[caption id="attachment_4512" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Jewel Staite as Dr. Jennifer Keller on Stargate Atlantis. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
No matter what the job, it is never easy on someone when he or she comes in to fill the void left by a departed colleague. That was certainly true for Dr. Jennifer Keller when she, much to her surprise, was promoted to Atlantis' chief medical officer after Dr. Carson Beckett unexpectedly died while saving a patient's life. It was a position that she neither wanted nor felt especially qualified for, but Dr. Elizabeth Weir saw potential in Keller, and she was not mistaken. The physician has since proven to herself and her colleagues that she is more than up to the task at hand. Naturally, it took time for Keller to settle into her new role in the Pegasus Galaxy, and the same is true for the actress who plays her, Stargate Atlantis' Jewel Staite.
"When I first started on the show [in season three's First Strike], I didn't have a clear understanding of who Keller was; I don't think anyone did," recalls Staite. "It was more or less a case of, 'OK, here's the part, we begin shooting tomorrow.' So I just started from the ground up insofar as building a character. A lot of it was about taking the material for what it was and going with that, but it was always important for me to play Keller as real as possible. She's a city girl in this bizarre world, and she had to get used to it in a hurry. My character also felt that she had to prove herself because she knew she was replacing someone who had the whole thing under his belt. She doesn't quite have that yet. Keller is still a little insecure, and what I liked is that they [the show's producers] weren't afraid to play that with her. Not everybody has to be a hero, and I liked that Keller wasn't. She was a normal girl stuck in a place she didn't understand.
"As the seasons passed and time went on, Keller definitely became more confident and more capable of dealing with these crazy, dire and dear situations. She gained some new skills in season five and became more aware of as well as felt more comfortable in her surroundings. At the same time, she's still vulnerable and isn't a heroic type of girl. When necessary, Keller steps up to the plate, but that's not her first choice. She would much rather have someone there to protect her, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I think Keller is still a strong female, but she's not going to be the person who fights the Wraith if she doesnt absolutely have to, and that's OK."
[caption id="attachment_4513" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Not the most comfortable of positions for poor Dr. Keller in "The Seed." Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Jennifer Keller had no choice but to put on a brave face early on at the start of Atlantis' fifth season when, in The Seed, an alien pathogen is found in her blood and Wraith tendrils begin growing out of her torso. "My initial reaction to that script was, 'What did I do? Why are they [the producers] so angry with me?'" jokes Staite. "I was nervous, I won't lie. It's generally a thing here on-set about being in prosthetics - no one really likes it. It's usually pretty uncomfortable and requires lots of early calls and long days, but they assured me that they were going to do it in such a way that it would be comfortable for me.
"Basically, it was me lying in bed and underneath a cage-like contraption," continues the actress. "They would open the cage, I'd slip inside, they would then close the cage and put a Wraith tentacle 'blanket' over the top. So it wasn't too bad to get into and out of, but then I had these face pieces that were actually part of the blanket that they would pull up and glue to my neck. Once those were on, I was there for the day, and my hands were underneath the cage, so it was this weird way of working because there was nowhere I could go. I would watch the crew running around setting up the cameras, lighting, etc., and then we could shoot a scene. As soon as we cut, they'd be busy setting up the next shot, and I just laid there watching them go off in a flurry. It was a way of observing the [filming] process that I'd never really experienced before on this show.
"Needles to say I didn't drink a lot of fluids on the job that week because going to the bathroom was a challenge. I mean, I could do it, but it took about 15 minutes to get out of the cage, so I thought, 'You know what, I'm just going to lay off the water and hope for the best,' and it became very Zen-like. Of course, poor Dr. Keller was completely powerless, alone and frightened, you know? As for me, I was just so relaxed that I would doze off and catch myself starting to fall asleep in-between takes," she chuckles. "So it was an interesting week for sure."
[caption id="attachment_4514" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dr. Keller is ready for action! Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Among the more challenging season five Atlantis episodes for Staite to have worked on is Tracker, in which Dr. Keller is kidnapped by a Runner named Kiryk (Mike Dopud) while off-world on an errand of mercy with Dr. McKay (David Hewlett) and Ronon (Jason Momoa). "This was another of those episodes written by [executive producer] Carl Binder, and I don't know what the deal is, but he enjoys having Keller tied up and dragged through the woods," jokes the actress. "No, seriously, I worked with an excellent guest-star, Mike Dopud. He's a stuntman, but he's an amazing actor as well and a terrific person to be around. It was just me and Mike in the woods for two weeks. Keller does a major switch in this episode and she does something that surprises the viewer.
