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Rest In Peace, Mira Furlan


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"Pre-Babylon 5, Mira Furlan’s best role was in the Yugoslavian movie “When Father Was Away on Business,” where she played a glamorous female pilot. I always found that funny, because that’s a show where every other character is a pilot, and she’s the one character on that show who they never let pilot anything.

Mira Furlan got the job on Babylon 5 because she’s a glamorous woman, but also has a genderless name, and was well known for Kusturica films (the Kurosawa of Yugoslavia), which are not well known in the US outside of film buffs and the Serbian American community. The fact she was experienced but unknown in the US was why she was initially cast. The idea was that in the first season, she would play a male character, the captain’s confidante, but after the first year, she would transform into a beautiful alien woman by stepping into a cocoon, and would then go from being the hero’s best friend, to becoming the show’s chief love interest. In the days before the internet, where you didn’t know anything at all about the people in your favorite show, that kind of surprise would be jaw-dropping and it’s easy to imagine that secret being kept in 1993. 

(One of my favorite movies is Gentleman Broncos, which is about how the line between a pro scifi writer and a fan writing fanfic to amuse themselves is incredible vague to nonexistent, and also that scifi writing is such a weird and personal activity, where you crawl into another person’s head so completely, that it’simpossible for an author to not air out all their weird and uncomfortable sex fantasies, and “what if there was a machine that turned my best friend...into a sexy lady?” certainly is in Gentleman Broncos territory. This is why I regret that television production is such a huge business these days, because that kind of deeply personal and weird idea wouldn’t make it through.)

Well, all that was the plan, anyway. Mira Furlan was not told she was going to be playing a man, and pitched a fit that her first exposure to an American audience was in drag and in alien makeup. She kicked up such a fuss that the showrunner, Straczynski, backed down, and her character was allowed to be female. That is absolutely astounding if you know anything at all about how ornery J. Michael Straczynski was, which honestly, is a credit to the kind of mettle and steel Mira Furlan had. She grew up in General Tito’s Yugoslavia and defected to the West, you think she’s scared of you, producer-man?

In the pilot, however, she wore a jaw prosthetic and looked different than she would in the series, a holdover from that initial gender-switch idea that got her cast in the first place.

Mira Furlan delivered the best line from that show, which would make a fitting elegy. Babylon 5 was often overwritten, West Wing speech style, but sometimes it could be moving and beautiful."


“All life is transitory, a dream. We all come together in the same place, at the end of time. If I don’t see you again here, I will see you, in a little while, in a place where no shadows fall.”

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