must rely on his deity, the Eternal. The Eternal deals in very Eastern ideas, such as eternity and roads that you must travel without knowing where you're going. It's a bit of alchemy, a bit of shamanism. The Eternal knows all the answers. but Malzor is just guessing. I can't go too far with the characterization, though. I can't invent too broad a mannerism, an eye twitch or something, because I have to remain consistent with it all the way through the season. What I'm discovering is that the producers want more and more kind of simple delivery, just as I'm speaking to you now--not too contemporized, just a stillness. Underplay everything. Just let the words say it."
Portraying a convincing alien remains a problem for any actor. Two-and-half months after first conversation, Forest feels that he is still coming to grips with the character. "After doing six episodes with the character being slightly unstable and not knowing where his base is, I have to find a more concrete foundation for him, a greater stillness. He is weak in a sense, and he is strong sometimes. In a way, he's the puppet that we poke fun at. I mean, anybody in real life who provokes people to become more fascistic is clearly deviant. He needs to project more authority, less nervousness. He relies too much on other people to make his decisions for him. He is the one who has to link with the Eternal; he should be the one to make the final decisions."
Sitting in the cramped soundman's booth in a corner of the huge, darkened set, it is difficult to hear the actor's quiet voice. "The heart of the Morthren, I think, is that they're working towards eternal perfection. It's a fascistic perfection-you have to look a certain way, think a certain way, give everything to sustaining what the eternal needs. Malzor will kill of destroy anyone or anything to further the Eternal. There is a spiritual strength behind it, though, so I look at Malzor as a warrior priest. You have to respect him, but he is very cruel."
An explosion shakes the Morthren lav set a few yards away, as a scripted accident destroys a huge piece of complex alien scientific equipment, incinerating a technician. "There's a certain amount of obsessive energy that has to go into this character," Forest says thoughtfully, his voice very low and calm. He smooths a wrinkle in his grey Morthren tunic. "I mean, to be taking over the world, you would have to be somewhat obsessed. I would like to see Malzor less human, with more twisted mysticism. And he can't be at all sarcastic. Sarcasm is far too human, so a more still, direct, stoic approach is needed which will distinguish us from the humans. It's hard sometimes when you get lines like, 'Kill the soldiers, but don't harm the leader.' It's not exactly like saying hi to the woman at the corner store. It's hard not to go over the top in doing this kind of thing. If you do, then the people won't believe you and they won't like you."
Denis Forest has more than a little experience as an actor portraying fiends. He appeared in the series ' first season episode, "Vengeance" as the maniacally driven husband of a woman Ironhorse accidentally killed, and as "guest villain of the week" on three episodes, including the pilot, of Triumph Entertainment's other Toronto-based production, Friday the 13th: The Series. A graduate to Toronto's Ryerson Theatre School, his guest appearances as unsavory characters on Knightwatch as well as other network shows and his portrayal of Chicout in Atlantis Film's Destiny to Order, add to his credentials as screen bad guy.
"Your eyes are literally hypnotizing your public," says Forest of his technique. "The audience follows eyes, so if you can visualize and create an internal world and project that through your eyes, it can be very powerful. It's just a question of finding the evil aspects of my own nature to portray on the screen. I love to create images in my mind that will spark the feeling of the character, you know, where I want people to fear me. It's strange. The power of seeing someone suffer is incredible. If you're pious, you suffer with them, but if you're maniacal individual, you gloat.
"The Ayatollah Khomeini was a lot of the fuel for my visualization-hordes of people, spiritually motivated by him. He wasted thousands of lives. It's a Dantean nightmare-a demagogue who feeds on the death of young people and on the death of his nation to fuel a vision of his own. There are elements of Nosferatu in this, too. I would love to play a vampire-not the kind that bites your neck, but the kind that sucks the energy out of you. I try to find a parallelto the stoic mask the Ayatollah maintained and to the frenzy he created: That's every autocrat's dream, to have that kind of fervor from the people. Can you imagine? To have millions of People marching for you, people dying? The energy of it-a huge ego trip! That's obsession. That's what I would like for my character. As for my real life," he adds with a Gallic twinkle, "I would like a fan club-a small one. I don't really like writing letters."
It's a specific brand of villainy. "There's the whole idea of human sacrifice underlying the character, "Forest says, "somewhat reminiscent of what the ancient Mayans did in a way, sacrificing people for the appeasement of cosmic energies. I'm looking for literature on human sacrifices. I just picked up a book that deals with the recent rash of cocaine banderos sacrificing individuals in weird rituals. Another source I draw from is Edward Teller. Any mind that can conceive of such destructive power as the H-bomb is definitely a threat to mankind. It's always important for an actor to find a real basis for waht he's doing.
"I look towards those archetypes like Adolph Hitler and the Ayatollah Khomeini who dwell on the idea of destroying things, to mold the character and yet still rely very much on my own way of perceiving things. It's hard to play a character on series TV: You assume a mold, sometimes you bring it up a bit, but you end up playing yourself."
