Woman of Substance

The woman behind Lt Col Samantha Carter chats about helping to break a record, green screens, and her guest role in Stargate Atlantis.

Amanda Tapping sits patiently in her chair on the Stargate SG-1 set as the show's make-up artist Jan Newman painstakingly applies the final touches to a nasty looking bruise on the actress's right temple. It's all part of the Season 10 SG-1 episode the show's cast and crew are currently shooting.

"This story is called Company of Thieves and it's our 203rd episode, so it's one for the Guinness Book, the record breaker [for longest running Sci-Fi series in North America]," says Tapping. "In it we're once again dealing with the Lucian Alliance, only this time it's face-to-face. They've commandeered our battle cruiser, the Odyssey, and someone dies. Cue dramatic music. That's about all I can tell you. It's very sad to see this person go.

"My character of Samantha Carter is sort of thrown into this situation, but basically what she and her fellow shipmates are trying to do is bide time. Their ship is damaged and the bad guys want Sam to fix it, but she's just trying to stall as long as she can until help arrives. A girl's gotta do what she's gotta do, right?" jokes the actress. "So you'll see a lot of scenes where I'm pulling on wires, fiddling with bits and pieces of machinery and saying, 'Hmm, I'm not quite sure about this. Come on, guys. Don't we have OnStar out here?"

When SG-1 viewers last saw Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter at the end of the show's ninth season finale Camelot she was in an equally perilous position. The colonel was examining a portion of the Ori Supergate when it was activated, paving the way for a fleet of Ori ships to enter Earth's galaxy. "I think that was the final thing we shot last year, and it was me in Space and wearing a full NASA spacesuit," recalls the actress. "They even have a specialist who comes up and helps you get into it. The suit itself is quite heavy and it really weighs on your shoulders. Afterwards I literally felt like my back was permanently curved because you're sort of crunched into the thing, so it's really uncomfortable but it looks great on screen."

"Martin Wood directed this episode and for these scenes he had me up on a platform and lying on a jib arm or camera crane [long pole] that they hoisted up in the air. I'm not a big fan of heights, but it was kind of cool. The difficulty with a scene like this is that it was all green screen and one tiny piece of set, which was the Ori Supergate. There I was 'floating in Space' and meanwhile poor Martin is down below yelling, 'And there's a battle going on overhead, and one ship blows up! Now they're firing on each other, and then the gate kawooshes! Oh, my God, look at that!' You have to react not only to Martin who, God bless him, is just amazing, but also to something that's clearly not there. It's really tough to know whether you're going over the top or what you're doing is enough.

"The trickiest part about doing Sci-Fi and dealing with green screen is paying the proper credence to it. The idea is to give it the right amount of weight without making it look hokey. So you basically have to dial in and put 110% belief in what you're saying and what's happening, all the while praying that you don't look like a fool. That's the nature of the genre, I guess."

Having taken the first few episodes of SG-1's ninth season off to spend time with her and her husband Alan Kovacs' then-newborn daughter Olivia, the actress has returned to working fulltime on the show. "Coming back this year was completely different for me compared to last season," explains Tapping. "As with Seasons One through Eight, I started this one off right from the beginning with the opening episode. Being part of that initial chemistry and gelling makes things far easier than trying to find your way back in once filming has already begun.

"So we're having a blast. Claudia Black's character of Vala is a regular now. Ben Browder [Colonel Cameron Mitchell] is well-established, as is Beau Bridges [General Hank Landry], and everyone is enjoying themselves. Probably the hardest thing about this year is that our characters are spending less time as a cohesive group and more time apart. In the next episode we're shooting [The Quest], we pretty much travel together, which is quite nice, but because we now have five regulars, plus Beau, you can't always have all of us in every scene. So there's a bit more pairing off of our characters, but those moments where we are together it's as if nothing has changed."

Along with her work this year on SG-1, Tapping will also be making the occasional appearance as Samantha Carter during Season Three of Stargate Atlantis. "I recently shot an Atlantis episode [McKay and Mrs Miller] featuring McKay's [David Hewlett] sister Jeanie [David's real-life sister Kate Hewlett]," she says. "My character sort of serves as the catalyst for bringing McKay and Jeanie back together. It was fun to work with David once again and, of course, his sister Kate for the first time, as well as watch the real-life dynamic between siblings and how it played out in the episode."

With Season 10 of SG-1 shortly to begin airing on the US Sci-Fi Channel, what are the actress's thoughts about the future of the show? "First off, 10 years is a gift, no matter how you slice it," notes Tapping. "The series has new legs and a new energy to it, and with the Ori as a threat we could potentially carry on. Who knows? To be honest, it's all down to the ratings. There are a lot of changes, and if the fans embrace those changes, great. As is always the case, time will tell."

The Buddy System

For the past nine years, Samantha Carter has been the only woman on the SG-1 team. How does she feel now that Vala has come on board? Certainly not how some people might expect. "From the get-go, Claudia and I decided to make the relationship between Sam and Vala a good one," says Tapping. "It would be too easy to make them bitchy. Instead, why not make them buddies? They do it with guys all the time, right? The secret handshakes, the special code; it's OK, they're buddies. You never see that with women.

"So Claudia and I are determined that our two characters are going to be buddies. That's what we've been working towards and it's happening. Yes, Sam and Vala have totally opposite ways of doing things, but they can respect one another and what they each have to offer to the team. From Sam's perspective, I think more often than not she looks at this woman, rolls her eyes and says to herself, 'Oh, boy, here we go again'. But she's also starting to find Vala kind of amusing, which is important, otherwise she'd be annoying to Sam, and that wouldn't be fun for either of them or me and Claudia, and especially not the audience."


TV Zone Special #71
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