In this interview (conducted before Season Two began filming in late February), Rachel discusses her favorite memories from the first season of the show — including a very special scene that was ultimately cut, and moments with the creative team that assured her she was meant to play the role.
GateWorld’s audio interview with Rachel Luttrell is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 30 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: This is David Read for GateWorld.net and I’m talking with Rachel Luttrell, the lovely Teyla Emmagan. How are you doing, Rachel?
Rachel Luttrell: Oh, bless your heart! [Laughter]
GW: Let’s go ahead and get started here. Were you a fan of the feature film or SG-1 before auditioning?
RL: I actually was. I remember watching the movie ages and ages and ages ago. I have no idea how old I was, but I remember being blown away by the concept of being able to travel through a gate, a porthole, and access other civilizations and other worlds. That captured my imagination wholeheartedly.
And then when I found out that there was a television show that was leaping off the shoulders of the movie I was thrilled and excited. And I did actually get a chance to watch a number of the episodes and really enjoyed them. But yeah, I was a huge fan of the film.
GW: So, was that a part of the reason why you wanted to audition for Teyla?
RL: Well, you know what? Teyla captured my imagination due to the description of her from the audition, way-the-heck back when my agent approached me with the audition. I read the characteristics that they were looking for, and I read the sides and the material and I just was captured by her.
Obviously it was exciting for me, the whole notion of Stargate. And I’m a sci-fi fan, so that was certainly part of what drew me to it. I mean, ultimately, you’re drawn to a character, and I was really engaged by the possibilities of Teyla.
GW: What was it particularly about Teyla that captivated you?
RL: Well, she had a regalness about her, a groundedness about her. She’d been through so much. She’d lost so many of her family members and people who she cared about due to this great threat, and yet she had managed to rise above it and take care of her people. Bravery and all of that was just really, really engaging and interesting, and I thought that I could add life to it. And happily, I’ve been able to! I’m looking forward to diving into more of her.
GW: Yes, it’s been absolutely terrific, your performances. I must applaud you.
RL: Thank you!
GW: Teyla, she’s said time and time again that her people have lived in the shadow of the Wraith. And you’ve really brought out more than just a prisoner living in a cell — just someone who has built a community.
RL: Right, exactly. I mean, they’re very proud people, they’re very strong people, and self-sufficient and what have you. And their spirit has not been crushed by this threat — which is something else which is really fun to portray. They’re people living under the shadow, but they haven’t decided to cave in. They’re still a very prosperous community on many regards.
GW: Trading, and a little bit of technology. When you pull out that fire-starter, it was like, “Oh! I guess they’re OK!”
RL: Right, exactly. The whole notion of trying to stay under the radar, so not wanting to flaunt the amount of technology that we have because we didn’t want to attract the threat of the Wraith. Yet certainly there is technology there.
GW: Can you describe to us the moment you learned you had won the role of Teyla?
RL: Oh, my goodness. You know, it was such a roller coaster for me. I had auditioned for it. You go through such a long process of auditioning. By the time that I finally got the job, I think I had auditioned about five times, possibly six. And the last time you audition it’s a screen test, and so you’re in a room with, oh my goodness, just an enormous amount of people. And it’s very nerve-racking. What ended up happening was I was told that I would know in a couple of days, and a couple of days blew out into a week, which bled into a week and a half.
At that point I had decided to let it go, and I was auditioning for a number of other things and getting close to other projects. I was switching my focus. My agent called me and told me to sit down, and revealed that they had been in negotiation the entire time and that I had won the role.
I was thrilled, but I had to pack up my life in Los Angeles and move to Vancouver within less than 24 hours, really. I found out at 5 p.m. on Thursday and they wanted me there at 11 a.m. on Friday … and that was it!
So it was quite a whirlwind, but I was thrilled! And the wonderful friends that I have threw me little parties here and there with champagne. My parents made a dinner. So it was wonderful.
GW: Was it difficult to disconnect or had you known that if you got this role you would be moving up to Vancouver?
