For more than a year she has entertained, delighted, and inspired Stargate Atlantis viewers as the can-do Dr. Elizabeth Weir. Having recently averting a drawn-out Wraith assault on the Ancient city of Atlantis, actress Torri Higginson sat down with GateWorld at The Bridge Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Atlantis is filmed.
In this interview Torri talks about the challenges of playing a strong female leader, the growth of her character over the show’s first season, and her hopes for the current year — including her desire for a more developed relationship with Rachel Luttrell’s Teyla Emmagan. She also talks about sharing power with Colonel Steven Caldwell, and takes time to poke fun at co-star David Nykl and the development she hopes will emerge between Weir and Dr. Zelenka.
GateWorld: How have you settled into life in Vancouver and on Stargate this past year?
Torri Higginson: Well, as far as life in Vancouver, I keep sort of widdling back and forth, which is a bit muddy. I drive every time. I’m driving tomorrow night. That’s been a bit crazy. I kind of wish I would just settle here. But it’s sort of hard to, because your life is somewhere else. But Vancouver is an amazing city, and this whole group is an amazing group. That makes it much easier, and much nicer.
I’m thrilled that Stargate is going again this year. Because it was such a family environment to enter in to. And it’s so uprooting for everybody. To be thrown into this job is uprooting enough, let alone a different city, different country. And those guys were just extraordinary to have right there and to be your friend and to let you know how it was all going.
I was really frightened that they weren’t going to come back. You kind of felt it’s just nice having this big family. And it would’ve been a very different energy this year, just with Atlantis.
GW: What episodes do you think were the most significant for your character?
TH: For my character? I think “Letters From Pegasus” was really nice for her. You got to see the thing that you’ve not been able to see — her humanity. And that is the reason she is where she is and yet, ironically, that’s the thing she has to reel in, reign in. So that was the one episode you could see her caring about the people. And actually that’s where her heart is and that’s what is most important to her. So that one I love.
“Before I Sleep” obviously was a great challenge as an actor to do. I really enjoyed that process. And it was nice, too, just seeing her choices and being able to reflect on the choices she made. People see another part of her, a part of her as a person instead of a leader, which I thought was nice.
GW: A lot of people loved “Before I Sleep” for so many reasons, but one of my favorite was because it really brought Weir out. This is the character. I started falling in love with Weir after that show.
TH: Oh, cool!
GW: That was a very cool episode.
TH: Oh, cool. I’m glad to hear that.
GW: Will we continue to see Weir’s growth in Season Two?
TH: I hope so! [Laughter] I hope so! Don’t want to be stagnant yet! I was actually just speaking with Brad [Wright] yesterday — went up and had a little chat — just about where we’re going. Again, the first seasons are always interesting and difficult because everything’s being established.
And kind of what’s happened with us now, the second season — because we lost a character and we’ve gained a couple of characters — things are settling. We have a new settling process going on this year. We’re talking about that. One of the nice things about Mitch’s character coming in is that it allows for alliances to shift. And I think there will hopefully be a triangle going on. There’ll be times that it’ll be Weir defending her team, and it’ll be sort of Atlantis versus them, represented by Mitch and Earth.
And I think there will be times, too, that maybe it’ll be Sheppard and Mitch, in the scene now, with Sheppard and Caldwell, where they’re on the same side. Sheppard is uncomfortable with how Mitch is dealing with Weir.
It’s an interesting dynamic which I think will allow hopefully for some more personal relationships to blossom because of it. Because we’ll be able to see people’s sense of betrayal, and sense of alliance … and that kind of stuff. (I lose my fuel halfway through a sentence!) [Laughter]
GW: The running theme for Season One was “The Wraith are coming!” or a large portion of it. What is the theme for Season Two?
TH: “The Wraith are coming!” [Laughter]
That’s a really good question. I’m not sure yet what it’s going to be. I’m hoping — what we’ve already seen with Ronon’s character, as well as there’s an introduction to other communities that there might be more longer relationships with — which will be interesting, because as far as my character goes, that’s what she loves, the anthropological study of humanity. And the more we can exchange ideas and knowledge and philosophies with different cultures, the more rich her experiences and the more successful the expedition is, as far as Weir’s character goes.
