His appearances were few and far between, yet Morden made an indelible mark upon the Babylon 5 saga. As the smooth-talking emissary of the mysterious and powerful race known only as the Shadows, it was Morden who forged the alliance with Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari which precipitated a cataclysmic battle between the forces of light and dark, and brought Babylon 5's peace-keeping mission to a ignominious end. Never one to sit on his laurels, Morden was also one of the few individuals who knew the secrets of the Shadows from the very beginning, and he even had the 'pleasure' of murdering one of the station's most famous residents - the Vorlon Ambassador Kosh!
For Ed Wasser, Morden's prominence in the Babylon 5 universe and his wide-spread popularity among the show's fans were two unexpected bonuses of starring in J. Michael Straczynski's epic Science Fiction series. "It's very exciting and a little surprising the people are really interested in the character," the actor explains. "But I think that's always true of the bad guy - there's that old saying, 'It's good to be bad!' People always love to hate the bad guy.
"Morden only does around three episodes a year, and yet it's almost like he's there all the time; you can always feel his presence. He also plays a pivotal part in the structure of Babylon 5's future. Morden is to Babylon 5 what the serpent was to the Garden of Eden, and he had that kind of affect on the arc of Babylon 5.
Wasser's association with Babylon 5 began long before Morden's first visit to the Earth Alliance space station, as he made a brief appearance in the show's feature length pilot, 'The Gathering'. "I was a reader during the casting [auditions] for the pilot," he recalls. "I did that for three to four hours a day, four days a week, for six to eight weeks. I didn't get paid any money - I was just paying my dues, with the hope that they would find something in the show for me
"Well, eventually they threw me a bone - I was given the pick of all the roles that had not been taken. I picked one of the [Dome] techs, this guy called Guerra, because he had the most screentime and could have come back in the series. It was an okay bone, not a great bone, but I was still appreciative."
In recent years, Babylon 5 fans have speculated about a possible link between Ed's two characters, Guerra and Morden. Is Guerra really Morden in disguise? Are they brothers? Or do they just share the same hairdresser? The actor is happy to put the record straight: "There's no relationship between Guerra and Morden. There really isn't any link. But I guess a lot of fans think that it would have been cool if there was."
When Babylon 5 was picked up as a series in 1993, Wasser agreed to reprise his role as an unpaid reader at the show's casting auditions. Once again, however, the actor was keeping his fingers crossed that he would be invited to work in front of the cameras before too long.
"After a few weeks, I went up to Joe [Straczynski, series creator/executive producer] and said 'Hey Joe, when are you going to make me a part of the family? I really would like to do something recurring in the show.' They then offered me the role of a maitre d', and I said , 'Well, no, that's not what I want. Don't you have something more powerful- a little more dangerous?' I didn't hear from them from two months and I though I had overstepped my boundaries. I thought 'Oh s**t, I got them pissed!'
"About two months later, Joe gave me the script for 'Chrysalis' and offered me the role of Morden. I was ecstatic - it was just such a great way to make my mark on the series."
'Chrysalis' brings Babylon 5's first season to a memorable close, and showcases Morden as a cool, charismatic but extremely dangerous individual. Ironically, while Wasser's portrayal of the character swiftly caught the imagination of B5 fans around the world, Straczynski was initially concerned about the actor's interpretation of the role.
"Originally, Joe was very disappointed with what I did with Morden," Wasser reveals. "I went to his office on my last day of shooting ['Chrysalis'] and I said to him, 'Thank you for such a great part. How do you feel about what I brought to it?' he replied, 'Quite honestly, Ed, it's not what I expected. I wrote the part for you and I wrote it as a very high energy, charming, free, fun-loving part.' In other words, he wrote it for me to get up there and do me. Well, I didn't want to just do me!
"The next day, Joe saw the dailies and called me at home - which is really unusual for a producer to do. He said to me, 'Look, I just wanted you to know that I saw the dailies this afternoon and I want you to forget everything I said last night. It's gonna make for a really good episode. Good job.' I though it was nice of him to let me know that he had changed his mind."
Although 'Chrysalis' was Babylon 5's first season finale, the nature of the show's shooting schedule meant that Morden's introductory episode, 'Signs and Portents', was filmed a few weeks later. Beyond 'Signs and Portents', however, there was absolutely no guarantee that Morden would ever appear in the series again. Consequently, Wasser always knew that each time he reported to Babylon 5's soundstages it could have been his last visit.
"When you play a role that's not a contract role - like a series regular - you always wonder when you're going to get the axe," he explains. "Doing a recurring role, you always wonder when the last episode is going to be.
"In the case of Morden, he could easily have made his mark [during the first season], and then been replaced by the Shadows themselves. So it was very flattering to find out that Morden lasted for four years, and each year I was very pleased that Joe brought him back."
