Welcome to GateWorld 2.0! As our grand-opening gift to fans with the site relaunch we are also launching three brand new interviews, capped by the lovely Torri Higginson (“Dr. Elizabeth Weir“).
Torri took our phone call earlier this week in anticipation of her big show, “The Real World” airing August 18 on SCI FI Channel. Starring special guest Richard Dean Anderson (“Jack O’Neill“), the episode is the first of its kind for Atlantis, and stems from a very small list of like-minded psychodrama episodes for the entire franchise. Beware of minor spoilers for this episode, and all others aired in the U.S.!
In this interview, Torri talks openly about the joy of shooting Atlantis‘s third season, an extremely controversial episode that is to come, the popularity of her dog Sedgewick, and the tone of her fan mail she has thus far received.
Our appreciation goes out to the inestimable Stargate publicity office for arranging our interview with Torri at the drop of a hat. It is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs about 21 minutes, as well as transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld 2.0, I’m David Read and I’m on the telephone with Miss Torri Higginson. Torri, thanks again for taking time to talk with us.
Torri Higginson: My pleasure, and hello to all the gorgeous people on GateWorld!
GW: You’re shooting “The Game” this week.
GW: Wow. What has Weir’s involvement been in the episodes you’ve been shooting?
TH: It’s been a pretty busy week for me, actually. “Sunday,” we started shooting in June. For me, yesterday was all of my pickup stuff. I get to have a date, which I’m very excited. I got to shoot all that stuff with a lovely, lovely actor who came in yesterday to play Mike Branton. So all day yesterday was me getting to be a girl. Getting to be a girl, which was really, really fun.
GW: Nice change.
TH: Yeah, it was a nice change. It’s a nice opportunity to see her a little bit vulnerable. Just a little bit lighter. He was a lovely actor and it was a really fun day. We have Will Waring directing that one again.
GW: Oh, OK. This is “Sunday.”
TH: He also directed “The Game.” Yeah. And he’s just a joy to work with. Very gentle and sweet man.
GW: Ah, great. A lot of people have been talking about “Sunday” and how it’s breaking the box in terms of — it’s told in vignettes and it all happens within a ten minute period for everybody. What do fans have to look forward to with that episode?
TH: That’s one thing I always hear about some fans — I know the actors are eager for it as well: to have an opportunity to see the characters when there’s not [an] imminent threat. And to be able to see them in a more informal and relaxed environment. In “Sunday” they found a way to do that. Which is quite clever. Some stuff that happens which will be shocking, but the most of it, the set up of it, is seeing us all in our “civvies” so to speak, and a little bit relaxed.
I actually got to do a wonderful scene with Rachel. We were really excited about it. It’s not so much what happens in the scene but the way we played off each other. We sort of decided “Let’s make it as relaxed and as intimate as we can, to show that this relationship has been blossoming — we just haven’t been seeing it.” It will let the audience see that these two have a confidence in each other. Which we were both very excited to do that scene. She was such a joy to work with. That was lovely.
GW: You’ve been hoping for a very long time that Weir would form a deeper relationship with Teyla on screen. I mean, they’re both strong women and they have a lot in common in terms of leadership.
TH: And I think that they’re the closest to equals as well because Teyla doesn’t need to be a part of the Atlantis crew. She has her people and she could leave at any time and go back to being ruler of her people. Not only is she an intelligent and compassionate woman, which appeals to Elizabeth, but there’s also an ease of allowing Elizabeth to take her guard down a bit, because she feels this woman is not so much under her authority. She is there of independent choice. That creates an equality, which I think is quite interesting.
So hopefully the producers and the network like the energy and will give us a few more scenes. I keep hoping they’re going to have scenes where Teyla’s teaching Weir self-defense and teaching her to be physical. I’ve been trying to pitch that for a few years. That would be a lovely way to see these two women sharing strengths with each other.
GW: We’ll definitely look forward to that. Season Three’s shooting is two thirds complete. This year has gone by so fast. How do you feel this year is shaping up as a whole?
