Amanda Tapping played the character of Samantha Carter for 10 years of Stargate SG-1, and put in more time as “Sam” on both Stargate Atlantis and the series’ offshoot movies.
And while the Stargate will never be far away, back when we did this interview with Amanda in 2008, it was her new show — Sanctuary, on the SyFy network — that was getting most of her love.
In honor of that show’s second season, we took a little look back at where Amanda has been. We talked to Ms Tapping all about her roles as both star and executive producer of Sanctuary, and the actress also told us about Stargate — past, present, and future.
When actress Amanda Tapping began work on Stargate SG-1 back in early 1997, she wasn’t even sure the series would even last beyond the initially-contracted two-season run on Showtime.
So of course, the idea that the show would ultimately last more than 10 seasons and break Neilsen ratings records was too far-fetched to even consider.
Now starring in her own series on the SyFy Channel, Sanctuary, Amanda Tapping shared her thoughts with us about projects past and present, the best and worst parts of her job now, and whether or not we’ll ever see her again in the Stargate realm.
Given how seemingly every media outlet in the world drenches us with 24/7 celebrity updates, it’s no wonder we envision the life of an actress to be oh-so-sweet.
You know: Between shooting scenes, hang out on-set in a posh trailer. After “working” for a few hours, take a limo back to fancy Beverly Hills home, go out at night to party with Hollywood hotties and other celebs, head back home… and then do it all over again.
But for actress Amanda Tapping, such a lifestyle is truly the stuff of fiction. Apart from the fact that she lives and works in Vancouver, Canada — some 1200 miles north of Hollywood — you can forget the parties, the hotties, the limos and the leisure time. She’s much too busy, and too goal-oriented, to bother with all that.
In fact, this “Queen of Sci-Fi” (so dubbed by the fans) has just two things on her agenda right now: family and work. And that short list consumes pretty much every moment of every day, whether or not she’s actively shooting her show, because — as you will find out — Tapping has thoroughly earned her new Executive Producer title.
From Stargate to Sanctuary
After 10 years and 200 episodes of Stargate SG-1, Tapping served one more year on Stargate Atlantis as Major Samantha Carter before leaving that universe to create another.
Stargate fans who tuned into her new TV series, Sanctuary, were surprised to see “their” Sam with dark hair, speaking with a British accent and going about her new duties with a wise, almost matronly, manner. (Guys, you’re in luck: The new gal knows her automatic weapons, too.)
Although Sanctuary airs on the Sci-Fi channel, it’s set on Earth, primarily in the modern-day, with nary a means of interstellar travel in sight. Still, the program offers viewers a healthy helping of science with its fiction.
Leaving the world we know behind
In the new series, Tapping plays Dr Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old woman from England’s Victorian era who hardly ages due to… well, let’s just call it a little college drug experimentation.
She runs the Sanctuary — a home for creatures great and small, legendary and supposedly mythical, some dangerous… and all freaky. (Seriously: The Loch Ness Monster and Harry Potter’s house elf have nothin’ on some of these beasties.)
These “abnormals” live among us regular humans, and are largely feared because they’re misunderstood, à la Wicked. By housing the abnormals at the Sanctuary, Dr Magnus keeps them safe, stops them from harming the populace — and, since they’re there anyhow, carries out some research and cataloging.
One thing that truly sets the show apart are the visuals, which are magnificent both in style and in scope. This small-budget venture is able to create elaborately-detailed scenes and sweeping views because it shot against a green screen.
In post-production, the background is replaced with realistic digital renderings of almost anything the writers and producers could imagine: catacombs under Rome, the middle of the Bermuda triangle, a plane crash on a snowy mountaintop, and the Gothic architecture of the vast sanctuary itself.
We had the chance to talk one-on-one with Ms Tapping, and found out how, over the course of a decade, her career has grown from chasing spaceships and System Lords to include babies and balance sheets.
Amanda Tapping interview: New show, new skills
Nancy: So, beyond acting, how involved are you with Sanctuary? I know you have the executive producer credit, but this is really very much your project, isn’t it?
Amanda Tapping: Yes. Damian [Kindler] conceived of the show, and when he brought it to Martin [Wood] and me, the three of us just took it and ran with it. So on a day-to-day basis, from being involved with pre-production when we were mapping out the stories for the first season, and now we’re doing it again for the second season, white-boarding all the stories, putting together the crew and the cast and the financing.
That was a big part of my responsibilities — getting that together. Because we don’t have the backing of a major studio, and we’re actually doing something quite unorthodox — creating a high-end product which we’re then selling to a world marketplace, so that’s been a huge job. The corporate end of it is part of my responsibility, and that has been the least fun.
Nancy: Is that something you’ve had experience with in the past, or how did you end up with that?
Amanda Tapping: No, it’s sort of a trial by fire, but it’s been good. I have a good head for business, and I understand the nuance of business, and I’ve certainly been in the entertainment industry long enough to understand the minutiae of how all that works, so, that’s been an education.
Then beyond that, with the actual day-to-day shooting — not only being the lead actor on the show, but also I feel like my job on set was to make sure everyone was happy, and that the crew was taken care of, and that everyone was respected and heard.
