The enthusiasm in Amanda Tapping's voice is contagious. On the set of Stargate SG-1, the cast and crew are wrapping up the first half of season six, and by all accounts the fans have a lot to look forward to. "Let me tell you, we've had an amazing year. The shows have been really big this year," she announces. "They're big. They're big episodes.
"There's one called Descent where Rick and I end up under water, which was really cool to shoot. The whole set was on a hydraulic lift, and was sunk into this pool, and that was very… scary, but fun! We did one called Nightwalkers where it's an Earth-based story about a small town that's taken over by the Goa'uld, and they're all implanted with little baby symbiotes. But they're not strong enough to take over, so they only take over while the townsfolk are asleep, because that's when they're the least resistant. And so Teal'c and Jonas and I end up dealing with that. And that was fun. It was like a 'Men in Black,' we were all dressed really cool, wearing sunglasses."
SG-1 hasn't seen the end of the Replicators either. "Oh, those damn Replicators!" she laughs. "But it's a whole new level of Replicator that we discover. A whole, wacky new thing, which is actually very interesting. It's a very interesting twist on it. That one is called Unnatural Selection. It's the 12th episode in the season. We've got a whole new ship that we built that we're dealing with that's going to figure big in the show. The X-303, it's called. We have big leaks coming up, security breaches, which was bound to happen. I'm kind of glad we're dealing with that, because after six years you'd think that somebody would have blown it by now, talked in their sleep, and said the wrong thing. So it's kind of interesting that little things are getting out now, and that makes sense to me. We've got one coming up right after the hiatus which is an NID-based story, where O'Neill is charged with murder, and we have to try to clear his name. Thor comes back, Simmons comes back, Jacob comes back, Bra'tac comes back. All the good 'uns come back. All our faves. So, yeah, big stuff!"
Perhaps one of the most anticipated "faves" to make a return visit is Michael Shanks, who returns as Daniel in the sixth episode, Abyss. "That's a big deal for the fans," she adds. "Unfortunately we didn't get to do anything with him, it was mostly him and Rick." Like the characters, the actors, too, have felt the loss of Michael as Daniel, and have made the choice to move on. "That was such a weird thing to have to deal with. I mean, on the one hand, on a personal level it was hard to deal with the fact that he was leaving, because it was, you know, one more year, let's just ride it out, let's keep the cohesiveness of this great unit together. I understood, in a way, why he wanted to leave, but he was the one who really wanted to leave. He was not pushed out. He made a very conscious choice with the producers to say, 'I want off the show.' Ultimately the decision came from him, and if an actor's unhappy on a show and they want off, you've got to let them go. His contract was up. And I don't envy Corin coming in to play Jonas. It's a terrible position to be in.
"But we have to be pragmatic enough to realize that we've got to move on," she continues. "As sad as it is, and as unfortunate as it is, we have to move on. And we're still committed to making a really excellent show that the fans will enjoy. And we are enjoying it, and we hope that that comes across. I'm enjoying this season. It's been a really fun year, and I think partly because we know it's the last one, so we're all just committed not only to making it a really great season, but also to just enjoying it. And so we're all enjoying each other again. It's like being back in season one, that same sort of joy about everything, heightened joy."
As the final season for Stargate SG-1, season six strives to address the many complex and intertwined story arcs, and to tie up the numerous loose ends that have evolved over the course of five years. "We know this is the last season for SG-1, so it will either lead into the movie, which will then in turn feed into a spin-off, or it will lead to the end of the show. Either way, it's wrapping up big. And like I said, all the episodes have been big. I mean, we shot a day with 50 extras, and 12 cast members, out in the middle of nowhere, and it was just massive. And that seems to be sort of par for the course this year, the shows are big."
Juggling all those storylines isn't an easy task, either. Only days away from their mid-season hiatus, the cast and crew are attempting to wrap up episodes, and have been finding themselves working on multiple episodes simultaneously. Asked about the current episode, Amanda laughs, "Oh my God, you know, we're shooting like four episodes simultaneously right now! Today I'm shooting on second unit, so I'm shooting an episode called Prometheus. But when I go back to main unit, I'll be shooting episode 13, I think, and this is episode 11. Is that right?" she asks herself, trying to keep them all straight.
