Interview date: 08/31/2009
Run date: 09/14/2009
Amanda Tapping more than made her mark in the world of sci-fi with her role as Samantha Carter, who’s been working her way up through the ranks within the “Stargate” universe since “SG-1” made its debut in 1997. (She started as a captain, and now she’s a colonel.) After carrying her character over to “Stargate: Atlantis,” however, Tapping stepped outside of her most familiar role and into a new venture called “Sanctuary,” which started as a web series and earned so much success that it quickly evolved into a full-fledged television series on the Sci-Fi Channel. The show’s first season is making its DVD debut on September 15th, and Tapping spoke with Bullz-Eye about her experiences on “Sanctuary,” gave us some seriously tantalizing teasers about Season 2 (which premieres on Oct. 9th), and offered a clue about how much longer we can expect to see Colonel Carter turning up in future “Stargate” sagas.
Amanda Tapping: Hi, Will, it’s Amanda!
Bullz-Eye: Hi, Amanda! It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
AT: Good to talk to you!
BE: How strange to hear you talk with an American accent…oh, sorry, I mean Canadian accent.
AT: (Laughs, then offers a Southern accent) How ya’ll doin’?
BE: Nice…and I’m in Virginia, so that sounds right at home to me. (Laughs) Well, I’ve been devouring the “Sanctuary: Season 1” box set…
AT: Oh, good! So are you enjoying it?
BE: I am! I was actually at the TCA panel for the show last year, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it when it was originally on, so you can now consider me on board with the series.
BE: So I know that the TV series evolved out of the web series, but how did the web series come about in the first place, and how involved were you at that point?
AT: Well, Damian (Kindler) actually wrote the web series as a spec script in 2000 when he was living in Los Angeles, and then he kind of shelved it. But he pulled it out about four or five years later and handed it to Martin Wood and said, “What do you think of this? Do you think this would make a good series?” And it sort of evolved from there. Martin said, “Yes, and you should send it to Amanda,” because the three of us already knew each other, obviously, from “Stargate.” At that point, there was a possibility of doing a cool game with it, but then we decided to do it solely on the web. We thought that, with the shifting paradigm and what was happening with television at the time, maybe it would be cool to launch a multi-platform site that had webisodes, games, and a social network. A lofty ambition, to be sure, and it made a lot of sense, but I don’t think we had the skill set at the time to execute it properly. So we made this kick-ass web series for a lot of money, and that was great, and we got a huge number of eyeballs watching it. 3 or 4 million people ended up watching the web series, I think, which created a huge amount of buzz. But we ultimately ran out of money, and we went, “Uh-oh, this is cool, but what now?” (Laughs) But because of all the buzz we got, television networks started calling us, saying, “You know, it may not work on the web, but what about doing it as a TV series?” Which was definitely in all of our comfort zones, since we all came from sci-fi television shows. So it sort of evolved into that. And then we got a 15-episode order from Sci-Fi, and we were off and running!
BE: So was it a conscious attempt on your part to step away from the “Stargate” universe?
AT: Yeah, at the point where we had to make the decision to…well, first of all, to create a character that looked completely different from Sam Carter was a very conscious decision. When we were shooting the webisodes, I wanted to completely break out. I didn’t want there to be any vestiges of Sam in the next character that I played, in part to honor Sam Carter, but also to challenge myself creatively. So Damian and I had a long talk about how Helen should look and how she should walk and what she should wear, so that was a conscious effort. And then when we were starting to get interested in the television series, I was still working on “Atlantis,” and I had been asked to do the fifth season. And I knew that if I said “yes” to Season 5 of “Atlantis,” I was essentially shutting “Sanctuary” down. Even though we didn’t have a television order yet, I had to sort of take this leap of faith. I just felt so strongly that “Sanctuary” was going to be something ,even though we didn’t have it for sure for sure, I turned to “Stargate” and I said, “I can’t do it. I have to stick with ‘Sanctuary.’” And they were great. They were very supportive. And shortly after making that decision, “Sanctuary” got picked up as a television series. So, phew! (Laughs) It wa s abig relief, but it also felt like the right thing to do, ceratively. And the beauty of “Stargate” is that Sam Carter is still around, and I’m still getting opportunities to play her, so I haven’t totally left her.
