Beware of SPOILERS for Stargate Atlantis‘s fifth season episode “Ghost In the Machine” in this interview.
The fourth season of Stargate Atlantis capped off a major story arc with “Be All My Sins Remember’d,” an episode full of drama, villains, and fantastic space battles. But it also had something fans never saw coming: a captivating (if short-lived) new character, Fran. Actress Michelle Morgan helped to make that character compelling and memorable. Now, she returns to Atlantis for “Ghost In the Machine.”
GateWorld caught up with Michelle on the set of the episode! In our interview, she talks about the role she was originally cast for (but had to back out), her introduction to Fran and the mythology of the Replicators, and the very unique challenges of playing Elizabeth Weir in this episode. She also answers the question, “Does Fran have a soul?”
GateWorld’s interview with Michelle runs about 16 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net I’m Darren Sumner. David Read and I are here with Miss Michelle Morgan. Michelle, you play Fran on Stargate Atlantis!
Michelle Morgan: Yes, I do. Friendly Android Replicator … what is it?
GW: Friendly Replicator Android.
MM: Android. Yeah!
GW: Thanks for talking with us today.
MM: No problem.
GW: Tell us a little bit about how you got here, how you were cast for Fran.
MM: Basically, I was living on Vancouver for a short period last spring and they kept bringing me out for Stargate, for smaller roles, like an engineer here and there. And I wasn’t booking anything. And then they cast me as the daughter of the Seer in that episode, “The Seer.” And I was really excited to play it. It was a great guest starring role, but I had to go and do re-shoots for a film I had done called “Diary of the Dead.”
So I couldn’t do it. I was really upset — I thought I finally had my chance to work on Stargate, And then the next week I got cast as Fran.
GW: Were you a fan of the show?
MM: I’d seen a episode, but I don’t really get to watch a lot of television. I rent it. And subsequently, upon being cast, I went back and rented a bunch of episodes and, obviously the first episode — it was almost a feature length film.
GW: Yeah, “Rising.” [To] see what you got yourself into.
GW: So through this experience with “Be All My Sins Remember’d” last year — now you’re in “Ghost in the Machine” — have you gotten to know the Replicators and Fran’s role in the larger Stargate story?
MM: Yeah, in my research I’ve been trying to understand these Replicators and I’m interested in this idea of ascension that they have. Because I was like, “What are they talking about?” And it’s neat. Basically they were an artificially made race who are trying as hard as they can to be human. So I think that’s interesting.
GW: To be more than human, go where the humans went, where their predecessors went. Because the people who created them left themselves and the only way that they can feel remotely equal is to see if they can achieve what their predecessors achieved.
GW: Tell us first about “Be All My Sins Remember’d.” When you think about your work on that show what stands out in your mind?
MM: I had so much fun with that because it was great to just play a completely innocent character and someone with no ulterior motives, and just pure contentedness to be in this moment and to do what she has to do. And it was really a relief, because you get a lot of complicated characters, and a lot of brooding characters, and it was really nice to play something so light and simple.
GW: She was literally a blank slate.
MM: Yeah! But I tried to bring a bit of child-likeness to her and sort of a wonderment with everything around her. So that was fun to do.
GW: As a Replicator she’s extremely dangerous, but yet she’s also very endearing.
MM: Yeah, that’s great!
GW: You go through the episode and you’re thinking, “Is she going to turn on us now, or is she going to fulfill her destiny?” Because one of the neat things that Fran says is, “Who has the chance to know what they’re meant to do with their life and then get to fulfill it?”
MM: Absolutely. She really doesn’t think there’s any need to complicate things and she thinks it’s hilarious that David’s character …
MM: McKay! — that McKay is conflicted about this. Yeah, she doesn’t understand that because it’s very simple. And I think that’s great that you’re wondering if she was going to turn, because that thought never crossed my mind.
MM: No — yeah, she’s not going to turn. She knows what she wants to do.
GW: Well, yeah, he was always worried that “Is this morally the right thing to do?” because he grew attached to her and now he’s got to basically go send her off with a bomb essentially strapped to her chest, for a metaphor for our times. That was very effective.
MM: Thank you.
GW: Who is Fran in your mind? Is she a combination of programmed Replicator nanites or does she have a personality? Does she have a soul?
MM: Oh, yeah! As far as for me as an actor, I try not to get too caught up in the fact that she’s artificially created. She has to be a person. So, like I said, when I was playing the original Fran, I just wanted to play — and I drew on different children in my life — that she was just like a very straightforward, honest, pure person.
Actually my best friend in the world, this girl Sherry, is a lot like Fran. So she has a soul and she is a person. But it’s different now because I’m essentially playing Elizabeth Weir. But at the same time, I’m not. Because the way that I’m thinking about it is that Elizabeth has been through something that we can’t even imagine.
