Dr, Kate Heightmeyer has touched the hearts of many Atlantis fans with her soft-spoken words of wisdom and genuine care for expedition members. Her tragic death in this season’s “Doppelganger” sent a wave of shock and sadness through fandom, likely as director Robert C. Cooper intended.
Now GateWorld sits down for an intimate, one-on-one discussion with the actress who portrayed her, Claire Rankin, who reveals that she was just as surprised as everyone else!
Claire discusses adopting the standards of real-life psychologists while playing Heightmeyer, and reveals that the very nature of the character — a shrink — often prevented viewers from learning more about her. She talks about the struggle of being forced to partake in the deception of the Wraith Michael, and lends her thoughts on what it means to be truly beautiful.
GateWorld: Claire, welcome! You’ve played significant roles on stage, from Cossette in Les Miserables to Miranda in The Tempest. Which of the many roles you’ve done stand out the most?
Claire Rankin: The roles that stand out the most for me are the ones that were the most challenging. Playing Juliet because of the depth and range of emotion it required, Cossette in Les Mis because it made me face my fears of singing (and got me to take opera lessons so I could hit the high C,) and Louise in Carousel — because I had danced professionally from the time I was 16 and this was my last real dance role — which allowed me to use all of my ballet and modern training and to do the most beautiful pas de deux.
GW: Which of the two mediums, theater or television, do you prefer to perform in?
CR: I couldn’t possibly choose one over the other. They both have challenges and rewards. Theatre is draining doing 6 days a week rehearsals and 8 performances a week. I was exhausted after playing Juliet for three months. (On a side note: Chuck Campbell was in that production with me and he played “Benvolio” and was fantastic.) But the thrill of a live audience can’t be matched. The satisfaction you get as an actor from knowing you’re affecting people is enormous.
Television is challenging because of all the technical demands — acting with people or aliens that aren’t there — or hitting your mark and finding your light and trying to act at the same time. But it also allows you the intimacy of a quietly shared moment — glances telling a story without words or an intense one on one moment which allows the viewer to feel like they are seeing something private.
GW: Are you a science fiction fan? If so, when do you think the genre is at its best?
CR: I am a science fiction fan. I loved watching Star Trek: The Next Generation because I loved the way they built relationships with the characters and allowed them to really be people with lives not just missions. But my favorite kind of sci-fi is a film like Children of Men because it’s so close to our world that to me it’s that much more terrifying. It makes you feel like that could happen tomorrow.
GW: We’re aware that you were friends with Rachel Luttrell before you came aboard to guest in “The Gift.” Was she helpful in getting you hired or was it coincidence?
CR: Rachel and I been great friends for over a decade now. We met and became roommates when we first moved to Los Angeles from Canada and shared all the trials and tribulations of getting in the door in LA.
When Rachel was doing her final network test for Atlantis I came with her for moral support. I had run lines with her for her audition and I just knew that she would get the part. When the role of Kate Heightmeyer came up I got an audition through my agent and the casting office whom I had worked for before on shows such as The Outer Limits. I put it on tape and sent it off to Vancouver, called Rach to let her know I’d done an audition for her show and hoped for the best.
When I booked it I was thrilled because I was so excited about getting to work with Rachel again. (We had worked together in Vancouver on another short-lived sci-fi show called Sleepwalkers.)
GW: Where did you and Rachel get acquainted? Can you tell us the story?
CR: Well, Rachel and I shared the same manager at the time and I had an apartment, but no roommate, so we decided to give it a try. We really were barely acquaintances at the time but we soon became the best of friends. We helped each other with all of our auditions and provided moral support for stressful situations like network tests and shared all the ups and downs of a day in Hollywood.
GW: Was Kate going to be recurring from the beginning, or was she just a day player?
CR: Kate was billed as a possible recurring which basically means we’ll see how the first one goes and if the fans like you we’ll see what we can to do with you.
GW: How much input have you been given to develop the character?
CR: None, whatsoever. As a recurring character you really are there to serve the needs of the story and main characters and if you’re lucky you may eventually get a story of your own. But Kate, as the psychologist, really was written to facilitate other characters storylines and to help the audience get to see into their heads a little.
GW: You appeared in five episodes of Atlantis. Which stands out as your favorite?
CR: I really enjoyed “Michael” because I loved that the script kept the audience in suspense. I thought that was very clever and really showed that the writers think the audience is intelligent and will go along for the ride trying to figure out what’s happening for themselves.
But I’d have to say “The Gift” is my personal favorite just because it was the first one I did and it was exciting to be there working on Rachel’s first really big storyline.
GW: Do you believe Heightmeyer had any reservations with participating in the deception of Michael? After all, what he became was the fault of the expedition.