BE: Yeah, I hear you’re gonna pop up in “Stargate Universe,” too.
BE: Well, Helen Magnus is kind of like the Jack Harkness of “Sanctuary,” to make a “Torchwood” reference: she’s long-lived and she’s got a past shrouded in mystery, but it’s one you want to unravel.
AT: Yes, exactly! For me, as an actress, she’s unlike any character I’ve ever had the opportunity to play, partly because of her age, but because she’s so eccentric. She’s one of those women who, especially given the time frame she came from, with the Victorian era England being such a specific period in our history where so much was changing, she was at the forefront of it. She was pushing the envelope scientifically and socially and medically. She’s just one of those characters that comes along once in a lifetime for an actress. I just so embrace her. I still don’t totally understand her… (Laughs) …but she’s cool.
BE: Talking about the era she came from, I really enjoy the concepts within the episode entitled “The Five.”
AT: Yeah! We were figuring out, “Hey, how exactly how is it that John Druitt is this way, and that is this way, and who else can we bring in?” I love the fact that Damian took characters from history and sort of turned them on their ear. The fact that Tesla is a vampire, the fact that James Watson is really the real Sherlock Holmes, that he was really the one with the deductive mind and not the sidekick., and that Nigel morphed into the Invisible Man, and how his family is getting those abilities passed down genetically. “The Five,” to me, was sort of the quintessential mythology episode of “Sanctuary.”
BE: It actually reminds me a bit of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
BE: The green screen technology you guys utilize on the show is remarkable. If you’d tried to launch a series with this kind of scope a few years ago, it would’ve come off looking like…I don’t know, maybe “Doctor Who” in the late ‘80s?
AT: (Laughs) You’re right!
BE: But one thing that I think is notable about “Sanctuary” is that it doesn’t look like a green screen show. There’s not a great deal of overreaching with the backgrounds.
AT: No, there’s not ,and what’s interesting is that there’s a constant effort…I mean, the effects are amazing in what they’re able to do, but what I think part of it is that we’re shooting on this Red Line Camera, which gives us 4K resolution, which is quite the resolution, and it gives us this huge playground. Our backgrounds, they look completely photo-real, and they’re seamless with what’s real. Sometimes we’ll transition from a real background to a green-screen one, and you can’t tell when it’s happened. And other times…well, for example, in the library, it seems photo-real, but it also has kind of a graphic novel feel to it. Like, you were bringing up “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” and it has that kind of look. So we play with it, and sometimes it’s photo-real and sometimes it’s almost too rich for the real world, but other times you can’t tell. The visual effects constantly surprise me, because there are some that you just don’t even know. Like, looking out of Magnus’s office window, it’s a master visual effect. It’s hugely expensive… (Laughs) …and it looks phenomenal, but people don’t even really notice it, because you’re just looking out of a window. But it’s a visual effect. I’m blown away, honestly, by what the visual effects people are able to do. It’s not just the creatures that they come up with and that sort of thing, it’s even the things they come up with for the rooms. But you’re right: we wouldn’t have been able to do this even as recently as a few years ago.
BE: How long did it take you and Emilie Ullerup to build your mother-daughter relationship on the show? Was it pretty quickly?
