The character of Cassandra is of great importance to the backstory of the SG-1 team, and for the first time GateWorld is taking an interview to explore her role in the history of the show.
Now 21, actress Colleen Rennison was the second actress to play the role — in addition to having played “Ally” in Season Two’s “Bane” earlier in her career. We talk about both of the parts, among others in her career, and how her craft has progressed thus far. We discuss the Stargate phenomenon, living in New York, and her other talents!
GateWorld also takes time to debunk some rumors about Cassandra’s lack of an appearance in the pivotal SG-1 two-parter, “Heroes.”
This interview runs approximately 30 minutes and is available in audio. It’s also transcribed below!
GateWorld: You were six or seven when you started acting, at least on screen. That’s where your IMDb credits start. What was it that made you want to get involved in this? I am guessing parents had something to do with this.
Colleen Rennison: Well to be completely honest with you I was just a really crazy, rambunctious kid. I was really hyper and engaged and really extreme. I would go from one emotion to the next and my parents really didn’t know what to do with me.
It was either therapy or they spoke to another mother that was a mother of one of the kids at my school. And her daughter was doing theater classes at this place called VYT — Vancouver Youth Theater — that a woman called Carole Tarlington started. She suggested to my mom that I go to some acting classes just to get some energy out. And I loved it, and the woman ran an agency as well. I got into the agency.
My parents were very un-ambitious for me. They turned a lot of things down when I was younger. It was just sort of this animal that they didn’t really have a lot of control of once I’d got into the agency. I would go to auditions and I just started booking parts when I was five years old.
GW: Wow. That’s awfully young to get started. Granted a lot of people do get started at that young age but that’s got to be intimidating for you. I mean, you’ve got a career at five!
CR: Yeah, but for me, it was just glorified playing house. [Laughter]
It was just make believe with bigger sets and more lights and adults. You know what I mean?
GW: And scripted pages.
CR: Yeah, totally. I started reading at a fairly early age, so that was good. I have fun with the scripts and reading that. And I think that had a lot to do with it. When I was five, I was sort of alert. You know what I mean? I was a pretty interested kid. So yeah, I did participate. I did understand what was going on.
GW: Speaking of understanding what’s going on, and you said that your parents were pretty choosy about your projects, I just re-watched “Under the Bed” from Outer Limits.
CR: Oh really? Oh, I loved that show.
GW: You do? Man, that’s a scary show.
CR: It is really scary.
GW: And they were ok with you participating in that? I’m sure they made it clear to you that …
CR: Everything was make-believe?
CR: Well, you know what? Actually my Mom — God bless her — she was so good. I can’t say how thankful I am that I had the kind of mother that I did at that stage in my career. Because, for instance, while I was shooting that, she saw the man — he was all dressed up in costume — and she said “OK, my daughter’s going to freak out when she sees this. She needs to see him, she needs to meet him. She needs to watch him get all of this stuff put on so that she understands that it’s fake. And they were like, “Oh yeah, yeah, sure, of course, of course. No problem.”
It didn’t happen, it didn’t happen — our scene was coming up, and actually the girl who was my body double saw him without seeing him get ready or anything. She completely freaked out and had to be taken off set and wouldn’t work anymore.
And then my scene was coming up and he was already in costume and they wanted to do these shoots. But my mom just put her foot down and said “No, no way. You told me that you were going to allow me to present my daughter to this monster in the way that I wanted and I am not going back on my word — and you shouldn’t go back on yours.” So we didn’t end up shooting the scene.
I went in the next day and met the guy and met Igor, the man who was the monster designer, and it was all fine. But she really put her foot down. Early on in that stage of my career, when I was going overtime, she had to make a decision about my welfare that could have potentially affected the workday. And she did.
She played the bad cop sometimes. I’m really glad. Because the last thing you need when you’re a kid, is a stage mother that’s trying to please everybody.
GW: Exactly. We hear all these stories about child actors. And we see things. We see news stories about how things can go terribly wrong. It’s good that you have a beacon of light.
CR: Definitely. The mothers that don’t have their kid’s best interest. Whether they have their own or they’re trying to forward their kid’s careers. That’s not the time or place to be pimping your child out. There’s all different kinds of ways to do it. People have all sorts of different kinds of experiences. Mine was really great. I learned a lot.
GW: Do you re-watch any of your work from when you were that young?
CR: I haven’t seen a lot of it in a long time. Sometimes I’ll catch some of it on TV. If I’m over at a friend’s house or someone wants to watch it or something and I’ll bring something up on YouTube. But for the most part I really don’t.
