Sci Fi Press Tour Part 2: Amanda Tapping Q&A

by Susan Getgood on October 4, 2008

in Science Fiction, TV/Film

Cross posted to BlogHer

Like many of my fellow sci fi fans, I looked forward to the premiere of Sanctuary Friday night (10/3) because it is one of the few new science fiction shows we are getting this year. The other is Fringe, upon which I’ve already commented over at Snapshot Chronicles.

But Sanctuary isn’t interesting simply because there isn’t much else to divert our attention. Some of the other reasons the show appeals to me:

  • It started as a web-based show last year before it was picked up by Sci Fi
  • It uses green screen for its sets
  • It stars a woman – Tapping – in her early 40s. Amen to that, especially in such a fanboy genre. She’s also an executive producer.

Amanda Tapping did a Q&A during last weekend’s Sci Fi Channel digital press tour, and addressed many of these things in her comments.

On her new role as executive producer of Sanctuary. Tapping finds it to be one of the most challenging jobs she’s ever done. She’s extraordinarily busy and commented:

“I now have the completely biased opinion that actors are wimps. Because I used to think that Sam Carter was the hardest job in the world. 10 pages of technobabble — I’m going insane. And now I’m like, please, please sweetheart. If only. Yeah I miss being an actor.”

Like many moms, she also worries that she doesn’t spend enough time at any one of her jobs – producer, mom, actor. I’m sure many of the parents reading this will recognize themselves in her comment that she doesn’t feel like she’s 100% anywhere.

She works at her acting/producing job 14-16 hours per day when they are filming and then goes home to be a mom, with weekends devoted to family. It’s a juggling act that we all play, regardless of how rich or famous. But well worth it.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “I have a really happy child. She’s well adjusted, very funny, very secure and I think if that’s the kind of child I am raising, I’m doing a good job.”

On leaving Stargate and her new character Helen Magnus. Tapping played the role of Samantha Carter in the Stargate franchise for more than 10 years. She said that only a really special character could have drawn her away, and it was a very difficult, tear-filled decision:

“The Stargate franchise has been great to me, the character has been good to me, it was a massive thing to let go of that. By the same token, to be honest, as I was bawling my eyes out, I was thinking there’s this whole new groundswell of creativity that’s coming up, a whole new challenge ahead of me. I was really excited by it, so it was this real double edged sword for a while. And slowly the excitement took over for the angst and pain.”

While it wasn’t easy to say good-bye to Carter, Tapping knew it was time, and describes it as a “soft landing:” “I did episode one of Atlantis and I just did their last episode last week so I never really left home. I just said, see you later.”

For Tapping, part of what makes Helen Magnus so interesting is her backstory and the fact she is from Victorian England:

“It [Victorian England] defined women in a a huge way. The fact that she was a woman who thought outside the box, who pushed the envelope socially and scientifically so appealed to me. In an era when it would have been so easy to toe the party line and be status quo, she blew it out.”

Another element that contributed to Tapping’s interest in the character were some of the strange choices Helen makes, including the great love of her life John Druitt (played by the excellent Christopher Heyerdahl ) and the decision to have a child. “At the bottom of it all is a 157 year old woman who is incredibly lonely,” she said.

In an episode called The Five, Tapping says we find out how the character has lived for so long.

On creatures and mythology. Tapping said that much of the mythology is taken from modern day mythology – the things that go bump inthe night, that scared us as children. They’ve also taken things in modern life, such as autism, and put a new meaning around them: “What I love about Sanctuary is that we (the characters) firmly believe that whatever we’re studying is in fact the evolution to our species.”

On green screen. Sanctuary doesn’t have sets. Everything is filmed in green screen. This presents some unique challenges to actors, but Tapping thinks the benefits are worth it. She said that once you get used to it, it’s like doing theater where you have to work with a few props and set pieces to create an environment for both yourself and the audience. The hardest thing to communicate is scope. Referring to the lovely view of the Rocky Mountains we had, she said:

“We could be in this room and all the walls would be green, but I would have to imagine a stunning panoramic view, and something that may occasionally pull my eye away. I have to create that feel, that’s the challenge.”

She said that green screen isn’t necessarily cheaper but it gives them more freedom to incorporate just about anywhere, anything in their storylines.

On how the show started on the web and migrated to network. Tapping said their initial intentions were to create a web-based show and social networking site on which Sanctuary fans could interact with the show and each other:

“We started on the web with the purest intention of living and breathing on the web because we understand sci fi and we understand the fan base, and we thought why not take a show straight to them.”

But they couldn’t monetize it, so they started to look for more traditional outlets. The logical choice was broadcast tv. If/when they got that going, they could go back to the web. That remains her plan. If the show is successful, she hopes to implement some of the interactive experiences they had initially planned.

On the next Stargate movie. She doesn’t know anything about it, except that she’s been asked to participate and has said yes.

On fan fiction. While she can’t read fan fiction as a producer due to legal issues, she loves that there is so much creativity devoted to her shows. She recalls showing the occasional story to the Stargate producers, telling them “See what happens with Sam and Jack. Looks good on paper.”

My question: Our kids put so many different constructs on what we do when we are not with them, what we do for a living. I asked Tapping what her daughter thinks she does for a living, given that she can’t watch the shows:

“She sees commercials, and she sees Stargate sometimes. You turn on a television, it seems impossible to turn it on without seeing Stargate somewhere. And she goes ‘Mumma.’ But she actually knows that my new show is called Sanctuary and she knows that I dyed my hair brown for my new show. I don’t know that she’s actually put together that I go to work and make a tv series. She’s been to set, she’s met Bigfoot, she’s seen things and so she knows that I go to this weird place, and that it ends up on tv but I’m not sure that at 3 and a half she’s made the full connection.”

“But she actually said to me, the best quote ever from my child is ‘Mumma, everyone has to have a plan’ and I said ‘You know what Olivia, you’re right. And I said What’s your plan?’ And she said ‘Sanctuary'”

Tapping was clearly so pleased that her daugher, at such a young age, had paid enough attention to know what her mom’s new job was, even if she didn’t really understand exactly what Mum does. It was that pleasure, more than anything else, that helped me identify with her, and reinforced my decision to at least give her show a try.

I watched a screener of the first epsode and some of the visual effects had not been added. It’s a bit slow; there’s lots of story exposition, and it dragged in places.

It also definitely falls more into the Stargate class – good TV if you like the genre and the star but it isn’t going to convert anyone. Unlike Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, all of which pushed the envelope and brought new fans into the sci fi genre. Tapping hinted that there is a lot more to come, so I’ll with-hold final judgment until we’ve seen a few more eps.

Bottom line: There are worse ways to spend an hour. Give it a shot. I plan to.

Bonus: A fun activity you can play while you watch is spot the sci fi stars. Many of the current crop of sci fi shows are filmed in Vancouver and it’s a kick to spot favorites (or not favorites) from other shows. Kandyse McClure is danger of being typecast as bitchy gitlfriend, though. You’ll see what I mean when you watch.

Attendees at the Sci Fi digital press event paid their own travel expenses.

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