"One of the most memorable season five episodes for me is The Shrine. It's beautifully written, very touching and definitely different from the other stories I've done. It's a team episode that shows the humanity in all the characters as opposed to giant space battles and that kind of stuff. The story focuses on who these people are and is a huge tear-jerker. When I read the script, I cried. It was great for all of us and allowed us to really stretch ourselves that little bit more as actors."
In year four's Quarantine, Atlantis goes into lockdown as a result of a computer glitch and traps our heroes in various parts of the city. Ronon and Dr. Keller end up in the infirmary and, for a moment, it looks as if there might be a bit of romance in the air. However, it is the geeky and egotistical Rodney McKay that ultimately gets the girl, which, in Staite's eyes, makes sense.
[caption id="attachment_4515" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dr. Keller attempts to save Dr. McKay's (David Hewlett) life in "The Shrine." Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"I think it was the most logical outcome," she notes. "McKay and Keller started out as friends and she seems to mellow him out a lot and tolerates him much better than the other characters. I think, too, that my character finds his whining, crankiness and all that stuff funny, and Jennifer is charmed by Rodney and vice versa. They're both scaredy cats and want more than anything to be in a safe spot. The two of them are also slightly dorky, but incredibly smart as well and, again, feel like they constantly have to prove themselves.
"So they have a number of things in common, and in season five their relationship developed into something stronger. David and I have the same sense of humor and way of working. So it's easy to be around him and I think the show's writers saw that and thought, 'OK,' and decided to go that [romantic] route with the two of them, which I was super happy about."
Long before joining the Atlantis cast, Staite had acquired plenty of Sci-Fi/Fantasy experience playing such TV roles as Catalina in Space Cases and Kaylee Frye in Firefly. The actress' fans will also know that prior to being cast as Dr. Keller, she booked the part of a young female Wraith named Ellia in the second season Atlantis episode Instinct. She had no idea that this job would lead to a regular spot on the series.
[caption id="attachment_4516" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Staite as Ellia in "Instinct." Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"I thought the [Instinct] character was so special and really wanted to do it," says Staite. "[Director/producer] Andy Mikita and the guys tell me that when I walked into the audition room they were like, 'That's Kaylee from Firefly. What's she doing here?' It wasn't anything unusual for me, though. I'm more than willing to audition to prove what I can, hopefully, do in a role.
"Luckily they gave me the job and I loved working on the series. I told them that I'd be happy to come back and they said, 'We won't forget you. One day we'll write something new for you.' Lo and behold, a year later they offered me a fulltime role on the show, no prosthetics required - at least for the first episode. I was like, 'That sounds great.' So it just kind of fell into my lap and I couldn't have been happier," smiles the actress.
Last fall, the Atlantis cast and crew wrapped production on what became the show's fifth and final season. The script for a made-for-DVD movie has been written, but filming dates are still pending. In the meantime, Staite can be seen in the upcoming Syfy Channel movie Mothman, and is also slated to begin work on a horror film, P5ych. From out-of-this-world roles to more down-to-Earth ones, the actress enjoys nothing more than creating gaps between each character that she plays.
[caption id="attachment_4517" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dr. Keller and Dr. McKay share an especially tense moment. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"For me, it's really important to do projects that are as different as can be from the last one I did," she says. "And while sometimes they may be in the same genre, it's still important to have the character challenge me and to show other aspects of what I can do as an actress. When I succeed in doing that, that's what makes this job especially rewarding.
"It's nice to have viewers watch me in a show and say, 'I love what you're doing.' It was hard for me when I first started Atlantis; I knew what was going to happen, and it did. So whenever I hear people say positive things about Keller it makes me feel good because she's a part of me and I love her a great deal and protect her very much."
Steve EramoAs noted above, all photos copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
ON the heels of its successful summer series launches, Syfy will continue its tradition of imagination-fueled original entertainment this fall with a strong line-up of series and season premieres, along with new episodes of some of its most popular returning shows. Syfy's fall 2009 line-up includes:
Stargate Universe - New Series Premieres October 2nd @ 9 p.m. (2-hour premiere). Airs Fridays @ 9 p.m. beginning October 9th.
