Beware of SPOILERS for the early part of Stargate SG-1 Season Ten in this interview!
When Claudia Black signed on to guest star in the Stargate SG-1 eighth season episode “Prometheus Unbound,” she couldn’t possibly see how big the Stargate loomed in her future. After appearing in eight episodes of the show’s ninth season, she joined the cast full-time in Season Ten.
GateWorld sat down to visit with Claudia at The Bridge Studios, during the filming of the upcoming episode “Insiders.” Always one of our favorite interviews, Claudia talked about joining the cast of SG-1, Vala’s relationships with each member of SG-1, and what the future holds for her character.
GateWorld’s interview with Claudia Black is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 19 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net I’m Darren Sumner and I’m here with Miss Claudia Black.
Claudia Black: Hello.
GW: Thanks for being here!
CB: Thank you for having me.
GW: You are now a full-time cast member on SG-1!
CB: I know! Isn’t that weird?
GW: Tell us about the path that led you here.
CB: I was on set the other day and was working with some guest actors. And I was thinking, “Oh, I so relate to them.” And then I realized, no, I’m one of the core cast now and I have a new set of responsibilities. I’m supposed to be showing them where the restrooms are, and I have no clue what I’m doing, still.
[Chatter about shutting the door]
It was just one of those weird, serendipitous little journeys. Vala was a really fun read in “Prometheus Unbound” thanks to Damian Kindler and Rob Cooper, and obviously Andy Mikita and Michael. It just all fell into place so beautifully. And the producers had said to me from the beginning – as I’m sure I’ve said to you guys before – this is a happy show. You don’t have something like this running for nine years unless everyone really gets on and knows what they’re doing and is comfortable.
And they were right! I turned up and I had a better experience than I could have possibly anticipated. And it obviously translated onto screen that Michael and I had a really great time. And he knew how to deal with me – he just gave me enough rope to try things and we just had very similar sensibilities. And I’ve just found out, only just this second, that Andy Mikita and I have the same star sign … so now it all makes sense!
But then I think an opportunity presented itself. Amanda Tapping had personal reasons to be away from work at the beginning of last season, and they asked me to come in and keep her seat warm. And Vala in no way is a replacement of any other character. She’s just a new, weird element that is as entertaining as she is irritating! But that’s what makes her so great, I think. And she’s got a bit of a journey to go. It will be interesting to watch and see how much texture there really is to her, and see if she can reach her better potential rather than her potential for no good.
GW: After the success of your Season Nine stint and the warm reception of your character by fans …
CB: Was it warm? I heard rumors! I heard some rumors!
GW: Don’t pay attention to rumors. Was it a foregone conclusion that you would be offered a permanent seat?
CB: Rob was very honest with me from the very beginning. He expressed what his desire was and what his intentions were. He said, “You know, I would love ultimately to have you back. I don’t know in what exact capacity, but this character has brought something very interesting to the show, and we’d like to workshop some possibilities.”
They didn’t know if SG-1 would continue as an entity, and so they said, “If we did some sort of spin-off would you be interested in working with some of the existing cast if they were interested in coming back?” So I knew he wasn’t just blowing smoke – he was wanting to make sure I wasn’t scattering off somewhere to work on something else, and wanted me to understand that he really did want to employ me again.
And luckily SCI FI Channel, because with my previous experience some things just don’t get renewed – you can’t count on it! – they were renewed for Season Ten. So that made it possible for them. They wanted to bring me back again potentially permanently in Season Nine, but I had my own personal reasons for not being able to join the show permanently. And now we’ve relocated to do this for the season.
It was nice to give it a trial run, to experience Vancouver and the show on a more permanent basis and see if I could still find my smile with the insane hours I’d been doing last year. And I rang the producers the other day and thanked them for everything they’re doing to help us acclimatize – or as you guys say, “acclimate.” Because they really are a very soft place to land.
GW: Wonderful. Let’s talk a little bit about Vala in Season Ten. She’s in a new situation following her experience being trapped in the Ori galaxy for so many months. Now, in the beginning of the season the birth of her child certainly I would think would add a very serious quality to her character. Tell us a little bit about playing a more serious Vala, versus keeping her the funny, snarky character that we’ve come to love.
CB: I think what’s been established about Vala is she’s not good about talking about trauma. She’s in denial; she tends to sublimate things. It’s a coping mechanism. And I think that’s what at the same time makes her entertaining, irritating, but also very vulnerable. I think you start to see the cracks, the chinks in her armor when Daniel will try and bring something up with her and she’ll make a joke. And I think that every time they peel off a layer, they peel off a layer and someone gets a little bit closer to revealing a vulnerability of hers, she’ll have to end it with a joke.
