Beware of SPOILERS for the series finale of Stargate Atlantis in the interview below!
Just five years ago we were introducing ourselves to actress Rachel Luttrell. It feels too soon to say goodbye.
Now firmly perched in Los Angeles, Rachel is keeping her head on a swivel for her next gig! GateWorld talks with her about raising a son while working 20-hour days, her thoughts on the possibility of the next Atlantis movie, and of course her next projects. We also pay special attention to “The Queen,” which saw some interesting turns in the direction of her character.
GateWorld’s interview with Rachel Luttrell runs about 22 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe now to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: How is Caden?
Rachel Luttrell: Caden is wonderful! Caden is marvelous! He’s the light of my life and he’s just doing fabulously well. He’s gorgeous and fun and he’s got more words than he should have for his age. I’m very proud of my little genius. Yeah, he’s just great.
GW: How old is he now?
RL: Caden is 16 months. My father has termed him “BamBam” because he’s the strongest little kid he’s ever seen. He’s strong and tenacious and wonderful. I love being a mommy.
GW: Has it really been just an easy ride or has it been complicated and difficult at the same time?
RL: You mean motherhood?
RL: Oh, gosh. Motherhood is a mixed bag. No, no, no. I would never say it’s been an easy ride. “Uh, no!” It’s an adventure! On the whole the adventure is a wonderful one. But there are moments where you just want to pull your hair out and there are moments where you are happier than you have ever been in your life.
But it’s immensely challenging and immensely worth it. It’s fantastic. But I would never say that it’s been an easy ride. Oh, God, no. And all the mothers out there will know what the heck I’m talking about.
But it’s wonderful. It’s the toughest job you’ll ever do, being a parent, for sure. But it’s certainly the most rewarding job by far. Nothing holds a candle to it. It’s great.
GW: Now despite moving all over the place do you have a good support system in place?
RL: I do! Thank you for asking. Actually I’ve got a great support group both in Vancouver and in Los Angeles, which are currently my two cities right now. I’m in LA right now and my parents are here and two of my sisters live here.
One of my sisters has two children so my brother-in-law’s here with my two nieces. I have a wonderful support group, as well as a number of really wonderful friends who I’ve known for a good many years.
And in Vancouver I’ve got my husband’s family, and in particular my mother-in-law, who’s just been a huge help. All the way through shooting last year she came to work with me every morning, wee hours of the morning, and stuck it out until late at night.
She was in the trailer with Caden while I was working. And now that I’m not working she’s always there for date nights and what have you. So it’s great! I’m surrounded by a lot of love, which is wonderful.
GW: Oh, it’s absolutely key. That’s great.
RL: Yes, it is key. It is key. I don’t know how parents do it, who don’t have family close to them. It’s really tricky.
GW: Yeah, stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads.
RL: Oh, no. Yeah, it’s really tricky. This is a job that requires a lot of support, and sadly in our culture it doesn’t get as much support as I think it needs. But anyway, there you go.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones.
GW: Great. Good that you recognize it.
RL: Oh, I do! I do. Oh, yes, yes, yes!
GW: Aside from the baby, what’s been going on since Atlantis for you?
RL: What has been going on? Well, motherhood takes up about 99 point nine percent of my time, but aside from that I’ve been traveling. I’ve done little bits of publicity for the show prior to the last episode airing. And now I’m in Los Angeles and I’m auditioning for the next gig.
Just before Christmas I shot a movie with Cuba Gooding Jr. called “Hardwired.” It’s kind of like a science fiction movie. It was set in the future and I play Cuba’s sister. That was a lot of fun. So I did that in November. It’s been a lot of back and forth from Vancouver to Los Angeles and Vancouver to Toronto where I did a shoot for a fashion magazine out there. And now I’m doing what we actors know all too well.
GW: Nose to the grinder, out there and auditioning.
RL: Exactly. It’s funny because when Atlantis came to an end in the fall I have a fellow who comes by to help me clean my house, thank goodness, because it’s difficult to do. He helps out a lot and he’s from the Philippines.
He was absolutely shocked when I told him that I was going to an audition. Because apparently in the Philippines once you are an established actor, that’s it. Your road is set and you just get movie offer after movie offer. Essentially you never have to job interview again.
Just to look at his face it was amazing. On the one hand it was so complimentary, and on the other hand I thought, “God, maybe I should be living in the Philippines.” He said, “Wait a second. No, no, no! You are already a professional actor!”
“Yes, sadly that is not how it works here.”
But yeah, I’ve been out for a couple of things that I really love and I’m not going to jinx it. But it’s nice. On the one hand it’s scary to be back in this world and on the other hand it’s incredibly exciting because I’ve been auditioning for characters that are so vastly different from Teyla. I get to play with other colors and it’s been a lot of fun. So I’m excited about the next characters.
GW: Have you been singing?
RL: I sing every day! [Laughter] I haven’t been getting paid to sing!
GW: Aside from singing to the baby.
