Over the course of 40 episodes Lt. Tamara Johansen was certainly put through the ringer. But there were good days still ahead of her when Stargate Universe was cut short. And for actress Alaina Huffman the role of T.J. proved to be a tour de force.
“I love T.J.,” the actress told GateWorld. “T.J. is really special to me. It was a really special time in my life personally, and I learned a lot from her.”
Even though SGU‘s story was left unfinished, viewers went on a wonderful journey with T.J. and the rest of Destiny‘s crew. And so I was thrilled to sit down in person and talk with Alaina about her Stargate journey at Gatecon: The Celebration in September. We talked about her character, her extensive sci-fi and fantasy career, and her current efforts to break into directing.
GateWorld’s interview with Alaina Huffman runs 26 minutes, and you can watch the whole thing below! It is also available in an audio-only version — just look for “GateWorld Interviews” wherever you get your podcasts, or tap the play button above.
Subscribe to GateWorld on YouTube for more brand new cast interviews in the coming weeks! Our thanks to Alaina for her time and insights into her work.
GateWorld: Alaina Huffman, I’ve been excited to talk to you for … okay, the show premiered in 2009. I visited the set before the show was on and everything was very hush-hush.
Alaina Huffman: Yeah. Did you have to sign an NDA?
GW: We did not have to sign an NDA. But I did get to see Destiny in person. I got to see the gate in person. And we met “Lt. Scott” before we saw him on screen.
AH: Aww … Brian.
GW: Boy, it feels like a long time coming to get to chat with you. So thank you for being here. Thanks for being at Gatecon.
AH: Of course! Thank you.
GW: You’re just getting started at the convention. How is your convention experience generally, and what is it that draws you to events like this?
AH: So I mean I’ve done so much genre work. I always say that I’ve earned my geek cred. Science fiction is not something that I’m like, “Oh, I had to be on sci-fi shows.” It just kind of happened to me. And I’m just so grateful for it. So it started with the DC world playing the Black Canary on Smallville, which I was doing at the same time as when Stargate started.
You know, I know it’s quite widely spoken about, but we weren’t really well received in the Stargate world. So it was a little rough going. But I always felt like when I got to talk to people, when I go to conventions, people were always like — at first, when Universe first came out, people were like [whispering] “I really like your show.” And I’m like, “Why are you whispering?” [Laughter] It was like you weren’t allowed to like it or something.
And now people are just like, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. You know, we loved Universe. Too bad it got cancelled.” But it was it was kind of negative for a minute.
And then, like I said, I’ve done all these other genre shows. So I did Supernatural, which has got a huge cult following all over the world. So that’s predominantly the appearances that I do. And I thought going into that — because I play the Queen of Hell, which is a bad guy — I was like, “Oh, God, it’s gonna be so hard. It’s gonna be negative.” But they like that in that world!
GW: Oh, they love it!
AH: So it was very welcoming. And it’s been a big part of my life. And then I get a crossover. And I’ve done other genre shows. Currently, I’m on Riverdale. And then most recently before that I did a show called The 100.
Yeah, I love going to conventions. I think it’s a really nice way to connect with people, especially the Stargate family. Like I said, we weren’t always as welcomed into it. But when you talk to people, it’d be like a dad and a son and the son’s like towering over the dad and they’re like, “We started watching this on Friday nights when he was born!” And now he’s like … you know, you feel like you’re part of people’s families.
GW: Yeah, absolutely.
AH: And then again, with other shows like with Supernatural, it tends to draw a lot of people who have some trouble in their past and who’ve done a lot of healing through connecting in the fandom. So it’s just really nice to be on the ground talking to people.
I always say it’s like our version of touring. You know, we make we make these art projects and dark warehouses. And then we get to like show up and and be a part of people’s lives.
GW: So there’s that distance between what you’re doing in the warehouse when you’re shooting on a sound stage and then the number of months that passes before it first impacts people’s lives. But but now we’ve been sitting with the material, and it’s soaked into our bones. And you’re right — I think there’s a love for SGU. As somebody who runs a fan site I hear new SGU fans every single day come on and say, “This is my show. Yeah, I want more of it.”
AH: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think a lot of people too … it attracted a new type of genre fan. And for a lot of people as SGU was a gateway to Stargate. So instead of the Stargate fans coming over to us, it was more sort of like, “Oh, I just started watching Stargate Universe, and then watch the other Stargates.”