RL: I did know that I would be moving up to Vancouver but I guess I had figured that I would’ve had a little bit more time. So the timing was what really threw me. But I had known that I was going to be coming up here. And that was fine because I, like you, I love to travel and I love to explore different places. And I’d been up here once before shooting something. So it was exciting.
GW: It’s certainly beautiful up there.
RL: It is so beautiful here. It is just so, so beautiful. Once you can get over the fact that it rains quite a bit — but you know, the rain makes the plants vibrantly green. And it’s breathtaking, the mountains and the ocean. It’s a very active city as well. Even when it’s raining people are out jogging and hiking. So, yeah, it’s a good place to be.
GW: Well, not only is it a beautiful place but it’s so diverse for the cameras. You can cheat so many locations.
RL: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, we’ve got many places to explore as we go about exploring the galaxy. [Laughter] But yeah, it’s very diverse.
GW: Season One’s shooting is complete, horray! Out of all that, what is your most poignant memory from this past year?
RL: Oh, my goodness, my most poignant memory … Well, certainly the move was pretty extraordinary. But I guess there’s so many, but I’ll tell you the one that pops in my mind first and foremost is that I had gotten myself to Vancouver and I was incredibly nervous because I had to go through makeup tests and hair tests, and I was going to be meeting a number of the producers and our director Martin Wood, and what have you. And I was very nervous. I was sitting in the makeup trailer pondering, “Why did it take them so long to hire me? Who didn’t want to hire me?! God, what is it going to be like?”
And while I was sitting there, our creators came in and just embraced me with their words. They said, “Look, I just want you to know that we’re thrilled to have you here. We’ve always been behind you 100 percent and we’re so excited about the year to come, and about having you here.” And that just set the tone.
This production, as well as Stargate SG-1 — we’re surrounded by people who really, really care about the story, about the product that they’re producing. But they also really care about the people who are involved. And it’s from the crew, to the cast, to the writers and producers. And that really set the tone. I felt very welcome.
GW: And it’s all genuine.
RL: It was 100 percent genuine. People don’t understand how rare that is. For the creators to come down to the makeup trailer, to tell some actor — it’s huge, and it was heartfelt. Yeah, that set the tone. That was Day One. That was three days before we started shooting.
GW: Wow, well great. You said you were in the makeup trailer and you were doing makeup and hair tests. Are you pleased with Teyla’s appearance thus far?
RL: [Laughter] I am! We finally ended up at a place — I mean, you know what? It’ll evolve. It always does. But I am. I’m happy now. I think that what has been seen so far is still changing.
GW: It’s a transition.
RL: It’s a transition. But I love what we’ve come up with now. We just have a wonderful group of people working. The makeup is just fantastic and I’m loving what they’re doing now with the hair. It’s great. It’s good. But I know it will change.
GW: How much of a say do you have to what happens to your head? I mean, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to live with this. Can we try something else?”
RL: You know what? I have quite a say, actually, which is wonderful. Ultimately they want it to look great. That’s one of the aims. But they want me to be comfortable, because if you’re not comfortable in how you feel and how you look it’s going to affect your performance.
So I definitely weigh in. They come down and they take a look and then they ask me, “So, Rachel, what do you think? Are you comfortable?” And if I’m not then they really work hard to make sure that I am. So it’s great!
GW: Great. Well, terrific. Has this experience, being part of this growing, massive phenomenon — I mean, toys coming out and video games coming out — has it exceeded your expectations?
RL: Gosh, you know what? My answer, I suppose is two-fold. Yes, it has in the fact that I hear tell about everything that’s going on, and I had an opportunity to go to London, which was fantastic and exciting and wonderful. We were welcomed by the fans in the most wonderful way.
But on the flipside of it, I don’t really pay that much attention! [Laughter] I really don’t! I mean I don’t go online and I don’t really look at the numbers — you know, “How is the show doing?”
