Of the more than 50 Stargate personnel he has wrangled to interview, GateWorld co-editor David Read stands firmly beside Amanda Tapping as his favorite. Tapping, who as played Samantha Carter for well over a decade, has been one of the most prominent supporters of the Web site since first hearing its name.
In our fifth interview with the actress, Amanda gets more personal than ever, discussing past struggles of separating work from home (her daughter Olivia being the great equalizer), and the parallels that she has drawn between herself and her alter ego through the years. We explore the fondest memories from “Turleen and Minnie” to Cassandra, and the challenges that Tapping has forced herself to face.
Special thanks to the many GateWorld Forum members who contributed their questions to this interview!
GateWorld’s interview with Amanda is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is over 28 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. You can even download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m once again on the phone with the lovely Miss Amanda Tapping, looking better than ever. How you doing, Amanda?
Amanda Tapping: [Laughter] I’m fantastic, thank you for asking.
GW: Good! I think the biggest difference [since our last chat] has been your hair. With the Air Force regulations they’ve always insisted that you keep it short.
AT: Actually that’s a bit of a misnomer, David. It wasn’t the Air Force regulations that insisted that I keep it short. If you have short hair in the Air Force it has to be above your collar. The reason that it was kept short on Stargate was we kept ending every season with a cliffhanger, which meant that I couldn’t grow my hair out during the off-season, so it always came back to short hair just so that it would match the season end.
When I was in the Middle East on a USO tour all of the women that were on the base had long hair. It’s not an Air Force regulation that women’s hair has to be short. It just can’t touch your collar, and if it is long then it has to be in a pony tail or a braid or a bun.
GW: OK, I get it. So this is how we’ve managed to get your hair longer then.
AT: Yeah, because I wasn’t in a cliffhanger.
GW: Do you prefer it longer?
AT: It’s just a nice change. It’s really funny because I just did some DVD commentary on Atlantis and went “Oh, man, I kind of look better with short hair.” Just for me personally it’s nice to have a change, to be perfectly honest.
GW: Even though it takes a little bit longer in the morning to get ready?
AT: Yeah! Or not. Sometimes it’s a little faster if I just throw it up in a pony tail and off I go! Yeah. Blow-drying it takes longer. That’s the only thing. For me right now it leads itself nicely into my Magnus hair, which is basically taking the hair I have now and dying it dark.
GW: So that is your plan?
AT: A whole new change of Amanda! Aaaah! Yes. [Laughter]
GW: You’d rather not wear a wig then?
AT: The wig was actually a great wig, and I thought for the most part looked pretty good but sometimes looked like a wig. So I would like the option of being able to do a bunch of different things. Because Magnus, I think, is going to be a pretty kick-ass character I want to make sure that we have a bit of freedom, that we’re not tied down to the wig. It may be jumping back and forth. I’m going to keep it blonde right now because I’m shooting Atlantis in a week and a half, and then I’m going to dye it dark. It’s kind of scary.
AT: I am nervous, and I’ll tell you why, very stupidly because I won’t look like Olivia. I look in the mirror right now and she touches my hair. “Mummy, mummy,” we look alike. We look a lot alike. And if I dye my hair dark I’m afraid people will go “Who’s kid is that?” I know, that sounds kind of hokey, but that’s really the only reason why I don’t want to go dark.
GW: Well, have you ever had dark hair before?
AT: Not as dark as Magnus, no.
GW: OK. Wow. That will be an interesting change for you. Maybe you’ll love it!
AT: Maybe I will! Maybe I will.
GW: And then maybe Olivia will go “Who the heck is that?”
AT: You know what I do every now and again is I put on the wig and just walk around, and she just laughs at me.
GW: It’s the face, it’s not the hair.
AT: “You like mummy like this?” “No! Hahaha.”
GW: How’s she been doing? She been doing good?
AT: She’s awesome.
GW: How old is she now?
AT: She’s going to be 3 at the end of March. She’s smart too, man. She’s got a really, really wicked sense of humor.
GW: Good, like her mother.
AT: Yeah, and she’s a bit of a control freak, too, like her mother. [Laughter] She’s really funny. She loves to laugh and she’s got a great imagination. I could go on and on and on. She’s the best kid on the planet. So is everyone’s.
GW: Are you thinking of special schools?