AT: Oh, yeah. I mean, you know, we’re both very easy going people. The hard thing about this mother-daughter relationship, though, is that it’s weird. I mean, Magnus has made this incredibly strange choice to bring a child into the world knowing that, in all likelihood, she will outlive this child. So right away, there’s this huge difference to their relationship, and I think that informs a lot of their relationship. Plus, there’s the fact that she’s brought her child into her work…which, of course, it would be impossible not to. Helen grew up with it with her father, so of course she’s going to bring her daughter into this crazy world. And it’s a dangerous world, and me being a mother, I’m, like, “I don’t know if I could do that.” But, again, you don’t have a choice. If you show your child the fantastic, you can’t expect them to go back to normal. Once they’ve seen the other side, if you will, how do you keep them down on the farm? (Laughs) So it’s an interesting dynamic, in that she’s brought her into this dangerous, crazy world, and she knows that she might lose her. So there’s a mutual respect between them, a playfulness, and a lot of love between the two of them. It’s an adversarial relationship between them at times, which is obviously part of the dynamic of mothers and daughters, anyway. But there’s also an equality, which you don’t often get between parents and children, but she’s very skilled at what she does. It’s been one of the hardest relationships that I’ve ever had to try and figure out intellectually as an actress. It’s been difficult to wrap my head around. It’s easy to play with Emilie, definitely, but it’s hard intellectually as far as trying to figure out a lot of the decisions that Helen makes.
BE: Obviously, you made the comment about pointedly stepping away from the “Stargate” universe, but at the same time, a lot of people have made the comparison between Will Zimmerman and Daniel Jackson.
AT: Yeah, I think that there’s…I mean, Daniel Jackson was kind of the everyman, right? He was the guy that people could relate to. He was the one who was not used to this world, who looks at the fantastic as fantastical, if you will. He comes in and goes, “Whoa! I came in from normal, and this is what I’m looking at!” And Will does the same thing. And the audience relates, because they go, “Wow, how do you wrap your head around it?” And I think every show sort of has an everyman, and ours is Will, if you will. If you will, Will. (Laughs) So, yeah, I think there were always going to be obvious comparisons right away. As soon as we cast Robin, we were, like, “Yeah, people are going to notice this.” But Will is still a very different character from Daniel.
BE: As I was going through Season 1, I couldn’t help but notice that “The Folding Man” had a definite “Usual Suspects” kind of feel to it, “Kush” was a lot like John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and “Instinct” is straight from the “Cloverfield” playbook. Now, when the scripts are being pitched, are the writers making the conscious notation about their points of reference?
AT: At times, sure. Definitely with “Instinct,” where we were, like, “What if we tried to film one a la ‘Cloverfield’? What if we got real people involved in it, and what if we made it about the cameraman’s perspective? What if we tried to shoot an entire episode like that?” We had a lot of fun in Season 1 in that we had this new playground where we could try anything, really, and play within that realm. So, yeah, definitely, we knew when we were shooting “Instinct” that we were going to get “Cloverfield” comparisons, but we welcomed them. We were, like, “It’s a cool way to do it. It’s interesting,” so we decided to see what would happen if we tried it for a stand-alone episode. But, you know, it’s hard not to, because there’s so much to draw from television and books and graphic novels and comic books. There’s so much to draw from that it’s hard not to make crossovers, really. Like, we refer often to “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” in terms of the look and feel of this show, so we’re definitely aware of what we’re doing. It’s not trying to do a conscious rip-off. It’s trying to do an homage, if you will, but while still being original. We’re taking an idea and putting a twist on it.
BE: Now, when I watched the episode “Nubbins” (named after the furry little creatures which are the episode’s focus), my first thought was, “So did this entire episode evolve out of someone wanting to make a sci-fi double entendre for nipples?”
AT: (Laughs) Well, you know, I have to be honest with you: one of the network executives came and said, “I want a ‘Trouble with Tribbles’ episode.” And we went, “No. Really? Really?” And that’s what it was borne from. I mean, not so much creatively in Season 2, but in Season 1, there was a lot of, “Try giving us something like this.” “Um, okay.” I have to say that “Nubbins” is probably my least favorite episode. They’re cute as hell, but...I just can’t imagine anyone watching it and not saying, “This is ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’! They’re not even trying to cover this up!” And we weren’t! (Laughs) I think it’s actually a cute episode, and it’s definitely fun. It gives you an interesting dynamic on the characters, seeing them outside of their comfort zone and doing something kind of weird. I think that’s quite fun, especially seeing Will and Henry all uncomfortable. But it’s more of a comedic effort, though.