And I hear, “Well, you know, somebody’s coming because they want to capture your image for a doll.” And I think, “Wow, that’s really, really cool!” But I suppose until I see it — or even maybe when I do — I’m just having fun with the show! So everything that’s kind of spiraling outside of it, I guess hasn’t really hit me yet. Yeah, it’s cool and it’s fun to hear about. But I mean, ultimately I just hope that we keep capturing people’s imagination.
GW: Well, something tells me it’s all going to change when you see yourself under plastic.
RL: [Laughter] Probably! Yeah. That’s what everyone’s getting for Christmas! Oh my God, yeah.
GW: You said you went to London. As yet — and you’re going to be in this for a few years so your fan experiences are going to be quite numerous — but have you had, yet, any experiences with the fans that are worthy of mention?
RL: Anything that stands out?
RL: Hmm. God, I hate to be boring, but no — I mean, nothing that stands out except for the fact that … Well, I’ll tell you this. I did a convention in Newark and that was my very first one. Unfortunately the rest of the cast members couldn’t make it. Chris [Judge] was there and Michael [Shanks] was also there. But I had to get up on stage by myself and answer a ton of questions from a really enormous crowd.
And I was quite nervous because I hadn’t done it before. They were fantastic. They were telling me how to hold the mic, when to lower the mic because they wanted pictures. So that was pretty amazing.
That immediately took the nerves away and the edge out of the experience because everyone was all in it together. No, I mean, they’ve been really great. I haven’t had any bizarre experiences. But I will tell you that in London David [Hewlett] was signing beside me. At one point a very exuberant fan grabbed him and planted one on him.
GW: Oh, my gosh!
RL: He was pretty shocked. [Laughter] But I haven’t had anything like that thus far. I lived vicariously in that moment.
GW: Has he mentioned that since?
RL: Oh, he doesn’t want to talk about it. [Laughter] Oh, God!
GW: Well, let’s hope that you fare better. The women are usually treated better. I think you’re going to be OK.
RL: Yeah, I’ve been treated with the utmost respect.
GW: Right. So do you look forward to all of the conventions ahead that you’re going to be undoubtedly doing?
RL: I’m looking forward to exploring some of the places in the world that I haven’t been to as of yet. I know that we’ve had offers to go to Australia and to New Zealand. That’s a part of the world that I haven’t been to and I’m very excited about that. Yeah! I know, it’s great. It’s intriguing. It’s brand new and with any new experience it’s exciting.
GW: And conventions on the side, so that’ll be just great!
RL: Yeah, exactly!
GW: Do you have any kind of a wish list for Teyla in Season Two?
RL: A wish list, hmm. You know what? I’m looking forward to diving into more of her background and more of what has made her who she is. I’m also interested in seeing her vulnerability. However that will play out I don’t know. It may play out with her emotional ties, or with something that has happened to her in the past. But I’m looking forward to finding the little chinks in her armor because she is such a proud, guarded person and she’s very, very strong, but it’ll be interesting to really explore more of her vulnerability.
But heck, I’m also looking forward to more fighting sequences. Having said that, sure, I want to see the vulnerable side of Teyla, but I’m really excited about all this great stuff I’m learning in terms of fighting techniques. It’s really cool.
When I was in London I had the opportunity to meet Ray Park, who is fantastic, and was in Star Wars. And he actually mentioned to me that he’d be more than happy to teach me a few tricks. So he’s actually going to be in Los Angeles for a little bit over the holidays, so the two of us are going to connect and work my butt off! And I’m trilled!
GW: Oh, that’s terrific.
RL: Yeah! I’m so, so excited. I’m looking forward to exploring the dark and the light.
GW: I gotta say, I love the sticks.
RL: Oh, I know. Aren’t they fabulous?
GW: They are absolutely incredible. They were in, what was it, I can’t remember what episode it was.
RL: Well, “Suspicion” a little bit. That’s when they were first introduced.
GW: That’s right. And then the sticks went away, and I just flipped.
