interview by Douglas Eby
Speaking from the set of STARGATE SG-1 in Vancouver, Amanda Tapping notes the series has just begun production for its second season, and that it has been picked up for an additional two seasons, a total of 88 episodes. "So we have a long way to go. I'm absolutely enjoying the evolution of the show" she says.
Her character, Captain Samantha Carter -- or Sam -- was written before she was cast: "I wasn't even a thought in their minds when they were creating her. But I hope that once they decided to cast me, that there's a certain amount of me that they're bringing in, in terms of sense of humor. And I think they've sort of been testing us all in certain episodes to see what they can do with our characters, and mine has been going off on an interesting track."
Tapping recalls the pilot episode was "very much 'Let's get to know who these people are' and Carter comes across as very strong, very committed, I would say something of a hardass, in that she feels she has to prove something to these men that she's dealing with. And as the show has progressed, that's not an issue anymore, and they're allowing Carter more sensitivity, which is really nice." She also credits the crew, which is almost identical to the first season's, for making the show a pleasure for her.
Born in England and raised in Toronto, Tapping has guest starred on series including THE X-FILES, DUE SOUTH, FOREVER KNIGHT and FLASH FORWARD. A graduate of the University of Windsor School of Dramatic Art, she has credits in a number of theatrical productions such as "Steel Magnolias", "Look Back in Anger," "Children of A Lesser God" and "The Taming of the Shrew" and says that live theater is still a passion: "That was my base of training. I'd love to be able to do theater during the hiatus. For me, as an actor, getting back on stage really works all those muscles all over again. It's a different style of acting. It's scary to get up on stage. But I miss it like crazy." The break in production for STARGATE SG-1 comes during Christmas and New Years, and Tapping used that time for a vacation with her husband, to move their household to Vancouver, and to act in an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS.
As for the evolution of her character Samantha Carter, Tapping feels that in the coming season "they're going to open up her technical expertise a little more, and allow that to shine through. She is, after all, an astrophysicist, in a show about space. And I think they're going to flesh out our relationships a bit more. The beauty of the show is that the four SG-1 members have such a great chemistry personally, so they didn't really have to work on that, because we all jelled so well as actors and human beings.
"In terms of Carter, hopefully they'll get a little more interested in what's happening in her personal life. She's the only one who doesn't have a family, or a history of ex-wife or ex-husband. She's a single, determined young woman. So they're fleshing that out a bit. In the first season, they gave me a great episode where I find a little girl on a planet, and you get to see this other side of Carter, in terms of her mothering instincts and her ability to love, and her need for love. And it was really lovely to play that. They're giving me more episodes where I get to be a little bit more sensitive, and a little more human in terms of raw emotion, which is really nice."
As a theoretical astrophysicist and Pentagon expert, Carter has had to use a lot of technical and scientific terminology, which Tapping said was at first very challenging: "I did a lot of research, as much as you could in the time that you have, on astrophysics and the military. I had the opportunity to talk with an ex-Navy Seal, and we had people from the Air Force consult on our show." Now, after doing a little more than a whole season of the series, she says "Now, it's pretty easy because I actually understand what she's saying. The first episode was a lot of what I call technobabble. It wasn't difficult in terms of understanding the concepts, but they throw a lot of terminology at you, and you have to make it as real as possible."
She notes her science interest in school was more in biology than in physics, and recalls "I excelled in math when I was younger, and then got to high school and got more interested in the arts. I won an environmental science award when I graduated from high school, but also won a drama award. My parents were going 'Science. Science.' And my middle brother is a biochemist, and my twin brother is a computer programmer. They take care of that end of things" she adds, with a laugh. "I always had this sort of inkling I'd like to be a doctor when I was younger, and then, of course, like everyone else, wanted to be a marine biologist, but acting was always in the forefront."
Tapping finds it intriguing to be working with science fiction material, and notes that so much is becoming science fact. "Just reading Steven Hawking's books" Tapping comments, "I mean his knowledge, and going back to Einstein and Copernicus, and back and back in time, the theories are now becoming reality, so for me the whole evolution of science and our expanding knowledge, and then what we incorporate in the show, it blows my mind that it's actually not so far off the mark."
She also finds interesting the area of UFO and ET information: "The whole idea of Area 51, and the government coverup, and how much do they know that we don't, and all the conspiracy theories -- I find all that fascinating, that stuff really gets me going. And I think it would be incredibly arrogant to think we were the only, quote, intelligent beings in a vast universe. It's arrogant to think we're the only intelligent beings on Earth. We have a lot to learn from the animal kingdom."