Forest subscribes to the actors' theory that villains have more fun. "Actor villains, "he says with relish, "work like the witch doctor in a tribal community. There you have the guy who puts on a mask and evokes evil feelings and fear in people. These evil feelings are in all of us. When you see the mask, you're repulsed and repudiate the feelings and get rid of them. That's the treatment I would like to give to Malzor. The mask that I can turn on is a despondent death mask. I equate to indifference which is the greatest sin. Malzor is indifferent to human suffering.
"For me to say that I get this rush from hypnotizing maybe 50,000 people sounds like complete madness, "admits Forest with a shrug, "but the public is hypnotized by what they see on TV. I travel a lot. I was in Amsterdam and this girl from Philadelphia zoned into me and said, 'You played Eddie in the episode of Friday the 13th. You killed that girl with the bees. What are you doing here?"
"When you get into these ideas, you do actually became more intimidating to people. you tend unconsciously to stare people down. I have these strange eyes. A little while ago, I went the movies and I asked someone a simple question like, 'Have you bought your ticket?' He looked me in the eyes and didn't know quite what to do. Was I a cup? Was I theater police? He didn't want to answer; he just looked down.
"Sometimes, I like to read my lines out loud," the actor notes. "You have these words to remember, so you practice them, like a violinist practices his instrument. At the YMCA, I'll be working out and running these lines. People think I'm nuts."
Of the details of Morthren life, Denis Forest has little to reveal. How does Malzor relax, for example? Does he read about techniques of dismemberment? "That would be fun," allows Forest. "He likes to see innocent people tortured. For entertainment, the Morthren probably do complex mathematics that humans couldn't understand. It's hard to know because our energy was sucked into human form when we came from our home planet to Earth. I can't prove it but I think of them as having originally been astral energy or beings of fire. It's as if I, or Malzor rather, was born like this, "The actor spreads his arms and indicates his tall, slender human form.
"It's sad to see people attacking movie stars. We haven't figured out if Morthren sleep or what they do at all, probably a lot of plotting and scheming. Malzor hasn't sat down once in six episodes. he hasn't eaten, though we know that they're vegetarians. We need to see these aliens express deeper feelings than they have so far. I would like the Morthren to observe humanity more and try to understand what human suffering is-and human joy. It would be interesting, and perhaps insightful, to see how they would analyze that."
The actor adds that the show's creators have not been, in his view, especially receptive to his input, at least so far. "There's too much of a panic to get on camera what they have in the script," he explains.
An assistant director wanders by and comments that the night's shooting is progressing very slowly. A technician agrees. The camera is being aligned for a difficult shot of an agonized, dying clone. Eerie yellow and green lights shine balefully through the huge screens of intricately shredded latex that hang everywhere throughout the darkened water-covered floor. Giant, fleshy alien machines loom up in the dimness, hang from the ceiling, twine and twist everywhere-the Morthren science laboratory. The mood on the set, though, is light-hearted. A grip passes, gestures at the spectacle and says, "It's like walking around inside King Kong's nose." Forest grins.
"It's a wonderful crew," he says. "It's is always a treat to entertain them a bit with some humor. Now and then, we have to jump over some green glop, and maybe slip on a patch, but there have been no practical jokes so far, thank God. I don't think we have the time. I ad-lib funny lines during rehearsals, but once we start shooting, we're quite serious."
Despite all the changes in the show, newcomer Forest reports that have been no difficulties relating with the survivors of last season's cast, Jared Martin and Lynda Mason Green. "We haven't played a scene with them yet, "he discloses. "We do talk about them, though. Sometimes, we bump into them when we're switching sets. They have bigger Winnebagos than we do."
As for the show's changes themselves, Forest has little to say. "I didn't watch the first season much," he demurs, "but the aliens last year were big Muppets. With those costumes, they weren't convincing in my book. The fact that we all have a tall, gaunt look this year indicates to the viewer that these are aliens. Ironically, I used to have a girl friend who, because I have an odd, knobbly-shaped forehead and face, used to call me 'alien head.' Now, I make my living at it.
"Malzor is the leader that nobody has," Denis Forest confides. "We have nobody, for example, who can tell us not to do drugs and be listened to. Even our athletes now are full of drugs and steroids. We have no real political or spiritual messiah who can lead us towards a greater understanding of eternal things. It's a sick feeling because I don't like to incarnate these kind of characters, so I have to play Malzor as working towards perfecting a nobler race. The thing that I fear the most is that people will judge me for what I do, which is just a fantasy. It is sad to see people attacking movie stars. But Malzor could conceivably provoke some people to fascistic violence. What I hope is that he will make your skin crawl, but won't make you go kill your sister. I don't want to make babies cry when they see me on the street."