Her character is arguably the founding mother of the S.G.C. Her wonder and curiosity reopened the research forum which eventually led to Dr. Daniel Jackson unlocking the secrets of the Stargate. It is only fitting that GateWorld continues our celebration of 10 seasons of SG-1 with an interview with the actress behind Dr. Catherine Langford’s: Elizabeth Hoffman.
Though retired, Miss Hoffman agreed to take a few minutes out of her day to talk with us. Not a sci fi fan herself, she only found out about SG-1‘s cancellation through us, and was extremely pleased — though not surprised — that the series has lasted as long as it has. GateWorld does not limit Elizabeth’s interview to her work on Stargate, but expands through most of her career, from Eleanor Roosevelt in two television mini-series to Ruth in Dante’s Peak.
GateWorld’s interview with Elizabeth Hoffman is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs 18 and a half minutes. 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 David Read, and I am privileged to be on the phone with Miss Elizabeth Hoffman, Stargate SG-1‘s Catherine Langford. Elizabeth, thank you for coming out of retirement for a few minutes to talk with us.
Elizabeth Hoffman: Of course!
GW: Catherine holds an interesting record for the Stargate franchise. She is the only character who has been played by five different actresses.
GW: Yes! No other character has had that many portrayals — that many interpretations.
EH: Heaven sakes. I didn’t realize that.
GW: Yes. You’ve been blessed with a number of good roles over the years. Judge Russell on Matlock, Bea in Sisters, and a personal favorite of mine, Ruth in Dante’s Peak. Of all the women you have played, which resonates with you the most?
EH: Eleanor Roosevelt in Winds of War and War and Remembrance. That was a distinct pleasure. An honor. I’ve always loved Eleanor Roosevelt. I did a lot of research for the part, and I had a wonderful time playing it.
GW: So you’ve always been a personal fan of hers?
EH: Oh yeah. [Laughter]
GW: Was there anything beyond her being the first lady? Her goals in life? Her objectives that you personally resonated with?
EH: I think probably her touch with human beings. Her contact with every strata of human beings was just so beautiful. Her need to help wherever she could — especially those who are downtrodden. I can’t tell you how much I admire her. For many reasons. [She’s] always in the forefront of fighting for human justice.
GW: You were alive at the time she was doing all this stuff, so you probably have a very personal interpretation.
EH: [Laughter] Yes. Yes. I had a very nice thing happen to me while I was shooting this film. We were doing a big banquet scene with FDR at one end of the table and Eleanor at the other end. In the wake of shooting a lovely black man came over to me and said “I was with the Roosevelt’s and you’ve given me a special pleasure.” Took me back immediately. Which was really nice.
GW: Oh, wow! Definitely. After studying this woman, and he comes up and says ‘You got it!’
EH: I know! I know. I felt very good about that.
GW: Let’s jump forward a little bit, if you don’t mind. I first saw you in Dante’s Peak when I was fourteen. At the time it was one of the biggest action films that had ever been made. Did that film present any interesting challenges for you? I mean, you’re fleeing a mountain from a volcano, after all.
EH: Many interesting challenges! One was we had a scene in the lake where we were fleeing from one place to another, and the camera was in the boat behind us, and they were afraid that the boat might take water. So they tested it first, but they tested it at half speed, and when they took it to full speed our boat immediately filled with water. And with all these heavy clothes, and boots and everything, it was marvelous. The water safety team was on it instantly. But the children were in the boat with us, and three adults, so it was quite something.
GW: That’s interesting, because the whole purpose of that scene is trying to avoid having the boat sink because of the acid in the water, and they do it anyway!
EH: Right! [Laughter]
GW: Yeah, I loved that movie. I couldn’t help but ask you about it.
EH: Oh, my. Well I’m glad you enjoyed it.
GW: Are you a fan of sci fi?
EH: Oh I’m sorry to say — I wish I could say yes, but I’m really not.
GW: OK! Well there’s nothing wrong with that!
EH: Oh, thank you.
GW: What was it about SG-1 that brought you into it, then?
EH: Just a request to do it, and it was done in Vancouver which I was anxious to see. With a lovely bunch of people. And they requested to my agent and there I was. I’d like to know the other actresses that played this part. That’s so fascinating to me.
