Karen Cliche: Hot on the Trail of Flash Gordon

by Cynthia Boriskaren1.jpg

Karen Cliche has spent a good portion of her acting career playing the tough girl. The kind that kicks butt and is proud of it. Her first big role was in the action series Adventure, Inc.. From there she played the mysterious Lexa Pierce on Mutant X and more recently she took on the part of the female (pretending to be a male) musketeer, Jacqueline, on the swashbuckling series Young Blades. These days she’s extra tough as she straps on a sidearm for the role of Baylin, the bounty hunter from Mongo, in the new SCI FI Channel series Flash Gordon.

On a two-week hiatus in the middle of shooting the soon-to-premiere series, Karen took some time out of her day to chat with me about her co-stars, her roles and this re-imagining that is Flash Gordon. She readily admits that they have big shoes to fill, but she’s confident in the version of Flash that they’ve created.

“I’m sure people will come into the show with a lot of expectations. They’ve known Flash Gordon for a long time, but I think this take is wonderful because it has something for everyone,” says Karen. “People might tune in for the relationship between Dale and Flash, or they might watch for the planet Mongo with the tribes and the really cool sets, and I hope the audience will love and appreciate [the humor] element. There’s a lot of great wit.”

But with a piece like this, it’s easy to fall into the realm of camp and that’s a line the show doesn’t want to cross. Says Karen, “Once you [go campy] it takes away from the drama, and Flash’s quest to find out what happened to his father can’t be joked about.”
What can be joked about is Karen’s character, Baylin, who comes to Earth in search of Ming’s daughter but ends up a fish out of water when she’s trapped here and can’t get back.

“The reason she’s so tough and hard at first is not because she’s trying to be like this, she just is what she is. She’s an alien from another planet. The mannerisms are different and she doesn’t have the political correctness.” And it’s this lack of manners that often has Flash tongue-tied as he tries to cover up Baylin’s social faux pas in front of his friends.

Keeping Baylin’s true identity a secret is part of the show’s grand scheme. Flash, Dale and Zarkov are the only humans who know about Mongo and the space rift that is allowing aliens to appear on Earth. Their struggle to keep that knowledge to themselves while they neutralize each alien threat is the engine that keeps the show going. On the mythology side, you have Flash looking for the truth about his father’s death/disappearance and the romantic rumblings between Flash and his former girlfriend, Dale. The fact that Dale is now engaged to another man adds a level of sexual tension to the series that is ratcheted up a notch when Baylin takes up residence at Flash’s house.

“See, that’s why it’s so complicated and interesting,” says Karen. ” She’s engaged and here’s me coming in the middle of all of this. Dale gets jealous, but she’s not really, truly entitled to her feelings because she and Flash aren’t together anymore. That’s the fun element that Gina gets to play, ‘I shouldn’t feel this way. I love this guy, but I still love this other guy, and I don’t want you or anyone else to have him.’ People will get how she feels because, come on, we’d all be lying if we said we haven’t felt like that in some point in our lives.”

So will there be a romance between Flash and Baylin?

“We haven’t established any true love triangle, but there’s definitely room for opportunity. We shall see.”

But Baylin has a bigger hurdle to jump before she can get to love, and that’s friendship.

“When we first meet Baylin she’s come to Earth on assignment to get Ming’s daughter back to Mongo. She couldn’t care less about Earth. She has no interest in being there. She’s simply working. But when she gets stuck she begins to realize that this place is as good as any. Back on Mongo she doesn’t have a family or a tribe. She’s a loner, been alone all of her life, so going back to work for Ming is much less appealing than hanging out with Flash, Dale and Zakov and being part of a nice team. So she really latches on to that. She would never admit that she needs this friendship and love, but she does.”

One of the things Karen likes best about her new role is the physicality of it. You can dress Baylin up but you still can’t take her out. She’s a hunter underneath that frilly frock and the length of her skirt isn’t going to stop her from taking on the bad guys.

“There are a lot of elements to a good fight scene. It really is like a dance between two people. You can get the choreography down but if you don’t sell it the fight looks terrible. A lot of selling it is in the grunts and groans, very unfeminine sound effects. It’s hilarious, especially when you have to go into studio and loop your sound effects and you’re standing there going ‘oof, ah!’ You feel like an idiot but it works.”

Grunting and groaning for the camera is all part of the fun of making a Sci fi, action series like Flash Gordon. Karen and her cohorts also get to play-act jumping through time rifts, battling robot aliens and tromping through the real-life forests of Vancouver that stand-in for the planet Mongo.

When it comes time to reflect on her cast mates, Karen notes that the three leads are all very much themselves on screen. Jody Racicat (Zarkov) is “witty and smart and so unique,” says Karen. Gina Holden (Dale) has great energy and plays the conflict within herself so well with her gorgeous big, wide-eyes. And then there’s Flash himself, Eric Johnson.

“Everybody should know that Eric is a lot like Flash in so many ways. He is one of the most fun, genuine, humble, gracious people I’ve ever met. We’re so lucky to have him as our leading man because he sets the tone on set and it’s always fun. Flash has to be a really likable character and he plays it just to a T. We LOVE him.”

Of course, if the other three leads of Flash Gordon are very much like their characters, what does that say for Karen and her socially inept, kick ass, take-no-prisoners, alter ego Baylin?

Karen laughs. “Yeah, I thought of that as soon as I said it. A lot of the characters I play are these tough girls who are unapologetic for their confidence and I guess, as an actor, we’re really drawn to roles we can relate to in some way. I can relate to these girls in the way that they have this really tough outer shell, but inside they’re probably some of the most sensitive people you’ve ever met. They have to create this persona in order to survive in the world especially when they’ve been hurt and betrayed. They have to protect themselves. Many characters grow and get stronger. I like to play the opposite; it’s kind of interesting.”

Interesting. Now, that’s a great word for both Baylin and Karen Cliche. Catch them both when Flash Gordon premieres August 10th at 9:00 on the SCI FI Channel.

All Flash Gordon photos courtesy of SCI FI Channel

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