RL: Well, don’t worry because they’re back. [Laughter] I use them quite a bit more, so that’ll be fun. There’s also, now there’s staff fighting and there’s knife — it’s a lot. But it’s a lot of fun, yeah.
GW: Well, terrific. That’s definitely something I’m personally looking forward to seeing.
RL: OK, good!
GW: At least in the TV series that I have watched over the years, the women typically get paired before the end of the show.
GW: Right from the pilot outset we kind of see that with her and Sheppard.
RL: Right, yeah.
GW: Do you think Teyla will marry before Atlantis is over?
RL: Oh, God. I don’t know! Before Atlantis is over … I will say that if this had been a movie, then absolutely, there’d be that moment in the riding into the sunset. But because we’re doing a television series I think that that will always be something that will play into it but will never really … I don’t know! I don’t know how that will play out. I don’t know how to answer that question! [Laughter]
Let’s just say it remains to be seen. But Teyla and Sheppard definitely do have a unique connection which we continue to explore. So, yeah, we’ll see where that goes.
GW: “The Gift,” from what GateWorld has received about “The Gift,” that is going to be a very interesting addition to their dynamic.
RL: Yes, yeah absolutely. Absolutely. That’s a wonderful episode for me because we do get to explore a little bit more of who Teyla’s people are and what separates Teyla from her people and also from the Atlantis crew. Some of her abilities are explained a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but …
GW: You mean her Wraith-detecting?
RL: Exactly. That’s explained to a certain extent. But yeah, Sheppard is uniquely supportive of Teyla.
GW: Well, he just believes so strongly in her.
RL: Exactly, exactly. I think that in the very beginning, from the very beginning, there was just an understanding and a trust there that kind of developed immediately and organically and it’s something that has continued. And it’s certainly one of the main reasons why Teyla decided to join the Atlantis …
GW: The expedition.
GW: That definitely comes through on the screen, Teyla and Sheppard’s relationship. Do you possess any of that with Joe?
RL: [Laughter] Listen, Joe and I get along wonderfully well. And I remember, going as far back as the test, the screen test I was talking to you about, which is a very daunting experience. Joe and I had met the day before and split a sandwich. It was just silly. We’d never met before sharing lunch. The next day we were at this test. He was amazingly supportive and just really kind of immediately put me at ease.
I know it sounds funny but it’s true. I look back and I think about that situation and I think about the moment when Teyla and Sheppard meet for the first time. And it was quite similar. Yeah, we have that energy right off the bat, which was really wonderful. He’s very supportive and we worked wonderfully well together in the scenes in the room. And it was a good connection which is carried through.
And hell, I mean, look — Joe’s a cute guy. Come on, now, I’m not blind! [Laughter] So it’s good, yeah.
GW: Well, it’s great how those building blocks from behind the scenes build together to the point where the fans can actually see the connection when the final cut is completed. They know that something is happening here and that it’s more genuine than it could have been originally.
RL: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, we’re quite lucky that that does exist. I mean, you know, as far as the entire cast goes, we’re very, very lucky with who we have and how we all get along with each other. I mean, that’s another very rare situation, but we like to hang out with each other. We have a ball behind the scenes. We have a ball between takes. It’s really great.
GW: [It’s] got to be pressure-relieving.
RL: Yeah! Oh God, yeah, absolutely. We have a lot of fun. [Laughter] Sometimes too much. Well, you can never have too much fun!
GW: You are shooting literally next door to SG-1. Dave Hewlett has let on that you sometimes even share the craft service table.
RL: Yeah, we do, we do. Sometimes there’s some jostling in there. Yeah, we do. I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with — certainly, I hang out with Chris and with Michael. They’re wonderful. And Amanda is lovely.
Yeah, it’s great. And you know what? They’ve been nothing but supportive right from the get-go. I know that in other instances there could probably be some rivalry. They put the kibosh on that immediately. It was just, “Hey, welcome and we’re so happy to have you here. Anything that you need to know, just come and talk to us.” So it’s wonderful. But yeah, we do share a lot of the same studio space on occasion.
