Ona Grauer played a significant role in the development of the Stargate universe: she portrayed a living Ancient. Ayiana entered into the hearts of millions of viewers worldwide in the Season Six episode “Frozen.” Now, in an exclusive interview with GateWorld, the actress behind the entombed siren speaks her mind on “Frozen.” She also shares her personal opinions of Ayiana’s origins, and her original concepts for the character when she was first introduced to the role.
If you have yet to watch “Frozen,” beware of spoilers!
GateWorld’s interview with Ona is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, as well as transcribed below! The audio version is about eighteen minutes long.
GateWorld: Hi, this is David Read for GateWorld.net talking with Ona Grauer. Ona, thanks for taking time to chat with us!
Ona Grauer: No problem!
GW: Ona, you played the first Ancient that anyone has ever encountered, much as Leonard Nimoy introduced the Vulcans with Spock. What was that like?
OG: A little daunting at first, but it was also a bit of, I don’t know how much you know about me at all, but it was a strange experience cause I just had a baby before I did that job so that was my first job back acting since having my son.
GW: Oh, really?
OG: Yeah, which was wierd. To go back into the audition was crazy and to think that, OK, well now not only is this job that I just got my first job back, but it’s also playing this character that no one has ever — that everyone was kind of waiting for. So it seemed like there was a lot of, kind of — not pressure that way, but I thought it was kind of funny because I thought it’d be easier when I read the script because she doesn’t really say anything. I thought, “Oh, thank God, my first job back after about a year, you know, I have three words to say.” But it was really hard.
It’s way harder to try to act and not be able to talk. I thought it would be the opposite. I was like, “Oh, good, you just get to kind of sit around!” (Laughter) But it was a really good experience and everybody on set was wonderful, like all the producers and directors and everybody who made it really easy and fun, and the cast was great.
GW: How familiar were you with Stargate before trying out for the role of Ayiana?
OG: Not very. I mean I knew about it, I knew it was a popular show shot in Vancouver. I’d auditioned for other parts on it before, and then of course I did a little bit of research when I did the audition, even just auditioning for it, and I kind of learned about the Ancients. And that’s when I was even talking to my husband going like, “OK, well, this is the part that I’m going out for, and what do you think about it?” You know, to tell him that it was the first character that they’re introducing in this long history of the show was fun. Way better than just kind of doing like a walk-on “other” spot like “Susan Gill” or something, you get to be this incredible character. It was a good way to experience Stargate. That’s for sure.
GW: Tell us about the process you went through for this role.
OG: Well, like I said I was still breast feeding (laughter). And it was just a lot of — I remember when I went into the auditon I kind of thought that because she was from a different world, at first I thought she would be a little more primal, which was my interpretation of it at first. And so when I went in for the audition, then when they called me back and actually after I even got the job then I actually went in and met with the directors and talked to them and they said, “Well, no, she’s actually highly intelligent. It’s not that she’s at all,” you know, like I said, “primal,” is the best word that I can describe it.
Just because she doesn’t say anything, and when you don’t speak the language and you’re coming into a new situation, I think we’ve all even felt it just traveling throughout the world as you go to a new culture and you feel more alive — like you feel more awake when you can’t speak the language and you’re not quite sure of your surroundings. So that’s kind of where I started with it, and just when they started filling me in on how intelligent she was and where she came from and her background and stuff — she’s pretty amazing. And then it just kind of went from there. And then we just kind of felt our way thorugh it on set, because like I said, I was the only one they’d ever seen before, so we all just kind of felt our way through it, I think.
GW: So who do you believe Ayiana was before she ended up frozen all those years ago, along with what the producers had told you and what you had decided on her backstory?
OG: Whoo … (Laughter) That’s kind of a tough question, only because she could’ve been anybody. I didn’t really have a set of rules going into it with her, just because, like I’d said, I think we were all just kind of feeling our way through. I don’t think anybody really said she was the leader of her people or she was a scientist of her people, or she was anything of her people. She was just kind of one of them that was found and as you kind of go through the episode you find out how intelligent she is and that she does have these other powers. And for me, I didn’t really interpret her as being — and maybe it was coming from my sense of reality at home, as well — that I just kind of thought from the way that she was feeling about the people that she was helping that it was just more of a … what our human race should be like, like you should be willing to help, no matter what.