"You know, it's really funny, the other day we actually shot scenes from four episodes in the same day. You know, it's like, 'Is this the one with the Replicators, or are we on a spaceship today? No, no, no. What planet do we go to? Wait! Wait!' It's quite humorous. They usually only do that with main characters, but John de Lancie was unavailable for a certain period of time, I think. He plays Colonel Simmons. So we sort of had to work around his schedule, and another guest star's schedule, so we were flipping back and forth. It doesn't normally happen this way. Normally we shoot one episode, and move on to the next, and sometimes shoot some second unit while we're doing that, for the previous episode. But this is a bit of an anomaly for us, so, everyone's a little wonky. We're trying to get episode 13 finished before the hiatus, so obviously the episodes prior to that have to be finished so that they can get in the can and start doing the special effects, and visual effects, and editing and all that."
Amanda's joy for the sixth season extends also to the evolution that her character, Major Samantha Carter, has undergone during these six years. She still cringes a bit over Sam's persona in a few of the earlier episodes, but she admires the writers for building such a complex and three dimensional character, and she is very grateful for the freedom she has felt to offer her own input. "At the end of season one I talked to them. But the writers have really sort of taken my thoughts and run with them. At the end of season one I said, we've got to really decide what direction she's going in. After the pilot I said I think she can't be this didactic feminist… 'bitch,' if you will. And let's stop making her a woman, you know? I actually said to the writers once, stop writing as if she's a woman. Just write her as if she's a guy, and I'll bring an inherent femininity, hopefully, even if simply by virtue of my gender, to the part. But we don't have to keep saying, 'I'm a girl! I'm a girl! With a gun! With a gun!' "
In trying to avoid female stereotypes, however, the writers started to shift to the opposite end of the spectrum. At times Carter became almost infallible, and was regularly the one to come up with the solutions that saved the team. Again Amanda urged caution. "I think at the end of season three, it may have been, I said we have to be careful that she's not Superwoman. She is a fallible human being. And it would be nice if she made mistakes every now and again, or needed to be rescued, which has happened, a few times. But it would be nice if she wasn't always the one with the answer, because that's not real either. It's sort of funny because this season I have sort of saved the day a lot. I mean, Rick likes it because he has to say less words. So he's like, 'Go for it! Go for it! You save the team! You figure it out!' And I think I made the terrible mistake in the pilot of being able to ream off a bunch of techno-babble in one take, and they went, 'All right! She's the one!' So now I do it all the time. Our writers are really intelligent, and I think, even if I hadn't directly said anything, they know. Part of what makes our show so great is that we are present-day fallible human beings. And it's our mistakes that make us more interesting. And it's our dealing with inadequacies that makes us heroes. A hero isn't someone who just comes in, guns a-blazing, and saves the day. A hero is someone who can deal with the fact that they've made a mistake. In my humble opinion."