AT: Right now she’s in a little pre-school and it’s part of an elementary school that’s termed IB — the International Baccalaureate. I don’t know. I just want her to be happy. I know that sounds hokey, too, but at the end of the day she is a bright little girl but I just want her to be happy. I want her to have a normal, happy, joyful, goofy childhood like I did.
GW: Awesome. Eleven years now, going on twelve … [Laughter] Is it hard to believe that all this time has gone by?
AT: Yes. Yeah. It doesn’t feel like that long unless I watch early episodes and go “Gosh, I was young.” It doesn’t feel like eleven years. I don’t know what eleven years is supposed to feel like, but you know, that’s a good portion of my adult life, or at least “acting like an adult” life. Yeah, it’s weird.
GW: Yeah, you have those on little plastic discs forever.
GW: Do you look at episodes and say “I remember what was going on in my life at that point?” Or do you view them differently?
AT: Absolutely. Absolutely. I can pinpoint things that were happening on set when I watch certain episodes.
GW: Like “Someone was having a bad day” or “This is when my cousin died” or something like that.
AT: Or “Chris and Michael and I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop” or “That’s the day Teryl …” There’s some scenes, especially when Teryl was on set, where we would all be laughing so hard. I’d have tears streaming down my face … Teryl’s fantastic laugh which has a little snort in it.
I can look at scenes and actually remember the laughter. Oh, that sounds hokey too. My God, I’m like a bad sound byte aren’t I? I remember that! I’ll look at certain episodes, or Teryl and I going off and doing our Turleen and Minnie routine. “Oh, that’s the day we discovered those characters.”
But it’s fun. It’s nice to look back. The good and the bad moments. I can look back and actually pinpoint certain things that were actually happening at any given time. Yeah.
GW: What professional relationships have become the most lasting? Who do you keep in touch with the most?
AT: Richard [Dean Anderson]. Christopher and Michael for sure. Teryl and I are back in touch, and it’s been a while. That’s really, really nice. I talk to Don. I still talk to Carmen Argenziano. It’s like the kids go off to college and we come back for Thanksgiving and hook up. Do you know what I mean? People will always be a part of my life. Obviously professionally I’m working with Martin Wood and we’re in partnership with a company, and with Damian Kindler, so that’s ongoing. I obviously talk a lot to David Hewlett and Jewel Staite and Rachel and Joe.
You can’t leave the Stargate family. They’re everywhere. It’s a big, huge part of my life, and it’s part of my family.
GW: Creating a television show often means outrageously long, ridiculous hours. Did you ever feel as though you didn’t have enough time for yourself or for your family?
AT: Yes. There was a period of time making Stargate where I think I became a little too Stargate-centric at the expense of my life. I would come home at night and open my script. Sundays at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon it would be “OK, sit down with a script.”
I took for granted all the pieces that were a part of my family puzzle. This is before Olivia, of course. And I’m such a damned perfectionist. I loathed to drop a line on set. I was like, “I’m going to have this word perfect every single time.” But I think, yeah, I ended up getting some really good perspective. Now, as important as the work is, you can do it all at work and come home. And I think having a child is a great equalizer in that sense.
I can’t get in the door on my cell phone. Alan and I have very specific rules about when you come into the house you can’t be on the phone. You drop everything and you’re totally engaged. That’s really important that Olivia gets that sense of “us.”
GW: It’s that dinner table mentality, too. So many people, you can’t talk about work at the dinner table. You can’t take a phone call at the dinner table. That’s family time.
AT: Exactly. It’s hugely important.
GW: As fast as this society is getting, we have to hold on to those things as hard as we can.
GW: Kylie, from Australia, she wants to know, “Do you as yet have any indication as to how the writers are going to deal with the departure of Sam Carter as base commander?”
GW: You do?
GW: Can you share anything with us?
AT: No. I’d love to! Gosh, are you kidding? I’d love to say “Yeah, this is how they’re going to do it.” But I don’t want to give away any secrets from Atlantis. And the writers have done it really cleverly.
GW: OK, so you’re pleased with what they’ve done.
AT: Yeah! Yeah. The last script that I read, it was very clever and it made a lot of sense, and it dovetails nicely into the Stargate franchise. Stop me talking, David! Stop me talking!
GW: Stop talking, Amanda! [Laughter] Do you consider ‘Atlantis Carter’ to almost be a different role from ‘SG-1 Carter,’ even though they are the same people?
