[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!