Perhaps it was the opportunity to deal with mistakes and inadequacies that led the writers to once again team Carter with Dr. McKay, the self-important stargate expert, in the sixth season opener, Redemption, an interaction that intrigued many viewers. The suggestion of an attraction between the two characters brings a laugh from Amanda and a reference to Carter's history of romantic partners who meet untimely ends. "That's funny! It was a weird ending to that one episode, I thought. You know, 'Too bad, I was more attracted to you when I didn't like you' kind of thing, the kiss on the cheek. Carter kisses people on the cheek a lot. But you know, all I can say to the fans is, in all likelihood if anything were to happen to us, he'd probably end up dead, because that seems to be my pattern. 'The Black Widow!' " Her "Black Widow" pattern wasn't behind the little kiss to MacKay, however. "It wasn't intentional! I swear she doesn't mean for all the guys she gets hooked up with to die! I actually talked to the producers about that. 'Can I please have a boyfriend who lives?' " she jokes. " 'Please??' "
Having said that, however, Amanda hastens to add that Carter as a successful single woman appeals to her too. "I like that about her. I like the fact that she is a single independent woman whose raison d'être in life is not finding Mr. Right. She's perfectly content with the fact that she has this incredible career and a great group of friends, and challenges to her physical and emotional and intellectual being, without having to prove herself with a guy. For so many single female characters on television, it's all about finding the right guy. I think that she, at this stage of her life, feels complete enough without one, that she doesn't feel that that in any way jeopardizes her as a woman, or her femininity, or anything. She's just a really solid person, and happy with where she's at. I don't know how real that is. I'd like to think it is. I'd like to think that it's okay for a woman to be content this way. Why do we need to complete ourselves with a man? Why does that make the complete picture? It's far more interesting to have someone who is so solidly grounded. I mean, not that she's immune to having romantic thoughts or feelings, but she doesn't need that completion to make her feel whole. She's got enough going on. And I like that."
Yet the romantic thoughts and feelings are equally fun to play, and Amanda particularly enjoys her scenes with Richard Dean Anderson. "That being said, I love that dynamic too. And I love the fact that we haven't kept making a full-meal deal of it. They've admitted that they care about each other, we're not brushing it under the rug. It's just that, for the function of our day-to-day lives, we can't keep harping on the fact that there's an attraction. Hopefully there will be some resolution by the end of the season, or the feature. You know, hopefully something great will happen. I don't know. But we can't, as a cohesive team, as the unit that we are, continue to keep showing our feelings for each other. It just gets in the way. And it gets in the way of the team dynamic. But I have to say, that being said, this season, Rick and I have certainly played a lot more beats that show a level of comfort and warmth between these two characters, that we're not so afraid to show. And I think that there's looks between us, and little nuances and little moments that we're both aware that we're playing. And it's so natural, it came about so naturally, partly because of the bond that Rick and I have, but also because these characters have it. And so there's moments where it's like, 'Ooh, did we cross the line with that look there? No, I think it was nice.' Because it just happens so naturally. So, people, I think, hopefully, will see that, depending on how it's edited. They should be able to get a sense that there is a level of comfort between the two of them that they're more willing to show. I find it with Rick all the time, we'll be doing a scene and just have these looks between each other, and sort of go, 'Oh, well, that was nice!' You know?"
As a single woman who is at once both strong and independent, and human and fallible, what might the future hold for Sam Carter? Asked about an ideal episode, Amanda responds with a suggestion that doesn't necessarily pertain to Carter, but which is a pet idea that she has made mention of before. "I would love to go to a planet where we're at the same technological level as Earth, we're at the same sort of stage in our development, but since the beginning of time, every major country has been ruled by women. So we've had female presidents and female prime ministers, to see what kind of world it would be, whether it would be less violent, or more, or whether women would be as Machiavellian in their pursuit of power as men sometimes are, whether we would have as many wars, whether we'd have better day care, and health care, and education, or… I don't know. But I think it would be interesting to see, and not as a feminist 'women are better than men' thing, but as just an interest level of how we would deal with having that much power. I mean, look at the president. How would a woman deal with that much power, if that had been the case since the beginning of time? And would we have a more nurturing society?" The answers, of course, would depend on who wrote the episode. "Indeed!" she responds. "And I think that there are probably two different episodes in it."
Amanda has expressed an interest in writing an episode of Stargate SG-1. Might this be the kind of story she would like to take on? "In terms of writing, I have the opportunity to write an episode this season. And it's funny because I just finished a meeting with Brad this morning, where he said, 'Have you got anything?', and I said, 'Brad, you know, you've given me so much to do this season I haven't even had time.' "
With only a few more episodes yet to be written this season, it's hard to say if one of those might come from Amanda before the series ends, but it is something she'd like to try her hand at in the future. She has expressed an interest in directing as well, and has been learning everything she can to prepare herself. "I won't be directing this year, and that's for sure," she explains. "And that's okay. The producers are right not to allow me to direct at this stage. I do spend as much time as possible behind the cameras at video village, and I'm learning so much about how that all works, different camera angles and different lenses, and all that stuff. I've got a lot to learn. I think eventually I will do it. It won't be on this show."