RL: Oh, yeah! Oh my goodness. I sing to Caden all the time. In the early stages of Caden and I getting to know each other I thought that I was singing to him so much that he wasn’t going to have his first word, he was going to sing his first note. He was just going to start singing.
Kind of ridiculous but in my delirium and lack of sleep it was actually a concern of mine. I thought, “Maybe I should start talking to him a little bit more …” But no, I sing all the time. I sing to Caden all the time. Caden loves to sing.
As I said in the beginning, “So many words.” One of his favorite words is “dance.” So he loves to dance with me as well. Yeah, we have a ball with music. At the moment I have not been paid to sing after Atlantis, but that’s OK because I’ve got a captive audience in my son.
GW: I’ve always been a big singer. When I sing it makes me feel good! And I haven’t been in a choir in so long. It’s something I really miss. Were you ever in choral ensembles?
RL: Oh yeah. Back when I was in school I was in all of the choirs. The girls choir, the senior choir, the junior choir, all of that. Absolutely. I loved singing in choirs. When I started in musical theaters it was all about singing with the chorus, and that was so much fun. I love it! I don’t know about you, does the rest of your family sing?
GW: My grandmother does. Everyone else can’t.
RL: Oh wow! OK, so you get it from your grandma. Everyone in my family sings, which is great. It’s just been part of how we’ve grown up. We’d go on road trips and we’d be singing. We’d be harmonizing. We could’ve been the von Trapp family singers.
GW: It’s The Sound of Music!
RL: Exactly! Hey, we could’ve been! And that was one of my favorite movies growing up. I watched it thousand times.
GW: Well there you go. Were you surprised when you heard the news of the show’s cancellation? Did you kind of feel it was coming?
RL: Myself and my fellow cast mates, we were hedging bets about what was going to happen, whether or not there was going to be a Season Six. We kept flipping. There were days when we thought “Oh, gosh. Absolutely it’s going to go.” And then there were days when we would meet and talk about it and say, “It’s not going to go.”
So we were flipping back and forth but just prior to finding out about the news we all felt actually pretty certain that we were going to go for another season. So it was a bit of a surprise. It sunk in. It is what it is.
I remember speaking with Robert Picardo who just joined us pretty much in our last season and he said to us that it’s a difficult thing when an actor has a home for an actor to lose a home because it doesn’t come around very often where an actor feels like they have a place where they can hang their hat and they really feel at home. And that was certainly what we had there. It felt like a big family. A big, sometimes dysfunctional, family. But nonetheless a family.
GW: Well it was stability for five years for you guys. You have a franchise that has a name that has solidified itself, especially with SG-1 at that point for seven seasons. And you weren’t going anywhere!
RL: Yeah! It was great! It was wonderful. While it lasted it was wonderful. As I said, it wasn’t always perfect but it was a wonderful experience and I can certainly say that I really loved the rest of my cast mates. And I’m happy to say that I get to see them a fair bit here. So that’s been a wonderful thing. They’ll always be a part of my circle, which is great.
Yeah, moving along! But it was a wonderful time. And we were surprised when we finally heard the news. We were surprised because we were doing well. We had just won the People’s Choice Awards. It was really kind of surprising. Like, “Well wait a second!” But ultimately that decision is not one that lands in our hands, so it was up to somebody else and the decisions were made for whatever reasons they were made for. There you go.
GW: Well, no Season Six, and a movie on the horizon. But were you satisfied with Teyla’s arc? Can you honestly say that you’re satisfied? Is there anything that you wish you could’ve explored a little bit more that had started up in the last year that you wanted to revisit later on?
RL: I was satisfied with the growth of Teyla and the growth of the character, but I think that there would’ve been a lot of other things I could’ve explored. A lot.
GW: “The Queen” was a great episode.
RL: Oh “The Queen!” Yes, well thank you very much. I appreciate that, because it was very difficult to make.
GW: Oh, the prosthetics?
RL: Oh, my goodness. That was a very, very difficult episode. I think my longest day was 20 hours all told.
GW: Twenty hours?!
RL: I’m not even kidding you. Yeah, from the time that I got there on set and I got the prosthetics and did all the shooting to the time I got the last bit of makeup removed and was able to go home I think it was about 20 hours.
GW: Oh my. Well please tell me you got the next day off!
RL: I don’t remember. It’s all a blur. I don’t know that I got the next day off. It was very trying, and I was there with my little one, and I’ve got pictures of myself nursing my son as a Wraith. [Laughter] Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Those will go down in my family history for sure! I’ll show those at my son’s wedding.
It was pretty crazy. And thankfully for me I’ve got an old soul on my hands, because when he saw me he just laughed. He could not stop laughing. All the pictures of me with him as a Wraith he is just beaming. I can just see it in his eyes. “That’s my crazy momma!”
GW: Not freaked out at all. I’ll be darned.
RL: Oh, not at all! “That’s crazy momma! Look what she’s doing now.”
GW: You think he could tell that it was you through all that makeup?