Syfy's upcoming one-hour series, Stargate Universe, follows a band of soldiers, scientists and civilians who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, which is locked on an unknown course and unable to return to Earth. Faced with meeting the most basic needs of food, water and air, the group must unlock the secrets of the ship's Stargate to survive. The danger, adventure and hope they find on-board the Destiny will reveal the heroes and villains among them.
Set to premire in October 2009 with a two-hur special, the series stars Robert Carlyle (Transpotting, The Full Monty), Lou Diamond Phillips (Che, La Bamba), Ming-Na (ER, Vanished), Alaina Huffman, Louis Ferreira, David Blue, Jamil Walker Smith and Brian J. Smith with special guest-stars, Grammy nominated artist Janelle Monae, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks, Gary Jones and Carlo Rota.
Edgier and younger in tone, Stargate Universe will take the franchise in a dynamic new direction, appealing to longtime Stargate fans and first-time viewers alike. The two-part premiere is directed by Andy Mikita (Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1) and lensed by Ronn Schmidt (The Shield, The Mist). Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis) serve as executive producers and writers on the new series. Stargate Universe is distributed by MGM Worldwide Television Distribution.
Destination Truth - Season Three Premieres September 9th @ 9 p.m.
This fall, Syfy will premiere the third season of its reality hit, Destination Truth. World traveler and intrepid explorer Josh Gates will return to host nine all-new episodes - each an off-the-map adventure in search of the answers to some of the world's most intriguing unexplained mysteries. This season on Destination Truth, Josh will travel to some of the most extreme locations on Earth, including the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the heart of the worlds worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Viewers will also ride along on unprecedented investigations, including the world's first overnight exploration of King Tut's cursed tomb and pitch-black dives in ancient Caribbean caves.
A graduate of Boston's renowned Tufts University, Josh holds degrees in archaeology and drama, and was recently inducted into The Explorers Club, a prestigious global organization dedicated to the advancement of exploration and field research. An avid scuba diver, he has participated in sub-sea archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean and his work as a photographer has taken him from sweltering African villages to the icy heights of the Himalayas. In addition, he has scaled "the roof of Africa" on Mt. Kilimanjaro, climbed Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas, and set foot in more than 75 countries around the world.
Destination Truth is executive producer by Brad Kuhlman for Ping Pong Productions (1,000 Places to See Before You Die, Celebrity Rehab, FM Nation). Bechara Gholam will serves as co-executive producer.
Sanctuary - Season Two Premieres Friday, October 9th @ 10 p.m.
Syfy's groundbreaking hit original series Sanctuary, the first TV show based on an online series to be picked up for a second season, will return to Syfy in October. Sanctuary follows the adventures of the beautiful, enigmatic and always surprising Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), a brilliant scientist who holds the secrets of a clandestine population - a group of strange and sometimes terrifying beings that hide among humans. Along with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) and her fearless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), Magnus seeks to protect those threatened phenomena as well as unlock the mysteries behind their existence. Joining the cast in season two is Agam Darshi as Kate Freelander, a con artist and thief who finds herself in an uneasy alliance with Dr. Magnus. Sanctuary also starts Ryan Robbins as tech whiz Henry and Christopher Heyerdahl as the sinister John Druitt.
Special guest-stars this season include Christopher Gauthier (Eureka) and Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1). Created by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis), Sanctuary is produced in association with Syfy and distributed by Tricon Films and Television. Season Two of the series is executive produced by Damian Kindler, Amanda Tapping, Martin Wood and Keith Beedie.
Scare Tactics - Season Three Episodes Return Tuesday, October 6th @ 9 p.m.
Syfy's hidden camera reality show Scare Tactics is hosted by famed comedian Tracy Morgan. The hit series captures its frightened victims who have been set up by friends and loved ones. Unsuspecting victims are placed into elaborately staged scary situations involving movie-style special effects and make-up. The horror hoaxes are skillfully designed to tap into the wildest fears of the prank's prey. Viewers laugh along to the hilarious reactions of the show's "stars" as they are caught off-guard and on camera. Scott Hallock and Kevin Healey of Hallock Healey Entertainment are the executive producers and creators of Scare Tactics.
Ghost Hunters - All-New Episodes Throughout The Fall - Wednesdays @ 9 p.m. Featuring special guest-investigators Meatloaf and Josh Gates.