AT: Yes. Yeah, I do. I do only in that I chose to play it that way to keep the character interesting, but also because she was out of her element in a totally different realm, in a lead position, commanding an expedition and being in charge of all these people. It was a very different role for Sam, so it was a very different Sam. It made sense to me.
GW: Yeah, you’re not a part of the team per se anymore as you are of the whole team. I think one of the big defining moments for a lot of people that I know was in “Be All My Sins Remember’d” when she nails Michael Beach’s character for talking down to Rodney. “You are not going to talk to any of my team like that anymore and if you do you’re not allowed here anymore.” I loved that.
AT: Yeah, and that was great that they wrote that in. There were a couple of things where I was … early on in this season of Atlantis it made sense that Carter was being played a certain way, but I remember going to Joe Mallozzi and saying “Um, in as much as we’re playing a different side of Carter she’s still really smart and a scientist and there’s times when I don’t speak up and I should. I don’t want her to be completely different. The heart of what is Carter makes a lot of sense to me.”
There were a couple of moments where I thought we pulled too far back.
GW: Right. And as you’re trying to figure it out I’m sure Sam would be, too.
AT: Yes! Absolutely. They were definitely going on the same journey, the two of us.
GW: We all know how Rodney is. And I’m sure she’s thinking “OK, I know that I’m in his sandbox now but I want him to know that his toys are not going to be taken!”
What’s your theory as to what happened to SG-1 when the character left the team? We know The Ark of Truth and Continuum take place before Season Four. What do you think went ahead and happened to SG-1?
AT: The timeline for the movies may be slightly different than what we thought. There’s a little hint for you. What do I think happened to the team? What we’ve done in the past, like before Ben’s character came onboard the team disbanded and Daniel was doing this, Teal’c was doing that, and Vala was off doing this. I would like to think that that’s what happened, not that Carter left and the rest of the team kept going without her. Even though that’s quite likely.
I think maybe the band disbanded, like we had done in the past, and we get back together for the movies. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s just my own sort of ego where I don’t want SG-1 to happen without me being there.
GW: Well you are an invaluable member of the team, just like Daniel, and just like Teal’c, and yes, Ben and Vala.
AT: So here’s hoping!
GW: Chris from Ireland wants to know which episode from Season Four has been your favorite.
AT: Season Four of Atlantis?
AT: Good, because I can’t remember Season Four of Stargate SG-1. “Trio” for sure. “Trio” was so much fun to shoot. It’s a nice little stand-alone episode. It’s a little bottle show. It takes place in a very small set. For me personally it was a lot of fun working with David and Jewel, both of whom I adore and just had a blast working with. But also I conquered a big fear of mine, which is my fear of heights.
GW: Oh really?
AT: Yeah, it’s a massive fear of mine. Huge, huge, huge. And I had to confront that and act at the same time, and actually be the only character who’s comfortable with heights when I was actually the only actor who wasn’t. Things like that. Just getting up and walking a beam in a harness sand not crying, which I did, at first. Then I stopped.
For a lot of different reasons “Trio” was really an important episode for me, but it was also, at the heart of it, the bottom line, it was really, really, really fun. David Hewlett and Jewel and I could not stop laughing. I have fond memories to that.
GW: A lot of the fans are wondering “Yes, she is base commander now, but when are we going to see that sexual tension pop up again?” Is this the episode?
AT: Not really. We do talk about our relationships. But there’s not really a sexual tension. There’s a couple of nice bantering moments between everyone. Even right off the top there’s some nice “girls against the guy” moments. David’s character is so easy to make fun of.
GW: Well he just asks for it.
AT: He does kind of ask for it. The socially inept qualities of McKay make it very easy to laugh in his general direction, so it starts right off the top. So it’s not really sexual tension, more of a nice comfortable banter. Yeah. I think the fans will enjoy it. There’s some really sweet moments in there.
GW: Were you responsible for the images in Carter’s office?
AT: No. Actually I had asked that there be certain things. Our set dec[oration] department is so on top of it. When I came in they had pictures. The only thing I was responsible for putting in there was a mug which is from the Waterkeeper Alliance, which is a charity I’m helping. And it makes sense to me that Carter would have a Waterkeeper’s mug, A, because it’s a great charity, but also because Atlantis is surrounded by water, and the need to protect water is not lost on her.
That was the only thing that I was responsible for bringing in. The fact that they put a picture of my Dad and of Cassandra and of my boys, that all made sense to me.