And I think that will just become an accepted aspect of her personality. They’ll either tolerate it or — I think they’ve realized that they can’t change her. And if she’s useful, then maybe she’ll be able to stay a little bit longer at Stargate Command. But until she can prove herself — and that’s really her journey, I think at the beginning of Season Ten, certainly, is to prove that she is willing, able, qualified in some ways, and interestingly enough, able to do things that they can’t — in a military environment they’re not able to do. She a renegade who can do all sorts of things on their behalf.
And since the Ori are such a dangerous enemy who don’t play by the rules, they’re probably going to need someone on their side who can infiltrate in ways they can’t.
GW: Interesting. That’s a big, looming question right now: With the sort of rogue characters that Vala is, how are the writers going to get her onto SG-1?
CB: It’s part of what makes her interesting and continuously vulnerable is the fact that she’s never belonged anywhere. And if she is going to be at Stargate Command, it’s going to be on a short rope. So, I think they haven’t established nine seasons of a show with the most successful Air Force covert operation to employ someone they think is going to compromise them extensively. So they definitely are going to keep her on a short rope.
GW: The producers have already indicated that Vala’s daughter Adria will be a driving force in Season Ten. How would you describe Vala’s relationship this very unusual offspring?
CB: Vala has a lot of things happen to her in a very short space of time. And she is chameleon-like — it’s the very way she is able to survive. But I think, as you say, you did say earlier there is a very serious side to her, or inexorably she will become more serious because of the things that have been happening to her.
She’s actually in a strange way quite level-headed. So even though she may develop an emotional attachment to certain people, I think she sees that there are priorities. Her may be different to other peoples at any given time; but she’s quite honest about them. I mean, she’s always been out for her own gain. And we do start to see a slight change in her: she’s willing to risk her life for other reasons other than her own personal gain.
What I thought was really interesting last year was her relationship with her husband. Because she really, genuinely likes him. And she makes several efforts to save him. And he’s almost beyond saving. He’s pretty much been indoctrinated. And their dynamic is really interesting, because he clearly loves her. And whether she loves him or not, I don’t know, but she certainly, genuinely cares for him. And it’s nice to see that side of her come out.
So with Adria, I think Vala instantly — I think that sort of experience has to change you forever. She’s not allowed much contact with her. So it creates interesting conflict. I’ll be interested to see where that goes and how that relationship develops. And I think it’s a very cool way, plot-wise, for them to involve Vala in the storylines, because she’s spawned something quintessentially evil! [Laughter] That’s going to come and bite Earth’s butt.
GW: What about Tomin’s involvement?
CB: Tomin … that’s yet to be revealed, actually! We will see him again. We do see him again in Season Ten.
GW: I think it’s interesting: Who is he going to love, ultimately, more — Vala or his gods? You can see that struggle when you’re on the Ara. He decides, “OK, I’d better go and get her off that, despite what the administrator does.”
CB: Yeah. And I think that — we’ve done a couple of scenes, and they function like a normal couple. And yet with all of Vala’s history, everything we as an audience know about Vala that Tomin doesn’t, that’s a pretty weird thing to see. I don’t know if that means she’s really manipulative and is capable of sustaining a very false pretense of a relationship that seems to function normally.
But I think the truth is that she genuinely cares for him. And I think we’ve seen her a number of times try to save him. And she does it again in Season Ten. And what will be interesting, as well, is to see how Tomin feels about Adria.
GW: Hm. Yeah. “Do I discipline you or do I bow to you?”
CB: Yeah, yeah, yeah! So there’s some excellent conflicts ahead.
GW: Wow. This goes back to something you just said, but what do you think Vala would be doing now if she hadn’t been pulled into all of this? It’s interesting — in Season Nine she initiates the treasure hunt, but then she’s stuck with the team. And then she’s stuck in the Ori galaxy against her will. If she hadn’t gotten herself involved in this would she still be a thief and a con artist at heart?
CB: Oh, big time! I mean, when you think about what she was on her way to doing, if what she was saying was true — which it probably was. Ninety-nine percent of it was. She had the naquadah, she was trading it. We also get a little glimpse into the way she lived in — what was the name of the episode where she has to trade back and back and back to get … with Wallace Shawn?
GW: “Ties That Bind.”
CB: “Ties That Bind?” We get a little glimpse of the sort of people she deals with, the circles she moves in. Very dodgy, by the way! They cut out a scene where she explains that she didn’t sleep with that poor guy. She didn’t manipulate him that badly. She just got him drunk and made him think they’d had sex.
GW: With poor Wallace Shawn?
