Often times when you are an actor who does guest stars, you come into a show that has been on the air for at least a couple of seasons and you're there for a few days and sadly many shows don't really extend themselves to the guest stars. The actors don't really have time for it, they know you don't either, so who the hell cares, so it makes it tough. But I do remember that particular show just being absolutely lovely. It was a really, really fun working experience and I take that with me on this show and always make an effort to make our guest stars feel really comfortable because it's not easy.
You are best known for your role as Teyla on Stargate Atlantis. What was the audition process like and how was your character initially described to you?
Initially, way back in the audition process, she was described to me as a leader of her people. I remember someone saying, "Just think of her as a sweet little islander taking care of her island tribe," which is a much more tepid description that I would ever endeavor to use for my character but that's kind of how it was posed. There was no real talk about the fact that she was going to be a fighter, warrior, any of that kind of an aspect. Obviously, there was a sense that she had to have a knack for leadership and that kind of a weight to her.
And the audition process was initially not so different from any of the other auditions that one goes through during pilot season. You go in, you meet with casting agents. Then, if the casting agent likes you, you go back and you might meet with one producer. Then you go back and you meet with a director. It's like several, several stages before you actually get to do the screen test, which is done in front of a committee of people, suits as well as people who are creative. The producer and the creators of the Stargate franchise were there.
And I remember it going incredibly well, except for the fact that I had to sit outside in the waiting room for two hours. It was painful waiting for my turn to go in there and do my job. I took my best friend with me to keep me calm. But it went great. I stepped outside and everybody was congratulating me including some network executives and it just seemed like, okay, I guess this is meant to be. A few days went by, a few days turned into a week and we hadn't heard anything and finally my agent put a call in and I found out I did not get the part. There was somebody at the network who just couldn't quite wrap their head around me being the right choice. And so, I moved on and started to audition for other things and it wasn't I think until, oh my goodness, it might have been even like three weeks after that screen test that I got a phone call from my agent saying that they had finally made up their mind and I got the job and I needed to be on a plane the next morning and I think it was 5 p.m. the night before that I found out I had to be on a plane and we were going to start shooting the pilot in three days and I hadn't read the script. It was really quite a whirlwind. So that's the incredibly long winded story, I hope you are still awake.
Of course we are. For anyone who isn't familiar with Stargate Atlantis, how would you describe the show and how much butt do you kick in any given episode?
Well obviously, it's of the science fiction genre and it has a great action base to it. And essentially what the show is about is the lost city of Atlantis was discovered by a team of scientist, as well as the American military, to be located in a galaxy far, far away. They amass a team of military personnel and scientist, anthropologists and linguistic experts, etc. throughout the world and they send them through this portal from Earth that accesses this new and unexplored galaxy so that they can document this city of Atlantis and so that they can start to discern who these people were that constructed it and who these people might have been who, for instance, might have helped the Egyptians build the pyramids and plant civilization on Earth potentially.
And when they go through this portal, this group of people is told that they may never be able to return back to Earth. In the first season, that's kind of where they find themselves, shut off from Earth. And in their exploring, they obviously meet new characters and there is a horrific threat, a terrible nemesis and they come in the guise of creatures called the Wraith, who are life-sucking, incredibly intelligent, monstrous-looking aliens and they discover my character, who is from this Pegasus Galaxy, and who has lived under the threat of this race of creature for her entire life and so begins the adventure. They essentially live in the city of Atlantis and start to explore its various capabilities, as well as its surrounding atmosphere in this new galaxy.
We know you are filming season four now. Obviously, you can't give too much away, but can you give us a preview of what is in store for the new season?
The new season in particular has new characters. We've lost a couple of characters and there's some shifts going on there, which changes the tone of the show. But the actors and characters who we've added I think will be embraced by the audience. Amanda Tapping is joining us and Jewel Staite, who I think sci-fi fans will know from the series Firefly, and then Serenity the movie. Right now, I've only read the first four scripts and we do 20 in the season. But I think that the tone of Teyla, my character, is going to shift ever so slightly and we're going to start to see, even though she's very strong, I think what we're going to start to see is perhaps even more strength and a little bit of an edge, a little bit more of a darkness that will hopefully be tempered by depth. And we're going to also get to see, thankfully, a little bit more of her people and how they influence who she is. That is something I've been hoping to explore for quite a while.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into acting? You mentioned architecture before.
That was the other thing that kind of was pulling my focus back in the days of school. I really was interested in design and the construction of unique and interesting infrastructures. It's a mathematical kind of a game and, it's kind of funny, it's kind of the polar opposite of what I'm doing because I think an architect is quite isolated for most of their creative process versus what I'm doing, but there still is that creative element to it. Maybe that's what I'd be doing. I don't know.
We heard a rumor that you are a licensed bartender.
(Laughs.) Yeah, I am. You know, when you're an actor, sometimes you kind of have to take another job and quite a few years ago, I thought, "I wonder what would be the most flexible hours and where I would make the greatest tips" and, lo and behold. The truth of the matter is, I can't remember how to make a single, solitary drink and I think as soon as I graduated from that two-day academy, I had forgotten. I got a job based on the fact that I was able to be charming and I lied about what I could do and I remember hating it. I bartended for maybe two weeks and it was around the Christmas holiday and New Year's and I had to bartend on New Year's and to me, I know some people thrive off if it, but to me it was one of the most horrendous experiences. It's like everybody was turning into monsters demanding their drinks immediately and I was just making stuff up.
But yes, I'm a licensed bartender. (Laughs.) Don't hire me for a party though. I'll poison you.
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I was really, really, really shy in school. Painfully shy. Obviously, I had a group of friends, but I was really shy. And I think, to a certain extent, I still am. The group of people that I can call friends are friends because they see me at my messiest. I don't really think that outside of that little inner circle, which obviously includes my family, there really aren't a lot of people that know me.
I kind of give people a certain beat on who I am and it's certainly an aspect on who I am, but I think that fact that I have always been private and kind of guarded, there are few people in this world who really get and know who I am and that's by design.
We've got one last thing for you here. I'm going to do a word association. We'll just throw out a name and tell us the first thing that comes to your mind.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, April 2007.