This fall, Syfy presents all-new episodes of Ghost Hunters every Wednesday @ 9 p.m. Get in the spirit with Jason, Grant and the rest of the TAPS team as they embark on chilling new investigations including a host of historic haunts as well as some of the most daunting locales featured on the show yet, such as the massive long-abandoned Essex County Hospital in New Jersey. In October, music superstar and longtime Ghost Hunter fan Meatloaf will join the team as a guest-investigator in a special episode featuring a home in Thousand Islands, NY, one of last year's finalist locales in the Great American Ghost Hunters contest.
Ghost Hunters is produced in association with Craig Piligian's Pilgrim Films and Television (Dirty Jobs, The Ultimate Fighter, My Fair Wedding). Piligian and Thomas Thayer, along with Rob Katz and Alan David, serve as executive producers.
Warehouse 13 - All-New Episodes Throughout September - Tuesdays @ 9 p.m.
Syfy's newest one-hour hit dramedy series Warehouse 13 continues through September 2nd with a host of special guest-stars including Battlestar Galactica's Micheal Hogan; Eureka's Joe Morton, Erica Cerra and Niall Matter and Stargate Atlantis' Joe Flanigan. Warehouse 13 follows two Secret Service agents who find themselves abruptly transferred to a massive, top-secret storage facility in windswept South Dakota, which houses every strange artifact, mysterious relic, fantastical object and supernatural souvenir ever collected by the U.S. government. The Warehouse's caretaker Artie (Saul Rubinek) charges Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Myka (Joanne Kelly) with chasing down reports of supernatural and paranormal activity in search of new objects to cache at the Warehouse, as well as helping to control the warehouse itself. Warehouse 13 also stars Allison Scagliotti as Claudia Donovan and CCH Pounder guest-stars as Artie's boss, Mrs. Frederic.
The series is produced for Syfy by Universal Cable Productions. It is executive produced by Jack Kenny (The Book of Daniel), who also serves as showrunner. David Simkins (Dresden Files) is executive producer and Stephen Surjik (Monk, Burn Notice) is producer/director of the show.
[caption id="attachment_1656" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Rachel Luttrell as Stargate Atlantis' Teyla Emmagan. Photo by Matthias Clamer and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Things are hot, really hot on the Stargate Atlantis set - literally. It is an unusually warm August (2008) day in Vancouver, which is not exactly ideal if you have to spend the day inside a Wraith spaceship, whose walls are made of latex. The Atlantis cast, including actress Rachel Luttrell, who plays Teyla, are doing their best to keep cool as they film the fifth season story Infection.
"Essentially, the premise of this episode is that the retrovirus gene, which Dr. Beckett [Paul McGillion] originally created and Dr. Keller [Jewel Staite] then modified and implemented, has been unleashed on a hive ship that is being run by Todd [Christopher Heyerdahl]," explains Luttrell. "The retrovirus has gone awry and created a disease amongst him and his crew, so great numbers of them have died. The survivors have put themselves into hibernation pods and sent out a signal to Atlantis because we're the only ones who can help them. So we go to the hive to see what we can do, and it becomes a question of do we help the Wraith or not.
[caption id="attachment_1657" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Teyla and Major Lorne (Kavan Smith) defend themselves against some especially nasty Wraith in the season five Atlantis episode "Infection." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"The retrovirus is successful on the one hand in that the feeding opening on the Wraiths' hand disappears, so they are forced to eat using their teeth and mouths. As a result, several of our Marines are attacked, taken away and eaten. Not only that, but because the Wraith hives are organic, this ship has also been infected. The hibernation pods are linked into the ship, and minerals and whatnot from the bodies of the diseased Wraith are transferred into the hive. So tunnels are appearing where walls used to be, walls are appearing where halls used to be, and huge caverns are forming because entire rooms are disintegrating. Our people are trapped onboard this ship, which is going out of control and heading into the atmosphere of a planet. Next to Rodney McKay [David Hewlett], who's a genius, Teyla is the only one who knows how to operate the hive ship, and she does her best in terms of trying to land it safely. So it's a pretty dark and exciting episode."
Five years ago, handling the controls of a Wraith ship, let alone being onboard one, was the farthest thing from Teyla Emmagan's mind. Her life has taken a very different path since she decided to leave her people, the Athosians, and join the Atlantis team in its battle against the Wraith. Along the way, she has also helped save the Pegasus Galaxy from a variety of other alien threats. In year four, Teyla fell in love with Kanaan (Patrick Sabongui), a fellow Athosian, and in the season five Atlantis opener Search and Rescue, she gave birth to their child. The experience has further changed her, and given Luttrell more to play with in her performance as well.