And then post-production: I’ve learned about color crafting shows and doing sound mixes and pulling back and all sorts of things I’ve never had the opportunity to do before — editing. So I’m actually heavily involved, from start to finish, and it’s been amazing.
I just feel like, as an actor, it’s been a great education, but now as a woman. I’m in my 40s, and I’m now looking beyond just being an actor, and this has been a great way to sort of branch out my career.
Nancy: I was going to say it would really help your resume — you could go into all kinds of things at this point.
Amanda Tapping: Absolutely, absolutely — and you should get a feel for how the whole machine works, and then pick your specialty, if you will. For me, I love seeing the whole process.
Nancy: Is there any particular element, apart from acting, that just really appeals to you, that is fun, not tedious…
Amanda: I feel I would love to direct again — I like the scope of a job like that. I like the scope of producing, too — going into the office and sitting down with the guys and sort of looking at the overall picture. It’s like having a big wide-angle lens on the entire show. I love that.
The directing for me is very much the same: You get to take your vision and put it out into every single department, and then put all the pieces together. It’s like putting together a massive puzzle, and so I hope to get the opportunity to do that again.
Nancy: So, you’ve been Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1 for ten years, and then you had the year on Atlantis. Did you ever imagine actually playing your character there for that long? And do you think you could play Helen on Sanctuary for that long — do you think there’s enough there?
Amanda Tapping: I didn’t — I can’t. But you know what’s really funny is I couldn’t have imagined playing Sam Carter for that long, either. It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re having fun.
It sounds like a lame little old adage, but it’s absolutely true. Stargate was so joyful, and even for all our ups and downs, it was a great show to work on — an amazing family — and so the ten years didn’t feel like ten years. It honestly didn’t, and people go, “Oh my God, you were on that show for a decade!” and I’d say, “Yeah, but it went by really quickly!”
And season one of Sanctuary was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life, in terms of wearing so many hats. It was exhausting, yet at the end of it, I was. “Oh wow, that was great!”
So you’re ultimately exhausted and revitalized by the amount of work. So can I imagine playing Helen for ten years? No. It could possibly happen — sure — and would those ten years go by just as quickly? Sure, they probably would.
Amanda: You know I’m very lucky in that I’m working with two men, particularly Damian and Martin, whom are my best friends, but beyond that they completely respect and admire women, which is a unique position to be in when you’re in a very male-dominated industry.
They will defer to me, and say, “Well, okay, Amanda, what do you think?” As opposed to, “This is how it’s happening.” I love that! It’s very invigorating, and you must find that to be working in a creative environment with people you enjoy working with.
There’s a symbiotic relationship, there’s a cohesion of ideas, and it doesn’t feel like there’s any one-upmanship. We’ve all talked each other off the ledge, and we also know that at any given time that’s gonna happen, but we’re all there for each other.
It’s been almost three years we’ve been working on this, and it’s not only seeing what you build grow, but the joy of watching it start to blossom.
WANT TO SEE SANCTUARY? Click here to watch it on demand via Amazon
Why her sanctuary shines
Nancy: So what has made you so passionate about this project in particular?
Amanda Tapping: Partly the people I’m working with, because I don’t think our company will just be Sanctuary — there are other opportunities for it.
Then Sanctuary itself I think is such a cool premise, and such an interesting show, and this is an interesting time to be making it. Because of the technology that we’re using and because of the possibilities we have with the green screen and with the RED one camera (a digital video camera that captures images at more than twice the resolution of a high definition camera).
But at the heart of it, it’s an amazing story and a really, really, awesome character — great women characters on this show. I love a show where the lead is a woman, and one of the other leads is an amazingly strong woman.
The backstory is amazing to me, the history between Magnus and Druitt, the history that she’s lived. She’s an awesome character, I absolutely love her, and so I can get hyper-passionate just talking about Helen. She’s so cool — she’s so not like me. The challenge as an actress is so cool.
Nancy: Well there’s a hundred-odd years of history to deal… to go back and do that in the context of the show. It must be a lot of fun for you, too.
Amanda Tapping: It’s very fun, it’s very fun. We’re actually talking now about spending a bit more time going back and seeing the different things we’ve alluded to — trying to do it without that hammering over the head.
This is a woman who’s actually known a great number of presidents and artists and writers and some of the great minds of her time, so there’s a cool back story there that we tap into.
She’s unapologetic and hugely compassionate, but also very reserved, and so I find the dichotomy of playing her — this Victorian-eraVictorian-era woman living in modern times with a daughter that she works closely with — who’s also a woman who could be killed as a result of the work that they’re doing.
There’s all this nuance to her: “Wow, she brought this child into the world. Why would she do that?” There are so many choices she made that sort of question it and you go, “Oh, well, let’s dive into that.” Never dull.
Nancy: Is it hard acting against nothingness and trying to reference things?
Amanda Tapping: I guess the best way to describe it — and I’ve said this before in interviews — is that it feels like you’re doing theater.
