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Na'Tiel's B5 con pages

Bruce | Claudia | jms | Jason | Jerry| Josh | Marjean | Michael O'H | Mira

Tim Choate

"Zathras never has anything good. Except maybe a trip to Sydney!" So began Tim's talk - he recreated Zathras for us, a typically downcast Zathras shaking his head and bemoaning the unfairness of the world.

It seems that the last couple of months have been pretty amazing for Tim Choate. After not being noticed for some years, he has now done two conventions. BOBW4 brought him and his lovely wife out to Sydney, Australia, which is quite a ways from LA. It seemed that Tim was rather suprised about the whole deal, but happy to oblige the fans. Since there is such a great difference between him and Zathras in appearance, he felt that he had to do Zathras simply to show he played the character!

Tim never had any particular yen to see Sydney but "Sure, I'll go - why not?" He reckons Sydney is great. He now wants to see Melbourne - us Sydney bashers must have been noticed - "How could anywhere be better than Sydney?" Melburnites like me would love to show him Melbourne.

Tim has been acting for around 20 years. He did an acting degree and graduated in 1978. He's done a number of movies and recently been associated with Merchant Ivory, who make arthouse type movies such as "A Room with a View" and "Jefferson in Paris." However, he never got much mail from the fans. Then he did four episodes of Babylon 5 and what happens? He gets LOTS of mail!

Jason Carter had never actually met Tim before the BOBW4 cocktail party on the 20th of November. Previously, he had only ever met Zathras. Everyone knew Zathras, but noone knew who Tim was, such is the difference in appearance between the man and the character. Tim joked that Jason had probably already forgotten who he was by the next day. I am happy to report that Jason remembered who Tim was several days later when they were taken on a winery tour out of Sydney (come to Melbourne, Tim, and we'll show you some great cool weather wineries only 60-80km from Melbourne rather than wineries 200km from Sydney!). Jason even remembered who Tim was by the time he had reached Melbourne and was talking to another convention group a week later!

How Tim came to play Zathras. One day, indeed, the day after the first screening of B5, Tim's agent rang up with an audition. Only problem was that Tim had to be able to deal with special effects makeup. He said that he had no problems with makeup. He didn't mention that he had never had makeup appliances before so he really had no idea. He found the lines hard to work with. They were just words on paper. How should he interpret the character? He had no idea.

Zathras was described as a "ferret-like creature". "Is that how people see me?" He's sitting in the waiting room. All the other guys there had ferret-faces. "Do I look like this?" Tim's having a panic. He's on the verge of pulling out of the audition. He goes for a pace around the carpark with the script. He's looking in the reflection of himself in a car window when it strikes him that Zathras probably wouldn't sound like Tim. Why would an alien sound like Tim? An alien wouldn't sound like anything we've heard before. He tries the lines with a few accents. He had a few Pakistani neighbours at one stage, so he tries the lines with a "curry-based" accent. Suddenly, he sees Zathras as a Ben Kingsley-Gandhi-type character and the words fell into place. Tim went in to do the audition in front of John Copeland, jms and Mary Jo Slater. It was like channelling. At the end of the audition, he came out of it not knowing exactly what he had done. Had he made a fool of himself? Seems that he hadn't cos he was called in.

The first time he was in makeup, it took 5 hours to get Zathras put together. There were two makeup trailers - one for humans, one for SFX. Tim found the process quite ok - it gave him time to ensure he knew the lines and get the accent back. Zathras' lines were very hard to memorise. He could have a chat with whoever was in the next chair. It was like being at the barber's, only you might not talk to the person in the next chair unless you were there for five hours. The makeup people took good care of the actors. Then when he is finally kitted out in his makeup, baggy buccaneer pants and vests and scarf with stones and shells in it and raccoon tails and heavy cape (hence the hunch - it was the only way to keep the cape on - he couldn't keep his hump up!), he doesn't even look slightly like Tim!

He fronts up to do his stuff. The director doesn't like the accent. No accent! But he couldn't remember the lines without the accent! He had one of those blinding moments of panic where your memory goes blank. He went out into the carpark. Zathras mode: "Carpark is saviour of Zathras." As he paced and panicked, he remembered something that Stacey Keach (sp?) had once told him. "Directors come and go" but it is the acting that is important. Why would a guy (Zathras) who looks like that speak like Tim? So Tim stripped down the accent some and did it the way he thought was right. I have to agree with his assessment - "Maybe there is something special here."

