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Karen Cliche Could Beat You Up and Take Your Lunch Money… But She’d Give It To A Good Cause. Honest.

It sounds like the plot to a movie: young girl, enthralled by the stage and doing drama productions in school, takes a traditional teenager job in order to make a few bucks. But one day, she serves a Big Mac to the right person and… boom! She’s on the road to a modeling and acting career that will make her an international star. While it might seem like you’ve seen that on a lonely afternoon of watching LIFETIME, actress Karen Cliche lived it. And now she’s kicking ass, taking names, and saving the world… one young girl at a time.

I caught up with Karen during a break from filming the Sci-Fi Channel’s new FLASH GORDON series. She plays Baylin, a bounty hunter from Mongo who’s deadlier than Lindsey Lohan behind the wheel of a car. She had been shooting until 5 a.m. the afternoon we spoke, but you wouldn’t have known it; she was charming, energetic, and full of excitement about her current role and her charitable work. Fatigue? Not in this actress’ vocabulary.

MM: How did you get involved with FLASH GORDON?

KC: One of the writers, James Thorpe, is someone I’ve worked with before (YOUNG BLADES, ADVENTURE, INC.) and he brought me up to the producers. I auditioned for Dale, actually. Then I sent in a tape for Baylin and was cast, and started filming soon after.

MM: Baylin is described as a bounty hunter from Mongo. What does a bounty hunter from Mongo do? Do you have special weaponry or a new fighting style for the role?

KC: When I’m introduced, she’s working for Ming. Baylin was orphaned at a young age and winds up in her position, but she’s not a bad person. She’s someone who does what she has to do to survive. I carry an “IP”, which is a laser-type gun that knocks people out, and a foot-long knife. It’s all very physical. But I didn’t have to do a lot of training, thanks to my background and work in other shows (like MUTANT X and ADVENTURE INC.). Here, I only average about a fight an episode, compared to ADVENTURE INC. where I’d average three. This is down for me! (laughs)

MM: You’ve worked all over, but you were born in Canada (in Quebec), and now you’re back filming in Canada (Vancouver). Does that make you feel more comfortable on the set?

KC: Oh yes. I’ve been lucky to stay in Canada for much of what I have done. I’m in love with Vancouver; it’s one of my favorite cities. And it’s such a great city to shoot in: it has forests, landscapes… they sub in great for Mongo. And that cuts down on the green screen time.

MM: What kind of a relationship do you have with sci-fi?

KC: I’ve done a lot of sci-fi, which I love. I tend to prefer comedies, actually, but the more I play regular human roles, the more it almost becomes boring! Actors want to stretch their imaginations. “How do I play an alien?” It’s fun and exciting.

MM: Following up on that, looking at your credits list, you’ve done a lot of genre work in general. What makes you comfortable with these types of roles?

KC: Genre stuff came to me naturally, mainly because I like to be challenged. I’ve played a vampire, musketeer, aliens… playing something that doesn’t exist let’s you play. You also want the audience to enjoy it. I hope to do genre stuff for the rest of my career! Also, on set when shooting, actors root for the fans because we know what they want to see. It makes the job easier when we know.

MM: When you’re working on an effects-heavy project, what do you need from a director in order to make it interesting for you?

KC: With FLASH GORDON, the pilot uses a lot of green screen, but there’s not a lot on the show itself. It’s easier and better when you’re walking through real sets. Everybody works hard to create a reality- you want the real thing. But when you have to fake it, you hope there’s a director explaining exactly what you’re supposed to see. Shapes, location… But on some other projects in my career, the information has been bad, and the project hasn’t come out as well as you’d hope. What it all comes down to is using your own imagination and acting skills. Again, with FLASH, it’s (mostly practical), including all real makeup.

MM: You’re very smart, and at one point early in your life, you went to university to study psychology. If you had completed your degree, what do you imagine you’d done with it?

KC: My end goal was always to help people, especially disadvantaged women and children. To be a good actor, you have to be a good observer. What greater platform could you have than in having one where you can get people to listen to you? Acting has helped things work out perfectly for me. (She could have used her degree and helped people in that way, too, but) any of us who have that (larger) platform… if you can use it…

MM: On that subject… you’re very charitably inclined. Talk a little about your work with organizations like World Vision and others, and how people can get involved.

KC: I work with several organizations helping disadvantaged women and children all over the world. Issues like sexual slavery, child prostitution… when you open your eyes, there’s a lot of injustice and horror going on around us. I’m devoted to doing what I can. Through World Vision, I sponsor two young girls in Asia. One of them, her village just became self-sufficient for the first time, which is proof that it works. I’ll be sponsoring a young Indian woman next. I also support Equality Now, which focuses on sex slavery and sex trafficking. Anything I can do to help change the status of women around the world, I’ll do. You can see a list of all the groups I support at my website.

With that, we wrapped our interview. Karen did mention that next year the cast anticipates being at Comic-Con for the first time, which drew a slyly sinister laugh from me. Her response was to ask me why everyone laughs like that when she tells them that, which got a good laugh out of us both. It was a pleasure to chat with her; not only is she one of the toughest women gracing TV screens these days (and how on Earth did she never find her way into a GALACTICA episode- she’d fit in so well!), she’s also one of the most compassionate. A winning combination, indeed.

Marc Mason

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