I mean, they’re all great shows. It’s a nice family to be a part of, and I’m grateful for the experience.
GW: Well, I’m glad that you and David [Blue, “Eli Wallace”] are both here at Gatecon so we get SGU represented — at a 22-year-old convention now!
GW: But you’ve already already anticipated my next three questions, which is: You’ve done a ton of work in Vancouver, and especially ton of genre work. You said it’s not anything particular about this genre or these types of roles that draws you. Is it just kind of what you ended up with?
AH: Yeah, I get that question a lot. People are like, “Why did you choose that?” I’m like, “Because they offered it …” I want to work. I have children to feed!
There’s certain criteria of things that I look for in roles, but I don’t know what it is. And there’s actually three or four roles that have overlapped that I’ve had to pass on because I’ve been on other shows, which were equally as like big and amazing and still genre-y. I lived in L.A. for a long time and I just kept getting hired to come up here. So again, it was all coincidental and I think maybe just for the greater good.
I consider myself a director now. So I directed my first project last summer and I’m really looking to transition purposefully into that medium of storytelling. And I have such a beautiful, supportive base here in Vancouver because I’ve done so much work here. It’s so sweet — like a lot of shows I work on people are like, “Oh my god, I worked with you when I was a PA on Smallville,” and now they’re like assistant directors or producers on shows.
My daughter just started acting, and she was on a show and she’s like, “People were coming up to me all the time [and saying] ‘I know your mom! I worked with her on this show!'” And I was like, yeah, we have this beautiful community here. So it’s nice. It’s very homey — and it is my hometown. So it’s nice.
GW: Does your daughter have the bug?
AH: She does! So you know we’ve moved into a different form of casting now with our audition process. So we do self tapes. And this started a few years ago. From what I understand it’s always been the way Canada did things because they would submit their materials to like L.A. or New York. In L.A. we would always just go into the room and you’d meet with the casting director. So then they started putting it on tape and then with COVID — now I don’t think will ever come back into the office.
So you shoot your audition at your house. And during the pandemic I didn’t see anybody, so my daughter would help me with my auditions. And so she had basically two years of acting school. I’d audition a few times a week. And she’d helped me.
So then, I had a friend — we were on the phone. I was trying to get him to finance a film that I want to make. And he is trying to get me to be in his film. And and he’s like, “Wait, do any of your kids act?” And I was like, “Well, my daughter helps me all the time. She was in my short.” He’s like, “Well, I need kids of this age …” And so it’s like, “Send us the script!”
And so she auditioned for it and he booked her. We shot it in New Mexico last January. And I said, “This is a great opportunity for you to see if you like this.” It was really long, grueling days. It was a small independent movie, but it was great. Dean Cain played the lead — he played her dad. And it was just a very professional set and she’s like, “I love it.” [Laughter]
GW: Good! So it was a good first experience for her.
AH: Totally. And then this year she tested for two shows. She didn’t get either one of them. But yeah, now she’s working — guest starring and whatever else. So yes, I have an actor in the family.
GW: Good. Well, I want to come back and ask you more about your directing project. But let’s shift back to SGU first. And it’s 2008, early 2009 and the casting is coming down. How did you end up as T.J. and what what drew you to the role (other than, “Hey, it’s a steady paycheck”)?
AH: Right, right. So I first auditioned — it was early December 2008, and I auditioned for T.J. And I was like, “Oh, she’s cool. I like this chick.” She’s kind of … she’s got a little edge and yet she had a lot of heart, and a lot of compassion. So I just went in there, and obviously they liked what I did. And then I got a call saying they wanted to test me. So that’s the next phase where we negotiate money and contract and all that kind of stuff.
But then when the test deal came through, they asked me to test for Chloe. And I was like, “I don’t think I’m a Chloe.” But they were adamant they wanted me to test for Chloe, and I prepped the material and we negotiated our deal.
I don’t know if we had the pilot or we had like a synopsis. And it was that we were stuck on a ship. So we weren’t going to have a lot of locations. And I was thinking in my head — and I had two little kids at the time. So I was like, “That means we’re a studio show. That means we’re going home at seven o’clock on a Friday. And they’re gonna pay what I asked for? Sign me up!” [Laughter] So when they offered Chloe I was like, “Ah, okay, fine.”