I’m essentially thinking of it as if Elizabeth has been to hell. Being a disembodied, essentially almost like an electric channel, going through Wraith tech and in and out of space.
She describes it as the worst migraine ever — constant motion and horrible sound. It sounds like hell. And then to suddenly be in a body again. I think that Weir would probably have a sense of wonderment about being animated again. So … is that like a long-winded way of describing it?
GW: No! That’s great.
MM: I think that, absolutely, the characters I’m playing do have a soul and they are like humans.
GW: How much is Fran “Fran” in this episode, “Ghost In The Machine?”
MM: Not at all.
GW: She’s just all Weir?
GW: In a Fran body?
MM: Absolutely. And I was talking to [writer] Carl Binder about it and got excited, because he was like, “Well, this is great! Now we’ve established that the table has the Fran template …”
GW: Right! And anytime they need her …
MM: Anytime they need her and anytime … different characters can now be channeled through this template. So I was like, “Yeah, Carl!” He’s like, “Yeah, you know, you could end up playing all kinds of different characters, through Fran.”
So that’s really fun as an actor. I’d love to play Fran again though. That would be fun.
GW: Were you surprised when the show’s producers asked you back?
MM: I was pleased, but I wasn’t surprised. Because me and David Hewlett were joking about it last year and he was like, “Well, you know, we’re blowing you up but we could always recreate you.” And I was like, “Yeah!” So he had already sort of dropped the idea in my head, so I wasn’t totally surprised, actually.
But I was definitely very pleased and my character in this episode has a much bigger part. So that was a nice surprise.
GW: Have you seen “Be All My Sins Remember’d”?
MM: Oh, yeah!
GW: What are your thoughts on it?
MM: I thought it was a great episode. I think what really appealed to people is the question of “Is Fran a person or is she made up of nanite cells and therefore has no …”
GW: Is she just a tool?
MM: Yeah, is she just a tool or is she a being that should be pitied? So I think that that was a really effective element of the episode.
GW: I would have loved to see that as a two-parter with a full episode just devoted to the ethical conundrum of “Is Fran a person and should she be used in this way?”
MM: Well, maybe they’ll … I don’t know. Let’s drop the bug in their ear to bring Fran back and they’ll have to deal with that again!
GW: Because that’s one of the bigger conundrums, you know. We’re in this constant struggle against the Replicators, just trying to get rid of them, but we never really stop to think about “Are we terminating a society here?”
MM: Yeah! And if you think about it, they are complex. They’re self-aware! They’re trying to ascend. They are a race! So, to wipe them out … there’s definitely ethical questions there.
But at the same time they are an enemy and they are a threat, so you have to look out for your own, as well. Which is actually what this episode [“Ghost In the Machine”] is about because I’m Elizabeth Weir, but I am also a Replicator. I am a Replicator now and that is what Weir is dealing with in this episode.
She thinks in her head, “I’m just Elizabeth Weir. I’m not a threat to these people.” But she turns out being a threat to them because she is a Replicator and she has to realize that. “Now I’m a Replicator and I have to think of myself as a Replicator.”
GW: “If I really love my people what should I do?”
MM: Yeah, “How can I protect them?” And Carl said something interesting to me — the writer — he said that’s part of changing, not realizing you’ve changed. Do you know what I mean? There’s a scene where Sheppard says to her, “You think you’re Elizabeth Weir, but you’re not.” And then it really hits her. “Maybe I’m not really Elizabeth Weir anymore, maybe I have changed.”
Is she a human or is she a Replicator? She’s both, and that’s what’s interesting about this episode.
GW: How did you prepare yourself to play sort of half of a character, at least, that is someone who’s very established in the Stargate universe?
MM: Well, you know I definitely went back and watched Weir. I watched episodes with her and sort of studied the way that she was and the way that she spoke. But mostly I really focused on the way that she thought, and the way that she approaches situations — because she’s all about diplomacy. She’s very intelligent. She’s not a wimp in any way.
So I really tried to have a grasp of the way that she approached situations and the way that she would talk to people in these high-stake situations.
GW: Did you end up with a favorite Weir episode out of that experience?
MM: There were a few favorite scenes for sure. I was really struck by a scene between Weir and Teyla, and I can’t tell you the name of the episode, where Weir is complaining that she’s not being treated equally as a woman. You know what I mean? She did have the vulnerable side of her.
She was kind of always being forced to second guess herself because of all of these men around her, pushing her around. So I thought that was interesting. I thought she was a tough character.