GW: One of the things that — I attend conventions regularly and do panels, and while I’m at the conventions that’s one of the questions that is typically asked, either ‘Who played Catherine Langford’ or ‘How many people did’. And that’s one of the most interesting things, because this character is so significant to the show, and so significant to so many people.
EH: I remember seeing the original movie, and I loved the woman who played it, and I can’t think of her name right now.
GW: Viveca Lindfors.
EH: Viveca Lindfors! Right! She was marvelous! Marvelous. And she’s a wonderful actress.
GW: Now did you see the film in preparation for the show or did you see it on your own?
EH: I think so. I think so.
GW: OK. You said you’re not a fan of sci fi so you would probably —
EH: No, so I think probably it was in preparation for the show.
GW: That’s one of the things that I was wanting to know. What struck you about Catherine Langford that made you carry her mantle to the next level? From the film her objective was to get Daniel to fix the gate and go through it. Now this one is to bring her lost fiancé home.
EH: Jesus. I’m recalling now. I’ve forgotten all about that. Yes.
GW: We found out so much more about her in the episode [“The Torment of Tantalus”] than we ever could have in the movie.
EH: Really? That’s interesting. I can’t really answer that. I can say that her sense of adventure was marvelous. And her curiosity and intelligence. I can’t answer that question.
GW: Is it a challenge to play a character who is established by someone else already?
EH: Yes. Yes, especially someone as effective as Viveca. Absolutely.
GW: One of the things that I thought was an interesting approach, in the film she has a very distinct accent. But in the series she doesn’t. Was it your decision to approach the character without that accent?
EH: I think it was the producer’s decision.
GW: Really? OK. Was that something you were willing to approach if they said ‘Let’s do it?’
EH: Oh, sure.
GW: I tried to figure out what nationality she was, and I couldn’t.
EH: Mid-European. I don’t know exactly. But I would say that’s what it was.
GW: After ten successful seasons, SG-1 has recently been cancelled.
EH: No kidding?
GW: Yeah. Fans just found out on August 21st, I believe.
EH: It ran for ten seasons. My God.
GW: Yes. They’re still filming right now.
EH: I’ll be darned.
GW: What are your thoughts on this?
EH: Well I think it’s marvelous that it lasted that long. And certainly was a quality show. Everything about it. The scripts were always very exciting, and the cast was wonderful. And besides being wonderful actors they were really nice people. They always had good directors. I’m very pleased that they ran that long, and I’m sorry it’s being cancelled
GW: Yeah, well there are many campaigns going. One thing we do know is that SG-1 will continue in some form, but probably not as a television series.
EH: I’m sure the fans are so loyal. I also worked on Star Trek and I’ve gotten more fan mail for these two shows than I have — and I did forty plays before I even got into the industry, so it was kind of refreshing.
GW: Really? Great. Yeah, you played in Next Generation in an episode called “The Price.” That was a very good show.
EH: Oh, that was so funny! First of all, we don’t speak English. We speak another language entirely. And I had two hours of makeup with tubes and things out of my mouth. And they sent down changes in the script, three or four pages and I couldn’t put on my glasses to work on it. So somebody had to read them out loud to me, and hopefully I could grab on to something. That’s terrible.
GW: The little circular things on the sides of your mouth, did those impair your speech at all?
EH: No, the makeup didn’t impair my speech. It was my head I was worried about. [Laughter] Worrying about remembering the words.
GW: The first episode that you did on SG-1 you spent a lot of time with Michael Shanks. I imagine that was your first experience with him. He was awfully young at the time and he’s awfully seasoned now. What can you tell us about him during that episode? “The Torment of Tantalus” is widely regarded as one of the best episodes of the series.
EH: Well he was entirely charming. A lovely, lovely, lovely young man. I really enjoyed being with him and working with him. Very nice guy.
GW: Why do you believe Catherine chose to remain alone after the loss of Ernest? Did she somehow feel he hadn’t been killed?
EH: Oh, that’s an interesting thing. I don’t know. I would say that, offhand, she probably felt that she could never duplicate his quality, his essence.
