In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, actress Teryl Rothery talks about her tour of duty as Chief Medical Officer Dr. Janet Fraiser in Stargate SG-1.
Most people spend years trying to figure out what they want to be when they “grow up.” However, according to Teryl Rothery, who plays Doctor Janet Fraiser on Stargate SG-1,she was an actress from the moment she was born. Raised as an only child by her grandparents, she often entertained herself by dreaming up fanciful tales in which she played the leading lady. Nowadays, Rothery is paid to dress up and pretend and could not be happier.
“When I was young I was a big Star Trek fan and I’d pretend my Pez dispenser was my communicator and talk to Jim [Kirk] on it,” says Rothery. “That lasted for a bit and then I thought, ‘No, I’m going to be Jim’s love interest,’ and I became the High Priestess Zara from the planet Zarcon and when I cried my tears became diamonds. Bones loved that because he saved the gems and planned to sell them when he got back to Earth.
“I created buddies including girlfriends for Spock and Bones, and then, once I got tired of that, I became a princess and married Elvis. Naturally, when family or friends came over everyone had to sit down because it was my time to perform. I was always doing something,” she laughs. “It [acting] has been my passion from day one and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love being able to move people, be it to tears or laughter, and, hopefully, get a message across in the process."
When casting began for Stargate SG-1 the actress met with one of the show’s executive producers, Michael Greenberg, and read for the role of Captain Samantha Carter. The part ultimately went to fellow Canadian Amanda Tapping, and Rothery moved on to other projects. She subsequently guest-starred in two episodes of The Outer Limits, Trial by Fire and Re-Generation, the first of which was directed by Jonathan Glassner. Both he and Brad Wright were executive producers for the show and went on to develop and executive produce Stargate SG-1. They remembered Rothery and offered her the role of Doctor Fraiser in the first-season story The Broca Divide.
"What a pleasant experience,” recalls the actress. “The director, Billy Gereghty, is a wonderful man and so easy-going. Before we began filming he said to me, ‘Now, I really need you to bring life to Fraiser. I want to see lots of youthful energy as she deals with this problem.’ I said, ‘OK, absolutely!’ Some of the dialogue was quite technical and tongue-twisting, as it still is today, especially for Fraiser and Sam Carter. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at that type of thing and the words just spilled out of my mouth.
“It’s funny, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I wonder what it’s going to be like to work with Richard Dean Anderson [Colonel Jack O’Neill]. Sometimes you can be intimidated by certain actors and I have a lot of respect for him. Well, Rick is a delight and he immediately clicked with everyone on the show. There is a touching scene in this episode between O’Neill and Doctor Fraiser in which she feels so helpless. He’s been transformed into a stone age man and there’s a little piece of who the colonel once was that reaches out to Fraiser and says, ‘Experiment on me.’
“I still get goosebumps thinking about it because Rick did such a great job,” says Rothery. “It’s hard to see on the television screen but he was crying and they had put red colouring in his eyes as part of his makeup and he looked awful. It was just gut-wrenching playing a doctor and having to stand back and say, ‘I won’t fight you on this. If you feel so strongly about my experimenting on you to find a cure then I will.’ Of course, Fraiser’s respect for the colonel as her superior officer and the moral struggle of whether or not it was humane for her to do this to him added to the drama of the situation.”
Much to Rothery’s delight, Janet Fraiser was made a recurring character and returned two episodes later in Cold Lazarus. Several facts about the good doctor have been revealed in Stargate SG-1’s two seasons including that she is a captain in the Air Force, a specialist in exotic diseases and a divorcee. As the chief medical officer for a branch of the military whose mission is to explore other planets through the Stargate, Fraiser’s duties are a bit different from those of her peers. She has had to diagnose and seek cures for extraterrestrial viruses, care for a dying God and, on occasion, kick some alien butt. She spends a great deal of time assisting Colonel O’Neill’s SG-1 unit and enjoys a close rapport with him and his teammates.
“I’m pretty big on character relationships and, judging by the input from fans, while they love all the action and special effects on Stargate they still want to see that human equation,” explains the actress. “I have so much fun with the scenes between the doctor and O’Neill because he can be so sarcastic towards her. In the second season there are a couple of episodes back-to-back in which O’Neill looks at Fraiser and says, ‘The bottom line is you don’t really know what this thing is, do you? I mean, you’re just guessing, aren’t you?’ She comes right back with, ‘You’re right, I don’t reallyknow, colonel, but it is an educated guess.’ O’Neill likes to challenge Fraiser but deep down he respects her and her skills as she does him and his abilities.
“Fraiser was there when Teal’c [Christopher Judge] went in search of his son Rya’c [Neil Denis] in Family only to find he had been taken over by Apophis [Peter Williams]. She wanted so much to help him as he tried to deprogram his son. I don’t want to give away the story line for viewers who haven’t seen it yet but you really see just how fond the doctor is of Teal’c in the second-season cliffhanger [Out of Mind]. As for Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks], she admires the passion and dedication he has for his work and enjoys the good-natured banter between him and O’Neill. Fraiser also has a soft spot for General George Hammond [Don S. Davis] who, beneath his gruff exterior, is a wise and intelligent man with a heart as big as the Stargate base he commands.
“I’ve received a lot of feedback from viewers telling me how much they like the bond that has developed between Fraiser and Sam Carter,” she continues. “Carter gets a great deal of insight into the doctor’s background in Hathor when the two of them battle a Gou’ald. I had a really good time doing this story because it gave old Doc Fraiser the chance to lose her lab coat, put on fatigues and carry a machine gun. However, it was the episode Singularity that truly served to strengthen their relationship. Carter becomes attached to this little girl named Cassandra [Sarah Mohr] after she and SG-1 save her from the Goa’uld. As much as she would like to care for Cassandra she knows she can’t because of her involvement with SG-1, so Fraiser adopts the child. Thanks to the friendships Fraiser has made with Sam and the others she has become a three-dimensional character as opposed to a cardboard cutout spouting off medical jargon.”
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