GW: How do you react to it?
CR: Sometimes it makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Because, I don’t know, I’ll just feel like that awkward kid again. But I like it. I mean, it’s really nice to have that kind of a snapshot of you in your younger years.
It’s really incredible that I got these professionally set dressed, cast and filmed little photo albums. Of these things I’ve done. It’s really nice. It kind of blows my mind, honestly.
GW: You don’t just have home movies and photo albums and things like that. These are time pieces from your life that are intact and are on Hulu. [Laughter]
CR: Totally! It’s going to be neat to show them to my kids and stuff. I always thought about that when I was a kid.
GW: Yeah, just don’t show them “Under the Bed.”
CR: Yeah. I’ll wait, I’ll wait. Or I’ll explain it very thoroughly.
GW: But Stargate — that’s a whole other story. You were first introduced — your first role was in “Bane” as the character of Ally in Season Two.
CR: Yeah, that was really fun.
GW: A role all your own and spent a lot of time with the very, very charismatic Christopher Judge. I bet your mom had a good time with him.
CR: Yeah for sure. He was awesome. And his wife Peggy. I remember he has a great tattoo on his ring finger that said her name.
That was fun. Actually, that role was written for a little boy. His name was supposed to be Carlos or Alonzo or something. And they sent me in anyway to see what would happen. And I auditioned and they liked me. So, yeah, it was really fun. She was a tough little street urchin. That was good timesfor sure. I was a bit of a tomboy when I was a kid so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
GW: Get the water guns out and now we’re playing war
CR: That was actually the first time I had ever eaten on camera.
CR: I think so, yeah. I just remember the spit bucket. There was a scene where we had to eat. I think they were Mr. Big bars. The props guys had made this really cool packaging that I was totally fascinated by. And yeah, the spit bucket.
GW: Well yeah, and there’s that whole thing about continuity and the length of the candy bar from scene to scene.
CR: Oh yeah! It’s a whole new thing. Often props guys on set — say there is a food scene — they end up being the caterer. They have to have cooking skills. It’s funny. That was cool, actually. That actually opened up some doors for me. After I got that role, my agency sent me out for quite a few roles that were written for boys.
GW: Did you know how big Stargate was at that point?
CR: I had seen the movie and I really liked the movie. But I think it was … What season was that?
GW: That was Season Two.
CR: Yeah, the second season. So it hadn’t gained quite as much … It was just a show at that point. It wasn’t this whole Stargate universe that it is now, certainly. But it was definitely there. All of the components and everything. It was there, it was just waiting to be found, waiting to be found by the fans, and it was waiting to be turned into what it is today. It was all there at that time.
GW: Have you seen that show recently?
CR: No, but you’re making me really want to watch it. [Laughter]
GW: Well, I’m glad. I just re-watched it the other day.
CR: Oh, really?
GW: Yeah, in preparation for this. I stuck it in and I forgot how charming a little story it was. It’s kind of gross, Teal’c turning into a bunch of bugs. Teal’c has never been my favorite, but it’s a good show. And this little girl, this little street smart kid is willing to trust this clearly, like, drug overdosed kind of guy. She doesn’t know his story, but she ultimately is responsible for saving his life.
GW: The kindness of strangers.
CR: There you go.
Didn’t Blanche Dubois say that? [Southern accent] “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” [Laughter]
GW: And then of course, the role through Stargate that you are most well known for with “Rite of Passage.” You came back as Cassandra who had already been established by Katie Stuart. Now did you know going in that she had previously been cast.
CR: I did. I think that there was a conflict. I think that she was working on something else at the time.
GW: “X-Men 2.”
CR: Yeah. So she was unavailable. They had this story that they wanted to do and I guess enough years had past that the kid …
GW: She’s a young woman.
CR: Yeah. So I was really thankful to be brought on for that. I had a lot of fun in that episode. It was my first screen kiss. So, there you go.
GW: Yes, absolutely.
CR: There is some juicy information. And that guy, actually, I know him from Vancouver (Richard de Klerk). I know him from around and we did another movie together called “Exhuming Mr. Rice,” and he’s a great guy.
GW: Cool. So it wasn’t uncomfortable or weird or anything like that.
CR: Well, you know, it was my first screen kiss, so a little bit of Column A, a little bit of Column B. [Laughter]
GW: Now had you seen either of the previous episodes which featured Katie or did you just jump right into this role?