BE: Can you offer any tidbits about what we can expect from Season 2?
AT: (Hesitates) Ooooh…
BE: Any stuff that won’t get me shot and killed for revealing?
AT: And you live in Virginia, you say…? I’m triangulating your position right now. (Laughs) Season 2, honestly, is a hundred times better than Season 1. I think it’s in part because there’s so much more confidence in the show from every level: the directing, the producing, the writing, the characters, the actors, the way we execute it…it’s a quintessential sophomore season for a series. Season 1 is “introduce everyone, get everyone comfortable with who they are,” and Season 2 is, “Now we know everyone, let’s build these relationships but put them in crazy situations, tear them down, and then build them back up again.” It’s a lot more intense, Season 2, and it starts off…well, obviously, the end of Season 1 was a huge cliffhanger, with what’s happening with Ashley and what’s happening with the Sanctuary Network. Is the Cabal going to be an ongoing threat, and how do we deal with them? So it starts from that time, and it goes through the first three episodes…and I can tell you that, at the end of the first three episodes, we were all exhausted, because it was so emotional and so intense. There will be a lot more back story on Henry, a lot more back story on Bigfoot, there’s a very cool post-apocalyptic episode where you see Will as you’ve never seen him before. It freaked me out when Robin walked on set. I couldn’t talk to him. He was, like, “Amanda, it’s Robin,” but I just couldn’t talk to him. So I think that’ll be pretty cool for the audience to see. I directed an episode in Season 2 as well, a cool standalone episode where Magnus is accused of murder and Will has to prove her innocence but can’t do it. Season 2 is a psychological mind…uh, I don’t really want to use the word, but… (Drops voice) …it’s a mindfuck. (Giggles) It messes with you…and it messes with all of the characters. Season 2 is action-packed, basically, and we once again end on a pretty intense cliffhanger.
BE: And just to close with a pair of quick “Stargate” questions for you. First off, when the updated version of “Children of the Gods” came out recently, were you pleasantly surprised to see how well it played, given the new edit and the updated special effects?
AT: Yeah, I mean, I have always been really amazed and proud of the production value of “Stargate.” I think even…God, I hate to say this, but back then… (Laughs) …because it was 1997, I was blown away by what they were able to accomplish. Obviously, we’ve come a lot further in twelve years with what we’ve been able to do with those effects, though, so, yeah, I was blown away. But, again, I have to say that I’ve always thought that “Stargate” had amazing production values. I don’t know what I was expecting to see, but to be honest with you, it was the first time that I was able to sit and watch the pilot and not criticize myself. I was so far removed from it that I was able to just watch and enjoy it, so that was a neat experience. Because, you know, actors are traditionally self-critical and have a hard time watching themselves… (Laughs) …but it was so far removed that it almost felt like I was watching a completely different person, so I really enjoyed it.
BE: And, lastly, how long do you forsee yourself continuing to participate in the “Stargate” universe? It certainly sounds like it’s for the long haul.
AT: As long as they’ll have me. Certainly, for Michael, Rick, and I, the fact that they’ve asked us to do little appearances in “Stargate: Universe” is a wonderful compliment. That, and the fact that they’re talking about doing a third “Stargate SG-1” movie. But, you know, it’s just so much fun making the show that, as long as they keep asking, I’ll keep doing it. It really is one of those dream gigs. It sounds hokey as hell, but it really is just so much fun. Samantha will be rolling through the Stargate in her wheelchair… (Laughs) …going, “Where’s my gun, dammit?”
BE: Well, Amanda, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Given how much I’m enjoying Season 1, I’m definitely psyched for the kick-off of Season 2.AT: Oh, thank you so much, Will, I really appreciate it. Take care!