TH: Actually, I’ve enjoyed this year more than the first two. I think for various reasons. It does take a while to really settle in to something, especially when your geographically away from your home. I think people are a little bit more nervous and not quite as comfortable because they don’t have their natural support around them. And so for me Year Three has been just much more relaxed, and much more enjoyable as far as the relationships with the people that you work with. I think, too, the writers have done some interesting things this year as far as breaking those set boxes a little bit more.
The episode with Richard Kind [“Irresistible”] that I know some people liked and some people didn’t — I found it interesting to have a sit-com format. And just to shake it up a bit more. To be able to be braver with styles and to throw something in that doesn’t have to stick with the same rules every week. And I think the writers have been very brave with doing that this year. And also “The Real World” is an example of that. That’s a very un-Stargate type of show. I was thrilled that I got to be the one to play with that one. It’s [a] very straight psychodrama idea. Yeah, it was a wonderful acting challenge, and very opposite to what our usual format is. So I’ve been enjoying Year Three very much.
GW: The writers have been constantly pushing that this year is going to be about the characters. They are listening to fans on this, because fans are desperately wanting to know about these people, who they are in their quarters, and what kinds of hobbies they have. Things like that. McKay is like the epitome of the “work,” and always out there fighting the good fight and blowing star systems up and everything like that.
TH: Solar systems up? Yeah! [Laughter]
GW: Like Weir, we’ve never even seen her quarters. Actually when we were up there Martin Gero said “You know, I just wrote a scene for Weir in her quarters.” So all of us are really looking forward to seeing what these characters are like with their hair down.
TH: Oh, well good. Well I hope we get enough of it. I mean I think the fans and the actors are on the same page with that. As actors, obviously we get a lot of joy out of bringing a personality, bringing a emotion and bringing something real to the characters. The format of a lot of these shows, they are not character driven on the whole. They are story driven and plot driven. So I think that is a constant battle that will always continue. It will never be a character driven series. But I’m glad there have been a few opportunities this season where they have opened the door a bit to that stuff. And hopefully the fans will love it and respond, and that will encourage the writers to do more of it. Because we definitely enjoy doing it.
GW: Great. What has been the most joyous moment of this year thus far for you, and also for whatever reason, what has been the most horrible?
TH: Oh, dear. Well, the most joyous — you know what — really is coming to work. Getting to work with RDA again. I just get giddy around him. He is such a joy to work with, and he’s such a flirt. He’s just fun. He’s really fun. So I feel very lucky. I’ve had two or three episodes with him this year. That always makes me happy, when I read a script and I go “Yippee!” And I get to be the one that deals with him, and I feel very lucky in that.
Sedgewick also gets to be in the show again this year. That always makes me very happy. And the other thing is I had a date! I get to kiss a boy! Hoo-hoo! I don’t know if I can say that. Maybe I shouldn’t say that! [Laughter] But that was fun.
GW: Great. What about the most dreadful?
TH: You know what, you’re going to have to ask me that when the season is aired. I kind of can’t answer that. There has been some really awful stuff that happened, and I cannot divulge it at all.
GW: That made it on screen?
TH: Yeah. So ask me that when the season is almost over. I will talk about that with you again.
GW: OK, OK. Don’t scare us, Torri!
TH: Oh, a little bit of fear’s alright.
GW: Yeah, I guess. Have you yet found yourself running over to the production office, fresh script in hand, saying “Weir wouldn’t do this!” or “She wouldn’t act this way!” Has that ever happened?
TH: Oh, yes! [Laughter] Oh, yes — it happens a lot. It’s kind of happened less often this year. And partly because the first two years it happened a lot. Usually what happens [is] you go over there [to the production office] and they justify it because sometimes it’s justified in a way that makes me understand and go, “Oh, OK. I see what you’re doing with her. I understand why you’re doing this. I’ll just find a way to make it work. It doesn’t fit right in me, but I will find a way to make it work. And when that happens, usually afterwards, I get it. And I go, “Oh, I see why they did that. And that is interesting.”
Sometimes it’s not a satisfying answer, and the reason is you have to do this because they’re thinking of the storyline — not the character — and you have to help push another character’s storyline along. And you have to make compromises. I’ve had a few battles the first two years. This year I’ve kind of gone, “Alright. I’ll trust them.”
And you don’t usually win that battle. [Laughter] So just try to find a way to sell it for yourself and go in there and fix it in your own mind. Fill the empty space in your own mind.