If not during Stargate, then, writing and directing are opportunities Amanda would love to have in the future. For the time being her days are filled with the responsibilities of her role as Samantha Carter. "You know, I go home and spend an hour and a half every night learning lines for the next day, and then I go to bed. And then I come to work and I work all day and then I go home and spend an hour and a half learning lines, and I go to bed." Hardly the glamorous life of a television star? "I tell you what," she explains, "and also because we're up here shooting in Vancouver, we don't go to all the fancy-pants parties and all that, which suits me just fine. But there's no glamour here. It's all work. And it's fun, don't get me wrong. I'm over the moon at the life that I have right now. I love it. But it's not glamorous, by any stretch."
While her hard work has been personally rewarding, her talent has come to the attention of her peers as well as her fans. She has received several nominations for the Leo, Saturn, and Gemini awards for her role as Samantha Carter, and in May she won the Leo Award for Best Lead Performance in the episode Ascension. Her win came as a complete surprise to her. "I did attend, and totally didn't expect to win. I mean, honestly, did not expect to win. And so, was completely blown away when my name was announced. And I looked over at the table where Brad Wright and Rob Cooper and John Smith and Martin Wood and Andy Mikita were sitting, and I went, 'Did I hear that right?? Did they say my name?' So, it was quite awesome. It was very much fun."
Her fans around the world were cheering her big win. The internet community has numerous websites, discussion groups, and mailing lists devoted to both Stargate, and to Amanda's work, but Amanda herself has not been an active participant in the online fandom. Although she's been known to do a bit of surfing from time to time, she doesn't closely follow the online discussions as the episodes air. "In season one I went onto the internet, shortly after we started to air, and read a couple of unkind things, and got way too sensitive about it, and so went off the internet for awhile. And occasionally I will go on. I went on just to see what the reaction about Michael leaving was, and subsequent reactions to the articles that had come out. Maybe it behooves me to get onto the internet more and read what's going on. But by the same token, it can't change what I do day to day, you know what I mean? I get the script, I know what my character is supposed to be doing, and then the director tells me where they want me to stand. That's the thing, I can't get too caught up in the reaction, although I do like to hear how they feel about it. For example, there's a website, amandatapping.com, which I didn't start. Somebody bought my domain name. And I had the great opportunity to meet him, and he's a wonderful fellow from Poland, and he is doing a fabulous job. And so I said, 'Keep it up. That's great!' So I'm in touch with him. After 9-11, I put a message up for the fans. If I'm doing anything else I'll let them know. But I sort of keep a distance, I guess, in a way."
A distance from the internet, perhaps, but Amanda still enjoys and appreciates the interactions she's had with her fans, and is tremendously grateful for the support she has felt through fan mail and conventions. "You know, I've said it before, but still, there aren't even words. I'm overwhelmed by how generous our fans are. And really, I can't stress it enough. It sounds hokey as hell, but I'm blown away by the letters I get, I'm blown away by the little gifts I get, and the generosity, not only of spirit, but of support. It just blows my mind. And also, what's kind of cool about the fans is that people have met each other because they've discussed the show. They've gone into chat groups and talked about Stargate or about Sam Carter or any of the other characters, and they end up meeting each other. And they've made friendships across the globe, based on this little TV show. And I think that's so fabulous! I just find it awesome. That's kind of a hokey word, but… Thank you, thank you, to the fans! I never ever imagined when I started the show that it would get this big, and that it would get this much support. And I had no concept of what it meant to have fans that stalwart in their support and in their love and in their generosity. Had no concept of it. Still, six years later, blown away. And hopefully I always will be. And if I stop being blown away, somebody should kick my ass!"
