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An Interview With Amanda Tapping and Jewel Staite
By Stephen Lackey
September 28, 2007
Amanda Topping as Col. Samantha Carter on STARGATE ATLANTIS.
© SCIFI Channel
So, let me admit that I haven’t watched Stargate regularly in many years. I watched it back when it was on Showtime but I lost track of it when it moved to the Sci-Fi Channel. I picked up the first couple of seasons and am working on reconnecting with the series now. Amanda Tapping was on the series from the beginning and, at least in those early seasons that I saw, she made the series just as much as MacGyver did. Fans of the original series and the spin-off Stargate Atlantis have something to be really happy about, Tapping is moving to the spin-off series. Another thing I think is just as exciting is that my favorite actress from Firefly, Jewel Staite, will become much more important on the show. Tapping and Staite took some time to sit down with us and talk about the series in preparation for the season premiere this Friday.
Tapping first talks about her experience in the Stargate universe as a whole. She explains that she originally signed on for a two year series set to run on Showtime. Then suddenly they got four years, then five.
“And then once we hit seven, we thought that was it; seven, that’s the sci-fi model. That’s what’s always worked for Star Trek and the usual franchises. And then all of a sudden it was a completely different set of rules. Every year we kept waiting to get cancelled and they kept picking us up. And finally in Season 10, we went, oh, well, they’ll probably pick us up next year and then we got cancelled.” Tapping says
She continues “….it doesn’t feel like 10 years, first of all or 11, as it is now. I’m just going for the record: I’m going to be the Kelsey Grammer of sci-fi.”
Tapping also discusses having concerns about playing the same character for so many years:
“If I had any qualms, it would have probably around maybe Season 6 or 7 and that was just a matter of going up to the writers and saying, hey, what next. And they always came up with something. They always gave me a relationship, be it with my father or friendships or my relationship with Pete. Any - they’ve always given me something that has given my character a whole new twist. And so there was no concern going over to Atlantis because I knew it would be a completely different set of rules as an actor. It would be finding a whole new side to this character and that’s fascinating.”
If you’ve ever wondered if Tapping reads the message boards and follows the internet discussions on her character, well the answer is yes. When she learned just how much would be changed about her character she went and checked out what fans were saying about the changes:
“…there’s some very excited fans out there who were glad to see her (Amanda’s character) get the opportunity to be in command. And there are some fans who have some trepidation. So the only thing I can say is kind of like what Jewel said is, you know, it’s - as long as they keep their hearts open and are accepting of the fact that everything has to change at some point and that this change is actually pretty good, hopefully they’ll enjoy it. She’s a lot different but she’s still at the heart, Carter.”
Jewel was asked what drew her to the doctor character on Atlantis. She seemed more happy about the people she would be working with and about shooting in her hometown than anything specific about playing the doctor:
“Well I didn’t really know a lot about her to begin with. They just said, hey, we need a new doctor on the show, are you willing to come in and I said, yeah, no problem.
I had such a good time coming on the first time that I was really, really happy that they thought of me. So I don’t think it was anything having to do with the character, really. I think it was just the fact that I knew it was a great production. I loved the crew. I loved the cast and it’s shot here in Vancouver in my hometown.”
“Well, she’s (Jewel’s character) a bit of a scaredy cat. She’s not very good in dire or violent situations. She scares easily, which is not such a good thing when you’re in the world of Atlantis. And as for her biggest strength, she’s really great under pressure. I think that’s when she’s at her best, especially when she’s in her element; anything to do with medicine or a complicated medical situation she’s just there. She’s just on. She’s very, very, very smart and very focused. But she’s not so good with guns and she’s not so good with fighting.”
Tapping goes on to discuss how unfortunate it is that Stargate SG-1 hasn’t been more of an influence on mainstream TV but she does comment that she believes the show has been an influence on other shows in the sci-fi genre especially due to the shows unprecedented decade long run.