GW: There was a great scene in an episode [called] “Suspicion” where Teyla approaches Weir and she asks her, “Do you ever have doubts?” And Weir says, “I can’t afford to have them.” You know, as a leader, I think that was very poignant. It’s cool that you are embodying that. And a challenge!
MM: Can you imagine having that kind of responsibility? I look at world leaders and it’s unfathomable the amount of power that one person can have and the decisions that they make. And it takes a really strong character to be able to be in those kind of positions. I don’t know if I could do it.
GW: “Ghost In the Machine” is largely about resolving this character thread with Elizabeth Weir, and there’s some political issues going on with Torri [Higginson] not reprising the role. Do you find it a particular challenge to step in to the middle of this situation and play your character to the best of your ability?
MM: No, because I’m not really involved in that situation. I’m actually quite removed from that situation. I come in and I do my part. So I’m just really approaching it with … I just want to make the character interesting and make this a great episode. And that’s all I’m going worry about.
GW: Well, it’s a testament to your work, you know — this character who has been around for five years, [and] this young woman who came in for this little scene last year just blew us all away. Let’s give her this mantle.
MM: Aww. Thank you.
GW: Let’s see what she can do with it.
MM: Thank you very much! Yeah, I’m definitely honored to be back. I think this is a really, really cool show and I’ve been lucky enough to get involved with it.
MM: Sci-fi is really fun for actors. It’s almost like doing Shakespeare. And I’ll explain: You get to sort of step out of the every-day casual world and into these high-stake situations that are really about core, basic human elements. Ken Girotti, the director of this episode, says it’s like opera. Really, everything is really high stakes and it’s a different world. So it’s fun for actors and directors and everyone involved.
GW: As opposed to something like …
MM: As opposed to something like The O.C. You know, just like, “Hey, let’s go to the mall. Like, whatever.” There can be great scenes in those shows, don’t get me wrong! But there’s something really fun about playing in a different world.
GW: Well, we’re exploring the human condition. It may be Replicators and it may be life-sucking aliens, but it’s about us. It’s always about us.
MM: And by removing humans from the human world it makes it an even better way to explore the human condition.
GW: Would you call yourself a fan of science fiction, viewing or reading?
MM: My older brothers are huge sci-fi fans so I grew up kind of by osmosis watching almost every episode of Star Trek. And I’ve seen all the Star Wars. I’ve actually just through osmosis through my brothers been really exposed to all that.
But me personally I, these days, I don’t tend to watch a ton of sci-fi, no. I’ve got to be honest, yeah! But at the same time I heard Battlestar Galactica is also an amazing show that I’d like to … I’m going to actually rent that this week.
GW: [It is] extremely intelligent.
GW: So what do they think about you being on Atlantis?
GW: Your brothers.
MM: Oh! They’re so excited.
GW: Fran has received really enthusiastic reception among the fans. Have you gone online or encountered any of this yet?
MM: I’ve encountered it in a very small way. A couple people have actually found me online and e-mailed me and stuff.
GW: Do you think that’s creepy?
MM: Well, you know, I’d prefer if it’s through something like GateWorld or something like that. But you know how I’ve also found it? People have chatted about it on IMDb in a really nice way. So, yeah, I thought that was really cool.
GW: The door is certainly left open for more Fran in the future. Would you like to come back to the show?
MM: I would love to come back to the show. Yeah, it would be really, really fun. I dropped the bug in Carl’s ear and we talked about it — the writer, Carl Binder. So I really hope that they do that. I’d love to come back as a regular character. That’d be super fun.
GW: What other projects have you been working where fans can go to find more of your work?
MM: This year I was in George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead. And I’m also a regular on the CBC series Heartland, which is a Canadian television drama. And we’re about to start filming our second season.
GW: Terrific. Tell us a little bit about who you are when you’re not Fran.
MM: Sure. My parents are from Chile but I was born and raised in Canada.
GW: Oh, yeah?
MM: I’m really into sports. I love snowboarding. I’m always outside. I brought my bike everywhere. I live in Toronto.
I come from a big family. I have five siblings and I live with a couple of my cousins and my brother and my sister in this crazy house in Toronto, and have a good time. Yeah! What else? I have a cat named Davis. [Laughter]
MM: He’s named after a character on the original Bonnie and Clyde.
GW: Would you be open to making appearances at conventions?
MM: I actually have done two conventions for Diary of the Dead. Yeah, I was just at Texas Frightener Weekend in Dallas and HorrorFind in Baltimore.
GW: How was that experience?
MM: You know what? The conventions were cool because, imagine, I’m now really good friends with the entire cast of Night of the Living Dead! And there’s a few different people in the community that I’m friends with, and I’ll have those friends forever.
I just don’t want to become one of those actors who only do conventions. Because there are those actors and I don’t want to be that.