And so I went in I did the test and I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel great about it. I called my agent after and she was like, “How did it go?” And I said, “I didn’t really feel good about it. I don’t think I did a great job. I’m not sure this is my job.” So she called casting and the producers and said, “You know, she really felt more comfortable with T.J. Would you guys let her read for T.J.?” And so I went back into the casting office the next day with just me and the casting director and did another T.J. scene, just me and him. And then I got that job.
And Elyse [Levesque] is perfect. But they ended up hiring me … I think it was right before Christmas or maybe the week after Christmas. And then they couldn’t announce me until I think February or March because they hadn’t rounded out all of the casting. So I also kind of was like, “Ugh, I got hired and I can’t tell anybody.” They did this big press release but they didn’t include me.
GW: And I remember — this was more locked down than we were used to from the PR folks at Bridge Studios and at MGM being with the launch of the show. And I’m pretty sure they announced Robert Carlyle first, solo. And then they did a later full cast announcement.
AH: Yeah — excluding me, and they hadn’t cast Elyse yet. And then they did our press release a few weeks later with me, Elyse, Ming[-Na Wen], and Lou [Diamond Phillips] — which really impressed my mom. So it was worth it. She’s like, “You’re in TV Guide! Did you know you’re on a show with Ming-Na and Lou Diamond Phillips?”
I was like, “They’re on my show, Mom!” And then she thought I was really cool. [Laughter]
GW: That whole crew — boy, that was a cast of actors. They went out and found people — I mean, nothing to disparage the other Stargate shows but they went out and found people with chops.
AH: Yeah. Well, they wanted the drama piece. And I know it was different than the other Stargates. I don’t have a reference point, I don’t have a preference, I’m not biased in any way. I really liked the writing on Universe. I liked the serialized content, that we all had a storyline. And I think we were getting around to the sort of ease and — it’s still the same writers.
To me, you know, if my favorite artist put out a new album I would listen to it because I support the artist. So I never understood where the angst and the animosity was towards the writers who brought you 15 years of your favorite show. It felt to me like, “Trust them. Give them the respect that they’ve earned, and the opportunity to create something.” Because I think we did come around to what a lot of people were hoping … or what was missing from their Stargate. The humor and the lightness of the previous Stargates we didn’t really have, but we were getting to it. And I think had we had more time it would have it would have woven itself in in a really nice, organic way. It would have been nice to experience.
GW: This show certainly grew into it. And I think that starting with 40 episodes the writers just decided, “We’re going to use them.”
GW: “We’ve got 40 episodes. We’re going to do a slow build.”
AH: Yeah, absolutely. To build on — like a serialized storytelling, long-form storytelling.
Which again, this is the thing that I think a lot of people don’t understand. It was a little premature for the streamers. Because I remember when Netflix first came out and was switching from their DVD format to a streamer. Stargate was on one of the lists that could be [a] potential pickup, because it was in the year after we were cancelled that Netflix was doing pickups of shows. And I remember Brad [Wright, executive producer] saying he thought about going — I don’t know if he could have — but I remember him saying at one point he would love to have done it independently.
We didn’t have the word “streamers” at the time. But he’s like, “I thought about going to Apple and seeing if Apple would support us.” Because really we didn’t need Syfy. If [it had been] two years later …
And so it was just a little premature. And I think it would have been the perfect environment to have a long-form storytelling. Because what I think you notice — and this is kind of technical with our business — but what you notice now [is that] storytelling is so much better in television because that middle-tier movie, that $15- to $20 million movie has now moved into serialized television. And we’re not waiting for flyover states to tell us they’re happy with us or not to continue this storyline. So they’re committing to great story and great storytelling. And it shows up.
GW: Yeah, and the streamers are already finishing Season Two before Season One has premiered.
AH: Yeah. So they’re not waiting for you to tell them that they did good. They’re committing to it.
GW: SGU was ahead of its time for sure, in a lot of respects — creatively and also in that sort of business of where stuff airs.
AH: And literally they were on the other side of the universe. [Laughter] They were way ahead! I don’t know if that’s ahead. Are they in the future? … Not really. [Laughter]
GW: Tamara gets 40 episodes, so it’s not a full story arc for T.J. But how do you reflect on her growth over those two years?
AH: I love T.J. — T.J. is really special to me. It was a really special time in my life personally. And I learned a lot from her.
I always say my process for creating a character is really in the process of “allowing.” So I just like to be sort of a vessel for a character to come through me. And I always feel — Shonda Rhimes talks about this in her book My Year of Yes — she talks about the writer, actor, character as a sort of a “throuple.” And it’s like it all feeds off of each other. And I feel that way with T.J. So I show up with my idea of my interpretation of a pilot, which then inspires the writing to develop further.