CB: Yeah! Wallace Shawn’s character. That makes her a terrible scum bucket, but they cut out the scene. Coop and I were having a conversation about it. And I said, “How do you feel about this scene in ‘The Ties That Bind?'” And he said, “Yeah, I just don’t think she’s that much of a” — pardon my French — “a slut.” And I said, “Neither do I, to be honest.” I think that’s an absolute last resort and I don’t think that she’s probably ever had to go there.
And I don’t like the idea that she is that sexually manipulative. Because that’s not a likeable character. And while I’m not striving to play someone who is entirely likeable – it’s great to play someone who’s flawed, but everyone has to have redeeming qualities. And I think that’s kind of the lowest of the low, really.
GW: You disconnect the audience from her. There are certain boundaries that you shouldn’t cross.
CB: I think so. I agree. And Coop and I were on the same page about that. So there was this scene where she said, “Oh, please. I got him very drunk and I let him believe what he wanted to believe. He woke up thinking that something had happened. And that scene’s snipped out.
GW: Well, now we know!
But it may be on the DVD extras! Who knows? Parts of Vala that are a little bit nicer than we thought. And that’s an interesting, fine line as well — playing someone that shouldn’t be loveable, but they’re has to be something about you that’s worth saving.
GW: Becoming a regular part of the cast and a regular member of SG-1 always brings up all the questions of the relationships between the cast. Obviously Vala and Daniel were “two peas in a pod” in Season Nine.
CB: No thanks to the bracelets! [Laughter]
GW: Tell us about Vala’s relationships with Sam Carter, with Teal’c, with Colonel Mitchell.
CB: Oh, there’s so much. A lot of the time what I see is potential. And because they have to serve so many different characters in a story, an overall arc, a lot of those opportunities will — they may be in an episode when a script is delivered, but not in the ultimate episode because of timing.
For instance, there’s a scene that I’ve done with Amanda, with Vala and Carter. It’s the show opener, the scene opener in … I never know the titles of the episodes. I’m so used to years of Farscape, of not knowing what the titles were because they were untitled until otherwise notified. It’s either “Pegasus Project” or “Morpheus.” I think it’s “Morpheus.” A scene with Sam. And it’s hanging in the balance at the moment.
GW: As to whether or not it will make the cut?
CB: Yeah. And this will happen all the time. All the scenes that show development in character are expendable. If they don’t move the story forward, unfortunately they also go to God. They’ve certainly put those opportunities in. And whether at the end of the day, as it pans out in the edit, whether they stay or not is another matter.
GW: That’s a shame.
CB: Yeah. I mean, they’re the scenes I love the most. But, unfortunately, we have a story to tell and that must be driven forward. And the rate at which these things have to be written in order to be shot in time and delivered, it’s hard to weave too many layers and textures in.
Ultimately, if they had the time I’m sure they’d write scenes where there’s a lot of character development but they’re entirely driving the plot forward simultaneously. That’s really tough to do – especially since if things change while you’re filming, it can pull a thread on something that’s in a subsequent episode and things have to change.
But there’s great opportunities for Vala and Teal’c. There’s stuff coming up in the next episode, “Uninvited,” out on location. And Christopher said, “Oh, there’s great opportunities for humor.” And I said, “Well, let’s just hope the cameras are rolling on it. I know we’ll be having a good time, whether it gets caught on screen or not.”
GW: There was some great interaction between Vala and Teal’c in “Beachhead.” You could tell that Teal’c has a great deal of respect for her, in terms of her being able to restrain herself now that she is becoming more fleshed-out.
CB: Well, she’s also done something incredible for them. She’s like the boy who cried “Wolf.” She tries to tell them in “Beachhead,” and no one will listen. But she hasn’t established herself as a voice of reason anyway. So she just makes a decision to go off and do what she thinks needs to be done, and totally risks her life for it.
And she’s similar to Teal’c. They do have something in common. And Daniel actually touches on this with Landry in Season Ten, where he reminds him of Teal’c’s heritage. He’s an alien who’s joined SG-1.
She’s essentially done a couple of things that demands their respect and thanks. How much that gratitude extends and translates into what they’re willing to do for her is another matter. But I think you see in the beginning of Season Ten that Vala really — she genuinely wants to be a part of the team. She’s doing her best to behave.
GW: Do you have any final words for Vala fans and for Claudia fans looking forward to July?
CB: Aw, I would never expect anyone to be a fan of anything I’ve done. And the fact that people have crossed over and started to tuning in to Stargate is fantastic. And I really appreciate the fact that, from what I’ve heard from people, that they recognize how different the characters are.
And I’m glad I’m able to do something different for them, and, as always, try not to insult their intelligence. I’m never thinking of the lowest common denominator when I do my work. So whoever’s appreciating it, I’m very grateful that they’re entertained by it.
GW: Claudia, thanks so much for your time.
CB: Thank you, guys!