Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina King knows the correct cover page to use for her TPS reports.
Ming-Na is a critically acclaimed actress whose notable roles include Lien Hughes on As The World Turns, Jing-Mei Woo in The Joy Luck Club, Fa Mulan in Mulan and Mulan II, Dr. Jing-Mei Chen for several seasons of ER and Emily Hu in Push. Last year she was cast as Camile Wray in the latest series in the Stargate franchise, Stargate Universe. This successful series has just begun shooting its second season and new episodes fro the first season return to Syfy’s Friday schedule this week. Just prior to the beginning of production of the new season I had the chance to talk to Ming-Na about her character and the show. Enjoy!
POP CULTURE ZOO: First of all, congratulations on the success of Stargate Universe and getting the second season.
MING-NA: Yes! Thank you very much, very excited about that.
PCZ: Are you back in Vancouver now?
MN: Nope, I am still packing. I leave in an hour and a half and head out to the airport. So yeah, my adventure begins in a few hours.
PCZ: I wanted to start out with finding out how you became aware of the role and how you got the role of Camile Wray.
MN: Let’s see, my agent called me… (laughs) No, the usual thing, he said there’s a series that shoots in Vancouver and I said “No, thank you!”
PCZ: (laughs) Oh, Vancouver’s beautiful though!
MN: Oh, I know, but I haven’t taken a job outside of LA since I had kids, believe it or not. He said, “No, no, no… hear me out, hear me out! They’ll work around the schedule so you’ll be home a lot,” but the character sounded intriguing, and it was only after I talked with Robert Cooper, oh my god my brain! He was explaining to me that it’s a really strong character, and they’re gonna really develop her, and he just made it sound very enticing. And I’m glad that I took the job! So it all worked out.
PCZ: Were you at all prepared for all the fans you instantly gained by joining the show?
MN: Oh, gosh no! I mean, you know I used to be one of those fans. Well, not used to, I still am! So it’s kind of weird to be on the receiving end of it. But my experience at Comic-Con was a real eye-opener, because these were die-hard Stargate fans before our show even aired, and they were very excited and anxious, and it was really lovely. A lovely experience.
PCZ: Well, they threw you guys a great party at Comic-Con last year, too. That was fun!
MN: Yeah, that was great fun, wasn’t it?!
PCZ: Oh yeah, it was way more than I expected it would be.
MN: And the drinks were free, it was great!
PCZ: Well, that may be the best part! No..
MN: (laughs) Exactly!
PCZ: So you mentioned you were a fan, had you watched the previous Stargate series?
MN: I only watched a few episodes, I was not that into it because at that point, I sort of had moved more toward the harder sci-fi. It was very tongue in cheek, it was fluffy in a lot of ways, and fun. But I was just more into the darker kind, I guess, or the more serious kind. I mean I still like the fluffy ones, but I just wasn’t in the mood. And that’s what appealed to me about it too, when Robert was saying that they wanted to take the new Stargate Universe in a much darker, more serious tone. That it would be very character driven, that’s always very exciting for an actress when they say that. There’s gotta be some substance behind it.
PCZ: When you guys come back with the new episodes, aliens do show up, but pretty briefly!
MN: The aliens? Yes, well, it is still Stargate. We have to have aliens, but I’m excited to see them because they’re going to be more CGI instead of actually men in rubber suits. I’m excited to see what they end up looking like because in shooting it, we really don’t see them.
PCZ: That’s true! It seems like general sci-fi fans are really loving the show, but Stargate fans seem to be sharply divided. Does that surprise you guys at all?
MN: I think that was sort of expected. To me I feel like, given the numbers that we’re getting, we still have a very strong core of original Stargate fans. If you’re a real sci-fi fan and the show is good, or the writing is good, or the acting and the special effects, you can’t deny wanting to watch. So I think that the ones that kind of left us are few and far between. I mean, that’s my impression just from my twitter fans. I follow you! You know that right?
PCZ: Yes, I do! I do know that!
MN: You’ve got followers!
PCZ: I know, I was very honored by that, thank you very much!
MN: Well you’ve got some fun links, that’s cool, too.
PCZ: I have to say you were definitely one of the draws for me for Stargate Universe because I really enjoyed the work you did on ER. I thought you did a very compelling character there. The interesting thing though was I also thought, to a certain extent, you were kind of underused on ER and when Stargate Universe started out, you were kind of in the background. My first thought was “Here we go again!”
MN: Right! Don’t you know, Joe, that I pick those parts so that I don’t have to work a lot! What’s wrong with you? No… (laughs)
PCZ: Well that’s all right, sorry, I’m not trying to have you work harder!
