Tapping Her Potential
One of our favourite interview subjects, Amanda Tapping, reveals the true power of a woman, especially when working on Stargate SG-1...
It's very early in the day, the first cup of coffee has yet to be consumed, but Stargate SG-1's Amanda Tapping is as lively as ever. You'd never guess she'd been up until the wee small hours dancing the night away. We're sitting in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver waiting to collect the numerous items bought by Ms Tapping at the previous night's charity ball in aid of the Canadian Cancer Society where she shopped for Queen and country. Rattling away at 19-to-the-dozen, we begin by discussing Tapping's forthcoming trip to a very special gathering in New York City. "It's called Wonder Women on Air," she explains. "Thirteen women are being honoured. I don't know how the recipients were decided upon or by whom, but I got this completely unsolicited call and was absolutely flabbergasted but delighted to be amongst them. The idea behind the meeting is to bring together women who are considered positive role models in cable and telecommunications so that we can sit and talk to each other about how we can make our industry better and more accessible for other women."
Serious for a moment, Tapping goes on, "For me, this whole year has been about Women and the Sisterhood. I hosted the Women in the Spotlight Gala awards in March. That came about through my involvement with Women in Film and again, I was shocked and honoured to be asked. Initially, I was absolutely petrified to stand up in front of a room full of 500 of the most powerful women in the business and offer up my words of wisdom. But on a personal level, it was positive affirmation from the women in the community that maybe my contribution might make a difference. We talked about how important it is that women support each other because the top tiers in the entertainment business are still predominantly male-orientated and we have a lot to contend with and a lot to overcome. But it's getting better. We've now reached a stage where it's less unusual to find a woman in charge. We have had women at the top before, but they've been somewhat isolated and been held up as an example [of] 'Look at what this woman did!' Our way of thinking is more, 'How about what this intelligent Human being did'? Not, 'Hey, there's a woman and she's strong and smart and capable'. I don't want to start a gender war or anything like that but I'm all for developing untapped potential. So it's all been about the women this year and it's been pretty amazing."
As a show, Stargate SG-1 has always been pretty amazing and a bit of a trailblazer in its own way. Season Seven proves to be no exception, with Ms Tapping being the first woman to direct an episode of the show. "I am so excited about it," she grins, "I don't know what it's called but it's episode 15, the one right after hiatus. I don't know anything about it other than everyone will be in a good mood because it's the one just after the holidays. I was originally asked to direct the very last episode of the season, which wouldn't air as the last episode but would be shot last. I went up to Robert Cooper [Head of Pipes and Whistles this year] and said, 'Please! Are you insane? Everyone's going to be sleepy. Richard Dean Anderson [Jack 'Neill] won't even be there. Please give me an episode that Richard is in and where people have some energy." Her passionate plea worked. "Robert told me they were trying to figure out when I could prep the episode because they needed to give me a light episode beforehand, which is good, but then he said that it might have to be an episode in which I feature quite heavily so would have to get used to the idea of directing myself." Reverting to self-deprecating humour, Tapping laughs, "I was appalled, of course. I mean, I must be one of the worst. I said, 'Robert, I don't know if I can do it. I'm so difficult and awkward. I don't know if I could get myself out of my trailer. I'd really have to smack myself around.'" Now, Tapping is universally known as one of the most accommodating and professional actors around, but Cooper saw the joke and pointed out that this way Tapping would have one less actor to talk to. That swung her decision.
Speaking of talking to the actors, it's well documented that the cast of Stargate SG-1, although consummate professionals, spend a lot of their time laughing and joking and having a good time. Richard Dean Anderson in particular doesn't seem to pay any attention to any director I've ever watched on this show. So what little trick does Tapping have up her sleeve to make sure he vaguely does what she wants him to do at some stage? "I'm planning a great deal of sexual favours," is her immediate response. "I'm planning a great deal of sexual favours to get him to stand on his mark." Asked if she's managed to coerce a lot of women to extend these favours, Tapping shakes her head. "No! I'll have to do it myself. You know, quick snogs between takes."
We manage to keep a straight face for all of half a second before we're giggling like a couple of schoolgirls, drawing bemused looks from the very swish clientele wafting through the hotel lobby. Settling into almost grown woman mode again, Tapping says that things might not be such a struggle with Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson). "Michael is going to be great," she states. "He's going to be wonderful because we were all so supportive of him when he directed and we were so proud of him and the opportunity that he had. We were all too aware of the fact that the show he directed was so massive that we just threw ourselves behind him. It was a case of 'Right! Here's our friend and he's got this humongous episode and we're going to give him everything we've got'. I know he appreciated it and I think, turning that around, he'll do the same for me. And if not, then I'll just have to resort to giving him sexual favours too."