CR: I just jumped right in. I think that we had … It’s amazing how hard it is sometimes to get — at that stage of the game. That was before all this internet TV came out. I don’t think I could find those episodes. I think we asked Stargate but it never ended up getting through.
GW: Wow. They’re usually really good about sending out tapes.
CR: Maybe there was a glitch in the matrix or something happened. I don’t know.
GW: [Laughter] I love it. Did they specifically call you about Cassandra or did you audition for it?
CR: They did. I think they called a couple of girls that they thought would be appropriate and then brought them in for meetings to see face-to-face if it was going to work, if the audience was going to believe that it was the same girl. And so I lucked out, I got it, it was great.
GW: I remember watching this episode for the first time. It opens with the birthday cake and we’re thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be Cassandra again.” And you walk down the hall and it’s like, “Man, she’s gotten bigger.”
CR: Yeah. Well, Katie actually — I still know Katie Stuart.
GW: Oh you do?
CR: [I saw her] the other day at an audition and she is a tiny girl. She’s always been tiny and I’m not. I’m like 5’6″ and I am definitely not a wafe. I hope that everybody bought it.
I had a lot of fun doing that. It was Peter DeLuise that directed that episode and he was great.
GW: He is a gas.
CR: I had a good time on set with him. With the chess pieces and the makeup and everything. It was really good. It was fun doing those scenes. They actually had those chess pieces — that I was holding in the air with my eyes — on a string. They did a couple of different things. They did one on a string and one where I think they just CGI’d it in.
GW: Yes. There was one where it was turning in such a way where I don’t think they could’ve pulled it off with string. But there had to have been a couple of practical ones as well, and it worked. You can’t tell.
CR: They’re great on that show. They get really creative. All of the different techniques that they use. The props people and the set deck, they’re just dynamite. They’ve really got a grasp on what they’re doing and how to tell a story.
GW: They went on for five more years. They absolutely deserved it. Tell us about working with Amanda [Tapping] and Teryl [Rothery].
CR: They were so great. Amanda is such a joy to be around. She’s such a “no-nonsense” kind of lady. She’s just a real woman who’s easy to talk to. And you meet a lot of really very vain people in the movie industry, and then television especially, if you’re the female lead of a hit show.
I’m continuously very impressed every time I see her, even now. If I run into her, sometimes it will take her a second for her to register who I am, because I know she meets a lot of people. But she always is so warm and nice to me. She was really fun. In the makeup and hair trailer, [it] was a blast. And actually Teryl, I’ve worked with before. She played my mother.
GW: Oh really?
CR: Yeah. Actually it’s really funny. The boy who played my boyfriend in that, the movie I did with him was also the movie that I did with Teryl.
GW: I’ll be darned.
CR: Yeah. “Exhuming Mr. Rice.” David Bowie was in that. She played my mom. So I knew her from before and she’s such a sweet little lady, you know what I ,mean? It’s so easy to have her as my mom because she’s such a motherly sort of warm bubbly woman. She’s so great. And also whenever I run into her in town, it’s always a joy.
GW: I’ve talked with Amanda on several occasions. Because the character — I’m not sure if you’re aware of this — but the character of Cassandra is very significant to Carter’s story. This is a child from Season One that she rescued. And I asked, I think in Season Eight, if she wanted you to return as the character — a couple of times I think — and she always said “I would love it if Cassandra [ostensibly you] would come back and play again.” But it never seemed to happen.
CR: Yeah. I don’t know why that is. I would love to revisit the story, certainly. Because you would think that she would be around.
GW: She is mentioned every season.
CR: Is she? She’s sort of “Stargate baby.”
GW: Yeah exactly. That’s the truth. There’s one episode where Frasier mentions that, “Cassandra and I are renting a row boat, you want to come?” so that was funny because they always kind of kept the character in the loop.
CR: In the loop yeah. Even if she wasn’t seen, she was …
GW: Right, and especially with “Heroes” in Season Seven the Fraiser character died. Were you aware of that?
CR: No I wasn’t.
CR: Oh, my gosh.
GW: Yes, she was killed.
CR: [Gasp] Oh?! I guess I got to get a TV!
GW: Yeah. Hulu is starting to air the episodes. I think they’re at season Three right now. So when you get to Season Seven look for the two-sparter “Heroes” and it is intense. She dies in combat. The entire episode kind of centers on that.
That’s one of the questions I wanted to ask because a lot of fans were wondering if you had a scheduling conflict because there’s a memorial scene in that episode and it would make a lot of sense that you would be invited back for that.