My pregnancy was a personal thing. I got pregnant in real life, and I really love the way that this storyline created empathy. And it was very wholesome for T.J. I feel like prior to that her affair with Young was more for his story arc and what he was going through. I didn’t ever want T.J. to be like “the adulteress” and the homewrecker. I wanted her to be somebody who genuinely fell in love with somebody that she felt vulnerable with. And so I think it softened her — not that she was hard, but I think it gave her some soft edges and made her more palatable for maybe an audience that would have been offended by that.
GW: It was an initial tension between T.J. and Young that looked like it wasn’t going to last the whole series. But by the time that pregnancy story comes along, I half forgot that it was even Colonel Young’s baby. This was a way for T.J. to sort of figure out who she is going to be and … “Oh my goodness, how do I raise a child in this environment?”
AH: Right. Which is interesting, because when I told the producers that I was pregnant they were like, “Wow, this is a storyline we wanted to tell.” What would happen if you’re pregnant on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere?
Lost explored it with one of the characters that was pregnant when the plane crashed. And I think it is interesting. You know, it’s life. It’s humanity. So I’m happy to have had that for my character.
GW: I have been looking forward to talking to you about my favorite T.J. episode — maybe my favorite episode of the series. It’s a lot of people’s favorite episode. Carl Binder gave you a great gift with “Epilogue.”
GW: We haven’t rewatched the show yet. We’re watching through all of Stargate with our kids and we just started Atlantis, so we’re gonna get there.
AH: Oh! I love it.
GW: So I haven’t seen the whole of “Epilogue” in a while. But of course I do video content and all this stuff. So I go in and I dip into an episode and I grab clips for a video. And so I end up clipping “Epilogue” … and it just it sucks me in. The episode breaks me. I’m a 46-year-old man — this episode breaks me over and over again. Would you talk about “Epilogue?”
AH: Oh, Carl. Carl always wrote such beautiful, heartfelt moments. I love when Carl wrote for me. You can tell when all the writers had different styles, and that’s why they made such a great team. And there was always so much heart in these episodes. And “Epilogue” was was so great for that.
Carl came to me before the episode was released and was like, “Hey, I’m you know telling this story. It’s way in the future and your character has ALS. And I just want you to know if we go 20 seasons, we’re not killing you. I just wanted to tell this story and I think you can do it.”
Yeah, I think it’s sort of the tragedy of T.J. — like she just could never really get ahead. Whether it was her education, or her relationship with Young, and it was just sort of this tragedy with her always.
GW: In Season Two she has lost the baby. And then eight episodes later she discovered that the baby was not actually rescued the way that she thought it might have been, in “Visitation.” And then something is starting up with Varro, and there’s a positivity and she’s ready to move ahead. And then this hits her.
AH: Yeah. It’s just a cycle. She had a good run! [Laughter] I have to rewatch it.
GW: So you’re basically playing two T.J.’s in this episode. Through the recording, the kino footage, you’re playing the T.J. that has had this fate. And it leads to so many beautiful moments on screen with the family, with the kids, with Louis. By the riverside.
GW: What a shot by the riverside.
AH: Yeah. It was really pretty.
GW: And then at the same time, you’re playing the contemporary, modern day T.J. who’s absorbing all of this.
AH: Yeah, I forgot about all this … [Laughter]
GW: I mean, they’re both full of emotion and heartbreak. Are they different?
AH: Yeah — I used to always get headaches. And I’m like, “Ah, T.J. is always crying. She’s always upset about something.” But again, there’s so much of her experience that shaped me as a person. And I think she had so much grace in her discomfort that I personally learned a lot from, because I think she was able to really weather a lot of storms with dignity. And I’m really proud of her for that.
GW: We need an audio book or a novel or something that gives her a happily ever after. Because she was sure put through the wringer.
AH: Yeah! She was. I’m gonna re-watch that. [Laughter]
GW: You should.
Was it that foggy on set? I’m picturing that shot by the river where she’s with the washtub …
AH: Yeah, it was early. It was early morning and I was there, and it was a long shot. It was.
GW: They didn’t have to enhance the fog digitally?
AH: No, it was all there. And it was it was really pretty, right? The water was really calm. And it was such a subtle … I mean, it was one-eighth of a page. It was just a really subtle thing of her reacting and having that understanding.
