Amanda Tapping interview: Stargate SG-1, Atlantis and Sanctuary

As The Ark Of Truth hits DVD, Stargate superstar Amanda Tapping - aka Samantha Carter - spares some time for a chat...

Amanda Tapping in The Ark Of Truth

Amanda Tapping has played Samantha Carter in the Stargate SG-1 and now Stargate: Atlantis for well over a decade. As the closing chapter in the SG-1 saga, The Ark Of Truth, hits DVD, she spared us some time for a chat in the middle of London.

More than a decade on a science fiction show is a remarkable feat, even more so that the character has been carried onto a second show as well. What is it that’s kept you hooked into the Stargate world all this time?

I love the character. At the end of the day she is fun to play, she’s interesting. The writers keep giving me new angles on her. It’s never become really boring. And Stargate was easy to stick with for ten years because it was fun. As dorky as that sounds, at the end of the day if you can laugh every day while doing your job regardless of what’s going on, which we did, then yeah! It makes it so worth it to be there. A, I had fun. B, I loved the character, and the stories and the mythology, so why would I leave?

A lot of actors would say weren’t you bored, weren’t you bored. And no, I wasn’t.

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It wasn’t a static character, though…

No, not at all. She kept growing and evolving and they would give her relationships that would change her. The relationship with her father really informed who she became as a woman. And her relationship with her team mates. So there was always something. They were always doing something with her that kept it interesting.

And then there was the move across to Atlantis, which allowed you to explore another side of her…

It felt like playing a totally different character. It was Sam Carter pulled back, and trying to show reverence to the people that she was in command of without being this didactic leader. She was trying hard to sit back and out of her comfort zone completely. I remember even as Amanda watching the cast go through the gate, and I sent them off on a mission, I was like I should be going through the gate! Wait a second, this is weird!

Was it out of your comfort zone as well?

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Yeah, I would say. Out of my comfort zone in that to be part of SG-1 for so long, and then to move across to an established show with an established cast with their dynamics. It was a little bit out of my comfort zone, yeah. But I have to say the cast of Atlantis honestly couldn’t have been more welcoming. They were really great, and made it that much easier. And we’re friends, we all know each other, we work on the same lot.

You’ve said in the past that the large initial order for Stargate episodes helped you get it off to an ambitious start…

… 44 episodes, yeah…You can’t imagine in the current climate something getting that kind of order from the off?It just doesn’t happen any more. We were so lucky, when we shot the pilot we knew we had the 44 episode pick up. It was basically would our characters survive the pilot. That was the big thing for Michael, Christopher and I! And then as soon as we found out that they refreshed our option after the pilot, then we had two years to explore the arcs of these characters, to really get into them.

It’s an astounding gift when you have that much time to drive the storyline of your character. You’re not just trying to jam every piece of information into two or three quick episodes. They gave us a lot of freedom.You’d done science fiction television in the past, but never a stint of such length. Could you input into to?

To a degree, yeah. At the end of season one, the writers were really amenable to us sitting down and discussing the direction of the character. And they always listened to the suggestions that the actors made and the thoughts that we had.

I for example wanted Carter to become a little warmer, give her more of a sense of humour, make her more accessible. I was never afraid of the vulnerability of the character, and I think that that’s not just because she’s a woman, but because people are vulnerable. People are emotional. I was never afraid of them showcasing that.

What I was afraid of was that she would become a bit too linear and single-minded in her thinking. And they were like no, no, no! What do you need? So I said can we do something where we talk about her relationship in the past or her history. And they brought everything to the table, it was amazing.

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Do you find with science fiction that it does by its nature have this habit of throwing up really strong female characters that other genres are weaker in?

Yeah, it does. It started way back. Gene Roddenberry introduced female characters, like Uhura. She was unprecedented on television. And I actually got called to task because I made mention of her and said that even though she still had to wear a short skirt, the fact of the matter was she was this incredibly strong, incredibly intelligent character who paved the way. Sci-fi has always done that, they’ve always put strong woman out there.

Now you’ve got the chance to bridge the two Stargate shows with The Ark Of Truth, and close off SG-1 to an extent. How was that?

It was perfect. And the fact that we knew we had another movie after Ark of Truth. Ark Of Truth was described to me recently as a gift to the fans, and it is. It wraps up ten years of this show, it’s a big thanks, in a big bow, to say here’s the episode that wraps up this massive storyline. And then it gives us the freedom to jump off and do individual stories from thereon.And it’s a very big bow as well! The budget clearly transcends the television show by an awful lot…

Absolutely, absolutely. You could feel it on set. The sets were bigger. On the TV show where we’d have 30 extras we had 80. We had more time to shoot the scenes, the battle sequences were bigger, the special effects were unbelievable. When you’ve got thirty ships firing at each other in space it’s like woah! It was huge.When the DVD then comes out in the States and hits the top ten, that must feel good.