GW: I bet it was hard for you to do episodes like “Michael” and “Misbegotten.”
TH: Those were exactly two that I was up there saying, “This is not the character that I thought I was playing. This is not what I think the fans expect from her. If she is going to go this way, can you promise me that there will be a repercussion? There will be some scene where that is addressed? Her regrets or her fears, or her talking about, or somehow expressing, how she is changing and accepting a different politic. And because it is plot-driven and each episode, a lot of the time there’s not jumps. Story lines aren’t continued. So those are definitely two that I did fight a lot for. And they were hard ones to do. They were really hard.
I got my head around it afterwards thinking, “Well, that’s interesting, and maybe she did go through a period up here of having to get quite a bit darker.” Who wouldn’t, really, faced with the new things that she has seen and discovered and experienced in the last few years? I can’t change it, so let’s explore that side of it and play with it there.
GW: Who would’ve thought, when she was doing diplomatic negotiations for the U.N. that she would’ve had to face life-sucking aliens, after all?
TH: Exactly! It wasn’t in her head! It wasn’t in her makeup! [Laughter]
GW: You’ve been given a once-in-a-lifetime story this year that your fans are dying to see: “The Real World.” It is this type of psychodrama story that has only appeared a handful of times on Stargate [SG-1], namely “Legacy” and “The Changeling.” Never in Atlantis. What was your first impression of this story when you were first told about it?
TH: Well, I was thrilled. I was so excited. Carl Binder came in and pitched it to me. And I love Carl. Carl likes writing for Elizabeth. I love how he writes for her. So I was absolutely thrilled when he just hinted at it. And then when I got the first draft, I just went … and it was great, because I got nervous. And I thought, “Ooh, that’s a nice feeling.” I got nervous going “Can I do this?” This is, you know, a real acting chops, and “Can I do it?”
And that’s always a wonderful feeling, to be challenged that way. So I was deeply excited. I hope it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime story. I hope I’ll get another one. [Laughter] Equally as challenging sometime in my career.
But yeah, from the moment I first heard about it I was excited. Carl said that this was a storyline that he actually pitched before he worked here. It is something he has been thinking about and wanting to play with for a while, so that made me excited, because I thought, “He’s really going to care about this. This is something that means something to him, and it’s going to mean something to me, and that, hopefully, will raise us both up a few notches and make us put our game face on and do a good job with it.”
GW: Was O’Neill part of the story from the beginning or did that come in when Rick made himself available?
TH: I’m not sure, actually. I think it came up when Rick made himself available. They had an issue, because one of the first two drafts of the script — the first two thirds of the script was just me. There was that thought of, “Well, wait a minute, we have to have some other faces and characters in here,” but to not divulge the story, they couldn’t go back to Atlantis. So he became a perfect solution for his face to be there, to partner off with me, so it wasn’t just The Torri Higginson Show 40 minutes. [Laughter]
GW: That wouldn’t have been so bad.
TH: Aw, bless your heart! [Laughter]
GW: Much like “Irresistible,” the episode reportedly will show us a different side of Weir. What can you tell us about that different side?
TH: I think you see a lot of her vulnerability in that. I think you see fear. She shows some fear. She shows great vulnerability. You also see, there’s a side of her where she gives up. I don’t think you’ve really scene her give up yet either.
GW: That’s a good point.
TH: Yeah, and the struggle with that. Why one does. I think people, in the face of constant battle, at some point you get tired, and you just go “I can’t anymore.” You try to find a way to justify why you can’t fight. Yeah, in through that you see this vulnerability, this white flag come up. A surrender. So those were nice to show, her human side.
GW: Do you think this is Weir’s best story thus far?
TH: A Weir story? Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I really enjoyed doing “The Long Goodbye.” I found that a lot of fun to do. But that wasn’t a Weir story. That was the “entity within Weir” story. So, yeah. I think definitely it is the most complex story for Weir and the most open, emotionally available, and open story we’ve seen of her.
GW: That’s one of the things that made “Before I Sleep” so rich, which is one of my favorites from Season One, if not the favorite. It was just executed so brilliantly, and to complement that with the acting. The story concept originally, was incredible, but to complement it with the good acting really drove home how significant Atlantis could be.