After WWE, Tim thought he had seen the last of Zathras. Then Zathras showed up in fourth season. By now, the makeup only took 3.5 hours. The director decided to shoot is as one take, which means that any little stuff ups can't be corrected and you have to start all over again. He had to memorise the lines for the five minute scene with Ivanova. Since he does a lot of stage acting, the length of the scene was not the problem. However, it was hard to travel (move around the set) and remember the lines. They repeated the scene four or five times. As they reached the end of each take, he could hear the hell drums beating in the background - don't mess up! He was happy with the last two takes. They had to reshoot one take cos he stuffed up the Zathras and Zathras and Zathras.

The clicks that Zathras emits - the dentures were a bit loose and every time Tim shoved them back up, they clicked. He made this part of the character (which is why it is so darn hard to click like Zathras does, cos I don't have dentures!). Tim also chose to give Zathras some of the opposite responses to those expected. For example, in Bab Squared, Garibaldi threatens to "Squeeze your scrawny little neck" and Zathras laughs. He is supposed to be afraid but he is not.

Tim was a little disappointed by the short time he had on the set for that episode. He enjoyed B5, even though nobody knew who he was without the makeup on. He was made to feel a part of the cast and crew. Claudia loved Zathras.

He would love people to email jms and get Zathras in Crusade. Tim had a confession to make. He doesn't watch B5. Science fiction is not really his cup of tea ("Don't hate me for this!"). He likes the setting up of worlds, but gets bored with the philosophy part. He got updates on what was happening in the show from the makeup people. They also told him that a group of German tourists got shown around the set and props rooms. There are 12' ceilings in the costume room and it is full of costumes and material. The Germans, whose English was limited (surprisingly I feel) saw some raccoon tails hanging high in a corner and all pointed and said "Zathras!". Tim was tickled pink that his character is so well known. (BTW, since Australia doesn't have raccoons, I couldn't figure out what sort of tails Zathras was wearing. OK, so Daniel Boon wore a coon skin hat, but that show was last seen years ago and it was in black and white).

Normally Tim doesn't like watching his own work, but watching Zathras was ok - "That's not me!" He wasn't embarrassed for himself. "I've been acting for 20 years and I have never played anything like this!" There was great freedom in being covered up - he lost his self- consciousness.

Some Tim bits: Tim grew up in Texas. When he was little, he expected he would be a cowboy. As a six or seven year old, his dad took him for a drive to "Where the cowboys are". But there were no cowboys anymore, so Tim decided he would be a baseball player instead. However, he wasn't real good at baseball. Then, when he was twelve, he found a book on movies that covered some time like 1929 to the mid 60s. At that point, he decided he wanted to be an actor.

Tim has done a lot of episodic TV outside of B5. He's been in a "Diagnosis Murder" (playing the murderer!) which was directed by Jonathan Frakes. He had a recurring character called Dave in "Newhart". As I said before, he does a bit of work for Merchant Ivory films. His real love (apart from his wife ;-), however, is the theatre. He loves acting on stage. He loves the opportunity to do lots of rehearsing to get the character right. "If an actor isn't having fun, his performance suffers."

His favourite play is "The Iceman Cometh" but it is very rarely performed and it seemed unlikely that he would ever play a role in it. Then Al Pacino decided to do it. He invited Tim to do TIC. They performed it four times to an invited audience - a highlight of Tim's career.

His favourite tv show is "The Practice." His favourite actor is Errol Flynn - he says there have been better actors around, but he reckons Errol was so entertaining. Green is his favourite colour (Zathras - dirt). He's doing a lot of reading on silent films. He lives near the Keystone Cops studio, bits of which still exist. In the last year, he has married (something he didn't expect would ever happen, it seems) and has bought a 100 year old house (a rarity in LA). He is doing a lot of home improvements. He rides a motorbike (we introduced him to the term "hoon" which means someone who likes going fast, usually driving fast cars and/or motorbikes. He was delighted by that - "hoon!").

Lynne's notes on Tim: My impression of Tim is that he is a sweetie. He seemed like a genuinely nice bloke. He certainly seemed surprised that fans wanted to talk to him and would listen to what he had to say. He didn't seem at all big-headed. He is a youthful 40 - much younger than anyone expected him to be. He felt he had to do the Zathras voice to show that it was indeed him!

Sometimes, when asked a sticky question, he would counter with Zathras. For example, when asked "Your first kiss - where, who and how?," he stood for a moment, hunched his shoulders and dropped his head. He shakes his head woefully and declaims "Zathras never kiss anyone." Everyone started laughing. He continued, "But if you want to mail Joe Straczynski and ask for Zathras to kiss someone, Zathras have no problem with that..." D'oh! I knew I should've gotten my Zathrina outfit together.... oh well. :-(


Natiel's B5 con pages/last modified 20th September 2001


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