CR: I love how that script opens up all kind of moral issues. How does one reconcile themselves to doing something they know is morally ambiguous but could be for the greater good? Kate’s dilemma for me is the doctor in her which takes the vow of “first do no harm” and places that against the reality that humanity is in peril.
I think she was conflicted during the entire process but ultimately was part of a team and took her orders and did the best she could under the circumstances.
GW: What are your impressions regarding the range of the character? Were you satisfied with the amount of latitude the character was given in terms of personality?
As I said before, I believe the character was there to facilitate others but of course personally I wish that she had had a chance to be seen outside of a purely work capacity. A psychologist’s job is to be a calm easy listening presence with the right questions to ask to help someone else free themselves. Their emotions and feelings are not only unimportant but also unacceptable in a work setting. So, without a chance to been seen outside of that capacity there was no opportunity for me to play with who she was personally.
GW: Did you do any research for the role — get in touch with hrinks you knew personally or Wikipedia famous psychologists?
CR: I did actually. I have a couple of acquaintances who are therapists and I took quite a bit from their advice, especially in demeanor.
It’s that calm, thoughtful quality that make the person you’re treating feel safe and let’s them know you’re really listening.
GW: Kate dies in a falling nightmare. Was this surreal for you in any way? Are you afraid of heights?
CR: I actually don’t care much for heights but I’m not really scared of them. I enjoyed being harnessed on the ledge of the set and getting to do something a bit physical. It was fun with the wind machines and all!
GW: Was it ironic to you that Rachel shared your final scenes?
CR: Teyla really is the only character the audience sees Kate connect with a in any sort of personal way. So I think that the audience could believe that they were friends and she would be the one to try and save Kate.
GW: Were you told the character was going to be killed off before you got the script for “Doppelganger?”
CR: No, I had no idea. I was reading it and I saw my death and I thought “that can’t be real” and then I saw Rodney’s death and I thought “that really can’t be real” and then his was not, but mine was — and I was bummed. But it’s sci-fi so anything can happen. I could be cloned yet!
GW: How does Vancouver-based Atlantis compare to the LA-based Star Trek Voyager, in which you guest starred, in terms of production schedules and the atmosphere on set?
CR: Well, I only had the opportunity to do one episode on Voyager (although it was a great part) so I didn’t get the chance to be there long enough to feel like a part of the cast. I almost exclusively worked with Robert Duncan McNeill and he was wonderful — very welcoming and a ton of fun. And it was great to be a sexy bad girl.
Atlantis was lovely because I was there long enough to get to know everyone. I was thrilled when I was finally given my own earpiece — I really felt like a part of the cast then. They are both well-oiled machines because they both had predecessors and so everyone in all departments are serious pros.
GW: Will fans be lucky enough to spot you at any Stargate conventions in the future?
CR: I hope so! I had a fabulous time at Dragon-Con last year and loved getting the chance to meet everyone. It was so great to feel that support — and to get a chance to thank the fans. I don’t have anything lined up at the moment — but let some conventions know you want to see me and I’ll be there!
GW: Do you have any projects currently in the works?
CR: I have a film that is doing the festival circuit and I hope it will be on your TV or in a theatre soon. It’s called “One of Our Own” and it stars Josh Randall, Matthew Lillard, Kate Beahan and myself. It’s about a couple with fertility issues and the surrogate that comes into their lives and the hell that follows. I also just finished shooting a film called “Viper” with Tara Reid and it’s a really fun horror flick.
GW: You are a shining example of beauty and gracefulness. Do you have any messages for young women facing pressure from the media?
CR: Well, I don’t know about that but thank you. What I aspire to be is just myself. There’s so much pressure to be thin and perfect and to fit into this unattainable mold and it’s a terrible message. Why does the media get to decide what is ‘perfect’? And who wants to be perfect anyway? What a bore.
Yes, I do try to take care of myself (eat well, exercise, wear sunscreen… and I would never give up my mascara!) but I don’t measure who I am as a person by what I look like.
As my sister says to her daughter, “pretty is as pretty does” so I try to spend more time thinking about who I am and less time about how I look. Find somebody who needs help, and help them — I guarantee you’ll feel “beautiful.”
GW: The strength of women goes back to Samantha Carter in SG-1. Would you recommend either series to your niece?
CR: Actually, Stargate SG-1 is my mom’s favorite show — and now she’s getting into Atlantis. (especially seeing that Amanda is doing episodes.)
I think there’s lots to be gained for young women by watching strong female characters. The women of Stargate lead teams, defend themselves and others, and command authority and the more positive role models we can get out there for girls the better. I hope it makes them dream of what they themselves can aspire to be.
And who knows? By the time my niece is grown she may have the chance to lead a team in space herself!
GW: What do you think is Stargate‘s lasting quality? How has the franchise survived for over a decade?
CR: Well the fans would be a huge part of that. No show survives without the love and support of their audience, and clearly Sci-Fi fans are the best!