You’ve got a very minimal set, so the focus then becomes the relationship between the characters and your relationship to the words that you’re saying, your connection emotionally and even physically to what you’re saying, what you’re doing at the time. Strips away all the beauty around it, and the beauty then just becomes the moment. It forces you to play absolutely in the moment — no distractions.
So in a lot of ways, it’s actually more challenging because you don’t have all of the things around to work with. But in other ways, so much simpler, because it’s just about the words and the work and the connection between the characters.
Nancy: …and that ultimately comes out in the quality of the show.
Amanda Tapping: I think so. I think so — I think there’s some really raw, beautiful connections that have been made, and they’ve been made because we’ve had nothing else but the work and each other, and so it’s kind of lovely. It’s kind of doing really minimalist theater. And then you add this really beautiful backdrop months after the fact, and you go, “Oh my God, that’s great.”
Nancy: So you’re still excited the first time you see the end result?
Amanda Tapping: Oh God, yeah. Yeah — in fact, it always looks better than I thought it would. You know the first time I actually saw the big pan down shot of the Sanctuary, I was like, “Are you kidding me?! That’s the scene? Oh my God!”
The three of us get little “Whee!” moments when our effects house emails us the latest renderings. (laughs) We all pore over the computer and squeal like small children.
A trip to Atlantis
NJP: Could we touch a little on your time on Stargate Atlantis — which was going on while you were planning Sanctuary?
AT: Yeah, I actually shot the webisode for Sanctuary before… that was in January 2007 — and I started my first season, which was season four of Atlantis, that February.
NJP: So you knew it wasn’t going to be a one-season deal if Sanctuary took off — or what was sort of the plan there?
AT: No — at that point Sanctuary was just living and breathing on the web, so I committed to one season of Atlantis not knowing if it was going to be picked up or what was going to happen next. But Sanctuary was going to be the project I did in the off-season, and at that point we were only doing it for the web.
My commitment on Atlantis was for the full season, but it was only for a certain number of days per episode. So if Sanctuary were to continue in the way it was going, there was still a possibility to make it work. It wasn’t in competition with Stargate Atlantis, because it was only on the web at the time we could produce it.
NJP: How did you like working on the show — especially compared to what you’re doing now and SG-1?
AT: It was interesting. It was very different. I love the cast of Atlantis and I’ve known them for a long time — but I was very cautious about not stepping on anyone’s toes about the fact that it wasn’t “my” show.
I treated myself more like a guest star than a regular when I first got there, because it’s their show. I mean you’re bringing in this other character from a show [Stargate SG-1] that’s been on for ten years, well-established, and I didn’t want anyone to feel threatened by that. I didn’t want them to feel I was coming in to take over — I was just coming to do whatever I could on what I already thought was a great show.
NJP: And that sense of being an outsider was sort of reflective of the actual situation, too.
AT: Absolutely. That was the thing for [her SG-1 & Atlantis character] Carter — it was really interesting, because the relationship that she had with her crewmates on Atlantis was not dissimilar to how I felt going in.
Carter went in saying, “I am going to defer to the expertise of the people on this base, and that’s how I’m going to chose to move this machine, by respecting the people around me and by listening to what they have to say,” and that’s how I went in, too.
NJP: Right, you played it very differently. On Atlantis, Carter seemed much more stressed, not as exuberant as on SG-1… I’m curious about the combination of actor versus character.
AT: I think it’s partly the writing as well. I talked to Joe and Paul about the fact that I didn’t want to go in kicking ass and busting balls — which would be Carter’s bent, I think, in a subordinate situation — but as a leader I think she said, “Okay, well this is the first time I’ve ever had a real command. I don’t want to screw it up,” and “How would I be the most effective leader in a place that I’ve never been before?”
So that’s how I approached it with Joe [Mallozzi] and Paul [Mullie]. I wish we had done a bit more with her — gotten back to a bit more original Carter by the end of the first season than we did. But I think that the fact that there were twenty episodes, with all these characters: How do you know how to serve each one and still tell the story, still serve the fans and still serve the show?
I had some great stuff — “Trio” for example — such a great episode for Carter and McKay and Keller, and we had so much fun shooting it. They gave me great stuff, so I think had I stayed for another season, then you would have seen a different version of Carter in command. I think she would have gotten her balls back. (laughs)
Stepping back through the Stargate
NJP: Are there plans for you to work on any more Stargate stuff?
AT: Yeah! Absolutely. I’m not signed on as of yet but, I’ve been asked about my availability for both the SG-1 and Atlantis movies so, and I said unequivocally I will always make myself available for Stargate.
NJP: That’s great — I know all the fans will probably appreciate that, too.
AT: Yeah, well, it’s family, you know what I mean? We owe a lot to our fans, and I’m very respectful of the fact that the fans have been so supportive, and so many of them have been so supportive of this new project. But I still get a lot of, “You don’t look like Sam Carter anymore, what the hell were you thinking,” with the hair and the accent.
NJP: But that’s the point.
AT: Yeah — that’s exactly the point. But the fact of the matter is you can always go home, and as I said to Brad Wright, and to Rob Cooper and to Joe, “Whatever you guys need, of course I’m there,” because they gave me so much — and I’m hugely grateful for the opportunities that Stargate has afforded.