Catching Up With Amanda Tapping

Now that Sanctuary has been renewed for a second season, we thought it was time to have another chat with Amanda Tapping. This time around we discuss season one, where production is on season two and what it was like shooting the final episode of Stargate Atlantis.

PCZ: First of all, congratulations on completing a great first season.

AT: Thank you so much. It was fun, it’s been a labor of love, but it’s been a lot of fun.

PCZ: I thought it was particularly interesting as the season progressed, much like drama, things started small and built. We discovered towards the end of the season how things fell into place. Was that always the plan or did things change as you went along, particularly from the webisodes to the TV season?

AT: Things definitely changed as we went along. We didn’t put the webisodes out there thinking that it would become a television show. We had a very pure vision of doing a full convergence of new media, interactive social networking site, gaming and the show all in one happy bundle on the Internet. Which is a great idea and very different to monetize and very expensive. So, what happened is the webisodes became a calling card, if you will, around the world for interest in the television series. We kept getting calls saying “Are you guys going to do a series?” and there was a broadcaster in England interested and a broadcaster in the states, so it sort of funneled down that way. I think we always knew it had potential for a TV series, but it ended up coming down to it very quickly. Suddenly we found ourselves going, “Oh my god, we’ve got thirteen episodes!” Damian [Kindler] has an incredible vision. We mapped out the thirteen episodes to introduce the villains and the new characters, but every week was a revelation, every week something would come out like “What if we did this?” We didn’t have as strong an ongoing vision from the top. We will for season two, but season one was a bit more of a scramble to be honest.

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PCZ: Having thirteen episodes as opposed to twenty or twenty-two, as is usual with most shows, does that give you more of a chance to focus on the story and where the characters were going with less “filler” episodes?

AT: You know what, it does. Thirteen for us is actually a really great number. Because our show is so post-production heavy and the post pipeline is thirty weeks to complete an episode, thirteen taps out all the departments pretty heavily. It forces you to focus, like you said, more on individual character stories. You’ve only got thirteen so they’d better be damn good. It doesn’t tap out your resources as much and gives you a bit more of a narrow focus, which is really good. Having said that, if the network turned around and said they wanted twenty, then “Woo-hoo” off we’d go!

PCZ: The characters we see as the season progresses, specifically the rest of “The Five”, did you guys always have clear characterizations in mind or was a lot of that defined by the actors you chose? I only ask that because the actors that played them seem to really inhabit the roles.

AT: Totally! What’s interesting is Chris Heyerdahl is one of my favorite actors. He brings so much to the table and is such a perfect Druit. Chris actually recommended Jonathon Young, who plays Tesla. He’s awesome, he’s so wonderful. He has played Tesla in a one-man show for a number of years, so he understands the eccentricities of this character. He could have come in and played that version of Tesla, but he brought a whole new game to it. Because he was so good, so compelling and brought such great chemistry we had to bring him back. Then, Peter Wingfield I had worked with before [on Stargate SG-1] and when we were looking at Watsons I thought Peter was just the perfect choice. All of them have this air of aristocracy about them and this grandeur. They all have a classical training and a classical feel to them, so…I loved watching the three of them in a room together. Magnus needed those sort of men around her in that day and age to do what she was doing. It’s worked out perfectly. I don’t think we envisioned Tesla being the way he was, but Jonathon brought so much more to the table than we could have imagined. The actors elevated the characters even more so than they were on the page. We will see more of them, for sure because the actors brought so much game.

PCZ: I hope so. As a Peter Wingfield fan of many years, I’m upset with you for killing him off.

“The actors elevated the characters even more so than they were on the page. We will see more of them, for sure because the actors brought so much game.”

AT: That doesn’t mean to say that we won’t be going back in time. I said the same thing, “You can’t kill him, you can’t kill him!” And they said. “Amanda, you’re 157 years old, we’re going to go back and look at some things.” and I said, “Sweet! Let’s do it.” You’ll definitely be seeing Peter again. He’s wonderful, just wonderful.

PCZ: Watson seemed to be possibly the most frail of the group, but he also sort of directly and indirectly affected everyone in the group and the decisions they made towards the end of the season. Peter Wingfield just pulled that off tremendously.

AT: What I also loved was the interplay between him and Chris Heyerdahl. They just played with it, the two of them. On set the crew would just be riveted with what those guys were going to do next. It’s on the page, but like I said, they just brought so much more to the table.

PCZ: Last time we spoke we talked a little bit about whether or not the season was leading towards a cliffhanger. Was the ending the one that you always envisioned or was there a contingency plan in case you weren’t picked up for year two?

AT: We didn’t have a contingency plan. I think we sort of kept moving ahead as if we were going to be [picked up]. I think that’s the hope of any show. Had SCI FI, ITV and TMN in Canada said you’re done then, yeah, I’m sure we would have done things a little differently, but it would have been an eleventh hour change. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers, having done them so much on Stargate. In this case, it needed it, the story was just too big. In order to do it justice it has to continue in some capacity. It’s just way too big a story to tell in two hours.

PCZ: When last we spoke you were talking about getting ready to break stories for season two, are you full-swing into that?

AT: We are. We’ve got scriptwriters on board and we’re all sitting here in the production office breaking stories. We’ve already figured out what we’d like the thirteen episodes to look like and what direction we want our characters to go. We are full-swing. We need to get money now! The only thing holding us back at the moment is some money, but otherwise we’re just writing for free at the moment.