As we speak, the mid-season break is days away, and Amanda is looking forward to some down time. "We have a brief summer break, which is usually only a couple of weeks. And this year we get three. So, I'm not going to work, like I've tried to do in the past. I'm actually going to take some time, I'm going to a family reunion, and hanging out, and finishing renovating my house - the ongoing house."
During her winter hiatus, last December, Amanda had an incredible adventure, and there is awe in her voice as she relates her experiences in Qatar with Teryl Rothery, Christopher Judge, and Don S. Davis. "Last hiatus I actually chose not to work either, for the winter hiatus, and so we traveled a lot. I did a USO tour. We got contacted by the USO about going, just before Christmas, to do a walkabout tour with the troops, which was so much better for me than standing up on stage. We actually walked around army bases in the Middle East and shook hands with people, and people told us their stories. Obviously after 9-11 there was a heightened sense of purpose. And then, of course, it was just before Christmas. It was days before Christmas. So I just heard the most phenomenal stories from people. And I was able to sit in the mess halls at lunch, and have lunch with women, and men, but the women were who I was really wanting to connect with. And it just changed the face of war for me, if you will. It changed the face of the military. And it made me so much more appreciative of the sacrifice. I don't think you realize, I mean, when we were out there, you're in the middle of a desert, and there are people who are from the Bronx, going, 'What the hell am I doing here?' And stories people told about their kids. You know, one man came up to me with tears in his eyes, and they all wanted to tell their stories, which was so fabulous. He said that he was watching CNN the morning of 9-11 with his five year old. And they watched the towers come down, and his five year old turned to him and said, 'It's okay, Daddy, I know you have to go now. I know you have to go and get the bad guy.' And he starts crying as he's telling me this, and I'm crying, and it was just like, 'Oh, God!' But they were so great, they were so generous, showed us what they could show us. It was very secure, obviously. But it was just amazing, and the consulate was great, and the embassy was great, and the defense attaché for the country we were in was just so generous. It was just a phenomenal trip. It took us a day and a half to get there, and a day and a half to get back, but it was so worth it. We came back just buzzing. We were there for a really, really short period of time. We were there four days. And we were supposed to travel to two other countries, but the Israel/Palestine situation had ramped up at that point, so we couldn't go to one country. And another country, there was another issue that was coming up that they said, 'You can't go there now.' So basically, we were driven to the defense attaché's house with our bags, and late at night, taken to the airport, and hopped on a plane, and off we went. It was very 'movie', you know?" she adds, laughing.
Since she returned from Qatar, Amanda has been wearing a bracelet on her right wrist, and every now and then it's been visible in the new episodes of season six. When asked about it, she answers enthusiastically, "Oh, God, I'm so glad! I was looking at it and I was going to say, I've got to tell her about the bracelet! When we were in Qatar at the Air Force base, a gentleman came up to me, it was a whole combat unit that came up, and he presented it with the most beautiful presentation. He said, 'At the beginning of every mission we make these for each other. It's a combat bracelet and we wear it until our mission is done.' And it's made with string, and a button from your BDUs, and he said, 'We hope you'll wear it.' And I said, 'I will not take it off until the mission is done.' It's really interesting, because I just emailed the defense attaché in Qatar and said, 'I don't know where these guys are, whether they've shipped out, whether they're on leave now, what's happening, but I'm still wearing the bracelet.' So it's been seven months, it hasn't come off my wrist. And I'm really proud of it.
"When I first came to set, the wardrobe supervisor, costume designer, came up to me and said, 'Um, what is that?' And when I explained it, and said, 'This is a combat bracelet, and I'm not taking it off, and you guys can... pry it from my cold dead fingers, but, it's not coming off,' everyone was cool. Everyone was cool about it. And so it shows up now and again. It will slide its way from under my sleeve. But I'm so proud of it. And I was so touched. And I was, again I use the word 'overwhelmed,' but I was completely overwhelmed when I got it. And I said to the guy, 'I-I-I don't know what to say.' And he put it on my wrist. And he made a big deal about, 'It's not a friendship bracelet, Miss. It's a combat bracelet.' And all these big Air Force guys were saying, 'Combat bracelet, combat bracelet.' It was very sweet. This was a particular combat unit, so they ship out, go on missions, and then come back. The whole base is not wearing them. Each unit will decide, and they make them themselves. I was the only one that got one while we were there, and I don't know why I was the only one that got one, but I was completely flattered. And I look at it every day. I mean I don't take it off, literally I shower in it and I sleep in it. I took it off once, I have to say, for the Leo Awards, because it didn't go with my outfit. But I kissed it, and put it on my bedside table, and said, 'I'll put you back on tonight!' It doesn't go with my teal outfit!"