CR: Yeah, n o. I was never contacted about any of that.
GW: It’s a tear jerker, Colleen. It’s considered by many fans to be the greatest two hours of television in Stargate.
CR: Really? You’re getting me really excited about all this. I’m going to start getting on my Gate game here.
GW: It’s a good show. The character was so well loved and to have her just off’ed in a very violent way, and a very sad way, was it was hard.
CR: Pretty shocking. It’s interesting. And hearing you talk about it — people certainly that I’ve met as well — in my travels in the world, people really connect to this show. Whenever they meet me it’s one of the projects … I’ve done a lot of different things but people really recognize me for Stargate.
After one episode, you know what I mean? I feel so grateful that I got to sort of be brought into this fold of characters. It would be a lot of fun to elaborate on that, and see more happen. But I’m sure all the big men upstairs have a master plan.
GW: So how has working on Stargate compared to other projects?
CR: Well, it’s great when you’re working on a show like that where everybody is so connected. Working on Stargate, it’s like a well oiled machine. People really know what they’re doing. And it’s a great cast and crew and everyone just sort of moves together.
That’s not the case with every set I’ve ever been on. I can say that for sure. So that’s always nice. And that always makes it easier on the performance and makes everything a lot more focused when people aren’t clashing, so that was really, really fun.
GW: Let the work get through. Don’t let ego stand in the way.
CR: Absolutely. And that was one thing — the cast, the main cast, there was no ego there. No one was walking around better than anybody else.
GW: Rick [Richard Dean Anderson] wouldn’t allow that sort of thing.
CR: No, I don’t think so. That trickles down through everything. I think that the cast set the tone on sets about the kind of things you can get away with. And that was a blessing.
GW: It’s got to make the whole experience so much nicer.
CR: And I have to say, it’s one of the coolest show I have ever been on in terms of the sets … just going on to the Stargate sound stage is so neat because you’ve got the military stuff and you’ve got the all the sci-fi stuff and you’ve got the real Stargate.
GW: Exactly. The 22 foot monster sitting in the back of the room.
CR: Yeah. It’s awesome. That was really fun. As a kid, the first episode that I did, I was totally awe stricken by all the magic that these people made.
All of the special effects that they did on Teal’c were so … my mind was totally blown by all of it. It was the first time that I had ever been on a show that did things like that. I think that it was before The Outer Limits and stuff.
GW: Great. Are you actively auditioning today? What’s been going on in your life lately? You said you’re in New York now.
CR: Yeah, I moved to New York to go to Circle in the Square Theater School which I did for a while but the program didn’t end up offering me the things that I had originally thought that it would.
So I left that two year program in the second term and started to pursue music. I’m also a singer. So I’ve just been writing music out there, working with different producers. I’ve got a great management team, and they’ve got their own music group called the Burn It Down Group. We’re just out there trying to make some things happen. They want me to come home really bad.
GW: Oh, they want you to come home to New York.
GW: You’re visiting in Vancouver right now, visiting family.
CR: I am.
GW: How are the cities different? Is it a drastic difference? It’s New York for crying out loud. And you’re only 21.
CR: It is pretty huge. But a city’s a city’s a city. And you get to Brooklyn, and it’s not so unlike some streets in Kitsilano. I constantly find myself in New York and I could be in Vancouver in certain spots. And of course there are other places where I could never be in Vancouver.
Or I’ll be in Vancouver and I’ll be on a street corner and be like, “Yeah, I could be in New York right now. This is pretty New-Yorky.” There’s just so much to do and it’s all so compact. I’ve been there for a year and I feel like I’ve been there for a week. You know what I mean?
GW: Wow, that’s crazy.
CR: It’s a big change. It’s so easy because Vancouver is more or less a small town and I’ve grown up here [in Vancouver] my whole life and I know tons of people. And I know the city like the back of my hand so that was definitely hard. It’s definitely hard moving somewhere where you don’t have all you favorite spots and your favorite people to go to those spots with.
GW: But you had the courage to do it.
CR: Yeah. I am so happy I did because I felt like creatively I wasn’t meeting my needs here. And whether that was the city or that was my mentality, I don’t know, but I just needed a change.
GW: Yeah. A lot of people move from Vancouver to New York and L.A. just for a change for a little while, different opportunities … Then eventually they do go back.
CR: Yeah. It’s so good to come home. I think I appreciate Vancouver a lot more than I did before I left, because I didn’t have anything really to compare it with. I mean I had traveled before but I hadn’t lived in another city.