The actor has nothing but fond memories of his time aboard Babylon 5. "I loved working on the show. The cast and crew are all great people; they're kinda like a family. I have to say that it's certainly one of the nicest, low-pressure, no ego environments I've been involved with. I would have loved to have been a series regular with that kind of crew. They're all such great people."
Reviewing Morden's assorted visits to the Earth Alliance space station, Wasser cites 'Signs and Portents', 'In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum' and 'Z'ha'dum' as personal favourites. "'Signs and Portents' was fun; virtually all I had to say in that episode was 'What do you want?'" he laughs. "I really enjoyed doing 'In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum', because Bruce Boxleitner [alias Captain Sheridan] was really great to work with. I also enjoyed 'Z'ha'dum', but I have to admit that I still haven't seen that episode yet!"
Like most viewers, Wasser initially believed that Morden was destined to die during Sheridan's suicidal attack on the Shadow homeworld in the climactic third season finale, 'Z'ha'dum'. "I honestly thought it would be my last episode," he reveals. "On my last afternoon on the show, I saddled up to Joe Straczynski and said 'Joe, what are your plans for me next year?' he replied, 'Well, let me just put it this way, Ed: Morden's days are numbered, but there's still some things he has to take care of.' So he let me know that it actually wasn't my last episode.
To portray the nuclear blast-scarred Morden in Babylon 5's fourth season, Wasser had to spend up to six and a half hours a day in the make-up chair. "It was pretty intense," he admits. "For the first episode ['Hour of the Wolf'], it took about four hours to get the prosthetics on, and two and a half hours to get out of them at the end of the day. In the following episodes, Morden slowly got better, which meant less time in the make-up. By the sixth episode ['Into the Fire'], he's completely healed - and then he gets killed off!"
The actor lists the fourth season premiere, 'Hour of the Wolf', as the most challenging episode of Babylon 5 he appeared in. "It required a lot of heavy mind work; I was coming from a particular place to give the appearance of having scrambled eggs for brains!"
'Into the Fire' brought the Shadow War to a sudden close, and also marked Morden's final appearance in Babylon 5, as he is executed on the orders of his former associate, Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik). Ironically, the episode proved to be Ed Wasser's all-time favourite installment of the series.
"'Into the Fire' was the most fun episode to shoot because Morden loses all of his composure in his last scene," the actor explains. "Now to see Morden lose all of his composure is wild! That particular scene embodies everything you've seen Morden do over the past four seasons. He comes on being dragged by guards, then he regains his composure and you get the Morden smile. Then he realizes he's in trouble and gets scared. He then gets strong and powerful before he's overcome by Londo, and then finally Morden is dragged off kicking and screaming to his death.
"I worked closely with my acting coach, Hank Berrings, on that final scene," he continues. "Hank has worked with me on Morden for the past four years, and he's really been a key to doing Morden because he's just got a great eye. He wanted Morden dragged of like Cagney - being tough and arrogant - before he falls apart. I couldn't really have done it without Hank - he's my diamond in the rough and he's just brilliant. I hope that I'll be working with him on and off for the rest of my career."
Quite understandably, Wasser had mixed feeling about the character's exit from the Babylon 5 saga. "It was a little sad to see Mr. Morden go," he says, "but all good things must come to pass in order for other good things to present themselves. Life is an evolution and the challenge is being open to what comes next."
Despite his character's demise, Wasser remains proud to still be associated with Babylon 5; he speaks of the show with respect and enthusiasm, and continues to represent it at Science Fiction conventions. "I love doing conventions," he remarks. "I think they are great. I have a real sense of joy meeting the fans and connecting with them.
"For me, conventions are an opportunity to make a difference. They give me a chance to talk about bringing people together, and having respect and common decency for one another. I don't really spend a lot of time talking about the things that go on behind the scenes of Babylon 5; I talk about things I think are important and things I hope will make this world a kinder place to live in. I do think that it would be irresponsible to be in front of a crowd of people and not send out a good message."
One question Wasser invariably faces at conventions is Morden's opening gambit - what do you want? "The fans always ask me that," he laughs, "but to be honest, I'm not really bothered by it. I'm well aware of the fact that that very question put me on the map. Normally when people ask me that question, I laugh it off and don't answer it. I usually say something like, 'Well, it only took two minutes for someone to ask me that...Next question please!'"
Morden's popularity with Babylon 5 fans has led to the creation of the Ed Wasser Fan Club, which can be found on the Internet at http://www.wasser.com/. "I would love people to visit the website," says Wasser. "It's a lot fun. We do some fund-raisers for charity and there's an ongoing interview with me. We've had a lot of good feedback from the fans. If readers [send their e-mail addresses to} firstname.lastname@example.org, they'll be sent a free electronic newsletter every other month."