Reminded that Christopher Judge (Teal'c) is always looking for sexual favours, Tapping shrugs, "Well, he's not getting any until he does his job." When we've stopped cackling, she says, "Actually, when I told Christopher I was going to direct and said, 'You're going to listen to me, right?' he replied, 'I'll do whatever you want. You tell me where to stand and I'll do it.' I think with him it probably will be true. I think if I say, 'Christopher, I really need you to stand there', he'll do it without my having to explain why. With Michael - if I ask him to stand somewhere he might ask why and then I'll explain and he'll do it. Michael will challenge me a bit because he wants to make sure I am up for the task and knows I'll respond well to that kind of challenge. Chris will acquiesce pretty easily. Michael will challenge and Richard - well, it'll be down to the number of sexual favours."
Mindful of the earlier part of this conversation and wishing to foster the spirit of Sisterhood and strengthen relations between artist and journalist, I selflessly volunteer to assist with this arduous task of wrangling Mr Anderson. Tapping is duly touched. "You know, I so appreciate your offer because I might be a little tired what with directing and all, and if you're willing to help out with that it'll go a long way to getting mission accomplished." Never let it be said that Cult Times journalists are backward at coming forward, nor would they let a sista struggle away on her own.
Keeping with the teasing, Tapping quietly slips in that the episode she would be directing might involve Carter getting - gasp! - a boyfriend!!!! "So whom should I cast?" she asks. Knowing of her interviewer's fondness for a certain bald billionaire's son in another show in Vancouver, there's a split second before we both shout, "Michael Rosenbaum," thereby terrifying the guests in the foyer yet again. Before we're removed by the management, we try to compose ourselves and resort to highly audible stage whispers. "What's funny is that when this whole thing came up, I asked, 'Can he be very good looking? Can he be really hunky?' Robert Cooper said, 'As director, you get to cast him. You can choose who you want.' I think it's hilarious. I get to cast my own boyfriend. Sadly, my husband has no interest in being an actor, so I'll have to settle for someone else." Our feeble attempt at propriety and political correctness is lost amid the ensuing risqué discussion about checking vital statistics and other... er... attributes before Tapping gets a tiny bit serious again. "In all honesty, I do think that the Carter boyfriend thing is the writers' attempt to address her black widow issue. If it does happen, and it's not a done deal yet, the only thing I have been told is that he won't be involved with the SGC and the problem then becomes that I have a secret job and therefore can't be honest with him."
The actress thinks this whole issue is particularly important bearing in mind her thoughts on the development of her character this season. "At the beginning of the year, I talked with the producers and said, 'We need to find the heart of Sam Carter again. We've lost it.' My feeling is that we need to find out what makes this woman tick. We need to find out what burns her gut and I'm not talking about her emotional heart. I'm talking about what drives this woman. When she wakes up in the morning, what makes her want to get out of bed? It's not just the fact that she loves her job or that she loves technology. It has to be more. All women reach a stage where they begin to question, 'Should I have gotten married? Should I have had kids? Am I missing out on a whole aspect of life in favour of what I'm doing now?' It's an issue that people deal with and Sam's no different, so I'm hoping we'll be addressing things like that this year."
Offering up some more glimpses of things to come, Tapping reveals, "They're currently throwing around the idea of an episode where Carter gets stuck alone on a ship and she starts to hallucinate. I think this would be great because it might be another good way of getting to the heart of her." Before then, one episode that certainly highlights the more frivolous side of the major is Space Race. "Yeah! We're shooting that one next and I can't wait. Basically, one of the characters from a previous episode comes back and asks for the use of a naquadah generator in order to modify his spaceship to compete in a race. Carter won't give him the generator unless he lets her help him win the race, 'cos you know, Carter is this motorcycle riding nut totally into speed and power and all that sort of fun. She's thrilled at the chance of being in a race. The guys are all wondering why I'm so 'gung ho' about exchanging technology and I'm like, 'So? We all take risks to advance Earth's technology' and Daniel is the only one who cottons on straight away that I'm doing it for fun rather than anything else. It's our video game episode of Stargate. It's speed and racing and dashing through ice debris and cool stuff like that. I also love what they do with Sam in that she wears these fantastic motorcycle leathers and is so not the Carter we've seen before. It's written into the script that I step out of the elevator at the SGC and I'm wearing motorcycle leathers and the idea is to show Carter as the biker girl out on the street who changes at work and then reverts back to this ballsy, fun-loving person when she goes home. We play it that she's smart and sexy and knows it and doesn't apologise for it, nor should she, and I can't tell you how good it is to have the opportunity to demonstrate another facet of her character."
The concierge has arrived, not to throw us out, but to let Ms Tapping know that her auction items are ready for the car. Gathering up her belongings, she has time to mention one of the best things about Stargate's forthcoming season: Tapping is very happy about the fact that one of Stargate's best-loved characters has returned to the fold. "It's fantastic that Daniel Jackson and Michael Shanks are back with us," she beams. "All the elements that make Stargate SG-1 work - the dynamics between the character, the dynamic between the actors - has all fallen back into place. I thought Season Six was a great year because we introduced a new element with Jonas [Corin Nemec] that brought something new and good to the show. Things have now come full circle and I'm beyond thrilled Michael is back. Season Seven kicks ass and it's not just because he's back. It's also because his coming back has put everything the way it should be." Aww! There's lovely!
Thomasina Gibson, Cult Times #95
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