[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!