GW: What do you do for fun?
CR: What do I do for fun? Well, I really like playing music. I really like singing, playing with my band. I mean, in New York it’s fun. Going out is great. I’m lucky because my managers, they get all sorts of invites to these events …
GW: Oh, so you can go out and party.
CR: Yeah. So I can go out and party. Now that I am 21 it’s a lot easier. Yeah, I like making music with friends and just hanging out and chilling. Right now I’m really enjoying going to the beach. But today is not a beach day in Vancouver.
GW: Is it raining there?
CR: It was raining a bit, yeah.
GW: Oh, give me some! I haven’t seen a single drop in five months.
CR: Really? Oh my gosh it’s worth it.
GW: Isn’t that so awful. It’s wrong man.
CR: Yeah, that’s not fair. I love the rain. I have to say. Rain day after day gets to be a little much but I do love the rain.
GW: Have you considered doing conventions?
CR: I think I was invited to one in England but there was a conflict and I couldn’t make it. But, certainly if it’s around, if I’m able to get to it, I’d love to. I’d love to see all that.
GW: I’ve talked to a lot of actor and actresses who say they don’t want to be one of those actors who only do conventions and don’t do any new gigs, who are only known for what they’ve done 20 years ago. But a couple … I’d say one a year. I mean I’m certainly not an actor but I’d say one a year is certainly OK. And you’ve got to see it. You’ve got to check it out.
CR: I would say so! [I would] love to participate. I think participation and celebrating the work that you’ve done is really fun. It’s one thing to sort of sit on your haunches and just become the work that you’ve done.
But yeah, for sure. Get out and meet people. I can understand that — for someone like me it’s cool because I’m not an icon for the fans. But if I was Amanda or Richard. It might be a little overwhelming. I don’t know if I could do that all the time.
GW: But don’t underestimate you place in Stargate history. You are a piece of it.
CR: Well thank you. I would love to be back on the show.
GW: Cool. Where are you planning to go with your career? You’ve got a long road ahead of you. What are you planning to do with it? Where do you see yourself in a few years?
CR: I’m doing some auditioning still. I’ve got a movie that is in the works that I’m going to be back in Vancouver shooting in November. I want to continue acting. I love acting and storytelling. I want to write a little bit and possibly get into producing and directing as the years go on.
In terms of my music and my song writing I want to write for other people and I’m working on doing that. I’m just, right now, sort of finding a sound and finding the music that I really want to present to the world. I’m not quite ready. I’ve got a bunch of songs but I’m waiting for the right ones before I go out and sort of make a name for myself in that department. But hopefully in … Did you say five years?
GW: Five, ten, you pick.
CR: Five, ten … Ok, in ten years I will have one house in Los Angeles, one house in New York. I will also come back to Vancouver periodically. I’ll hopefully have my own production company. My own record label. [Laughter]
GW: And a pepperoni pizza.
CR: Yeah. And a pepperoni pizza. A single at the top of the charts. A hit movie at the box office …
GW: That’s awesome.
CR: That’s the plan. Dream big right?
GW: Exactly right. It’s good that you’re doing all this stuff. Especially in this economy. As hard as it is, it’s good that you’re keeping up and not quitting. It’s so disconcerting right now on any tier of this business and outside of this business. It’s just a hard time.
CR: Yeah it is. And it totally makes things like movies and all this make-believe stuff, it makes it seem a little — I don’t know what’s the word — futile? It makes it seem a little …
GW: Yeah. When there are bigger issues afoot.
CR: Exactly. But you know, you got to make ’em laugh, right? The show must go on. And whenever any country has faced hardships, the people — it shows time and time again — that they go to the simple pleasures. It’s entertainment.
GW: Yeah. They need levity.
CR: It’s also I’m a celebrity get me out of here. You know what I mean? Simple pleasures can get pretty simple. [Laughter]
GW: Yeah, Lou Diamond Phillips from Stargate Universe was on that. I didn’t catch it though so …
CR: Oh yeah! You know. Lou …
GW: Have you met him?
CR: No. but I mean he’s …
GW: It’s Lou Diamond Phillips yeah.
CR: He’s better than that! I was like, “Who are those other people with Lou Diamond Phillips?” Who are you people?
You’ve inspired me. I’m going to learn what’s been going on and maybe I’ll write an impassioned letter to the heads of Stargate and ask them why Cassandra has been such a distant daughter for these last seasons.
Interview by David Read. Transcript by Kerenza Harris.