GW: On that note, is there anything about SG-1 either in front of or behind the cameras that you hope Atlantis will possess in the coming years?
RL: Certainly SG-1 is a very well-oiled … I don’t want to say “machine” because that kind of takes away from the humanity of it. What I mean is it operates very smoothly and swiftly and everybody gets along really well. I’m talking about the crew and the creative staff and what have you.
And that’s something that I would say that we aspire to, except that because of where they have been and because of the tone that they have set, it’s been something that we’ve just immediately kind of fallen into because we share so many of the creative staff, the writers, et cetera.
But yeah, I just hope to just continue to build on that. Chris has said this so many times, that what they really have there is a family, and that’s something that we have started to develop. And I feel that it’s just going to get stronger and stronger. But I look forward to that.
GW: The first season has been so magnificent, and if it’s anything that SG-1 has taught us, it’s only going to get better.
RL: I know, I know!
GW: And that’s frightening almost!
RL: I know. It’s really, really exciting! I don’t know what to say. I’m thrilled and I’m excited. I look forward to sinking my teeth into the next season.
GW: You say you’ve spent a lot of time with Chris Judge. Was there any fear in your mind that you were going to come off as the “Teal’c” of the team?
RL: You know what? No, actually. That never occurred to me, and maybe that’s surprising. [Laughter] But it never occurred to me. And if somebody does draw the comparison or has, it’s flattering. I mean, hell — I’ll take it! [Laughter]
You know, they’re very unique characters and they’re separate from each other, but obviously they share some similarities. But no, that was not a fear of mine. And that is still not something that I lose any sleep over.
GW: I have a personal request to make and that is to hear more of your laughter on the show.
RL: Oh, I know! Well see, that’s the other thing! I know that was part of what I was alluding to, about finding more of her vulnerability. Because I really do think that she has a good sense of humor. It’s just that … yeah! [Laughter] I guess they haven’t been afforded the opportunity.
GW: Right. Like we’ve been saying, she’s been practically a prisoner all her life. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t get to see this in Teyla more often.
RL: I know, but I think we will. I think we will. There was this wonderful scene that one of our writers, Martin Gero, wrote for us, which unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor, which is quite sad. But it was this lovely scene and it was with myself and Joe and Rainbow, and we’re sharing our first kiss stories.
RL: Yeah, and it was light-hearted and funny. We were laughing and making fun of … Anyway, it was lovely but it ended up on the cutting room floor. But they have promised us that something like that will definitely be coming back.
GW: OK, good. Great character moment there.
RL: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.
GW: Is it difficult to portray Teyla as an alien?
RL: It does present a very interesting challenge. The thing about Teyla — one of the many things, but to the question — is she is human, and yet she is unearthly. So that is a challenge because she has to respond to things in a way that we, as humans, would organically respond — and yet there has to be something that sets her apart. All of her references are completely different.
So yeah, that does present a very unique challenge for me. [Laughter] But I’m enjoying it.
GW: Atlantis‘s ratings so far, they’re nothing short of astronomical, which is really fortunate for you guys because you’re ensured so much work. And the fan base is only going to grow. What do you most look forward to about the years ahead?
RL: My goodness. What do I most look forward to? I look forward to building a really interesting, strong, dynamic, engaging show that will resonate for years to come. But I also look forward to having a lot of fun.
It’s a hard question. There’s so much that I look forward to. But I guess, heck, I’m just going to take it day by day and just try — and I think this is going to be easy — enjoy the character and enjoy the stories and keep myself engaged and happy and excited about what I do. And hope that that continues to translate onto the screen and reach our viewers.
GW: And have a good time at the same time.
RL: Exactly. Yeah, right. Exactly! I mean, heck — if the seasons to come are anything like our past season then that’s just going to be wonderful.
GW: Well, Rachel, I thank you so much!
RL: Oh, my pleasure. Truly!