TH: Oh, well thank you for those words of support. Very generous. That was a fun one to do.
GW: It turned out so great on screen.
What has the general tone of the letters you’ve received from your female fan base been over the past two and a half years?
TH: Oh, gosh. That’s what I get mostly, is letters from women, which I find very interesting. All over the world and all different ages. There’s such an openness that you get. You get letters and people are sharing their real-life pain.
It’s funny, actually I haven’t been able to respond to fan mail for a while because I’ve been begging them for promo photos for the past year — truly! So I’ve got a pile that I will get to, I promise, once I get my photos. There’s just such an emotional openness, and a desire for people to share their struggles and whatever strength or inspiration they’ve got from seeing an isolated woman who still deals with the world with strengths and with a strong integrity. And that makes me really proud.
The days you’re having a bad day, and you think, “What am I doing, I’m not saving the world.” I’m working on a television show, and “What is my life about?” And I’ve got to say, you get letters sometimes and I read them and I just think, “Well, bless you for being so open, and that’s wonderful. If you are inspired by this character’s strength, and if that helps you fight your present pain, then that’s pretty cool.”
GW: That’s got to be also pretty humbling, Torri.
TH: Oh, my God. Hugely. Hugely. It’s such a gift, that they write with that amount of rawness and generosity. It’s quite mindblowing.
GW: Sedge, both Weir’s dog and yours in real life, has developed a throng of loyal followers, myself included.
TH: [Laughter] Love that!
GW: Would you have a problem with her coming to Atlantis on a permanent basis?
TH: Are you kidding me?! I would die if she did. I’m actually working on an independent film right now, and when they sent me the script there was a part in it for a dog, and I didn’t pitch Sedgewick, but when I met the writer and the director, and I obviously show up at my meetings with my dog all the time, and he just fell in love with her. So she’s doing that movie. So she right now has a feature film and two episodes on her resume. She’s doing very well. [Laughter]
But I’ve been joking with Brad for two years going, “Come on, we can fit her with a little ear wig and have those intergalactic translators? Well, she could have a little voice. She comes in and barks something, and we’re like, ‘What’s that, Sedge?’ Sheppard’s in trouble? We’ll go help him!'”
TH: That’s what I think, because she’s not. We actually discover that she’s not Simon’s dog in “Real World.”
GW: Oh, we do? OK! Great.
GW: You said that she’s going to be back, so, great. Well, we’re rooting for that.
TH: Cool! That’s so adorable. Actually, somebody was telling me on the film that I’m doing, they have a blog and the D.O.P. [Director of Photography] showed up the other day and said, “I was reading the blog for our film and Sedge got a shout-out from England!” Some girl went, like, “Much respect for using the Sedgewick!” I was like, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”
GW: That’s so great, because she’s not a stage dog. Didn’t you adopt her or find her in a shelter?
TH: I found her on the street, actually. She was walking the streets of L.A. and she could barely walk. She was deeply abused. Was terrified of everything. Yeah, so she’d had no experience. The first episode of this show was her first. And the funny thing is, in this film that I’m doing, she’s not doing scenes with me. So the director comes and picks her up when I’m at set and takes her to shoot, and drops her off at the end of the day.
GW: I’ll be darned.
TH: She’s got her own career, completely separate of me now [Laughter]
GW: Oh, great! Well, good for her.
GW: Torri, overall thus far, what has Elizabeth taught you about yourself?
TH: You know, I read that question that you sent. I thought it was a lovely question. Two things, mainly, I think. Patience is a big one.
GW: Oh, yeah.
TH: Actually three things, as I’m saying it. Patience, definitely. Discipline is another. I’m not very disciplined, and I think this woman, what she’s done, and what she’s sacrificed to learn what she’s learned is huge. And also, on a personal level, to have a thicker skin.
I mean, I think a lot of actors — we’re all pretty insecure and take things too seriously. We believe the bad press but not the good press. And I look at what she’s been through. She gets raked through the coals. She gets people that don’t actually heed her words. All this stuff. And she’s OK with it. [She] trundles through. [It] doesn’t effect her ego. She just goes, “OK, I’ll try another tack.” And I think her thick skin and her patience are lovely things. I think that’s rubbed off a little bit on me.