I remember getting in the van actually after. Our base camp was somewhere else, so just me and Trisha the makeup artist got in the van to go down there. And we got in the van and she was sitting beside me and she said, “[Sigh] … That was really good.” [Laughter] And I was like, “Oh! Thanks!”
So yeah, I think everyone felt that one. The whole crew was there. It was first shot of the day that day. So it was just that early morning fog. That misty morning, yeah.
GW: It’s a really special episode that’s full of really special moments like that. And they just keep coming.
AH: Yeah, it was beautiful episode.
GW: Well, what are you working on lately? You told us you’re shifting into directing. You want to tell us about the project you did last summer?
AH: Yes. So currently as an actor I’m working on Riverdale. So I was on last season, and we have one season coming up. We don’t know if it’s going to be a full season, or how many episodes. But I’m hoping to continue on that.
I have been pounding the door of the directing. And I finally did a short last summer. The story is mine. I had it written and collaborated on the story. My daughter’s in it. It’s really sweet. It’s a little short film called “Oranges.” And I just wanted a showpiece that I could show.
I’ve applied for every director’s program ever made. I haven’t gotten into any. And I’m doing some shadowing. So I have a movie that’s been greenlit that keeps getting pushed. I was supposed to shoot it last January and now it’s looking like we’re going to shoot it in December. So I’m hopeful that that’s going to go through. And I feel like if I can just get something under my belt, then I can push forward.
But like I said, I’ve got a beautiful community here. I have so many friends to call. Even if they can’t give me a shot they can hold my hand and listen. And so I’m shadowing an episode of Kung Fu in a couple of weeks, and then I’ll be shadowing an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger in Austin in early November. And then my hope is that the studio will give me a shot. So we’ll see.
GW: That’s exciting. Next time that we talk to you you’re going to be further down that road. You’re gonna tell us all about it!
AH: Yeah. But it’s interesting, because you see people working and you just think, “Oh, it’s just what they’re doing.” And until you’re in it you don’t realize it’s a lot. Because I know people will look and be like, “Well, it was easy for her.” And it’s not. Everyone’s said no to me. So people will say no and I’ll be like, “Great, I’ll call you again in a week!”
And I do! I will pester everybody. I know so many executives and so many showrunners. So you would think it would be easy, but it’s not. You still have to prove yourself, you still have to show up, you have to be persistent. And then you have to be good.
It’s also right now a passion of mine. I feel as I get older I have more to say. I remember being on Stargate and we’d do all these press junkets, and people would be like, “Do you want to produce? Do you want to direct? Do you want to write” And I was like, “No!” But at the time I had three small children and I was nurturing a failing marriage and I was a lead on a show. I didn’t have the capacity.
And now my kids are a little bit older, and I’m divorced, and I have 12 more years of storytelling under my belt. So now I step on set with new-ish directors and I can see a lot of holes. And I’m like, “Oh, I’d make up 20 minutes there” and I would’ve shot that [this way].” You know what I mean? So I just feel like I have the experience. And I have the passion, which is nice.
GW: Well, Netflix wasn’t there for us for SGU in 2010 [and] 2011. But Amazon owns MGM now. We’re waiting for them to finish crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s and deciding what they’re going to do with Stargate. Are you game if Amazon calls?
AH: Oh, yeah, I would be thrilled. Stargate Universe was a very special time in my life. It was a great job, a great community.
I remember meeting Amanda [Tapping] for the first time, the first day I walked into the office. And she shook my hand, she gave me a hug, and she’s like, “You are in for a hell of a ride.” Her and I are still great friends.
It’s very special. And it’s something that has touched a worldwide community. So I hope for the fans that there’s more Stargate. It’s a great story. And technology is finally caught up with the story! So we can tell it in such a profound way now.
So … I want to direct when you guys start making it! [Laughter] I’ll put my name in the hat at Amazon.
GW: Good, let’s do it. We’ll make sure it happens. Season One of the new SG show — directed by Alaina Huffman!
AH: It would be really cool to even have all the crossovers. I mean, I wonder how many people have said no to that question. I feel like everybody would be like, “Yeah, I’d love to play.”
GW: Well it seems like everybody on your show had such a positive experience and really bonded over your time together.
AH: Yeah, we were really good friends. We still are.
GW: Enjoy your convention. Thanks for chatting with us.
AH: Thank you!
On Twitter: @AlainaHuffman