So I hope there will be more of that, that there will be a theme of just expanding in the universe and learning, and again that sense of community in a much larger sphere.
GW: The challenges of playing a strong woman leader, you really take them on. What are some of the conscious choices you have made for her?
TH: Well, it’s been interesting. I’ve had to fight against a lot of my instincts. As an actor, too, you want everyone to like you. You either want everyone to hate you or you want everyone to like you. You don’t want to be the middle person. And she kind of is the middle person. She’s not a hateable character because has does have a lot of heart. But she does have to say “No” a lot of the time against these exciting missions. So that makes people irritated or short with her.
That’s been something that I sort of chose to then make her more internal. That was a choice that was frustrating because it meant, “Oh, it means I don’t get to show everything I can do.” You always want to show people your heart. I’ve had to reel that in and hold on to my heart a bit more and be strong and stoic and silent — and be OK with asking questions instead of knowing the answer, which the first thing as a leader you feel “I should know the answers to all these things.”
That’s been an interesting journey to decide actually her strength is not knowing so much, just compiling, sort of being the Kofi Annan character, trying to compile all of the information you can and make a right decision.
GW: You have obviously been shooting Season Two for some time now. What do you especially like about this year?
TH: That David Hewlett is in a dressing room farther away from me.
I love that Mitch has joined us. I find that just both personally a really nice actor energy to have around, a good, good person, and as far as the character goes a nice challenge for Weir and stretching her on different levels.
I’m very excited about Jason’s character, too. I’ve just done one short scene with him but he just had a great strength — just this very overbearing, physical, quiet and stoic, and didn’t know what to do with it. I thought, “Oh, that’s going to be really fun to play with, to have more of that energy.”
And just the fact that we’re all back again. There seems to be also a sense of confidence with everybody. I know Brad and those guys have been doing this for years and so they have no need for a step up of confidence. But it seems like there is that with them as well. I suppose for eight years you do a show and you go, “This is very exciting and very successful, how great.” And then you do another one and that is successful as well. It sort of gave everybody that sense of, “Oh, we do know what we’re doing.” There’s a wonderful sort of life and excitement.
GW: Do you feel a little validated by the great ratings that the show saw in its first season?
TH: Very much so, yeah. I think everybody senses that. And last year it was all new — the idea of conventions and the idea of meeting fans and the idea of all that. Everyone’s “I don’t know how to deal with that!” And now we’ve all done a couple and we’ve met people. We’ve recognized what a fuel that is, just that excitement, that passion, that loyalty.
There are days you’re feeling crappy, and then you’re tired and you don’t know your lines for the next scene and you get a bunch of fan mail. And some of these letters are just extraordinary. So detailed, people just giving you really private parts of their lives. That’s brand new for me and that’s pretty inspiring and cool.
GW: Garwin Sanford. Will we be seeing more of Simon this year, do you think?
TH: Well, we’ve already had a scene with him this year. And that’s all I can tell you.
GW: Excellent. A single scene, huh?
TH: There’s a couple.
GW: He doesn’t get blown up like he did in SG-1?
TH: He’s not allowed to date any ladies that go off-world! No, he doesn’t get blown up. It was a nice episode. It was an interesting episode. And it’s going to show more about Weir, too, and about her vulnerabilities.
GW: So we’ll really see Simon this time? Not sort of … naw, not really!
TH: Kind of maybe see him, yeah. “Did I see him, did I not?”
GW: Tell us a little bit more about Weir’s relationship with Colonel Caldwell — changes with leadership on Atlantis. I’ve heard rumors about one thing that you have to deal with, that Weir is not quite in charge anymore?
TH: Well, it’s interesting. When we’re on the ship, when we’re on the Daedalus, she has no power whatsoever. When we’re in Atlantis, he has now power. So there is that juggle that is going on, which is interesting because it obviously crosses lines.
