Remembering Actor and Musician John Mann (1962–2019)
Even bit players have their own personal stories interwoven into their works.
I barely thought about John Mann until today.
Upon waking this morning, I came across this Twitter post by the Battlestar Galactica Museum that shared the sad news of Mann’s passing at age 57:
Now who is John Mann, and what did he do?
Well, my sole recollection of him is his role of battlestar Galactica’s squadron commander who gets blown away by Cylons in the Miniseries. He didn’t have much more to do than that, aside from offering standard dialogue to help move the story along.
However, there was something deeper in his performance that sold the situation’s sheer helplessness as he sat in a disabled Viper and awaited death by Cylon missiles. His character had been deprived of the ability to fight back, thanks to a Cylon cyber-warfare hack that turned off his fighter as if it were a light.
He could have portrayed the character as a flailing idiot. He could have broken down as a slobbering wreck inside the cockpit lamenting how unfair the whole situation had been. Instead, Mann played the scene with a certain angry frustration while bringing his character’s military training to bear, something that director Michael Rymer later discussed in the commentary track during this scene.
Mann didn’t overdo it. How rare.
It’s easy to say that anyone could play a “throwaway” character, since that character is often relegated to selling a plot point or “adding color” to the story beat. Some performers just phone it in, or are known for having a certain “rinse and repeat” schtick, likely hoping to pay that month’s rent.
When it came to Mann there had been more. He was able to convey a certain depth and texture in his brief performance in the 2003 self-titled miniseries, showing that he was more character than caricature.
And since you couldn’t really dig into the character’s life, you could dig further into the person who brought the character to life.
“It’s about the people, stupid.”
Much to my surprise, Mann had a career that was centered around a creative trinity as a musician, actor, and activist. When it came to music, he was best known for live performances across Canada’s pub scene as the lead singer and songwriter for Spirit of the West.
In a recent interview, Spirit of the West’s publicist Eric Apler reflected on Mann’s tenacity following his 2014 Alzheimer’s diagnosis:
“John didn’t have any [ego]. John performed up to the very end, up until last year , with the help of his bandmates. […]
“I think it was his way of not only trying to connect, and continue to connect with the audience that loved him so much, but it was about showing that he wasn’t gonna let this disease stop him from doing what he wanted to do.
“[…] I think that is brave. I think the ability that you can show people that you don’t have to wait for the impending doom of all of us. You can go out and you can still create and live a creative, healthy lifestyle as much as you can. I think that’s how I’m going to remember John, as just a guy who didn’t take that disease with ease. He fought it to the very end.”
This told me that much of Mann’s performance in the Miniseries was drawn from the actor himself, and in a very interesting way — “all this has happened before, and all this will happen again” — Mann faced his own accelerated mortality in much the same way his Battlestar character had over a decade prior.
His moments of self-reflection, reconciling its existence and the turmoil that came from it, were expressed in a song he wrote abut his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. For him, it had been a way to “break it all open and have people know.”
As people who both knew of, and personally knew, Mann mourn his recent passing, it is best to end with the artist expressing himself in his own words:
Good hunting, John. R.I.P.