RL: Hell yes! Oh, yes! He knew exactly! He didn’t want to be with anyone else. When I was in the room he wanted to be with Mommy. Oh, yeah. He didn’t see anybody but Mommy.
And you know what? It was actually a beautiful lesson because I think all that other stuff, of how people look and judging people by X, Y, and Z, I think that comes a lot later. I think it’s really imposed. I think little ones, really little ones, they know you by your energy and what you put forth, and that’s what they see and that’s what they know. And that’s what he saw and that’s what he loved. So there was no issue. Yeah, pretty great.
I had a point that I was making and I completely forgotten. Oh, the arc of the character! Yes! Listen, I probably would’ve liked to explore a little bit more about Teyla’s background and her family.
I was enjoying the beginning of exploring Teyla as a mom and how that divided her between the tasks at hand and raising her son and where that was going to lead and how that was flowing into her relationships with the other team mates. It was a lot to explore. But you know, if that was the button then I’m also happy with it was well because I got to do a lot throughout the seasons. So there you go.
GW: Well, I don’t know how much you’ve listened to GateWorld or watched it, but I have been very vocal throughout the series that, “I wish I saw Teyla more in this episode,” or, “I wish she hadn’t been cut out of this episode.” And I know that there’s still the movie on the horizon so we need to be careful about how we talk about this here. I’m sure you can’t tell me everything you want to tell me because that movie is still out there.
RL: Listen, if we were sitting down and we were having coffee and it was off the record there’d probably be a lot more that I could say. But thank you. And there were moments, of course, that clearly I felt the same way. Which is another reason why I’m sad to let that part of my journey as an actor go. But on the other hand I’m excited about, as I said, the other prospects because it gives me the opportunity to bite into other things.
One of the things that I loved about Teyla in the beginning, and even going as far back to the initial audition, was the audition material actually wasn’t really touched upon again because so much of it had to do with her history and her ties to her people and her ties to her family and how she came about being their central leader. And there was so much strength in that. And I loved it.
I took from my mother’s background, and where she was raised in a secluded region of the Usambara Mountains, which is in Tanzania, and how tied to her people and nature and family, and how incredibly strong that was. And to me it was so exciting to start off on a journey with this character because I felt that there was so much potential for her journey.
GW: Did you infuse a lot of your mother into Teyla? Her strength? Was that a source for you?
RL: Yeah! Absolutely. Absolutely, yes I did. Very much so. I used a lot from my Mum’s side of the family to bring Teyla to life.
GW: Season Four and Five you had Caden. Were those the toughest years for you production-wise?
RL: Yeah, Season Five for me was certainly the trickiest for that reason. Season Four not so much because it was just me. It was me and “belly.” And I had a wonderful pregnancy and I felt so strong throughout it.
So not so much, but certainly Season Five was very difficult physically and emotionally for that reason. But I was very lucky that I could have my little one with me all the time. But on the other hand I was waking up at four in the morning and trying to get him all bundled up and putting him into a freezing cold car and driving to work and getting to the trailer. I have so many moments of motherly guilt about that.
But on the other hand he was with me all the time, which was wonderful as well. But it was very tricky, and it is what it is. It’s a production and they’ve got to make their hours.
I think in the beginning they were very sincere about the fact that they were going to try and make sure I wasn’t always the first one in and last one out but, you know …
GW: Exactly. You have episodes like “The Queen” that come around and there’s really nothing that you can do!
RL: No, there’s nothing. There’s nothing.
GW: Well that performance just was masterful and it had a great deal of potential. You played that very strongly opposite Christopher Heyerdahl, great actor.
RL: Thank you. Oh yeah, I love Chris. I always love performing with Chris and have from the very beginning.
GW: You have him both as an Athosian and as a Wraith. You can’t get away from him!
RL: Nope! Can’t get away from Chris! But yeah, he does a wonderful job and he’s a wonderful man as well as being a great craftsman. So performing with him is always so much fun because we actually talk about what’s going on. Impulses that maybe are not necessarily played on the page but are in the background, and it always adds so much color to what we do.
GW: Has anything trickled down from Vancouver regarding the movie? Other than “It’s coming” and “They’re working on the script.”?
RL: Uh, no. Um, no. And, you know, no. [Laughter] None of us really know what’s going on and if it happens, great! Last I heard was that they were just going to kind of see how things played out in terms of viewership with Universe and potentially viewership with the SG-1 films that they have already shot.
There are a lot of “ifs” in place. And if it was going to happen I would be surprised if it happened this year. So there you go!
GW: There’s a big question mark at the end of that episode. “So we’re in San Francisco! Now what?” Fans will demand that it be answered.
RL: Yeah, great! Hey listen, we shall see. But in the mean time we’re all focused on what’s next on the horizon for our careers. So, yeah!
GW: Gotta make a living. Gotta bring home that bacon. Have a little precious, beautiful little boy that’s got to get fed!
RL: Yes, exactly! I’ve got to send my little one to school! [Laughter]