GW: I was really surprised to see the picture of Colleen [Rennison, “Cassandra] there. I was like, “Where did they get that? That is keeping on top of it!”
AT: That’s our set dec department! They’re awesome!
GW: And even though we haven’t seen her a lot, it’s within our hopes that those two did keep in touch, that her and Cassandra were together a lot.
AT: Yeah, more than just keep in touch, too, I would say. Very much a part of her life. Especially with what happened to Janet Fraiser. Sam completely takes over and is responsible for making sure that Cassandra gets her education. Although we don’t bring it up in the show as much as I had hoped that we would, Sam is a huge part of Cassandra’s life.
GW: Did you regret that we never really got to see her again?
AT: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I think even just to have the explanation. I know that there’s odd lines in the later episodes of Stargate where Sam alludes to Cassandra, but it would have been nice to see her.
GW: It was uncomfortable for me — she wasn’t even at the memorial service, although we have to just imagine that she was there.
AT: Yeah, or imagine that she wasn’t, and then you could come up with a million different reasons why. But yeah, I thought that would’ve been the perfect-case scenario to have her there. And I don’t know whether it was actor availability or what made that final decision, but it would’ve made a lot more sense to me if she was there.
GW: Melora was wondering if you have any advice for Robert Picardo about joining the show full-time, and what advice you think Sam would give to Woolsey about being the leader of Atlantis.
AT: I would tell Woolsey to chill out a little bit, tell him to get the stick out of his ass. Robert Picardo is such a nice guy. I know that, again, sounds like lip service and it’s not. He really is a nice, nice man. He’s been on a series before. He knows the cast of this series really well. He plays a wonderful character. He’s a talented actor. I think he’s just going to sit in beautifully. And whenever he’s around on the Atlantis sets he has a great time and the cast loves him so [much].
Carter’s advice to Woolsey would be to get the stick out of his ass. Amanda’s advice to Bob is to have a good time. He will. He will. He’s the type of person that will. I have no doubt, he just makes fun wherever he goes. He’s this really, really easy-going guy.
GW: I met him in LA and he’s just one of my personal heroes.
AT: Isn’t he lovely?
GW: He’s so cool.
AT: He’s been in the industry long enough. There’s nothing I could say to him that he doesn’t already know. Like I said, he’s just the kind of guy that makes it comfortable wherever he goes. People around him really comfortable.
GW: And I thought it was a bold choice to bring him in because he’s part of an oversight advisory that’s so stick-in-the-mud and “Do all this by the book.”
GW: But I think the general direction that I imagine they’re going for is at the end of his journey he’s going to be such a strong advocate for this team that it’s not even going to be funny.
AT: Yeah, I think at the end of the day that’s exactly what’s going to happen, but I think that the tension in getting there is going to be quite fun to watch.
GW: Yeah, and worthy of a season or two. Good deal. Susan from New York City: “We know about Carter’s many strengths. What do you think her weaknesses are?”
AT: Chocolate! [Laughter] I think Carter tends to go too serious at times. She’s a little bit too work-centric, and sometimes doesn’t always stop and smell the roses. I think that’s such an important part of being a well-rounded person. Actually take stock of your life every now and again. Sit back. Take five minutes with yourself and say “Where am I at and what am I doing?” And Carter’s just so busy with her career and with work. Saving the planet is a pretty heady job, but she needs to relax more.
GW: Her life’s going to fly by if she doesn’t realize it.
AT: I think there have been moments where she caught a hold of that, but then she lets it go. I think that she needs to do what I did part way through shooting Stargate, which was sit back and go “Wait a second. There’s work and there’s life,” and I can’t bring anything to my work if I don’t have a good life. And vice versa. She needs to chill out a little bit.
GW: And I was always hoping for a little bit of levity. I remember you did a season seven interview with SCI FI. “When do I get to be funny? Sam’s not funny. Damn her!”
AT: Yeah! She’s slowly lightened up. As the seasons went on she got more of a sense of humor, found it easier to laugh. But yeah, it would’ve been really nice to see her have a really good goofy sense of humor.
GW: We can’t forget Pete Shanahan —
AT: … Pete!
GW: — some fans may like to. That was a really interesting and important chapter in her development.
AT: It informed her as a woman. Carter really did come into her own as a woman, as a sexual being, functioning in a fully adult relationship. It was important to show that that side of her was blossoming, and I think it made her better at her job.