And I think that that’s where her heart was coming from, is that it wasn’t really based on who she was in her society, it was just based on how her society worked which was just under the pretense of you just kind of — you want to help people and help things. I don’t necessarily interpret their race as being as destructive as maybe some other ones. You know?
GW: Like the Goa’uld or anyone else, you know? Yeah, it was pretty incredible that she was willing … I think she probably knew going in that she was practically going to sacrifice her life to save all the scientists and SG-1.
OG: Yeah, and for me it just seemed like that wasn’t a daunting thing for her. It wasn’t. Yeah, it just kind of seemed like this is what you do. This is the way that you live life, is that you give — and more that you give the more that you’ll kind of receive, because that’s what she did. It didn’t seem like she ever, you know, would sit down and go, “Hmm, hah. Should I? Should I not? What are the pros, what are the cons?” It’s just if something’s placed in front of you, you make a heartfelt decision about it, is what it seemed like to me, for her.
GW: That’s a very strong message as well, you know?
OG: Yeah, it’d be nice if we all lived like that. (Laughter) It’d be a lot more fun.
GW: GateWorld reader Julia would like to know: “What was it like being in the block of ice in your introductory scene?”
OG: Oh, my goodness! It was crazy because, I mean — obviously it’s light and magic and it’s tricks of television, but the block of ice was some sort of plastic that was a little bit hard, it wasn’t like jelly. And then they placed some kind of jelly over it and then watered me down, and the way that you know, the first scene that you see in the ice with my arm all cocked up behind my head! (Laughter)
We had to do that a couple times because it’s quite an unnatural position to be in, half of my body kind of in this contraption and then just my face and my arm kind of sticking out. But then when they — because they take Polaroids for continuity and stuff, and when I saw it for the first, you kind of go, “Oh my God, what am I doing?” Because you’re just in it, you can’t see it. And when I first saw the Polaroid, that’s when I just believed in everything that we were doing. I was like, “This is incredible. This looks like I’m frozen in a block of ice.” It was amazing.
GW: Did you find it claustrophobic or did you just take it all in stride?
OG: No, because it was really kind of peaceful, too. It was (Laughter) kind of like, you’re just laying there, I mean they weren’t asking me to run three blocks and jump from a building. It was like, “Hey, just lie on this table for a while until we get the shot,” and I was like, “Alright …”
GW: What was it like working closely with Corin Nemec?
OG: Oh, my God! He was so much fun! We had so much fun together. And I have to say that I was a big fan of the um — oh, my God, I’m going to forget the show now — oh, bloody hell, that show that he was in. I used to watch it when I was a teenager and I had no idea that it was him at first.
GW: Parker Lewis?
OG: Yes! It was one of my favorite shows! And so when I finally clued in, it wasn’t until about the second day that we were working together that I remember I kind of said his name. And I was like, “Hey, Corin, come here.” And I was like, “Wait a minute! Did you do that show? This show?” And he was like, “Parker Lewis? Yeah,” and I was like, “I love that show!” But he is a sweet, sweet guy — and really cute, so … (Laughter) I got to stare at him for a week.
GW: You guys had suddenly a lot to talk about, then.
OG: Yeah! Yeah, everyone was just so nice. And also I got to talk to Richard Dean Anderson because my mom had done — when he was doing MacGuyver in Vancouver years ago — my mom had done some catering on it. So I remember she, at the time she was doing it I may have been 13 or 14, but she’d come home every day and go, “He’s so cute,” (gasp) “He’s so handsome!” She would just, you know, gloat over him, how she got to spend the day kind of seeing him and stuff. That was funny to tell him. I was like, “Yeah, my mom had a crush on you” (Laughter) — which I’m sure he gets all the time. I think women all over the world have a crush on him.
