Of the enigmatic character he plays in Babylon 5, Ed Wasser notes, "I think the nice thing about Morden is that he's so mysterious. Joe [Straczynski, the series creator] was telling me that Morden has had so little screen time - something like 13 minutes of the first 30 episodes - and yet he's made such a huge impact.
"People often stop me and ask, 'What's happening with your character? Are you coming back?' I don't want them to know too much, because that's the joy of Morden. People are intrigued by that mysteriousness, so I wouldn't want to give too much away."
It's difficult to look at Wasser and not think of the soft-spoken but evil Morden, who's quickly become one of Babylon 5's most intriguing characters. In fact, as the actor relates over lunch on the B5 set, his shadowy alter ego has been getting a great deal of attention over the last several months. "Apparently, I'm being told by the producers and people in touch with America On Line, there's this whole stir about Morden and who he is. They're calling him Smiley now, and that's very exciting.
"I've got a great story for you," the actor continues, laughing. "Shortly after 'Signs and Portents', which was the one where my character went up to everyone and said, 'What do you want?' four days after that show aired, I was in Brentwood to see a girlfriend of mine. I stopped into a florist and was looking around, when the owner of the store says, 'What do you want?'
"I said, 'Excuse me?' You have to realize that I shot this episode four or five months earlier, and I just wasn't getting it, so again, he said, 'What do you want?' I said, Maybe a carnation or a rose; I really don't know. Is it okay if I just look around?'
"He says, 'No no, What...Do...You...Want?' and I looked back at him and said 'Oh my God!' He cracked a smile, I racked a smile, and he says, 'Deep Space Nine, right?' I said, 'No, Babylon 5, but thanks for watching!' I told the producers that story and they were just in stitches. The first time I told them, I left the Deep Space Nine part out, because I didn't want to hurt their feelings, but then I said, 'No, I have to tell them how it went,' and they were on the floor laughing."
Although Wasser had done some film and television work prior to his work on Babylon 5, this is his first regular TV gig. Originally, the actor was asked to come in as a line reader during casting, but the producers eventually offered him a small role in the pilot.
"I guess the inception of Babylon 5 was almost three years ago, as far as the casting of the pilot," Wasser recalls. "when I first got out here, a casting director names Dori Zuckerman was working with Mary Jo Slater on the pilot, and Dori took me under her wing and helped me get started. She invited me to be a reader, saying, 'I think it's a good idea, because the producers and director will really like you.' What I'd do was if an actor was coming in to read for the part of G'Kar, I'd read all the other lines. Basically, I was there to make the actor feel comfortable, and have them read with another actor, as opposed to a casting director who's most likely not going to put as much inflection into the reading. That was fun, and what happened was the casting process turned out to be about six weeks long.
"When the pilot finally went into production, the producers handed me a script and said, 'Okay, aside from what's been cast, tell us what part you'd like to play.' At that point, there weren't too many great parts left, so thinking like an actor, I wanted to pick the part that had the most screen time and the character that might have the possibility of coming back. I was one of the head technicians in the dome, when the ship was about to explode, and we're losing stability and the infrastructure was going to blow apart; that was me reporting back to the commander.
"Eventually, the subject came up about maybe doing something else - I wasn't very excited about it, but when Joe came up with this character Morden for me, if I didn't have any dignity, I would have got down on my hands and knees and said, 'Thank you!' It was a great character, and what a phenomenal way to enter the show, asking all these important ambassadors, 'What do you want?'"
Morden made his first appearance in 'Signs and Portents', approaching each of the alien ambassadors with his own mysterious agenda. Strangely, that episode was shot sixteenth in the season, but Wasser had already finished working on the season-ending 'Chrysalis', which was shot twelfth. That meant the actor had to appear n his 'second' episode first.; "And not knowing what I should have played prior to that. That was weird. Joe is very mysterious, which is very cool, because in the first season, he'd sit down with you for two hours and give you every bit of information you need for that script, but as far as letting you know where it's all going... When I did 'Chrysalis', he gave me some background on that the 'first' episode was going to be like. He's like a mathematician, he's got it all blocked out in his head, and you just take his word for it.
"What was interesting was that anything of major consequence for my character really started in 'Chrysalis', so I didn't feel like I was a fish out of water. Signs and Portents was really about my finding my victim, finding the one I was going to use, who was going to be my tool, so to speak."
According to Wasser, his job was made much easier by the presence of Peter Jurasik, who as Ambassador Mollari becomes the shadow race's unwitting pawn. "I'll be honest with you and say that it could have happened with any of the other leading regulars, but I was fortunate enough to work with Peter first and the most. Working with Andreas and Mira, they were equally kind and supportive, but so much of my stuff was with Peter, and I wanted it to go well, so I had a lot of high expectations for myself, and Peter was right there like glue. There's very little ego in that cast."
The discussion is briefly interrupted by story editor Larry DiTillio, who walks by, lunch in hand. "Don't eat with Shadow Men!" he cautions, and keeps walking. Wasser chuckles, and the subject of conversations returns to Chrysalis, the cliff-hanger to Babylon 5's first season.
