Vala Mal Doran was an entirely new sort of character for Stargate SG-1.
Introduced in the eighth-season episode “Prometheus Unbound,” the character returned for a multi-episode arc in Season Nine. One year later, actress Claudia Black was upped to a full-time cast member. Vala was funny and irreverent, a con artist who wasn’t afraid to use her sexuality to manipulate people (or, just to tease Daniel). By the end of the show’s run, she has proved herself to be a deep well of emotion and complex motivations.
But Vala didn’t just provide Stargate with a brand new element. She also gave Black an opportunity to do something completely different from the roles she had previously played.
“Unexpectedly, I ended up with a ton of creative freedom,” Black told Syfy Wire. “I hadn’t planned to do any more sci-fi for a while. … I was kind of like the shaking of the snow globe — that was super fun for me. It was fun for the directors. They were so planned and so scheduled, and they knew how to run this [show] — it was such a well-oiled machine in comparison.”
“And so they would say, ‘Okay, so in this scene, Vala’s going to sit there on that chair,’ and I’d go, ‘Ooh [wincing] — Why? I don’t mean to be a d***head, but — why? Is it okay if I actually sit on the table instead of the chair?’ And I remember [director] Andy Mikita looking at me and going — ‘Oof.‘ I said, ‘Well, she’s not military! So I’m just asking!”
Black reflected on her renowned science fiction career — which includes the likes of Pitch Black, Farscape, and Stargate SG-1 — in a new interview with Syfy Wire to mark the release of her brand new science fiction thriller DEUS: The Dark Sphere.
Vala ended up being an emotional counterbalance for the actress, after playing the intense and usually humorless character of Aeryn Sun for Farscape‘s four years, plus the miniseries The Peacekeeper Wars.
“She continued to be this gift for me,” Black said. “Aeryn was the tragedy, and carried the weight and the drama and the heartbreak — and Vala was the antidote and the antithesis. So it was a really good sort of swinging of the pendulum or the fulcrum to sort of be a corrective experience in that regard.”
Black said that she has been inspired by the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton, who played complex and powerful characters at the heart of James Cameron’s Alien, Aliens, and Terminator 2.
“Being able to portray that complexity has been really important,” she said. “And then on the practical end of it, in an industry that likes to pigeonhole, people stop seeing you as being able to do other things — ironically, playing complex women! They may not think of you as capable of complexity, creatively.
“There’s also a big ‘aging out’ … and science fiction actually continues to be ahead of the curve in allowing women to age on different terms.”
In DEUS, Claudia Black plays a veteran astronaut with the weight of the world on her shoulders. The film is directed by Steve Stone (In Extremis), and co-stars Richard Blackwood, Phil Davis, Lisa Eichhorn, Charlie MacGechan, David O’Hara, Sophia Pettit, Branko Tomovic, and Crystal Yu. The film chronicles the crew of an Earth ship sent out to explore a mysterious sphere that has appeared near Mars, which may be a harbinger of new hope for humanity — or an unimaginable threat.
Black stars as Karla Grey, an astronaut on board the Achilles who brings with her the baggage of a traumatic past. Black also helped to hone her character in the script, receiving a producer credit on the movie.
“This is the first time I guess we’ve seen a more mature woman who’s more — she’s a human; she’s a scientist, and she’s in extreme grief,” Black said.
Check out the film’s trailer below, and read more from Claudia Black on her acting career at Syfy Wire. DEUS is now available on DVD, and available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+. In the U.K. the movie will be available to buy from November 21, following a limited theatrical release.
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