Asked about where she wants to see her role go further, Tapping says "I think it's happened over the course of the first season, and it will certainly continue to happen, is the human element of Carter to come through. I remember when I first auditioned for the show, then the screen test, there were several ways you could play her, and as a personal choice, I decided to invest her with some sense of humor and some warmth and levity. I didn't want her to come across as this hardassed, for want of a better word, bitch; this cold-hearted, terribly focused, singularly determined young woman who had nothing going for her but this knowledge that she had. It was really important for me that people saw beyond that into her warmth."
Pursuing the idea of audience reaction to her character, Tapping thinks "it's a mistake sometimes for me to go on the internet, because I take to heart what people are saying about the character. When the show first came out there were comments about 'Who is this Carter? We don't like her. She's bitchy' And it really hurt my feelings. And I went 'No, no, she's really nice, she's funny, you just haven't seen it yet."
But that was earlier on, she points out, and says "Now, the comments are changing. I don't go on the internet very often, but I would hope people see she is a very centered human being, and that there is a great warmth to this woman. And that she has an incredible depth of caring for the other characters. The feelings that this team has for each other are so strong."
A number of young women admire Captain Carter, and Tapping is gratified to hear from them: "It's been really nice. When we first started doing the show, Christopher Judge and Michael Shanks and I were wondering what kind of fan mail we might get. I kind of laughed at the whole idea of someone sending me a fan letter, it was so completely alien to me. But we decided that Christopher would get little kids who find his character fascinating, he would have his own demographics, and Michael would get young women who think he's a big, sensitive hunk. And they looked at me and said "Little boys and women.' And true to form, those are the letters I've been getting.
"Some men, which is nice. But quite a few from women, which is so nice. Especially when you get letters from young girls, who specifically say it's great to see a female scientist who's strong and successful, and I say 'Hey. If it makes you take your science class a little more seriously, or maybe talk to your teachers more seriously about science and have them treat you more seriously, for me that's wonderful."
Another aspect of her character's growth she'd like, says Tapping, "I'd like to have her not just be this strong, determined person, but I'd like to see some of the more female elements of Carter come out. Not that I'd want that to weaken her, but that it shows she's a caring, emotional and sexual being. I don't want her to become this scifi sexpot by any stretch of the imagination. But I'd like to bring out more facets of her."
She agrees there is a lack of good role models for women in popular culture, but thinks "it is changing. If we were to be completely honest, the industry is controlled by men, for the most part, and I think there is an incredible lack of understanding. I don't want to become this big gender politician, and 'rah rah, women', but there is a lack of understanding of how to write an equal female character that isn't either way over the top, too sexy, or bitchy smart. You see it so much with all the male characters. I'm not standing on my soapbox here, saying we've got to change the face of television. And I think it is starting to change, but there is still something of a gender war going on."
Given that there are still changes to be made in creating more authentic female characters, Tapping is hopeful Carter will be more and more real, and acknowledges the production crew for supporting that: "I'll tell you, the writers and producers we have on this show are completely in tune with that ideology. A year ago, as an unknown actor, to walk into a room of men and say 'Well, you know, I think you should do this with her' -- the prospect was absolutely mortifying. But now, I can say, 'You know what? Women don't really talk that way' and they listen. And I don't even have to say it; they're just writing wonderfully for her. There is a really nice understanding."
The episode of THE OUTER LIMITS Tapping just completed, called "The Joining" was, she says, "really funny, because the character is not dissimilar to Sam Carter, even down to her wardrobe, so it wasn't a big stretch. But I got to work with C. Thomas Howell, and Jeffrey Jones, which was phenomenal, and it's about a young woman working for a space program. Her fiance is at a Venus outpost, and there's been problems there, and we go there to find him, assuming he'll be dead, and he's not. So the show centers around how he was able to keep himself alive for so long when he shouldn't have been able to.
"There are some nice emotional beats to play, in terms of having your fiance come back to Earth and not be able to touch him or be in the same room with him, then the realization of what he's done to keep himself alive, which is quite horrific. According to the crew, it's one of the grossest episodes they've done. I was really proud of that. It was so much fun."
In her time away from SG-1, she is writing for a comedy troupe in Toronto she formed with a couple of other women. "That's a great creative outlet" she says. "Our time is very limited, given the kind of hours we work, but it's great to get down to pen and paper again."
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originally published in Cinefantastique magazine
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