PCZ: When do you start shooting?

AT: We’re still waiting on word, ideally the beginning of March so that we can deliver for early October. SCI FI wants us to air October 9th. We will run concurrently with Stargate Universe. I think they premiere with a two-hour episode and then the following week we will run together. Anyway, that’s the plan. We’ll hopefully start shooting at the beginning of march at the latest.

“SCI FI wants us to air October 9th. We will run concurrently with Stargate Universe.”

PCZ: It may be a bit early to talk about this, but is everybody locked in for coming back?

AT: Yeah, it is a bit early to talk about that. We’re still working on it. What we’d like to see more of is Ryan Robbins, who plays Henry Foss. I think you’ll see a bit more of him this season. He just turned out to be such a lovely character and such great comic relief.

PCZ: And he’s a werewolf!

AT: Isn’t that awesome? This are the things where you think you know what’s going on and then we turn it on its ear. Tesla’s a vampire, what? I love it, I love that we do that.

PCZ: That’s what was great about Henry, people wonder why he’s sticking around. Does he owe Magnus for something? Then you find out he’s a werewolf. I think that’s one of the things you guys did really well in the first season. Taking things like vampires and Watson and Tesla and taking the things we think we know about them and turning that on its side.

AT: I love that and I love the fact that there is the hint of politicians and artists in history that make you go “What? Hoover was into what?”

PCZ: Is that something we can expect to continue into the second season?

AT: Oh, absolutely! Like I said, we’d also like to go back to Victorian times. We’re breaking a story right now with Watson back in the early days. I like the idea of that because there’s so much to draw from. There’s 157 years of recent history to pull from that we can look at and see what shaped these people and see what they do.

PCZ: So, the other thing that aired recently was the final episode of Stargate Atlantis. What was it like going back and shooting that?

AT: It was really hard, I have to be honest with you. Stargate has been my home for such a long time that jumping out of that nest was such a big, scary leap to make. I’m glad I did it, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is creatively I feel revitalized. But to go back with that crew, that wonderful crew and that cast – they were all their in the makeup trailer. It was weird and bittersweet because it was their last episode and it sort of didn’t make sense to me why it was ending. So, it was bit weird. I had gone off and done my own thing and now I was coming back and there was this sense of sadness about the place. It was hard. I mean, my car knows how to drive to Bridge Studios. I walked into Joe Mallozzi’s office and had such a lovely talk with him. Brad Wright and Rob Cooper came down before my last shot and gave me a hug. But it opens the door for movies and there’s a certainly a lot of talk about that. I would jump back into the army boots any day.

“I remember we were at Don Davis’ memorial and I was standing in his kitchen with his wife, Ruby, and Joe Mallozzi said ‘We’re naming the ship the General Hammond.’ And we all just lost it. “

PCZ: My favorite part of the final episode was the little tribute to Don Davis and General Hammond. I think it speaks highly of the cast and crew that even in an episode where so much needs to get done, room is made to have a scene like that.

AT: Something had to be said that’s such a show of respect for an incredible man who…here come the tears…but something had to be said. I remember we were at Don Davis’ memorial and I was standing in his kitchen with his wife, Ruby, and Joe Mallozzi said “We’re naming the ship the General Hammond.” And we all just lost it. “Of course you are, thank you.” It’s a subtle, simple tribute, which is exactly – Don was a simple, beautiful man so that’s how they did it, it was lovely. You can’t overplay it, you’ve just got to say it. As an actor you wonder how you could possibly do justice to it. It one line and it’s so huge. So, it was just keeping it simple and lovely.

PCZ: Definitely a perfect moment at the right time. And it also takes Carter off in a new direction too. Hopefully we’ll get to explore that a little in the movies.

AT: I hope so!

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PCZ: So, to finish up with Sanctuary, we get an Invisible Woman at the end of the season who seems to be a love interest for Will. Is that something that might continue as well?

AT: Yeah, we’re looking at how we’re going to pursue that too. There’s so many balls in the air right now, you want to explore all of them, but you want to do them all justice. You don’t want to do a cheap one-off. The beauty of the thirteen episodes is it sort of gives everyone a chance to reveal. Characters have happened so organically and the relationships have happened so organically. We’re still trying to figure it all out. We’re literally sitting here breaking stories now. We come up with great ideas and then there are a whole bunch of other people who get to weigh in. So some ideas go, some stay and some are morphed. The interesting thing about this show has always been we don’t have a big studio backing us. We are our own studio essentially, so we have to go after private funding. That’s probably been by far the most difficult part of the whole process, trying to keep the show alive. We are a critical success and getting great numbers on the network and overseas so it’s “Yay, we got picked up for a second season! Yay, who’s going to pay for it?”

PCZ: Hopefully you get to stay out of all of that.

AT: No, sadly, I’m involved in all of that. There’s times when I go, “I just want to be an actor again! It was so much easier.” It was so much less complicated. I have a whole new respect for this side of things. I used to look at Sam Carter and her ten pages of techno-babble and think “My job is so hard.” Part of me looks back and says “You idiot, you don’t know how good you had it!”

PCZ: Congratulations again on the second season pick-up. Definitely looking forward to seeing how things get resolved and where things go from there.

AT: Yeah and hopefully we’ll be talking again part way through.

PCZ: Yes, I would love to do that, so we will be talking to you again down the road. And thank you for your time today.

AT: Great! Thank you so much.

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About Joseph Dilworth Jr.

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