British-born actress Amanda Tapping was raised in Toronto, Canada and attended the University of Windsor School of Dramatic Art before guest-starring in a number of series including The X-Files, Due South, Forever Knight, Millennium, and The Outer Limits. In Stargate SG-1 she plays Major Samantha Carter, whose expertise in all science matters often proves invaluable to the team. The actress took time out from filming the series to talk to Amazon.co.uk.
Amazon.co.uk: How does Stargate SG-1 the series tie in to the movie?
Amanda Tapping: The series is a good segue from the movie, we’ve taken it from where the movie left off with two of the main characters–Colonel O’Neill and Daniel Jackson. It’s about a year later on from the movie and we get a message from Daniel Jackson who’s been left on this planet and we form a team and go back and get him. This then opens up possibilities when you realise that there are limitless stargates out there in the galaxy and it sets up the whole series arc. It says we’re going back to the same place where the movie was and continuing with these characters and introducing new ones. I think it’s a nice segue because people who are fans of the movie don’t feel like we’ve forgotten the movie altogether and for people who don’t know the movie that well the series stands on its own. It was a nice transition even though the two leads are played by different actors.
“The series is a good segue from the movie….you realise that there are limitless stargates out there in the galaxy”
Amazon.co.uk: Is the series based around an ongoing story, or is it entirely standalone episodes?
Tapping: We do have some standalone episodes which work quite well, but there are also episodes which really open up the series arc and the mythology of the series. What we’re finding now, is that we keep going back and dipping into that mythology. Little threads that we’ve left dangling we’ll go back and revisit, and we’re actually going back and seeing the consequences of some of the planets we’ve visited. I think it’s important to have a large mythology and really strong story arcs [in a modern sci-fi series]. It gets people connected to the characters and you find out about the characters’ history and keep going back to that and finding out about different family members for example. I think it helps people to feel more connected. It helps to bind it all together, although we do have the standalone episodes as well where we don’t have to worry about remaining true to the mythology.
Amazon.co.uk: Does this give you the opportunity to play around with the format of the show?
Tapping: We do [play about with the format] to a degree but I think we also have to remember that it’s sci-fi and we have to stay honest to the genre so you don’t upset the balance of power. I think what makes it different and allows us a bit more freedom is that we’re present-day people, fallible human beings travelling through the galaxy, and we do keep coming back to earth at the end of the day so it allows us a more human element if you will. Because we don’t have the Prime Directive we make a lot of mistakes and it’s almost through our mistakes more so than our successes that we learn about different cultures or that you learn about us as characters.
Amazon.co.uk: You were instrumental in the development of your character from series one…How did this happen?
Tapping: I certainly don’t want to take any credit away from the writers and producers, but I went to them at the end of the first season and asked where they were going with my character – she’s part military, part scientist, and by trying to make her both we essentially made her neither one. We weren’t playing up to either strength and we needed to give her a more solid direction and I felt at the end of the first season that the other characters all had real strong super objectives–and Carter was just there to back up anyone who needed it. Loyal and stalworthy though she is she didn’t really have a super objective. The writers agreed and wrote her one. When I met with them they said they didn’t realise what was going to happen to the character, that I was going to bring so much to the table–which was very flattering–that they didn’t expect her to become this multi-dimensional character and to their credit when they did they really came up with some great stories for her. It was also important to me to soften some of those rough edges. I talked to them after the pilot and told them that women don’t really talk like this.
“I felt at the end of the first season …..Carter was just there to back up anyone who needed it….she didn’t really have a super objective.”
Amazon.co.uk: You seem to be on a similar wavelength to the writers. Do you write a lot?
Tapping: I try to do a lot of writing. I write with my female comedy troupe, we’re called Random Acts, it’s three women, and we started about ten years ago. Originally the idea was to do feminist based theatre, but I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to do comedy where we could deal with feminist issues but in a funny way because I didn’t want to stand up there on my soap box. There are some really funny issues such as the ideology that women were fed in the fifties about how to greet your husband when he comes in the door, with his slippers and a drink and make sure your make up’s perfect, and if you like a boy knit him a sweater, and it’s mindset which I find humorous because we’ve come so far, so we decided that’s the way to go and we started doing comedy, but it’s not all feminist based, it’s sometimes just quite silly. It’s sketch comedy, very physically based.
Amazon.co.uk: Would you describe yourself as an actor or a writer?
Tapping: I’d say I see myself as an actor more than anything else, and that can encompass comedy as well [I'd like to be in a position where I could write my own films] and even if I didn’t star in them I’d like to produce them. Certainly when you start to write a script you think about what sort of part would be good to play and you write around that.
Amazon.co.uk: How does acting in a sci-fi series compare to acting in other genres?
Tapping: For the most part [acting in sci-fi] is exactly the same [as acting in other genres]. You have to make whatever situation you’re dealing with real, so you treat it just like any other acting job and make it as real as possible so it’s as convincing for the audience as possible. The only thing I find strange is sometimes when we act in front of a green screen and they add in the CGI and effects afterwards. For the most part it’s turned out pretty well, but there’s one instance that’s just glaring to me of bad green screen acting. It was in an episode called The Tok’Ra which was in series two, and the Stargate was lined up and the director came up and said “This is the effect we’re going to see–it’s a crystal tunnel regenerating itself and it’s awesome, it’s awe-inspiring, you’ll be blown away by this effect when you see it and I wish we had some visuals to show you, but we don’t–just trust me it’s huge. It’s basically this tunnel making itself…”
So the camera came on I didn’t know what the others were doing because we were standing side by side. When I finally saw the show the camera pans past Daniel, who’s sort of [mimes scientific intrigue], and O’Neill is kind of [mimes a frown], and Teal’k of course has his [mimes impassive expression] alien face on, and I am like this [mimes gaping incredulity] with this look like Bambi caught in headlights. I looked at it and thought I’ve never looked so stupid – the truth is I probably have looked stupider, but there it is on screen for everyone to see. That for me was one of those glaring moments for me as an actor where you realise this is the genre where you’ve got to be careful. “You have to make whatever situation you’re dealing with real, so you treat it just like any other acting job and make it as real as possible”
Amazon.co.uk: Stargate was a little different to other series in that it was guaranteed to run for a certain amount of time. How was this of benefit to the production?
Tapping: We were so blessed in that MGM had committed to two seasons–Showtime had committed to buying two seasons, which was a lot of money to put forward, so we were able to build really beautiful standing sets because we had all this money, we were able to get really good special effects, we knew we could build a story over at least a couple of years, we had the luxury of developing our characters over time.
Used with permission from: www.amandatapping.com