Looking beyond the mid-season hiatus, there will be the remaining nine episodes of Stargate to be filmed, and a feature film is still a possibility. Other projects have been put on hold while the fate of a Stargate movie is up in the air. Amanda had completed an independent film called Stuck, costarring with JR Bourne (Martouf of Stargate), and is awaiting its release. "Right now, that's the only thing that I have in the can that I'm waiting to see what happens. A couple of offers have come my way, one of which I couldn't do because of Stargate, but that's okay, and another one that's pending. So much of what's happening right now is really dependent on whether we get this feature, and whether I'm available come January, or come October."
There are a few personal appearances coming up as well. Amanda was recently scheduled to appear at a science fiction convention in Tulsa, and she'll be returning for her third Gatecon appearance in Vancouver in September. "Gatecon, I just agreed to do one day, the Saturday. It's too hard to work both days, and then go back to working, because you work long days when you do a con, you do 12-13 hour days, and then you go to work for 14-15 hour days. The first time I did a full Gatecon it took me two weeks to recover. I was loosey goosey crazy lady for while. Australia is a possibility. I'm signed on for Australia in November, but that is contingent on whether or not we do the feature. It seems like my entire life is contingent on whether or not we do the feature!" she laughs.
MGM has yet to make a decision on whether a feature film will follow the conclusion of season six, and Amanda is as anxious for the decision as the fans. "What happens up those stairs, up in the hallowed halls of the production office, I'm so oblivious to. I really am! I mean, I talked to Brad today and said, 'What's happening?' It is very much up in the air. There's a whole other energy that has to come into it, that being MGM Feature Department, which is a lot different than MGM Domestic Television. So, cross your fingers!"
The ideal scenario would be to shoot a movie shortly after season six wraps, allowing for a 2003 release. "Ideally we would finish the season sort of mid-October, we would start shooting November, December, shoot it in a couple of months, and finish it hopefully before Christmas. That's in a perfect world. So we would sort of go straight from the season, take a couple or three weeks off for the Art Department to get in there, and then shoot it right away. And I think that it would be a great case scenario because we can use the time while we're still shooting to prep the feature, which means that we're not spending all that extra money in prep, which means we can put more money up on the screen, which would be great. We could use our standing sets, and the studio's rented, so we keep going. It would be perfect."
For now, everyone is awaiting word from MGM. "It's been written, it's been sent to MGM, and we're waiting to hear. And I imagine we should know by the end of our summer hiatus, I would hope, or at least by the beginning of August. I think it behooves them to do something. We've got all these great sets, and we've got sort of a built-in audience, and I think, with the right money thrown at the project, we could make a pretty awesome movie." So far, that awesome movie is a very well kept secret. Even the actors have not seen the script. "No, it's tightly under wraps. Michael Greenburg was reading it on set the other day, and Christopher Judge and I were sort of looking over his shoulder looking for our character names anywhere. And he said, 'Don't worry, you guys are in it!' But we don't know a thing about it! And when I talked to Brad, he said, 'It's under wraps right now. But when it happens, you'll get a script, believe me!' So who knows? I would love to see it happen. I would love for us to have that much money and that much time to make a great movie out of it."
Why stop at one movie? Why not make several great movies out of it?
"From your lips to God's ears, my friend!" she responds. "Let it be so!"
Here's hoping that MGM is listening too.
Ritter, Kate. "I'm Over the Moon at the Life That I Have Right Now." June 17, 2002.