"If it's possible, Teyla seems to me more grounded and there's a deeper strength within her," muses the actress. "And that, I think, is due to the fact that she's a mother now. So all her subsequent missions have taken on that added concern of if she doesn't come back, then she's leaving behind somebody who's not only very dear to her, but who is also this incredibly special being, which was hinted at last season. Because of what I've recently gone through in my life, and the fact that I, too, am a new Mom, I really do draw a great deal on who I am when it comes to playing certain aspects of Teyla. This has been a very challenging year for me, personally, just because I'm juggling a whole heck of a lot. However, it gives me a greater sensitivity to what's going on in Teyla's life in that's it's pretty much the same thing. There's no downtime for either of us. She's out there saving the world and then comes back to take care of her wee one, and I'm shooting a TV show and then I go home and take care of my wee one," smiles Luttrell.
[caption id="attachment_1661" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Teyla gives Dr. Zelenka (David Nykl) a helping hand in season five's "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"In portraying a character for so long there's an ease that comes with it because you really get to know how she will respond in any given situation, and that's something quite wonderful for an actor to take on. You become protective of that character, too, because you're their voice and eyes, which is lovely and fun as well. At the same time, you don't want to become complacent; you have to try to keep your performance fresh. That's always in the back of my mind because i genuinely care about this character so much. So how do I keep her fresh? I don't want to sound silly, but I think it's something that comes naturally to me. As I've come to know Teyla more and more, there are various textures and nuances that I've been able to add to her, and I guess that keeps her fresh. As the audience learns more about her, I'm continuing to grow into her as a person."
Towards the end of Atlantis' fourth season, the half-human/half-Wraith Michael (Connor Trinneer) kidnapped Teyla with an eye towards harnessing the unique abilities of her as-yet unborn baby. Fortunately for mother and child, they were saved in Search and Rescue, but Michael was not about to give up. In year five's The Prodigal, he invades Atlantis and threatens to destroy the city unless Teyla and her baby Torren come away with him.
[caption id="attachment_1664" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Teyla and her child face Michael's (Connor Trinneer) wrath in "The Prodigal." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"Once and for all we decisively take care of Michael, and with the help of Colonel Sheppard [Joe Flanigan], my character gets to deliver the final blow that sends him to his demise," enthuses Luttrell. "When it came to filming the actual fight with Sheppard, Teyla and Michael, we were around 15 feet off the ground and standing on a portion of stage that was supposed to be the top of the Atlantis tower. I don't like heights that much, but I had no idea how much I didn't like heights until after I got up on this little ledge and [director] Andy Mikita yelled, 'Action!'
"Prior to that, they said there would be a little bit of wind, but when I heard, 'Action,' there was this blast of wind that almost sent me flying over the ledge. At one point, Connor's stunt double Simon told him to hang onto Joe's jacket as an anchor because there's a moment when, God bless him, Michael has to flail backwards. So he's pretty much teetering on the brink of falling off the ledge. That was tough from an acting standpoint, but, of course, from a story standpoint it's a wonderful moment and a very heroic one for Sheppard as well as Teyla. It's also the last kind of desperate cling for Michael to his power, not to mention his life, and there's absolutely no mercy whatsoever in Teyla towards him."
[caption id="attachment_1668" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ronon (Jason Momoa), Dr. McKay (David Hewlett), Teyla and Colonel Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) end up trapped atop a nearly submerged Stargate in "The Shrine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Not long after filming wrapped on the aforementioned Infection, it was announced that Atlantis would not be renewed for a sixth season. A few weeks later the series finale, Enemy at the Gate, was filmed, and Luttrell graciously takes time to look back at the experience.
"Well, unlike a lot of shows that get cancelled, we had the good fortune to know in advance that what we were doing we'd be doing for the last time," notes the actress. "So the whole mood of the set took on a very nostalgic feel. We truly had a wonderful sense of camaraderie on our show and the crew was very much a part of that, so we all felt the weight of the occasion. We continued to have a lot of laughs, but we also had the opportunity to say good-bye to all the amazing people whom we'd worked with day in and day out for five years, and still very much liked!"
