[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!
[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!