review: babylon confidential by claudia christian
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Commander Ivanov talks sex, booze and Babylon 5...
I have to admit, I never really watched Babylon 5 back in the day and so you might think that the appeal of Claudia Christian's autobiography, a woman whose best known role by a good light year was Commander Susan Ivanov of the titular space station, might be somewhat limited to anybody who doesn't know a Minbari from a Mimosa. I'm pleased to tell you that you'd be wrong, though, as while Babylon Confidential does indeed cover her four year tenure on J Michael Straczynski's outer space soap opera, it's the book's subtitle, A Memoir of Love, Sex and Addiction that gives more than a hint at the true focus of Christian's tale.
Ticking all the boxes of a potential misery memoir – an alcoholic family history, the death of a sibling at a young age, being raped by a neighbour in her early teens – Babylon Confidential is instead a remarkably upbeat and uplifting tale of survival against all odds. Told in Christian's funny, self-deprecating but never mournful voice, she candidly recounts disastrous relationships, lucky career breaks and her descent into and two decade battle with alcoholism.
Landing a role on Dallas, the original series, at an early age, Christian pulls back the veil on what it's really like to be a celebrity from a young age and how an impressionable, headstrong teenager who moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of being an actress coped with it. There are of course the highs, like her time on Babylon 5, or voicing a Disney villainess in Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), or getting to play with swords and ride horses while filming an episode of the Highlander television series in Paris, but while she openly acknowledges her good fortune at being given the opportunity to do these things, she doesn't shy away from the dark side of fame.
Christian conveys the desperate feeling of waiting for the phone to ring between jobs, the paranoia of being told that your already skinny frame is too plump for a particular role, the worries about posing for Playboy despite being in the best shape of your life at the time, and the danger of being stalked by overzealous fans. Christian was targetted by two of the latter, one of which led to her being in a serious road traffic accident that nearly killed her, and another who walked up to her at a convention, dressed as a Tribble, and shot her at point blank range (thankfully with a blank firing pistol).
Speaking with a remarkable honesty about her alcoholism, Christian reveals how the disease destroyed friendships and relationships, cost her jobs and stripped away every shred of her self-respect until she hit absolute rock bottom, shivering on the floor of a bus shelter clutching a bottle of cheap wine. There is a happy ending, though, as the very existence of Babylon Confidential confirms, but the tales that Christian tells throughout this riveting book are so incredible and jaw dropping at times that if offered up as plots for a soap opera they'd be rejected as being too fantastical.
For film fans, there are plenty of behind the curtain revelations about the realities of working on television shows and of trying to get personal projects off the ground. We also get the warts and all stories about Christian's interactions with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, William Shatner and a particularly cringe inducing story about Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law) grabbing her breast and then jerking off and showing her the results while they waited to film a scene on a low budget movie.
Despite her bad romances and occasionally dodgy run ins with actors (though to be fair the good encounters far outweigh the bad), Christian maintains a very positive outlook throughout the book. Considering that I was unfamiliar with much of her life and work prior to reading Babylon Confidential, I found myself enjoying a refreshingly candid and honest account of an actress who had it all, threw it all away and subsequently regained her sobriety and her dignity.
For fans of Claudia Christian, Babylon Confidential is an essential read, but even if you're not a fan or familiar with her work, I can still thoroughly recommend this book as an entertaining cautionary tale that despite the glossy, airbrushed veneer that many of our celebrities are so often painted with in the media, or the dizzy heights that we sometimes raise them to ourselves as fans, it's not always the bed of roses and life of luxury that we imagine it to be. That's not to say we should we should pity them or feel sorry for them, given that they chose their own career paths, and Claudia Christian would to be the first to reject such thoughts – she's well aware that she in many ways she was the architect of her own spectacular fall – but Babylon Confidential reminds us that even the (apparently) privileged Hollywood set are prone to the same weaknesses, temptations, flaws and failures as the rest of us.
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