Straight from the Vancouver, B.C. set of Stargate Atlantis is GateWorld’s very special interview with actress Torri Higginson! When GateWorld’s Darren Sumner visited the set this spring, Torri and her new co-workers were only six weeks into filming for the first season of Stargate Atlantis. We’re proud to share the original interview conducted just outside Stage 6, in between shooting scenes for the brand new spin-off series.
The Ontario-born actress’ list of credits includes such films as The English Patient, and TV series like Storm of the Century and The Outer Limits. She also played the recurring role of Beth Kittridge in the TekWar TV movie series. Torri makes her debut as Dr. Elizabeth Weir in the Stargate SG-1 eighth season premiere “New Order” on Friday, July 9. Starting Friday, July 16, she will be commanding a brand new team on a mission that’s out of this galaxy in Stargate Atlantis!
In our interview, Torri talks about taking over the role of Dr. Weir from actress Jessica Steen, her own take on the character, and whether or not she expects to go off-world with the new team any time soon! But don’t worry, this interview doesn’t contain any significant spoilers for upcoming episodes.
The interview is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, as well as transcribed below! The audio version is about 10 minutes long.
GateWorld: Fans are actually getting a reintroduction to the character, because Jessica Steen played the character in the 2-part finale, “Lost City.” Have you seen “Lost City?” Has that impacted your own performance of the character?
Torri Higginson: I have seen “Lost City,” and that was interesting because I wasn’t aware that the character had been introduced before I was cast. So I made my own choices for the audition process, and through our meetings with the networks and meetings with Brad. And then I said yes and signed the contract, and then I came up here and I discovered that this character had already existed.
So that was very intimidating, because — and I spoke about — we had the conversation of “Should I see the episode?” Because it might be — it might make me more self-conscious, it might make me change what instincts or what thoughts I’ve brought to the character. But obviously I wanted to see it because I wanted to have all the background I could on her. So I chose to watch it. And it did throw me a bit, because she’s a fantastic actress. She’s lovely. She had lovely choices that weren’t the same choices that I made. So I started second-guessing myself a bit, and thinking, “Oh, should I incorporate more of that?”
So for a few days I was a bit wobbly trying to understand where I should sit with it, and if I should bring in some of her flavors. And in speaking with people in the show, and everybody sort of said all I can do is trust my own instincts. That would never be natural for me if I was trying to follow somebody else.
But I did take into account what I loved what she did, and what I love about Stargate, is there’s this wonderful sense of fun and this quirkiness, and this — and that sort of took the pressure off me to try to be this strong leader. And as a woman it’s very difficult to play a leader, because you’re not usually given the same power naturally. You have to fight harder for it. And so it’s easy to fall into a very stern leader — but Dr. Weir doesn’t come from that. She doesn’t come from the leader place.
So watching how Jessica played it allowed me, it sort of reminded me: I can be more — I can use my naiveté, and I can use that for fun instead of trying to be iron fist. Which I’m not good at! (Laughter) I never do iron fist well.
GW: Are you anything like your character?
TH: I think there’s an unease she has with being a leader, which I don’t know if I have put in her, or if — I mean I just took from her background, because she’s never been in a position of leader. She’s always been in a position of sitting amongst a group of leaders and trying to get them to see each other.
And I think there is a [discomfort] she has with — and that I feel very comfortable with. I’m not very comfortable with being a leader. I’m not very comfortable with heading a group or even speaking in public. I find it — there’s a line she has that might have been cut in the Stargate series, where she talks about not knowing how to give motivational speeches. She’s good one-on-one, and she’s uncomfortable in a group. And that I think I might have brought to her, or I recognized within her, and I allowed my own side of that to come out.
GW: Have you had any conversations with the writers over where you’d like to see the character go in the future?
TH: We’re all still — right now I feel I’m still learning so much, and it’s all so brand new. And also we’re all learning about each others’ personalities. And I’m probably somewhat intimidated and very respectful of the fact that they have done this for a long time, and science fiction is new to me, and also this character’s lived with them at this point longer than she’s lived with me.
So at this point, I’m still trying to go to them and ask their insight about her and where they would like to be. I mean, we have had — they’re amazing people. Brad and Robert and — amazing. So warm and approachable. And I’ve done a few series in my life and never had this same sense of ease with “The Powers That Be,” so to speak — the producers. I mean, Michael Greenburg, who sadly we don’t have on this show, but is on Stargate, all these people are such creative and powerful people, and yet they treat you — and John Smith — they treat you like you’re immediately invited into the family.