"What was actually a gift about that one, he explains, "was by coming in with 'Chrysalis', I had started with the mead of the character, so shooting the first episode after the second episode it was much easier to step into those shoes. There was so much more meat in 'Chrysalis' for me to sink my teeth into, so by the time I made my initial appearance, I already knew who Morden was."
One of the big surprises for Wasser was the race of shadow creatures that surround Morden near the end of the episode. The computer-generated entities were added in post-production, which meant the actor didn't get to see them for some time. "Until I saw that episode when it was finished, I didn't realize that these insects, these creatures were so evil-looking. I was very impressed!
"Also, it was explained to me that the scene would be done in the long shot, so it was actually my choice to make it appear that they were talking to me. They made sure these characters were where I was looking, so the hard work was in post-production."
Wasser is quick to point out that he's had plenty of help in shaping and defining Morden during the first two seasons of Babylon 5 "Thanks to Joe's clarity about who Morden is, and the gifted insights of my coach, Hank Berrings, along with my own instincts, I've really been able to capture some of the danger of this character."
Does the actor have his own slant on the enigmatic emissary? "Well, let me put it this way: Morden is to Babylon 5 what the serpent was in the Garden of Eden. The serpent doesn't think he's so horrible, but he helps trigger evolution. Morden is a snake in the grass."
Wasser's most significant episode to date is I'n the Shadow of Z'ha'dum', in which Sheridan discovers the truth behind his wife's death as well as the secret behind Morden's power. "It's a big episode for me. There's a big interrogation scene with Sheridan, and of course Morden - I don't want to say he denies anything, but he just plays dumb, then Sheridan oversteps his bounds which nobody has done with Morden yet. I get up to go, and he corners me by pushing the table into my gut to keep me from getting up. That's where Morden looks at Sheridan and says, 'You're playing a very dangerous game, Captain; it could cost you your comment.'
"It seems that Morden has nothing but showdowns in that episode. In the first scene, Vir and I have a conversation, and I say to him, 'What do you want? If restoring the Centauri Republic means nothing to you, then what does?'
"He says, 'You know what I want? I want to live long enough to when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike, I'm alive so I can look up at you and wave, just like this,' and he does this funny little wave. So he's the first one who really has balls enough to stand up to Morden and say what's really on his mind."
"We definitely know Morden's connection is even stronger now, although we don't really know why I did it. I'm very excited about that episode, and I think everybody was pleased with the way the episode went and its intensity. There is a lot at stake for Sheridan in this show, because he's trying to get some info about his deceased wife. Bruce brought so much passion and determination into the interrogation of Morden, that it made my job very easy. He's great to work with."
Since his last appearance on Babylon 5, Wasser has kept busy with numerous TV and theatre projects, as well as seeing a new addition to his family. "I've adopted a little dog, named Shiloh," he explains. "part Basenji, part Australian dingo, with a brindle coat and the markings of a lion. She was found dying in a dumpster at three weeks old, with her eyes still shut and I couldn't refuse her a home. She's a beautiful creature, with an incredible soul, and I'm really glad to have her.
"In terms of work, I just finished doing a Showtime project called The Set-Up with Billy Zane, and then I did an HBO anthology series along the lines of The Red Shoe Diaries. It was nothing to write home about, but it was fun to do. I'm very active right now with the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood, which is very exciting, and I just finished a show called Sidewalk Talk, in which I play a Brooklyn character who's having a fight with his wife out on the street.
"From there on, who knows?" muses Ed Wasser. "As mysterious as Morden is, it's a mystery to me when he's coming back. I think if you hit somebody over the head with something, it becomes less powerful, so I think these guys have done a great job of making him incredibly mysterious. I can't wait to see what happens next."
The third season of Babylon 5 starts with 'Matter of Honor', written by J Michael Straczynski and directed by the show's production Manager, Kevin Cremin.
"It's a great episode," says Ed Wasser, who, while getting ready to play the lead in the comedy Gravity Shoes at the Hudson Guild Theatre, gave us a teaser of the opener.
"What happens is Londo lets Morden know that they should no longer be associated with each other. He tells him, "My people have a manifest destiny, and they can achieve it just as well without the help of your associates, perhaps better.'
"Morden says, 'Now that we've done everything that you've asked us to do, you just want us to disappear," and Londo says, 'I believe you've got the handle on that, Mr. Morden. We have danced our last little dance, time for you to go away.' Morden just looks at him and says, 'Okay, but there's just one little detail, Ambassador, a little bookkeeping for us to close. 'this area here [he draws a section over a map] is for the Centauri. Conquer all the worlds you like; we won't bother you, as long as you understand this area is ours.'
"As Morden walks away, he says, 'Oh, one last thing. There's a small world inside your territory, the only one we would like to have custody of. Make sure your people are nowhere near it when my associates move in there, or they'll be destroyed.' Morden and the Shadows are going to kill off some people who are preparing to fight the Shadows."
Copyright TV Zone 1995