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Playing Hawk

Motivation -- Preparation -- Playing Hawk -- Audience reaction -- Sources

Hawk and Koori Buck Rogers in the 25th Century's "Hawk" character was played by New York actor Thom Christopher. Before Buck Rogers, Thom had been on various TV shows, but his main experience was on the New York stage, both on and off Broadway. Thom was asked to do a screen test for Hawk after having visited the NBC/Universal casting department in connection with another role. Upon reading the character breakdown, he got very excited by the wonderful acting challenge offered by Hawk.


"What got to me about Hawk's character was his exoticness. I knew you could take this character, with feathers on his head, black spandex and laser gun and relate him, as John [Mantley] and the writers had, to the ancient bird legends of Aku-Aku in the South Pacific. I had read the book Aku-Aku (The Secret of Easter Island) by Thor Heyerdahl years earlier and that played into it as well." 1 For Thom, an important part of the appeal of Hawk was the wide "range of emotional ideas and colors to play with"; 2 he was very happy that there was more to this character than just "the bizarre visual thing". 3


Hawk mannerisms Having got the role, Thom started preparing for his performance as a birdman by studying the mannerisms of hawks: looking them up in the Audubon books, visiting the birds section of the American Museum of Natural History, and observing real-life hawks in the Central Park zoo. A few typical gestures resulting from these observations were Hawk's quick focusing head motions (based on the Central Park hawks' focus-and-spot behavior) and his only using his legs to climb -- having had years of training as a dancer, Thom was able to make this look quite effortless. One other thing that helped him prepare for his role as Hawk, was music. "One night I put on Gustav Holst's The Planets. The first band on the record is 'Mars'. And as that music ran through my mind, I thought, 'If there is a theme for Hawk, that would be it.' That gave me the mood for the character." 4

Playing Hawk

Thom's main opportunity to shine as "Hawk" was the first episode of the second season, Time of the Hawk, which presented the tragic chain of events that eventually led to Hawk's joining the Searcher. (See the About Hawk section.) "In seeing the scripts in advance, I knew there may not be major scenes for Hawk ahead, so I wanted to pick something in that premiere that would affect people: the loss of my wife and my people." 1 Throughout the series, Thom let the pain and guilt from these events always stay with Hawk, the lone survivor of his race.

By the fire -- Time of the Hawk It was also in The Time of the Hawk that the foundation was laid for the close friendship between Buck and Hawk -- a friendship based on mutual respect and shared loneliness. "It's a case of two men at opposite ends of the spectrum -- two men out of sync, living in a world out of their time." 4 The fact that Gil Gerard and Thom also "got along famously" 1 off-screen, helped them to convey a sense of real comradeship between Buck and Hawk. "The two of us played off each other so well." 4 Gil Gerard echoes this sentiment: "I enjoyed working with Thom Christopher. He's a fine actor. I felt we were able to create a really interesting relationship between Hawk and Buck." 5

Audience reaction

Originally, Hawk was written into only three scripts. However, it soon became clear that the shows' audience would not put up with that, so efforts were made to have Hawk appear in every single episode. "John Mantley said, 'We've got to just show you at times'. I was even saying Wilma's lines! Suddenly Erin would say, 'Wait a minute. What happened to those lines?' I was given Erin's lines to say because they said, 'We've just got to show Hawk standing on the screen!'" 3

Hawk was so popular that if the show would have run for another season, rumours have it that there would have been a spin-off of Hawk. 3 Unfortunately, this was not to be. (See the Some history section.) Still, Thom's performance as Hawk did give rise to the foundation of the Thom Christopher Fan Club in the States, and of the Hawk Alliance in England. To this day, people keep fond memories of Thom's wonderful portrayal of this unique character.

SourcesStarlog 45

  1. Starlog #283, February 2001
  2. Thom Christopher Fan Club booklet 1983 (copyright © 1983 by the Thom Christopher Fan Club)
  3. Radio interview with Dave Hinman on WMT-AM, 18 March 1982 (transcribed by Joni Gillispie, copyright © 1982 by the Thom Christopher Fan Club)
  4. Starlog #45, April 1981
  5. Starlog #232, November 1996

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