We just shot a scene today where he and Sheppard came to me with something I didn’t agree with. He says in the scene, “I have no jurisdiction over you here, but the ship is going back to Earth where I’ll be dealing with the President.” So there’s sort of that threat and that pull that he can use over me.
Don Davis’s character was always having to protect his team from the government and from their wants and their … not wants. And we sort of spent the last year being safe because we had no contact with Earth. So now it’s going to up the ante for her a little bit because she has somebody to fight outside of here. And there will be issues where messages get brought back from Earth where something has to be done that she just does not believe in, and will fight tooth-and-nail against.
So I think that’s exciting. That’ll create some nice conflict.
GW: That’s a new challenge for her.
TH: Mhmm. Very much so.
GW: What do you think the show needs to do to improve or keep from getting stale?
TH: Nothing, we’re perfect as we are! La la la, my little bubble!
I think everybody in a series has to work really hard not to get complacent. Everybody — first and foremost the writers and the actors. If it’s not on the page there’s nothing the actors can do about it; if it is on the page and the actors are bored because it’s Season Seven and it’s been raining for seven years and they’re bummed out and don’t want to be here anymore — all that stuff shows. I think that’s first and foremost, you remind yourself every single day that you are extremely lucky, extremely lucky to have a job in the world you chose, and a fun job, a successful job with good people. That I think is the most important thing.
I think they’re being very smart with what they’ve done with Stargate this year, bringing some new energy and new blood. And they’ve done it with us this year, too. And I think that’s really good too, keeping the energies new. Shifting in new people, and shaking it up. I had no idea what Mitch might teach me about my character, or having more scenes with Zelenka.
All of that stuff — it teaches you more about yourself and keeps you excited because I might not know how well David works, as I do David Hewlett, because I’ve worked with him longer. So David Nykl might throw something at me which is going to shift how I say that line or how I look at that scene. I think that’s really smart. I think they’ll continue to do that.
TH: Well, I have to say Zelenka because he’s sitting right here. [David Nykl laughs] Zelenka is my favorite. I find that just now he’s really rich and layered. He’s such a talented actor! Best scenes ever! And they’re very hot! There’s something underlying going on. I don’t know.
But obviously I do like these scenes with Zelenka a lot. Because there’s a camaraderie against McKay. We both like McKay and respect McKay hugely … but also know what an arrogant know-it-all he can be. There’s that shared frustration, which can’t be voiced because McKay is usually right.
I always love the Sheppard stuff because there’s always that, again, that level of respect but conflict, and desire to be supportive of each other but still fighting for your agenda and still fighting for your own power. There is that power play that will always exist between Sheppard and Weir, I think.
I’m repeating myself, but the new injection of Mitch as the Caldwell character I’m really looking forward to, because that’s someone I don’t have to respect. She comes from a world where she didn’t respect the military and she was constantly criticizing the amount of money that was spent on the American military. And now here’s somebody that she can just go, “This is my ideology and I’m not apologizing for it. And I know your agenda and I don’t agree with it.” So that’s sort of a fun thing to be able to play with passion and no apology.
And we’re still talking about trying to find ways for Rachel and my character, Teyla and Weir. Me and Rachel were talking about it all last season — I was talking to Brad about it again yesterday — about finding situations where we can explore that. That can be a very rich relationship. And you don’t see a lot of women in sci-fi. You don’t see women friendships either, a lot of the time. They’re sort of pitted against each other, or they’re very separate worlds. And here are two women who are in a very similar situation, and very strong. So we’re hopefully going to find some place this season to put that in here and there.
TH: She was doing this for them. That was a nice little moment. Yeah, cool.
GW: Are you still having fun?
TH: Yeah, actually more fun this year than last year. Actually much more fun. I think last year it was the stress of life, of shifting to a new place was stressful and tiring at times. And everything new and being insecure. “Is this right? Am I going to be written out next year? What’s going on?” Not having a sense of security.
This year I’m actually having much more fun. It’s nice. If it keeps going that way, then bring on nine years!