Jonathan Hardy, the voice of Farscape’s Rygel, has passed away at the age of 71.
His acting career spanned 37 years and included Moulin Rouge!, Mad Max, and a shirtload of Australian television including Farscape, where he not only performed the voice of Dominar Rygel XVI but also donned a toga to play Kahaynu, one of Moya’s builders.
Jonathan was also a screenwriter who shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1981 for Breaker Morant, one of Australia’s all-time best films.
He was a skilled raconteur who delighted in sharing anecdotes, meeting with fans, and lighting up every room he entered.
Born in New Zealand (on September 20, 1940), he particularly enjoyed telling ribald jokes concerning Kiwis and their sheep.
Because of his slight facial resemblance to Rygel (judge for yourself), there are some who claim that he served as the model for the puppet. However, if that’s true, the Creature Shop must’ve been psychic, because Jonathan wasn’t cast as the voice of Rygel until we were well into the shooting of Season One.
In fact, Jonathan wasn’t even in the first group of voice actors who auditioned. A scene from the first episode where Rygel bargains/argues with an alien Proprietor (it’s the scene where Rygel says, “There was a time when you would have been disembowelled with a dull Lashlan spade for half such an insult to me!”) was shown to half a dozen Australian voice actors, and each took a crack at it.
David Kemper sent a copy of that tape—the same Rygel scene voiced six different ways by six different people—up to Los Angeles, where Rockne O’Bannon and I were writing scripts and breaking stories. Watching it, we couldn’t decide whether to die laughing or die by hurling ourselves out a window. Every one of the voice actors—talented gentlemen to be sure—had played Rygel as a comic character… and tried to make him funny by using some weird comedic accent.
So we had Chico Marx Faux-Italian Rygel, we had Snidely Whiplash Rygel… and the most hilarious of all, Truly Outrageous Monty-Python-Holy-Grail-esque French Rygel.
(What I don’t remember is whether DK had warned us in advance what we were about to behold… or whether he’d just sent the tape up without comment to give Rock and me the same coronary surprise that he must’ve gotten upon first watching.)
Anyway. Rock and DK were in complete agreement that the search had to continue, and that it must be made clear to the voice actors that Rygel was a serious character… clever, devious, prideful, conniving, conceited, vengeful, etc. etc. etc., but serious.
And then somebody found Jonathan Hardy, and that was that.
Jonathan not only had the commanding yet versatile voice and the dramatic chops needed, but he also understood Rygel from word one… and he always played him as a real character, not a buffoon or a cartoon. Jonathan gave him dignity, without which a Dominar is nothing.
Which was a tad ironic, because in person, Jonathan was a big, lovable goofball, a total party animal who never lost the twinkle in his eye.
It seems appropriate to end with the (premature) eulogy Rygel gave Crichton in “That Old Black Magic”…
Farewell, Jonathan. May you have safe passage to the hallowed realm of your choice.