So I think those are conversations that we will have in the future. We’ve already had — you know, I’ve mentioned a few things. “Oh, this would be nice.” Or, “What about this?” Just yesterday we talked about language, and I said, “Well, supposedly she spoke a lot of languages in order to be a negotiator on an international front. So can we transfer some of that to where she is now? Can she be the one studying and translating the Ancients’ languages? And if new languages come up with different species or races that we meet, can she be the one that struggles to understand the culture and understand the language?”
So we’ve had those conversations. And they’re just so open to — and they’re also honest. I think at one point I said, “Well, maybe …” — because we’re all allowed one desert island item, and I said, “Well, maybe hers is a Patty Smith record!” And Brad [Wright] just went, “Naw! That’s stupid.” (Laughter) So they’re very great, they sort of listen and will take what’s good. And there’s also no shame but saying, “That’s never going to happen. Try something else.”
GW: How international is this team that she’s leading to another galaxy?
TH: Well, that’s a — in theory, it’s very international. And she says at the end of — no, at the beginning of this series. I get the two shows confused now! She says the group represents over a dozen countries. But, logistically, it’s shot in English, it will be dubbed into others, so logistically we deal most of the main characters are portraying Americans.
We have McKay, who’s a Canadian. We have Grodin, who’s British. We had in the last episode, which actually airs the third episode, we had a Czechoslovakian. So I think there will be guest stars that come on and will represent different cultures and different nationalities. But they would like it to be as international as it can be, which is why she was placed in charge of this research team instead of an American military person, because of her history with international negotiations. But yeah, logistically, and American television-viewing wise, it won’t be played out as much as it is in theory happening.
GW: As the base commander, are you going to get to go off-world with the team a lot, or are you kind of the sit-at-home, give-them-their-mission?
TH: I’m not sure. There’s lots of jokes about that — just with hours of shooting, and you know that if you do all your studio stuff and you’re the one not going on location then you get two days off a week! (Laughter) And they’re out in the rain somewhere, and I go, “OK, see you guys! Have a good time!” And there’s jokes for that.
But ideally, for myself, my character, I would love for her to go on some of the expeditions. I think it would be important for her, again, if there’s going to be negotiations with other cultures, she’s the one — that that’s her expertise. So, hopefully she’ll be the one that does go on those. But at this point, I don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t seem like that. It seems, because she’s taken on this other role which is to oversee all of it, she has to be at the home base to oversee all of it and to be in touch with what’s happening on both worlds.
GW: Tell us about your fellow cast members. How are you enjoying working with them?
TH: Well, other than McKay! He’s non-stop a handful!
I feel so lucky. I think I said to you earlier: It was really frightening coming up here. And they ask you to sign six years. I mean, which, you know, they could write you out after three months! It’s a very — you don’t know if — you are committing to six years. So it’s terrifying. You think, “Well, OK, I’m going to a city I’ve never lived in. I’m going to be surrounded by people that I have yet to meet. And what if I hate them all? What if none of us get on? What if …” And I just feel really lucky.
There is — and it’s a large ensemble cast. I mean it’s not — Stargate is a bit smaller, a bit more — we’ve got six regulars that are on every week, plus a lot of other semi-regulars that are visiting.
Everybody is fantastic. And again I think that’s John Smith and Brad; I think that that comes down from the top. The people at the top set the tone for any show. And these guys have a set a tone that anybody that comes on, if you have any attitude or ego, you’re not going to last here. And we’ve got this benchmark, Stargate, right beside us, which has proved that that’s the only way to make a show work. And so it seems if anybody did come in with a bit of weird attitude here, they would have lost immediately.
GW: Do you think the show could go for six years or eight years?
TH: You can’t even say that! That’s too frightening to say! You don’t want to curse it.
GW: It’s like saying “Break a leg?”
TH: Yeah! They’re saying Macbeth was backstage in the theater! You can’t say …
TH: I hope we have a fair run at it, because it’s only going to get better. And you see that with Stargate — with any show. Well, not actually with any show — a lot of shows get stale. Stargate I think just got better and better and better and better. And I hope — you know, we’re being created by the same people. So I hope we get to go for a long time. I really do.