In this Exclusive Interview with Peter Macon, we discuss The Orville: New Horizons on Hulu and returning as Bortus.
Peter also tells Courageous Nerd about the recent “Tale of Two Topas” episode, which involves his character in a major role.
Peter Macon has played Lt Cmdr Bortus, a typically stern Moclan, on The Orville since the very first episode.
Owing to longstanding prejudices, the Moclan race is almost entirely male. Some of the show’s most ambitious episodes focus on this.
This began all the way back in Episode 3, with the birth of Topa – Bortus and Klyden’s (Chad L. Coleman) genetic daughter, seen as a disgrace by Moclan standards.
We chatted to Peter all about The Orville and his wider career. From landing the role of Bortus, working with Seth MacFarlane and taking on challenging, real-world topics through a science-fiction lens. In addition, we cover the recent “A Tale of Two Topas” episode, which focuses on a now-pre pubescent Topa’s gender identity crisis.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Fans of The Orville know you as Lt Cmdr Bortus. Going back in time though, were there any fun roles people may have seen you in before The Orville?
Peter Macon: Yeah, yeah, let’s see… everyone does their turn on Law & Order. I did a few episodes of The Shield before that went off the air. I did a few episodes of Bosch and had a nice chunk of an arc on Shameless.
I don’t know how nerdy people are, but I did this pilot called High Moon. It took place on the Moon. I did another thing called Poor Richard’s Almanack, which was legendary. These were some obscure projects that never saw the light of day.
The thing I was most recognisable for, the last thing I was on before [The Orville] was Shameless. I also voice Peter Griffin’s boss [Preston Lloyd] on Family Guy.
Could you discuss the process of landing the role of Bortus? Like some of your castmates, had you known Seth MacFarlane before joining The Orville?
Peter Macon: No, I didn’t. I think [Seth MacFarlane] said they auditioned about 100 actors for Bortus. They looked in London, New York, and LA.
With science-fiction language, a lot of directors/producers look to theatrically trained actors. Poor Mark Jackson (Isaac), also from the theatre, has the highly technical language he has to handle.
Theatre actors who can handle language are sought after a lot for science-fiction roles. You’ve gotta know what you’re talking about, you’ve gotta believe what you’re saying. It’s not unlike Shakespeare.
Overall, how do you find exploring prevalent real-world topics through a science-fiction perspective?
Peter Macon: I think it provides us with a great deal of freedom. I say this because people who are not even science-fiction buffs, my family, they watch the show. Yeah, because I’m on it, but they stay watching. Even episodes I’m not on or do not have a lead role.
We get a certain amount of freedom and a certain amount of disconnect, [compared to] watching a show like The Wire or P-Valley. Gritty, in-your-face dramas. There’s no humour, really, in those shows.
The fact we’re incorporating these bubble-headed aliens… there’s a certain amount of distance to create a comfort level. It’s not hitting you over the head, it’s a little sneaky.
We’re dealing with content on a scale that is beyond the measure of our one planet. It’s still basic conflict resolution. It’s not preachy because it’s not straightforward white vs black, gay vs straight. That creates a level of distance.
Season 3 – subtitled ‘New Horizons’ is now streaming on Hulu. Bortus has a major role in episode 305 – “A Tale of Two Topas”. How were Chad L. Coleman, Adrianne Palicki and Imani Pullum as scene partners in that episode?
Peter Macon: Chad, we have a Simpatico. We’ve been dancing and developing these characters since Season 1. I love working with Adrianne, she’s a pro and a very generous actor. She’s very present and very fearless, we have some great stuff coming up.
Imani is just a gem. She has this purity of spirit that just holds everything together. Topa’s journey from infancy to now; she’s the third actor to play the role. She’s embodying and holding all of that.
In her performance, you know she was born female but walked around as a male. Before she even realises, [Imani] holds all of that together so beautifully. It makes it so easy to be her father.
Your co-star Mark Jackson (Isaac) has twice appeared outside of his suit. Have you thought about performing on The Orville without Bortus’ make-up, whether as another character or for plot reasons?
Peter Macon: I have no idea, but I welcome the challenge. I think that would be awesome. [Mark] did such a great job several times. Having to deal with different circumstances – a romantic scene with Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald). Also, a scene with Charly (Anne Winters) where they go to the biker bar.
In a wider sense, what would you like to accomplish with the rest of 2022? Do you have any goals in mind for yourself?
Peter Macon: I wish I could talk about it, but yes I do. When we talk next, I can share with you what’s happening. There’s a lot on my plate, personally and with my career which I’m very, very grateful for.
So, what I’m hoping to accomplish is a very zen-filled equilibrium, with everything that’s going on.
I stay up at night, a lot – I’m the person that walks around my house and watch my family sleep, as creepy as that sounds. I’m the last to go to bed and I just want the world to be good for them.
Thanks for taking the time, Peter – take care and stay safe!
Peter Macon: Thank you, you too brother.
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