Yeah. It bodes well for potentially more, more DVDs which we’re hopeful of.Which leads us onto Continuum, which sounds like a beast of a shoot from what I’ve read of it?

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Yeah!

And you say that with a huge smile on your face!

I do, yeah! I mean I got to spend eight days living on a moving ice flow in the Arctic Ocean, watching a nuclear submarine crash up through the ice, and shooting on a nuclear submarine. The Air Force brought in F-15s, we got to play around in those. It was massive. The scale of the shoot was massive.

And it’s a really nice, standalone piece. So if you’re not a fan of SG-1 or you’ve never seen it, the show will still make sense to you. But for fans of the show we bring back Richard Dean Anderson, and we bring back Cliff Simon and all these great characters from the past. General Hammond, Don Davis is back. It has a nice familiaral sense to it.

What’s the position with further DVDs?

Our fingers are all crossed! Ark Of Truth selling as well as it has bodes well.

When it came to the point where you moved away from Atlantis full time, to move onto Sanctuary, was it just because there was another project, or was this the time?I had been asked about Sanctuary two years ago basically. And I read the script, loved it, loved the idea of it, we shot a test scene in July of 2006 just to see if it would work. It was going to be a show that was going to live entirely on the web. We shot the pilot in January of 2007. Put out eight webisodes. But it’s hard to monetise this kind of show, on the Internet. Especially a show of that calibre. The budget was huge and it was an entirely virtual show.

When my contract for Atlantis was about to be renewed, I knew that Sanctuary had a chance of being picked up for television. We hadn’t yet, so it was a massive leap of faith on my part. If I walk away from Sanctuary, it dies. All these people who put their money and time in, it goes away. If I stick with Sanctuary, then there’s a better chance of us getting a broadcast deal. It was a really difficult decision, long talks with Joe Mallozzi, long talks with the Sanctuary producers. And eventually I just had to make the leap of faith. It wasn’t that I was sick of Stargate, it was that I had to give Sanctuary a chance.

Was it by choice then that you’ve kept your feet in the Stargate camp as well?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m hugely grateful that they’ve kept the door open, and they’ve been very gracious about it. Maybe Sam could come back toward the end of the season. So yeah, they’ve been amazing.One thing that strikes us about you is that you seem very generous with your fans. Sanctuary seems to be the embodiment of them, giving plenty back to the fans, right down to the tools for them to take their own spin on it. Was that always the intention, and is that interaction important to you?

Absolutely. First of all, I can’t even say enough about the fans. If it weren’t for them, Stargate wouldn’t have lasted ten years. They’ve been incredibly generous with us. I think that anyone who takes a look at our show and at the way that fandom has supported it and rolled with it, you have to acknowledge the fan base.

Sanctuary was the perfect way forward, and sadly we’ve fallen off the wagon a bit in keeping the fans as involved as we want. The nature of the show has changed because now networks own a bit more of it. Our ideology behind it was very pure, the vision was very pure. Giving back to the fans and saying look, you live on the Internet, let’s present this show to you, we’re going to make it this way, then let’s have some fun with it. Let’s make it interactive. Let’s start an energy and get the social network really moving behind the show. Our intention was quite pure, but it’s a very hard thing to make work.

It sounds like you enjoy it, though?

Love it! Absolutely love it!

You seem to land a lot of Doctor and Professor type of roles too?

[Laughs] It’s just the way it’s happened! I don’t do bimbo well, which I guess I should be grateful for. But even as a blonde starting out I was never comfortable doing that. And I always ending up getting roles where the women were a little strong and a little smarter, and less towards the sexy side. I don’t know if that’s good thing or a bad thing!It was a hard choice to make though presumably so early in your career. Do you think that’s what’s helped it to endure as well?

Totally, totally. I never felt comfortable playing the pretty card, I never felt like that was something I could play. For me it was I know that I’m smart, so let’s make that work. Because I’m not really comfortable doing the other thing!

Completely unrelated: apparently you founded a comedy group?

I did! Yep, that’s how I started out. Comedy is really my passion. I started out way before television doing sketch comedy with other women. Very much along the lines of, at the time it was Sensible Footwear, but now it’s Smack The Pony, French And Saunders, that kind of thing. That’s how I started out.

Do you have an urge to go back to comedy?

Oh my God, yeah! Every day! That’s why SG-1 was such great fun, because we all had such great senses of humour. Even though the character I played wasn’t funny, I had a lot of fun playing it. Comedy is definitely where my head is at most of the time.

And what’s next from you?

Sanctuary coming to ITV in the fall. Continuum being released in the summer. And that’s sort of my next year. Sanctuary, thirteen episodes. And of course Ark Of Truth out now, go buy it, thank you very much!

Amanda Tapping, thank you very much…!

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