Once again this month, I have decided to open up the interview vault and revisit some of the many interviews I have had the pleasure of writing over the years and that just appeared in-print and not on-line. Today's interview is one of many chats I have had the pleasure of doing with my dear friend Amanda Tapping. In this one, she talks about her work as Samantha Carter in season four of Stargate Atlantis. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
As Colonel Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, Amanda Tapping journeyed to distant planets, faced countless alien threats and more than once helped save Earth from destruction both man-made as well as extraterrestrial in origin. On this particular morning, however, she is facing one of her most difficult “missions” yet – making her little girl Olivia’s Halloween costume. The actress is up for the challenge, though, and, in between cutting fabric, takes time out to talk about her work on season four of Stargate Atlantis and Sam Carter’s first year as the new commander of the Atlantis base.
“It’s been a very simple and smooth transition for Sam,” notes Tapping. “They [the writers] haven’t spent a ton of time on her this year, which in a lot of ways has been really good because I don’t think we’re ruffling any feathers here and haven’t had her ‘take over’ in any grand way. Carter just comes in quietly and sets about doing her job. They brought Teal’c [Christopher Judge] over in an episode [Midway] to help out with Ronon [Jason Momoa]. So it was nice for Sam to have her friend back, even for a short time, and Teal’c comments on her command and how well it seems to be going. Really, though, the only story this year that’s shown a bit more character development for Sam is one entitled Trio, which focuses on my character as well as David Hewlett’s [Dr. McKay] and Jewel Staite’s [Dr. Keller]. It’s basically a three-handed play on one set, so it was a cool episode to work on, and also a very character-driven story.
“But in terms of the overall arc for Carter this year, I think if anything what season four will show is a quieter, simpler version of the character. She allows the people under her command to shine. Carter isn’t into creating any waves while she’s on Atlantis. She’s taken over very quietly as a leader, and in a way that’s been a curious transition. What I realized at the end of this year is that Sam has been rather lonely because they haven’t developed a lot of relationships between her and the other characters. That’s partly due to the fact that she is the new leader, and because of that she can’t have many familial relationships with those she’s in command of. I mean, yes, they’ve developed a bit of a relationship with her and Colonel Sheppard [Joe Flanigan], along with the obvious one with McKay, and also given her some scenes with Dr. Keller, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of relationship-building. So it’s interesting because it feels like I’m playing quite a different character.”
Tapping faced up to a very real-life fear while filming the fourth season Atlantis story Trio. “Not only were the three of us, David, Jewel and I, acting in one location for the entire episode, but it was a really tough location,” says the actress. “It was a large and very dirty box that was on a gimbaled set and at an angle, which meant we had to do heights. We had to climb up onto the rafters of it, which, for me, is a big challenge because I’m terrified of heights. Of course, my character is the only one who’s not supposed to be afraid. So there’s David and Jewel lolling about on these rafters, and meanwhile I’m practically wetting my pants and trying to look confident.
“So it was a huge challenge for me, but I think in some ways I actually conquered my fear,” continues Tapping. “I mean, we were in rigging and there were people on the roof of this structure holding us with ropes and pulleys, but, nonetheless, if you’re afraid of heights, you’re afraid of heights. It was tough for me because I’m very proud, and I had a hard time not only with the fact that I was so obviously scared, but that I had to sort of show that to the crew as well as David and Jewel. At one point I actually froze up there. I turned to David and Jewel and said, ‘I’m so scared right now I can’t move.’ And I began to cry. Once the cameras started rolling, though, I said to myself, ‘OK, get over it, honey, and just do your job.’
“As the week progressed I got better up there and a little more confident. That felt so good because I was like, ‘I’m actually doing this.’ I can’t tell you how much fun the three of us had working on this story. It could have been hellish to film with all the mitigating factors – the dirt, the gimbaled set, the heights, the long days, etc. - but we just ended up laughing. It was like the early years of SG-1 in that regard. It’s funny, the episode I was dreading the most turned out to be my favorite of this year.”