GW: How do you approach playing a part that has so little dialogue?
OG: That was the first time that I had ever done anything like that. And like I said, I was really naive in thinking that it would be easy — be easier to just kind of hang out and look this way and look that way. But it’s a lot like learning another language, I suppose, because you’ve got to kind of figure out how to get across what you’re trying to say without language. And like I said before, the only thing I can say is that I just tried to remember — you know, we went to Thailand one year, and I’ve been to Mexico a couple of times to see my dad. And it’s just beautiful when you can’t speak to each other, because then you’ve got to try to figure it out. You have to really try to get across and portray what you’re feeling.
And there were a lot of times when I felt like I was just doing a s####y job. I was like, “I don’t think any of this is getting across. I don’t know what it looks like on camera. I don’t know if all I’m doing is blinking my eyes,” you know, but you just try to just really feel it and hope that people can see it. So that was a little interesting, but it was a great experience.
GW: Do you think the small amount of dialogue allowed you to improve on your performance and perhaps make it a little more credible?
OG: Well, I don’t know. And I guess this is one performance where it’s crazy that people seem to be so interested in it, because even when I watched it for the first time I was kind of like, “Oh, my God, oh no!” I just didn’t know how I felt about it. But then it’s different when you’re watching yourself, I suppose. But it was much different watching yourself knowing that you couldn’t talk. And even I was like, “What did you think?” to my husband. I was like, “I don’t know. Did it seem like it was OK? Did it seem like it all came across?” And he was like, “Yeah, I think you did a great job.”
But for me it was one of those experiences where you just weren’t sure of what you were doing and how it was going to come across and how people were going to interpret it, and whether people were going to go, “What a crock of s###, I can’t believe she thought she was actually getting away with it,” or if they were going to go like, “Wow, I really understand what she was trying to do.”
It’s just one of those experiences where I don’t know if I’ll ever feel a hundred percent about it — just because you just kind of leave it up to everybody else to go, “No, I think this was good,” or “This take was really good” or, “OK, let’s move on to the next scene.” And you’re kind of relying on everybody else to say, “That was good enough.” Because you don’t have much to go by because normally you can hear yourself speak, or you have dialogue with another actor, or — you know, where this was purely visual and it was on the monitors that everybody else was watching, and I didn’t see any of it. So, yeah, I don’t know.
GW: Well, we think you did a phenomonal job, so there.
OG: Well, thank you! (Laughter)
GW: GateWorld reader Crystal wants to know if you had overall any interesting experiences while filming “Frozen.”
OG: The actual “frozen” scene?
GW: Nononono, the entire scope of the episode.
OG: Probably the most interesting that maybe nobody cares about because it didn’t have much to do with the episode would be the breast feeding in-between takes. I was in this block of ice and I don’t know, for all the women out there who’ve ever nursed, it’s like your chest swells up and you don’t know what to do and you still have three more scenes to shoot. And it’s true what they say that if your baby’s in the trailer crying that you actually kind of start lactating a bit. So we had to make sure that my wardrobe wasn’t getting all wet. We kind of had to keep checking it, which was kind of fun because it kept — I have to say that it kept all the men on set on their toes. Because everyone was kind of like, “Oh, OK, now we’re talking about breasts all day every day for six days.” So that was kind of fun to watch them all squirm. (Laughter)
GW: So you actually brought your son on set?
OG: Yeah, he came to set with my mom, because my mom’s pretty much our only other care-giver. But I was just — I was almost crying on the morning that I left. I was like, “What the hell am I doing? I’m going back to work and I have this baby. Is this right? Should he be on set? Should I just be at home?” But a lot of the people on set — all through the makeup trailer there was pictures of people’s kids and nieces and nephews, so everyone was like (gasp), “Your baby’s here!”
And you know, the directors and producers all have kids, so they were telling me about when they get to be nine months, and when they get to be two years old and all of these things. So that was a great experience.
GW: A lot of extra input on the way.
