PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

Perhaps best known as Zhaan in the TV space opera FARSCAPE, but also appearing in MAD MAX 2 and JAMES BOND film THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, VIRGINIA HEY is an iconic genre figure – even gracing the cover of STARBURST. She’s now ready to venture back in front of the camera in a new sci-fi web series, KOSMOS currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. We spoke to her to find out more…

STARBURST: What was it about the Kosmos pitch that attracted you to it?
Virginia Hey: The director, Si Horrocks, is what initially attracted me to Kosmos, he’s a very talented director roaring into the spotlight with festival wins under his belt from his last film, Third Contact, he’s a rising star in the industry radar and all eyes will be on Kosmos with great expectation. He's an Indie Rockstar! I love bathing in brilliance, so I leapt forward and suggested myself for his cast.
I've been on a sabbatical for several years away from acting so I could concentrate of my business to get it rolling, so it’s crucial now that I step back in in a vehicle that’s shining with a new energy of creativity.
Gone are the days where high profile actors had to only be seen in big studio flicks and were penalised for stepping away from that system. These days there is no stigma involved for a main-cast actor to jump into indie or low budget productions. To be honest, often the best scripts are in the hands of the indie directors these days, their pure and untouched ideas really soar! The industry is always on the lookout for fresh new talent, and as an actor it’s vital to work with directors who have new vision.
We have to thank Samuel L. Jackson for breaking that glass ceiling of production snobbery, his aim was to do good creative artistic work, and he searched for brilliance and together with big blockbusters he also worked work with directors whose work was "out of the box". He was the first high profile actor to break barriers and work in very low budget and indie productions. It created a magnificent body of work for him.
I'm not comparing myself to the level of Samuel L. Jackson, but I am comparing myself to his love of seeking out great work at any level!
Farscape was my last role before stepping into a sabbatical at 49. It was my best work by far, and I was utterly spoilt by working with directors who expected such a high level of excellence from me, and I, in turn, slaved to give them the best I could; I worked so hard, it was a very complex character, the first complex character I've ever played. I vowed when I stepped back in I would only select roles and productions where I could continue to grow as an actress.

Apparently, you've not seen any scripts yet, only character outlines - that must give you an element of excitement for what's to come?
I've been privy to the storylines in several conversations with the director, and I've seen drafts, not the ultimate final scripts, but what I heard and saw I loved! And of course, the opportunity to work with a rising star director was irresistible!
Bear in mind, we actors never ever see any scripts during the casting process, we’re given "sides" to prepare for auditions, which are single sheets of the 2-3 scenes the director wants to see you tackle. If we win the role we are then given the full script draft for a film, or episode one draft of a series. That's all. And that's at the highest level of work. Of course, if you are Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro or any actor at that pinnacle you will receive a full script prior to auditioning, and often will not have to audition at all.
You base your decisions on the director and on the breakdowns of script, and on the sides that you see. That's a talent in itself. I could do an entire article on that alone! [Laughs]

The Kosmos Kickstarter campaign has been gaining a lot of momentum over the last few weeks; it must be rewarding to know people want to see something you believe in.
Oh yes, its very heart-warming that the campaign has generated so much attention, so many wonderful folk who have contributed in order to be a part of Kosmos! And also, especially moving for me is that folk really want to see me step back into acting again. The industry takes a sitting on the side-lines stance when a profile actor steps away for a long period of time, it watches what you do, and wont embrace you on the same level where you left off, you have to almost prove yourself again, and so I'm so proud that Kosmos will be the vehicle to carry me back into the craft I so love. I feel safe in the talents of Si Horrocks!

If you had to persuade someone who's on the fence about pledging to the campaign, what would you tell them?
I’d say: Jump in! Be a part of creating a sci-fi series! Help make this production leap forward; you will have the wonderful satisfaction of knowing that you were one of the people responsible for getting it off the ground! How cool is that! And if you love art and science and entertainment then help us create for you! There are such cool contribution rewards too, have a peek.  

As mentioned, this will be your first acting job for a while. What made you stop, and how did you get into producing perfumes and soaps?
Well this is a long story…  go grab a tea… Immediately after Farscape, in 2001, I went over to Los Angeles; I finally felt I could compete as an actor in that pool. I was on a career high, the highest I've ever been in my 30-year career as an actress, I was 49, and so proud of all my hard work. As soon as I arrived I was faced with something I’d never come across before… ageism! Every agent I went to told me that I was too old, for my type, to enter the American industry for the first time, and that A-listers my age/type were clamouring for work, good roles were few and far between for my age/type, and that the ones going would be snapped up by A-listers… I was introduced to an ageism I’d never known before!
To explain, the industry used to run with stereotypes, you were cast into folders of age categories. 20s-30s, 30s-40s, 40s-50s, and so on. Each age category had a stereotypical "look", paraphrasing, from young lead/hero/romantic/artistic, to young-mum/white-collar/professional, to grand-mum. I didn't fit into any of it! I was 50, a baby boomer, young looking, healthy and fit, tall with a strong ‘warrior’ look… They said they didn't know what to do with me. It was terrible timing for me, 2002 was when all the A-list ladies over 40 who were not stereotypical to their age at that time, were struggling with no work, nothing was being written for them. The baby boomers were, and are, an army of a new generational energy never been seen before: fit, young, vibrant and nothing like the Golden Girls or what we know of our grandmothers at our age!
As a result, older actresses started creating their own work and clever producers who saw the flaw in the market started to aim at it and Sex in the City was born - and Desperate Housewives - they broke the glass ceiling! And so over the last 10 years, all remnants of that ceiling have gone. Now baby boomers are included in their own folders at the casting offices. All hail to the new category!
But in 2001, I was faced with a dilemma... well, do I go back to Australia where there is no ageism... or do I stay here in LA and ride out the ageism phase? I’d just made the massive move to LA, in hindsight I should have gone over first to test the water, THEN made the move... but I don't regret my lack of caution because it led me to my second love of my life, White Flower Lei.
To explain, I wasn't sure what to do having been told I was too old to act in the USA for my type, so I decided to take a break and concentrate on a business and then return to acting later once the world had overcome ageism!
I was considering during the hiatus going back to my art/design/stylist background, when suddenly the decision was made for me by my beautiful fans! I was invited to all the massive US Sci-fi Comic-cons and would always wear my favourite perfume... ALL the fans that came near me commented on the beautiful scent and asked where they could buy it. Well, that started my business, White Flower Lei. Born 2002. So, in a nutshell, I started with perfumes and soaps, added candles for a few years, and now I'm back to perfumes and soap! I handmake everything myself using the most luxurious extravagant ingredients that cost me a fortune! And my Art background helped me design all my products and their packaging. To be honest, I've had tremendous fun using all my other creative skills for all these years! But now it’s time to bring back the big guns, my love for performing arts!!!

You can find out more about KOSMOS, and be part of the process at the Kickstarter page – but BE QUICK – there’s only days left! - and check out Virginia’s highly recommended (Christmas is just around the corner, folks!) WHITE FLOWER LEI range at her website. Virginia Hey will be appearing at Digi-Con in Doncaster on January 10th-11th and at Sci-Fi Scarborough on March 14th-15th.

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