Nearly a month later, certain scenes for Trio were still being filmed when cameras began rolling on Atlantis’ fourth season finale The Last Man. “Honestly, I didn’t have a heck of a lot to do in The Last Man,” says Tapping. “It’s really Joe Flanigan’s story. It’s a great one for his character and David Hewlett’s as well. I was amazed that they gave David so much to do in the last episode, especially with the birth of his baby so imminent. As for Carter, she’s on the base, she’s in command, and then you get to see her go into outer space on a ship and it’s old Carter being heroic. Again, though, the story is more Joe-and-David-centric and there are some really neat moments for them.
“Overall, the writers have written some sweet character beats this year. The Atlantis crew has been through a lot in the past few seasons, especially last year losing their doctor [Carson Beckett, played by Paul McGillion], and then this year their commander [Dr. Elizabeth Weir, played by Torri Higginson]. It’s been a pretty heavy year for everyone, so it’s good to see that the writers are honoring them by writing some beautiful beats. They pack a ton into these scripts, and you either have to talk fast or really find the gold in the character moments, otherwise there’s a good chance they’ll be edited out for the sake of the story. Happily, there seems to be plenty of golden moments to go around.”
While filming the first half of Atlantis’ fourth season and settling into her character’s new role on that show, Tapping was also needed over on the SG-1 set where she and the rest of that cast and crew were working on their first two DVD movies, Ark of Truth and Continuum.
“That was a challenge for me physically in terms of level of exhaustion, if you will, and jumping back and forth between the two projects,” says the actress. “And I’ve chose to play Sam very different on Atlantis, where she’s really a fish out of water and trying to find her feet. On SG-1, however, my comfort zone is so in place and I’m wearing another set of boots, literally and figuratively.
“So it was quite a challenge to not walk onto the Atlantis set and play Sam as cocky and full of bravado. It helps, too, that I don’t carry a gun on that show as it takes me out of that comfort zone. I have to say, though, that I love SG-1. That’s my home and I love it, but it’s been such a joy to come over to its sister series and not feel like I’m bored or playing the same character.”
Last year Tapping made her debut as Dr. Helen Magnus, a seemingly ageless beauty helping protect humanity from the darkest of evils in the Internet Sci-Fi/Fantasy series Sanctuary. The actress, who also serves as an executive producer on the project, is looking forward to reprising her role in the near future as well as being a more active participant behind-the scenes.
“It breathed new life into me creatively to be able to play Helen and to develop a character so completely different and outside of myself,” she says. “Helen is so focused and comfortable in her own skin as well as unapologetic and brave, almost in a flippant way, because she’s been around for a long time and seen it all. She’s such a neat character and so different from Sam Carter in that Carter is very much a follower of rules and is at ease in that realm. And Magnus is like, ‘If there’s a rule, I’ll break it.’ I love her.
“Creatively, I’m going to take a more active role in helping Damian Kindler [series creator/executive producer] and Martin Wood [executive producer/director] break the stories, which is something I haven’t had the opportunity to do before. So I’m pretty excited about that and becoming more involved in Stage 3 Media because there are several different projects, including Sanctuary, happening for the company.”
Along with the SG-1 films, Atlantis and Sanctuary, Tapping also found time last year to get back to her comedy roots. She worked on Jim Bolton’s short film Breakdown, which netted her the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Actress. “This film was part of the Crazy Eights Film Festival, and basically the premise is that these filmmakers have decided for their Crazy Eights project to make a disaster movie about an earthquake hitting Vancouver, which is quite ambitious,” explains the actress. “Unfortunately, they spend the first seven of their eight-day-shoot casting, so they don’t have enough time to actually shoot and edit the film. Instead, they edit together the only footage they actually have, which is of all the actors’ audition tapes. You have actors auditioning for this disaster movie and it’s over-the-top, kind of badly-written and somewhat soap-opera-esque.
“It’s a very clever, really cute movie,” enthuses Tapping. “As for the award, when I was nominated I thought, ‘I’m never going to win.’ I was up against Catherine O’Hara, who’s one of my idols. So I was totally surprised by the win. It felt good after doing 11 years of Sci-Fi and having started in comedy, to feel as if I’ve come full circle. You’re sort of afraid after a while that you’ve lost your chops, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ve still got it. People still think I’m funny.’ So I was quite chuffed by that, and extremely grateful.”