Fans of both Firefly and Stargate may inevitably compare what are two very different incomparable shows. Jewel does share her thoughts on the differences between the two sets and thematic differences though:
“Well, the sets are a lot cleaner and they’re better lit. The thing with Firefly was the world that we were in was a very dangerous world. It was kind of about a group of people really struggling to survive and dealing with all of these different aspects and not really being able to - not being well equipped to deal with them. And on Atlantis we’re so well-equipped to deal with all of these disasters and we face peril and danger every day, but we have such a conglomerate backing us that the world feels a lot safer. So…and in terms of production value, it’s just - it’s such a beautiful set and it’s very, very clean. It’s very pristine.”
“I think in terms of the people that I work with, there’s not too much of a difference. On Firefly, we were one big happy family, and on this show I feel like we are, too. Everybody hangs out and you know we don’t rush off to our trailers between takes or anything like that. We hang out a lot, which is really nice. Everybody is very open about who they are and that’s cool.”
“And the other difference, I’m not really sure there are a lot. I mean, both shows have fantastical elements to them. They’re very, very different from each other in plot and synopsis but they’re about people that are forced into a world and forced to really accept each other and like each other and they’re all each other has, and Firefly and Atlantis are very similar in that respect, I think.”
Getting more specific about Stargate Atlantis, Amanda and Jewel discuss their characters and the future of the series. Tapping seems to be quite happy with how her character was introduced into the series but actually playing the character is such old hat to her that rather than focusing specifically on concerns about character development she seems more concerned about whether the series will get picked up for season five.
“I think at this point I’m just hoping that we get picked up for Season 5. I mean we’re two episodes away from finishing the season, and I’m actually really happy with the way that the character’s been introduced. It could have been a very difficult transition bringing Carter over from SG-1 to you knows to Atlantis. And I think it was handled really seamlessly so in that sense I’m really happy with the way the transition went with the way the characters developed this season.”
Jewel knows that she’s in a near red shirt character on Atlantis because so many other doctors have been killed off.
“…I definitely flipped through to the last page every time I read a script just in case. But I’ve been lucky. I usually don’t have to go on any field missions or ops or anything so I’m well out of danger so far.”
Jewel and Amanda both feel that their characters spend a lot of time this season trying to find their footing in this new setting. Amanda’s character is a commander now and she’s trying to protect herself by not revealing any “chinks in her armor”. Jewel feels that her character spends most of her time trying to find her place in the wake of her predecessor, a beloved member of the crew. Both Amanda and Jewel believe that throughout the upcoming season the episode to watch their characters finally truly integrate with the rest of the crew is called “Quarantine”. Ironically the episode finds all the characters separate from each other. They reveal that in that episode they almost lose Atlantis and that there’s a “renewed sort fo vigor in terms of protecting it”. Jewel believes the episode “Trio” is the big turning point for her character individually.
Fans will be happy to learn that SG-1 alum Christopher Judge shows up in an episode of Atlantis this season and in that episode an age old Stargate fan question gets answered.
“Christopher Judge showed up this year, which was fantastic. And it was actually - it made a lot of sense. Most of the episode he does is with Ronon, and as the resident expert on being the new alien onboard, Teal’c has a lot of information he can pass on to Ronon; a lot of expertise, but there’s also…when I talked to Joe Mallozzi he said the fans have always wondered in a fight between Ronon and Teal’c, who would win. So this episode sort of addresses that.” Tapping explains
Since there are only a few episodes left for them to shoot, Amanda and Jewel are looking toward projects they plan to work on between this season and the next. I’m happy to hear that Amanda is looking forward to shooting new episodes of Sanctuary, a web based science fiction series that I’ve talked about here at Mania before. They’ve shot eight webisodes so far and she says that they hope to shoot an additional ten this fall/winter. The most exciting bit of news regarding Sanctuary is that she and the producers are looking now at TV distribution. Jewel says that she is looking forward to a little vacation but she has already shot a film called The Tribe that’s in the action/fantasy genre that’ll be coming out next summer. Of course, Jewel also mentions that there is no new information on the Firefly/Serenity front other than initially Joss had considered doing multiple movies and if he gets financing to move forward on those that she’ll definitely do them one way or another. Stargate Atlantis premieres tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel.