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Interview : Amanda Tapping

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Amanda Tapping is best known for her role as the beautiful, intelligent Samantha Carter in the Stargate TV franchise. In 2007 Tapping helped to develop the web series “Sanctuary” in which she played the lead character Helen Magnus. “Sanctuary” is unique in many but particularly so because it is shot almost entirely using green screen techniques. “Sanctuary” was reworked and released as a television series in 2008. In addition to playing the lead character, Tapping is an executive producer and director on the series.
Ellyssa Harris caught up with Amanda Tapping while she was at a Stargate convention in Vancouver.

Q. Do you ever get tired of people asking you about Stargate?

Amanda Tapping: No, I don’t because I’m still doing Stargate so it’s still part of my life and it’s a huge part of my career and what I’ve done. It’s hugely important to me so no, I don’t get sick of people asking me about Stargate and it’s still relatively fresh.

Q. What was your reaction to being asked to lead the Atlantis expedition?

AT: Hugely flattered, massively flattered that they would consider me for that. Then I had the question as to whether this was the right thing for me to be doing, whether Carter was the right choice to lead and Joe [Mallozzi] and Paul [Mullie] actually sat me down and came up with such a compelling argument for me. They’re so approachable. They made it so easy for me to say yes. For me it was the perfect contract, I’d had Olivia and I was able to still spend a lot of time with her and still do the show, it was only 14 episodes out of the 20 and everything about it was just “this works, this works really well”.

Q. The character changed considerably from SG1 to Atlantis, do you feel that she changed too much?

AT: I do a little bit yeah. I made a conscious choice off the top to make her out of her comfort zone, to be a leader that was about listening to her team and throwing it out to them more often than making the decisions for herself. I tried to make her as respectful in this new situation as possible and I think in doing so watered her down a bit and then I think that we didn’t have the opportunity to flesh her out as a leader as much as we would have liked. And it was weird to watch teams going through the gate and to be staying behind, it was really hard at first. I was like “well, I should be on that mission, I might be able to help out” but what Cater was trying to do was make sure that the team felt respected, that their positions were all safe and they felt respected and that was Carter’s MO as a leader and I think in some ways she could have shown a bit more strength. When she was able to show backbone she showed it but I think we could have fleshed her out a bit more.

Q. Carter is obviously a very strong female character that a lot of people look up to and are inspired by, would you be pleased with your daughter looking up to Cater as a role model?

AT: Absolutely, yeah. I think Sam is a great role model in that she is incredibly smart and unapologetic about it and that she’s strong and she’s loyal beyond measure. So many things that I admire about here that I would love for my daughter to take on,.

Q. Was there ever anything during filming that you were asked to do that you were uncomfortable with or refused to do?

AT: The very beginning, my very first wardrobe call I was asked to put on a push up bra and a tiny little tank top, as my very first wardrobe fitting and I panicked because I thought oh my god they cast the wrong person I’m not that and this character isn’t that and if they wanted a blonde boobie bombshell they cast the wrong girl. I remember crying in Christina McQuarrie’s little wardrobe change room and saying why are they asking for this? I was told I was going to go up to the executive producers and show them this little look and I said no, I can’t do it, maybe they’ve made a huge mistake. It turns out it wasn’t Brad [Wright] or Rob [Cooper] … or Brad and Jonathan [Glassner] at the time it was networks and whatever, it was different people who were making that decision but I freaked and I guess Christina went up to them and she’s uncomfortable and this is not what the character is to her and maybe you can come down and explain to her why you want this incredibly strong, feisty woman to be this and so they said “Don’t worry about it”. In some ways it was very painful and especially as a young actress, it was my first huge gig and I didn’t want to blow it but by the same token, I was bawling, I was sitting in the wardrobe room crying saying this is not what this character is, I don’t see this character as this and if we’re going to cartoon this character then cast somebody different.

Q. I for one thank you for standing up against that.

AT: It didn’t seem like it was a huge fight. For me at the time it was hugely emotional but Brad and Jonathan certainly didn’t go “No she has to wear the push-up bra and low cut tank top”, I think it was powers beyond that that were trying to do that and Brad and Jonathan totally stood behind it so it was good. But I remember going into the makeup trailer afterwards for hair and makeup test and I was still crying and going oh my god they totally cast the wrong girl.

Q. Well obviously they didn’t…

AT: Phew.

Q. You’ve moved on to Sanctuary but there’s still the Stargate movies coming out, can you tell us anything about the movie?

AT: No, not that I can’t, it’s that I don’t know anything about the movie. Michael and I were just talking about it, as far as we know it’s going to be filming in the Fall and Rick’s going to be in it and Chris and Michael and I don’t know anything else beyond that.

Q. How did Sanctuary start? Was the original intention to be something that was done on the web with the potential to lead into a TV series or … how did it begin?

AT: Our intention was to live on the web. Our intention was to do a convergence of new media and I have to say I wasn’t actually part of the company that formulated this grand idea, it was people far smarter than I who tried to put this thing together. We were going to do a gaming aspect, social networking the show and make it a whole fully multimedia platform site. In lofty ambitions to be sure, especially trying to monetise on the web at the time that we launched it. I think what the company did wrong was spend too much money trying to make the show and not enough on setting up the other platforms. We tried to create a multimedia company with very little money so when the money ran out and it all sort of started to fall off the rails we knew we had a great show, we knew the premise was awesome. Damien [Kindler] had written this incredible script, we knew that there was potential for television, that it was just ripe with possibility for a TV show and it was the networks that came calling and said you know, what about putting this on TV? And Martin [Wood] and Damien and I kind of went well… we were the only people left standing in the company, everyone else had sort of floated off and we went OK let’s see what we can do. Then, because we didn’t have a big studio it became this fight to try and find the funding for the show. Nothing we have done with Sanctuary has been conventional.
It’s always been a struggle, it has always been breaking new business models, breaking new ground. It’s always been a massive leap of faith, we’ve thrown our own money at it and at the end of the day I think I’m most proud of the fact that we’re still standing and that the show is actually doing really well, it’s sold in I think 50 countries around the world now, we’ve just started filming our second season so it started as a little web series that was going to become this really cool interactive site and now it’s a cool television series.

Q. Do you think with the success of Sanctuary and internet series like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog do you think more things will lead that way in the future, do you think that’s possibly the future of entertainment?

AT: Absolutely I do think there will be more things on the web and I think there’s a business model that will make it work. Do I think that it’s the future of entertainment exclusively? No. TV is not dying, there will always be TV I think but I think that there is clearly enough interest and enough eyeballs to warrant both succeeding and totally think there’s a business model that will make doing those kind of shows, and even getting us back on there, who knows, in another show that we’re developing another series, I think there’s definitely a way to go but I don’t think it’s the only way to go.

Q. What kind of differences did you see moving from the webisodes to TV, were there any particular stumbling blocks you came across that you didn’t expect?

AT: In terms of filming there were no differences. We filmed the webisodes as if we were filming a TV series. The stumbling blocks were filming against a green screen and learning how that works almost exclusively and we now for TV are filming with different cameras than we did for the web series just because the RED One is available and we love it. The biggest stumbling block was trying to… we had a very clear idea of what we wanted the show to be and now you have all these networks who get to weigh in, pay a licence fee and get to make some decisions for you in terms of what they would like to see. And it’s converging all those decisions and deciding what works and what doesn’t while still maintaining the integrity of the show but listening to the committee of different people, and of different voices who want a hand in it, it’s not a stumbling block so much as it is a learning curve for us.

Q. How difficult is it adjusting to the responsibilities of not just acting in but producing the show?

AT: I love producing. It turns out it’s something that I’m not that bad at [laughs] and I think I’m actually pretty good at. I love doing post production, I love the prep period with Martin and Damien and I love the decision making process, I love the fact that I’m in on the casting….
For me the hardest part about it is time management, walking off set as Helen Magnus and running upstairs to a conference call with the network as Amanda Tapping, Executive Producer, and then running back down onto set and becoming Helen Magnus again and taking off the various hats and juggling them all in the air. The actual physical side of producing is really exciting to me and really interesting, the money side of it, finding the financing, dealing with the financing, getting money for the show I hate, but the producing side I love. It’s just the time management thing that gets a little niggly. That’s the only thing I have a really hard time with.

Q. We’ve seen an number of the regular Stargate cast members in the webisodes and a couple of them in the series, will we see more of those that did the webisodes in the TV series at all?

AT: You know I was just talking to Paul McGillion about that today ‘cause I’d love to see Wexford come back he was so awesome. We actually tried to get David [Nykl] for an episode as a completely different character to what he played in the websiodes but he’s shooting a film in Bulgaria or something right now so we couldn’t get him but definitely yeah. I mean, it’s such a tight knit community here in Vancouver but the Stargate family is also just this incredibly tight knit family, for sure we’d love to bring people over. I think what we were trying to do with the websiodes was parley the relationships that we had and utilise these really good actors and cool characters. With season one we tried to distance a little bit because we wanted it not to be a subsidiary of Stargate. Sanctuary in its own right is a really good show and stands on its own, we didn’t want to be too connected… not in a bad way, because obviously we owe huge amounts to Stargate, but we wanted it to be a separate entity, and now we’re established and we’re going into a second season so definitely there’ll be opportunity.

Q. You’re attending a number of conventions this year in Canada and the US, Australia and the UK, you’re producing and acting in a series… how do you find the time?

AT: Ahh, my day has 36 hours in it, it’s something to do with the fact that I can fly around the sun and spin the Earth backwards… no, I don’t know how I do it and honestly I had no idea I was doing so many conventions this year until I looked at my schedule and I thought what was I thinking!. Creation came back, and this was quite a while ago, I think I was still shooting season 1 of Sanctuary so at the time I was like sure, yeah, ok, I can do that. GABBIT of course my beloved event in England which raises so much money for charity was a no-brainer.
Australia because I love the guys down there and I hadn’t been in such a long time and I thought ok and yeah and then I just sort of went oh my god I’m doing all these events what was I thinking? The beauty of it especially in Canada the events that I do and in England is I get to raise a lot of money for charity, my fees go to my various charities so it’s sort of a weekend of work but I raise money for a good charity.

Q. If you hadn’t perused acting as a career what would you be doing right now?

AT: I always thought I would be a doctor, I think, without sounding to esoteric or full of myself, I would love to work with an organisation like Doctors Without Borders. But I had a huge interest in environmental science in school and won the environmental science award in high school and science is a big component of my family and my brother are heavily involved so I can see some sort of medical or scientific bent in my life and then there’s a part of me that thinks oh, I would live on a hobby farm and make my own soap and do sculptures [laughs] I don’t know, I really don’t, it’s interesting because now I’m sort of transitioning as an actor into producing and directing and I love it so I don’t know, I can’t really imagine what my life would be like if I weren’t doing this.

Q. What advice would you give to someone attending a convention for the first time?

AT: Relax [laughs] no. I don’t know if this is a piece of advice but more of an observation from me, what I love about conventions is it’s likeminded people with similar interests who’ve connected on the internet through forums and different blog sites and they get to meet, from all over the world. So people from Australia and Egypt who would never have had the opportunity to meet each other are suddenly sitting there talking about Sam and Jack or Daniel and Vala you know what I mean? So I think ti’s one of those where you soak in the entire experience, there are so many interesting people here and people who all have a similar interest. It’s amazing how you can get 500 people in the room who all like the same one thing… or maybe don’t, you know like “Oh, I’m a Daniel Fan”, “I’m a Carter fan”, “I’m a Jack fan”, “I’m a Teal’c fan”, … “Oh yeah? Why is your character better than my character…” like it’s great, it seems like such a cool environment for someone coming to a convention who loves something enough to fly to a convention. It’s cool that you get to meet all these really amazing people with the same likeminded thoughts as you. That’s the part that blows me away. It’s the community, the social networking aspect of specifically of sci-fi fans in my experience who connect and connect in really real and true and interesting ways, with people who would never have the opportunity to meet. I think wow! So if you actually have the opportunity to attend a connection, like, “Wow, you’re from South Africa? Get out! Tell me about South Africa…”, what an amazing opportunity, so it’s cool.

Q. Well thank you very much for your time it’s been great talking to you.

AT: Thank you very much.

“Sanctuary” premieres on Australian Sci Fi Thursday, May 28 at 8:30pm.

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Author: Ellyssa Harris
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