Among other things, the website allows people to correspond directly with Wasser. Be warned, however, that the man behind Morden might try to sell you a copy of his sister's latest album if you're not careful! "Everyone's got to buy my sister's album," he laughs. "My sister's a jazz singer. She goes by the name of Holly Ross and she's a very talented woman. Her group, String of Pearls, has just put together a nostalgic album, which is very reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. It's really quite a blast!"
While the actor admits to being impressed and sometimes overwhelmed by fans' enthusiasm for Babylon 5, he himself was once a devoted viewer of a certain science fiction show. I used to be a huge fan of Lost in Space." He reveals. "he funny thing is that I never knew who Bill Mumy [Lennier in Babylon 5] was. It wasn't until around the end of the second season that someone told me that Bill Mumy was Will Robinson from Lost in Space, and I got such a kick out of that! I had to let him know, so I went up to him and said 'My God! I used to walk around the house going 'Crush! Kill! Destroy! From one of the episodes in which the android was crushing rocks!' It was funny to have that moment when I realized that I was on the same show as Will Robinson."
Wasser is well aware that Babylon 5 is the first Science Fiction series to successfully challenge the supremacy of the Star Trek franchise, and credits much of the show's success to its creator, Joe Straczynski. "Babylon 5 is a thinking man's show," he muses. "I feel that the premise of Babylon 5 - bringing people and aliens together, and giving everyone an opportunity to live together in harmony - is very reminiscent of where we are on this Earth today.
"Joe's stories are very poignant and very sensitive. For instance, he has more care in dealing with different people's religions than a lot of people who are religious! I mean, for an atheist, he is very, very respectful of everybody's viewpoints. So I think that what makes the show special is that Joe captures the sensitivity of everybody's situation. I don't think most shows do that; they tend to be a little more sterile - more black and white. Joe's show has a very real approach to life, which probably accounts for a lot of its intrigue and staying power.
Born and raised in New York, Edward Mitchell Wasser dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player when he was growing up, until a dislocated shoulder convinced him to pursue a career in acting. After graduating from the prestigious Suny Purchase drama school, Wasser landed his first major role in the daytime soap Loving, and cut his teeth in local stage production of As You Like It, Biloxi Blues, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Much Ado About Nothing, to name but a few.
In 1991, the aspiring actor left New York for Los Angeles, where he continued to work extensively in the theatre and added the like of Murder, She Wrote, Life Goes On, Another World, and of course Babylon 5 to his resume. Another of Wasser's early credits was the fourth season Quantum Leap episode, It's a 'Wonderful Leap', in which he appeared (albeit very briefly) as a young executive.
"My appearance on Quantum Leap is more of a joke than anything," he says. "It was at the beginning of my career so it wasn't much of a part, but it was fun to work on the show. Scott [Bakula, Sam Beckett] and Dean [Stockwell, Al] were perfect gentlemen to work with."
As a recurring character in Babylon 5, Wasser had a great deal of freedom to pursue other acting roles in-between stints aboard the Earth Alliance space station. Consequently, he appeared in a host of plays, shows and telemovies, including The Set-Up, Hotline, Storm Swept and NYPD Blue. The actor also returned to SF genre last summer to play a security guard in a third season of Sliders entitled 'Dead Man Sliding'. Unfortunately, however, sliding into a parallel universe turned out to be an immense disappointment as far as the actor was concerned.
"Sliders was a situation I ended up in to remind myself to stay humble on my journey," he explains. "It was a small part. Do you know that old saying 'There are no small parts, only small actors'? Well, I think it was one of those parts that the universe put in front of me to remind me where I've come from and that wherever I go, I must never lose sight of where I've been. It was a really humbling experience."
Wasser's next major project looks set to be The Heretic, the pilot for a British-based SF series. "Heretic interested me because of the premise it is based on - Armageddon," the actor reveals. "Neil Jackson, the writer/producer of Heretic, is a very talented writer and he has incorporated some of the values I think are important today. Of course, there's good versus evil, friendship, loyalty, integrity, etc... But more importantly, there's also a sense of humility - Heretic acknowledges the existence of a higher power other than ourselves!
"If everything goes to plan, we'll be shooting the pilot in England later in the year. Then, if it goes to a series, this project may be shot in Turkey, which would be wild. I'm really excited about The Heretic, and the traveling certainly would be fun."
Beyond Heretic, there's always a possibility of appearing in Babylon 5's spin-off show, The Babylon Project: Crusade. "I would be very flattered if they asked me, and I would definitely consider it," he states. "It's a great group of people to work with. Obviously, a lot would depend on what I was doing at the time and what opportunities had come up. And of course, I'd probably have to wear prosthetics, so I'd have to think about that too."
Even if he doesn't get to appear in the new show, Ed Wasser will continue to be grateful for the effect Babylon 5 has had upon his life and career. "I will always have a warm place in my heart for B5 because of the opportunity it gave me," he says. "Morden was such a great character to play, and to be part of Science Fiction history is an honour,"
Copyright TV Zone 1997