That goes back to what I said about “Don’t forget to live your life, even though you’re working.” Your work cant’ be your life. You have to have a life to live, and I think that was important for her. And I think also there were moments of great levity with Pete, and she needed that.
GW: Well it’s one thing to fight for your planet, it’s another thing to have something to fight for.
AT: Exactly. Wow. Ooh, David, oh, you are so deep! [Laughter] You should write! Yeah, but you’re absolutely right.
GW: Nora wants to know — my good buddy Nora — in past interviews you’ve stated you enjoyed the opportunity to direct and would like to do more directing. Please tell us that Sanctuary will give you the freedom to do some non-Magnus-centered episodes where you can direct.
GW: Oh yes, good deal! I’m so glad to hear that.
AT: I’ve had a long talk with Martin and Damian about that, and they’re both very-much on board. Probably not in Season One because we really need to establish the show and the characters and it’s going to be a really crazy, heavy year for all of us. And also Stage 3 Media is branching out and doing other things besides Sanctuary. Eventually down the road our plan is to do other shows, in which case I’ll be very-much involved with the directing.
It is hard to get the actors directing [at Stargate]. It’s such a well-oiled machine, and it moves so quickly. We’re often dovetailing episodes. I understand why the actors aren’t directing very much because the pace of the show is so fast. When I directed [“Resurrection”] I had three days prep. I did most of my prep over the course of weekends and I was holding preps meetings in my trailer in-between setups for the big two-parter we were shooting.
GW: Yeah, you did “Lost City” first, didn’t you?
AT: Yeah, so I did a lot of my prep work while I was acting. So it’s not the best-case scenario. I understand. With Sanctuary, it’ll be different; That’s why I have the name “Executive Producer.”
GW: You can make your own decisions — call your own shots!
AT: And I will! [Laughter]
GW: Alright, Pharoah Atem: “Amanda, after working with the SGA cast for a whole season, do you feel it has stayed true to it’s own dynamic, or has the cast created it’s own unique bond?
AT: Oh, the cast has created it’s own unique bond. It has to. The Stargate franchise is the Stargate franchise, and everyone fits very nicely under that big umbrella. They’ve definitely created their own dynamic, and more power to them. You wouldn’t want to replicate the SG-1 dynamic. It’s a completely different group of people. So I think the answer is yes to both parts of the question. Yes, they’ve stayed true to the Stargate franchise, but they’ve also created their own unique and really wonderful dynamic.
Very different. Not the mood, I wouldn’t say. There’s a different vibe on each set. The SG-1 set, maybe because we’re a bit goofier and we’ve been together that much longer. We can finish each other’s sentences without any problem. I don’t think it’s that, it’s just different.
GW: The timbre’s a little different.
AT: Absolutely. Yeah.
GW: I was a little disappointed in the first couple of seasons in the amount of time that we were shown with them being off duty, and it certainly began to pick up early in Season Three where we got to see them chillin’. And it was even more pronounced in Sunday, obviously. I think Sunday is the greatest Atlantis episode ever.
AT: It’s a great episode.
GW: But yeah, these people do have lives away from the office and I think it’s important to show that.
AT: I think what was interesting about the way Atlantis approached it is they were giving you the big, broad strokes of this whole new expedition, but they did introduce the characters quite fully right off the top. The first couple of seasons there was a lot of back-story on the characters, and in some ways I think because they knew the franchise was going to hold up and that this show was going to last, that that’s kind of a good thing. We got all of that out of the way and that it was able to play with the characters because we knew them so fully.
GW: SGFerrit from England, was it strange working with Mitch Pilleggi, after the last time you acted together in the X-Files, and the way that that story had played out?
AT: The funny story about that was I was on SG-1 and I walked over to the Atlantis set, because I heard Mitch was over there. He was sitting in the big commanding chair on the ship. The whole crew’s standing around, and I guess they were lighting it or something. Mitch was sitting there. I poked my head into the set. He looked at me very loudly and said “Oh hey, Amanda! The last time I saw you we were naked!” [Laughter]
And the whole crew went “Huh?”
I hadn’t seen him since we shot The X-Files, so that was a good laugh. Yeah, it’s quite funny. Again he’s another lovely, easy-to-get-along-with man. It was kind of weird at first with him. Sort of going “OK, so, yeah. We were naked. How are ya? So how’ve you been?”