GW: As far as we know, she never married.
GW: In “There But For the Grace of God,” your second episode, you returned to play an alternate version of Catherine. Did you find any challenges in doing that? Did you have to re-approach the character, or did you just go in playing the same lady again?
EH: I went in playing the same lady.
GW: OK. Yeah, she hadn’t changed all that much, but I was curious if they had —
EH: — is that the one where I was killed?
EH: I’ve not seen that one. Believe it or not!
GW: Well actually we don’t see you killed but the Jaffa take you away. Or kill you. We don’t really know what happened. That was a very good show.
EH: A-ha. That’s why they asked me to do another one.
GW: That was actually in an alternate universe, so it wouldn’t have mattered. That Catherine was not our Catherine, so they could’ve — I know it’s really weird — but they could still have brought you back.
EH: Oh, yes. They left themselves an opening.
GW: Now that’s an interesting thing that you say that. In Season Eight, which was two years ago, Catherine died. Did they ask you to come back?
EH: Yes, they did. By that time I was tending my garden and my animals and playing with my grandchildren. I decided enough is enough. She does come back — or they wanted her to. I’m sorry I didn’t do it. I should’ve, probably.
GW: I’ll be honest with you. I was always hopeful that you would return at some point during SG-1‘s run.
EH: Oh how sweet.
GW: That character was, like I said to you before, the matriarch of the whole Stargate program.
EH: That’s such an interesting concept. I’ve never thought of it that way.
GW: Yes. She started it all. And in Season Eight, the last two episodes, it was a two-parter called “Moebius.” And in the story that came out Catherine died and left her estate to Daniel.
EH: Oh, God. That figures.
GW: So tons and tons of artifacts from Ancient Egypt — one of which leads them to discover a power source for the other series, Atlantis. So that’s how that worked.
EH: I see.
GW: Yeah. It’d be interesting to see, or to find out, what they were planning to do if you came back, though.
EH: Yeah, I’m sorry, I mucked that up! Because I didn’t do it they didn’t get to do it, I guess.
GW: What did they say to you that they wanted to do?
EH: They just wanted me to come back for another episode. They didn’t tell me what it was.
GW: Alright. Well it would’ve been really interesting to see it. But you have the right priorities in place, dear.
EH: Thank you very much.
GW: Have you done any theater work since “Torment of Tantalus?” Did you return to the theater?
EH: Yes, I did a play called “Kindertransport.” You know what it was? It was the evacuation of children from England during the war — to England, I should say. And it was really interesting. Really interesting. I loved doing it.
GW: Sounds a little bit like the Chronicles of Narnia except without the Narnia part.
GW: — being pulled out because of all the war. It’s very interesting.
EH: It was fascinating. It was very interesting. We had a lot of children who had gone through that, [and] now were adults who came to see the play and talk afterwards. It was really a lovely experience.
GW: Did you go over there to do that?
EH: No, no. No, we did it here.
GW: OK. In LA. So you do consider yourself retired now. You’re done?
EH: Yes. Yep. Absolutely. With my chickens. We live in a very rural canyon in Malibu, so we have a really pretty stream running through our property. And lots of animals. And lots of flowers, and lots of vegetables. My husband raises all our vegetables.
GW: Are you a gardener?
EH: Yes! Oh, yeah. Big time.
GW: I have to ask, Elizabeth: What if they ask you to do Eleanor Roosevelt again?
EH: Oh my God! [Laughter] Well, I would have to seriously consider it.
GW: What do you hope is the lasting memory that you want left with your fans? What is it that you wanted the parts you have played to say to us?
EH: Oh my God. [Laughter] What a question! That’s incredible. God that’s a hard one. I don’t know. I’ve been so lucky to have played so many. I’ve done Tennesse Williams in the “Streetcar [Named Desire]” and I’ve done four of his plays. Arthur Miller and [Anton] Chekhov. Virginia Woolf. I’ve just been so privileged. I hope that I have infused these things with as much honesty as I could bring. I’ve always worked toward that goal.
GW: Well with Catherine you certainly did it.
EH: Well that’s lovely. That’s very nice.
The Kindertransport Organization