[caption id="attachment_1669" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Teyla in season five's "Ghost in the Machine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
As Luttrell mentioned earlier, her life has become considerably busier since the birth of her and husband Loyd Bateman's son Caden Dar on October 12th, 2007, and the actress is enjoying every moment of being a Mom. "It's just great," she enthuses. "My Mom once told me that your children will take you to places you never thought you would go, and you'll meet people who you would have never met if it weren't for your children. She was so right. Something else that both my parents always said is that with the birth of your child, you come to truly understand love. I mean, everyone talks about love and they say that love isn't really love unless it's an unconditional love. If it's a judgemental kind of love, then really what is that? Can it truly be love or is it just ego, but there is no ego involved in taking care of your own child. Regardless of what this person does, I will forever love him, which is amazing.
"I'll share this one moment - during our last hiatus I was going to visit my husband, who was shooting a movie in Germany, and I was happily travelling in business class. I was waiting in the lounge, and no offense to those people who travel business all the time, but it can sometimes be a little bit reserved in there. Everyone is sitting back, drinking their cocktails and preparing for, in this case, a nine-and-a-half hour flight. And there's usually this one woman with a baby, and I was sitting there thinking, 'Oh, my God, here I am. I'm that woman.' Well, my little guy just wanted to talk, so he hopped down from his seat, walked up to everyone in that lounge and melted the hearts of the sternest of businesspeople. Each and every person started opening up, and it was an encapsulated moment of what my Mother had told me. All of a sudden I was listening to stories from people who I probably wouldn't have interacted with had it not been for my son's spirit. He's gorgeous and I absolutely love being his Mom."
Steve EramoAs stated above, all photos by Matthias Clamer or Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!
[caption id="attachment_1007" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Director Andy Mikita hard at work on the Stargate Atlantis season five episode "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
As a longtme member of the Stargate family, Andy Mikita has lent his creative talents to directing as well as helping produce dozens of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis stories. He kicked off the fifth season of Atlantis directing the opener, Search and Rescue, followed by The Daedalus Variations and The Shrine, in which one of our heroes almost met his maker. Mikita barely had time to catch his breath before he began prepping to direct the mid-season two-parter First Contact and The Lost Tribe, which guest-starred SG-1's Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson.
"First off, I want to say how great to was to have Michael on the show," enthuses Mikita. "He just brings so much to the table and the chemistry between his character and David Hewlett's [Dr. Rodney McKay] was phenomenal. We shot both these episodes, which were written by [Atlantis executive producer] Martin Gero, together, and he did some of the directing as well. Martin did the lion's share of the scenes with Michael and David, including the one where the little Asgard alien came out of the spacesuit. So it was a really sensible approach to shooting these stories. We were able to divide the schedule between Martin and myself, which kept us on track financially and time-wise. Because Martin is also a director I felt completely confident in his execution of things, and I really enjoyed all the work he did.
"Probably the biggest challenge with First Contact and The Lost Tribe was making sure that the spacesuits were going to be functional as well as believable and have the desired impact. Real kudos go to our art department and model shop for designing and constructing some incredible suits. They had qualities of a lot of different ideas in there. Also, Iron Man was just coming out at the time we were building these suits, and while we didn't want there to be obvious comparisons to the movie, I will say that we went straight out and copied the inside-of-the-helmet shots. In The Lost Tribe, specifically, we did close-ups of Michael and David when they were wearing the suits and we literally put in an inside-the-helmet point of view using VFX [visual effects] graphics.
"The VFX team did an amazing bit of work, and I thought the effects in both these episodes were incredible, especially in First Contact where the aliens in their spacesuits came out of their ship and entered Atlantis. The whole concept that Martin came up with involving the transport bubble that allowed the aliens to move through multiple surfaces was really clever and extremely well-executed by the VFX guys. With that, you got another sense, again, of the size of Atlantis, and the concept of finding Janus' [Gildart Jackson] secret lab was quite compelling. It was a fun episode, or episodes, to shoot and I'm very pleased with how they turned out."
[caption id="attachment_1010" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Mikita confers with Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) on the set of "Search and Rescue." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Mikita's next episode, The Prodigal, sees the return of the human/Wraith hybrid Michael (Connor Trinneer), who comes to Atlantis to execute yet another insidious plan. "This was a tremendous action-packed story with some great fight sequences choreographed by Bam Bam [stunt coordinator James Bamford]," says the director. "The Michael/Ronon [Jason Momoa] fight was really cool and culminated with Ronon actually going over the Atlantis Gate Room balcony. Then there was the big penultimate fight on the rooftop with Michael versus Sheppard [Joe Flanigan] and Teyla [Rachel Luttrell]. That was a tough sequence to shoot. We were fairly limited as far as how large in scope we could build that [rooftop] set piece. To help sell that idea, we used a large projection screen so we could see off into the background and the moonlit sky. Then there was the big sort of helicopter shot that shows the very top spire of the city and just how high up our heroes are when they're fighting. That was another impressive VFX sequence.