OG: A lot of extra input. And then, like I said, just everybody on set was so nice and so friendly and we just had such interesting talks. Like it just — it helps when you meet people on set that aren’t … We talked about real stuff, about real life. Not about “Whose your agent,” or “What projects have you done?” And that’s what kind of happens on set a lot of times, and it’s just — that to me is the part of the industry that I hate, is that part. But you know, we just talked about our lives and our experiences and our travels and our, you know, worries and our loves. And that made work really special, I think, for everybody.
GW: Early drafts for the SG-1 Season Seven finale showed Ayiana amongst other Ancients before they fled the region that’s now Antarctica, leaving her behind.
GW: Were you aware of this?
OG: I was when they first brought me in to talk about the character, they had kind of gone through some pictures and told me a little bit about it. But that was pretty-much all I knew.
GW: OK. So the scenes never made it to the cameras?
GW: OK, yeah. Because there was a rumor going around for a while that “The Lost City” actually integrated parts of your character, and we were really excited about maybe seeing if you actually took part in that.
OG: Yeah. No, unfortunately, I remember them saying — you know I remember seeing, like you said, like pictures and the drawings of it, and they were talking about it for a while. But I think — I’m pretty sure they just decided not to go that way. Yet.
GW: You never know, there’s a Season Eight, so …
OG: That’s right.
GW: Is it true that you auditioned for a role on Stargate Atlantis?
OG: Yes, I did. And I can’t even remember her name now, it’s been so long.
GW: Is it Teyla?
OG: Yes. Yeah, I auditioned for Teyla and I went back for a callback, and at first when it came across that was the first thing — I called my agent and I said, “You know, I’ve already been seen as an Ancient, and that was a pretty big deal, it seems like. Can they bring me back as this other” — it was like, you know, like a different race, not an Ancient and not human. And they said “No,” you know, “They’re all really interested in seeing you for this part.” So I’m not even sure if it’s been cast yet, or what’s happening with that. But that would — even just based on the people involved make me really happy.
GW: Right, right. Well good luck with that!
OG: Well, thank you very much! (Laughter)
GW: Do you know how Atlantis casting is shaping up, otherwise?
OG: No, I don’t. I know that they were — after they had cast in Vancouver, which is the session that I went in for, I know that they went to Toronto and Los Angeles as well, and like I said, I have no idea of the standings of it yet. I haven’t heard anything.
GW: Did you work with David Palffy on House of the Dead?
GW: Yes, you did?
OG: Yes, I did, and he is awesome.
GW: I, personally, have not seen it yet, but ….
OG: House of the Dead?
GW: Yeah, I have not seen it yet.
OG: It’s an interesting … I don’t know what to say about it! I mean, I wouldn’t take my grandmother to see it. You know, it’s that kind of movie. It’s basically the type of movie for people that are, I would say, interested in the video game and interested in those “genre” types of films. But, you know, if I was going for a dinner date with my mom — well, my mom’s different (Laughter). I think she’d see anything I did.
But Deep Evil is another movie I just did, and it just came out — which was funny because we were just flipping channels before we went to bed the other night and Aaron said, “Wait a minute, isn’t this the movie you just did?” And so I was like, “Yeah, I think it is!” And I didn’t know that it was out yet, so we sat and watched that, which was fun.
GW: Well, cool!
GW: Do you have any projects planned that you want us to be looking for?
OG: I would say just the Deep Evil one that just came out. I think it’s going to be at Blockbuster as well — it should be available. I thought they said the end of February, that’s why I was surprised to see it already on TV but it’s already on, like Adrenaline Drive and MovieMax and those channels. And that’s one that, you know, we shot in 14 days on a really low budget, and none of us really knew how it was going to turn out. And I’m really impressed with it, really, really happy with it, so that’s nice. It’s nice to, you know, feel 100 percent about promoting something.
GW: Well, we’ll be certainly looking for that, and good luck with anything you plan on doing in the near future — or the far future for that matter!
OG: Thank you so much!
GW: Well, thanks for taking time to chat with us, Ona.
OG: Well, thanks for taking time to chat with me. That was lovely. (Laughter)