"Obviously, staging a fight on a ledge or precipice like that is pretty tricky. For instance, when Michael throws Sheppard down the ledge and he's left dangling, the first time we shot that, the Sheppard stunt double went right over the edge of the set. If that was real life, he would have been a goner. After that, we were joking around and saying, 'Well, that's it. Michael wins the fight, the series is over.' Also tricky to shoot were the scenes in which Major Lorne [Kavan Smith] and Woolsey [Robert Picardo] run afoul of Michael's stun bubble and we had to choreograph their falls. We had a fantastic Woolsey stunt double who looked so much like Robert that at times if you were standing a little bit away from him, you couldn't tell the difference between him and Robert. And the stunt double did such an amazing job on the fall as well. This was a real highlight episode for me to shoot and definitely one of my favorites from season five.
"Something else I thought was really cool with The Prodigal was how [Atlantis executive producer] Carl Binder, who wrote this episode, gave the character of Amelia Banks a much more significant role. We got to see her as more of an active participant in the story as opposed to just being a technician when she and Ronon take on one of the hybrid guards. The actress who plays Banks [Sharon Taylor] is quite proficient at martial arts, so she got to show off some of her skills onscreen and I think the fans picked up on that."
The director along with the Atlantis cast and crew spent a little over a week last August trying to keep cool while filming inside a very hot Wraith set for the fifth season episode Infection. "We had a fairly limited Wraith set, so as our characters were walking through the ship, we were basically reusing the same set over and over again," explains Mikita. "So we had to move things around as well as relight and redress the sections in order to make it feel like we were constantly on the move and create a sense that it was a much larger space than it actually was.
[caption id="attachment_1011" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay) hangs around with Mikita during the filming of season five's "The Shrine." Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"Then, of course, there's the fact that in our story, the gene therapy that Dr. Keller has been developing really isn't working as well as we hoped, so we come across these new gruesome creatures onboard the Wraith ship. They were based somewhat on the Spoils of War [season four] creatures where we saw the birthing sequence of the Wraith warriors. In this episode, we took it a step further and, as a result of the gene therapy, the Wraith lost their ability to feed with their hands. So they basically became flesh-eating monsters and needed to eat using their hands and teeth and ingesting the way we humans do. So that was another challange to make the attacks from these monsters scary and, again, believable, and I feel we achieved both to a great extent."
In mid-September 2008, Mikita took on the job of directing the 100th episode of Atlantis, Enemy at the Gate, which, ironically, was also the show's season/series finale. "I was absolutely honored to be given that opportunity," he recalls. "At the same time, it was kind of a daunting responsibility, given that the episode was shooting at the same time as Rob Cooper's [Atlantis co-creator/executive producer] Vegas. That was a big hallmark episode as well in that it was a real departure type of story that takes place in an alternate reality, so a great deal of attention was going to that one, too.
"By the time we got around to Enemy at the Gate, we had to be very careful because we didn't have any extra money or time to shoot it," continues the director. "We couldn't make it any bigger or splashier than any other story we had previously done, but we did want to make a really good, solid, conventional Atlantis episode with the stakes essentially being that the Wraith are attacking Earth. The highlight for me was having Amanda Tapping [Colonel Samantha Carter] back, which was just sensational. It was a very proud moment for the cast and crew to have made it to the 100th episode mark, but also a very bittersweet time because we'd had so much fun for five years and now the series was coming to an end."
[caption id="attachment_1015" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Director Andy Mikita. Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Although his time on Atlantis may have ended, Mikita still remains very much a part of the Stargate franchise and has already begun his involvement in the second spin-off, Stargate Universe. "I'm hoping I can take what I've learned from SG-1 and Atlantis and apply it to whatever new challenges I'm given on Universe," he says. "We're approaching that show from quite a different perspective stylistically, so that should help me grow even further as a director for sure."
Steve EramoAs noted above, photos by Eike Schroter and courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!