MN: Don’t give away my plans, come on! No, you know it’s interesting, I think ever since I became a mom I wanted to be constantly in shows with a large ensemble for that very reason. I did do a couple of series after ER where I was more one of the leads and whew, I’m telling you, that’s a tough schedule. You might as well be non-existent to everyone around you. I think what I love about how Camile’s progressed is that in the beginning I wasn’t sure about taking on the part, because she was very light in the pilot episode. It was only after Robert told me where they want to take her, and how they were going to do it that I was really intrigued. It’s sort of like a slow reveal of who she is and she kind of sneaks up on you and surprises you. Especially in the second half [of the season] where she really takes on more a leadership role. It’s still a large ensemble, so I like how the cast gets a little bit rotated so that the focus changes, like a good novel or anything where you want to kind of have moments where you don’t see one character and then they come back.
PCZ: She’s been at the Icarus Base with these characters for a while, so it seems like there’s more to her pushing to take over than just being, “Well, I think I’m the right person.” There seems to be some kind of history with her and Colonel Young there that may not have gone as well as everyone thinks.
MN: Right. Well I think that what’s so great is that in the beginning she relied on Colonel Young to lead. She believed in him and I think in Icarus Base it was an easy thing for him to be the leader because really there was no conflict. I think once there is dire circumstances she starts to see him making decisions that she doesn’t agree with at times. She starts to build less of a trust in him and then she starts going towards somebody she didn’t think she would become an ally with, and that’s Doctor Rush.
I love that transition where it’s like, “Okay, I don’t really know this guy as well as I thought I did.” And out of necessity more than a desire and ambition, she felt that she had to take on a leadership role for the civilians, because she just felt like Colonel Young was kind of wanting to become a dictator really, with how to run the ship and how to handle the people. So without the IOA [International Oversight Advisory] overlooking him, he kind of goes off a little bit. I love that she’s kind of put in the situation out of necessity, she feels that she has to take on the role, rather than, “I WANT THIS!” because of me not wanting to do much! Except out of necessity! (laughs)
PCZ: It seems like she didn’t really consider the option of taking command so much until the IOA sort of talked to her about it, and then Rush is sort of needling her as well. It seems like you’re not in a really good place!
MN: Yeah, I’m kind of stuck in the middle, but ultimately her goal is to get back home and get everyone else back home. I mean, she doesn’t care what people want to do with the ship. This ship is not her ambition and her goal is not to explore the universe. Her goal is to be in her comfortable home, with her partner, with Sharon, with her little world and the level of achievement that she has created for herself in the IOA. She was very happy, I think, and all that’s been turned upside down for her. And she wants to get that back. She wants to go back to her happy place! (laughs) Stars just don’t cut it, y’know!
PCZ: I’ve seen the next two episodes and it seems like there’s sort of a resolution to who’s in charge, but does that continue to be sort of brewing throughout the rest of the season?
MN: Oh yeah, yeah. There’s still a lot of tug of war that goes on, especially toward the very end when there’s a new conflict that comes into play. Actually, there’s a couple of conflicts. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s actually two more entities I’ll say, two more situations. Is that too Jersey Shore of me to say? More situations come into play…
PCZ: (laughs) That’s okay. One of the big things that it seems a lot of people latched onto, as far as the press and publicity before the show, was that Camile Wray is, of course, a lesbian. It’s been handled with great dignity and I hope that continues throughout the rest of the season and the show.
MN: I really applaud our writers and our producers for taking on that risk, because I had no idea before I came on board the Stargate world that she was the first gay character in 15 years. It seemed like a long time to do various series without having one. I was really astounded. It’s nice. It’s nice to have a part where they’re taking bigger risks, yet having the capacity and the heart to write a character that is as well-rounded. And there will be more.
PCZ: So, comparing movies and theater to TV series, which do you like doing the most? I mean, they’re very different formats and very different schedules. What appeals to you the most?
MN: Theater is always going to be just this constant high that you get when you perform in front of a live audience, there’s nothing like it in the world. It’s just an instant bond and connection in entertaining people right there. It’s a great high. For me, television is practical, it’s wonderful, it’s a safe environment and I can relax more. That’s a huge difference. With theater, even though you think an actor only has to be on stage for two hours, it just ruins your whole entire day. Every day, until you’re dark on Monday. You have that one day off. Because even though you’re going about your day, going to the grocery store as a mom, in the back of your mind you’re always thinking, “I have to be in front of a live audience without a second or third take!” You can’t mess up, so there’s always that level of anxiety in the back of your mind. For me right now, being a mom, it’s a pressure I don’t want in my life. I actually enjoy doing television work or film work more at this point in my life. Maybe later, maybe later when the kids are a little older I can switch gears a little bit. So yeah, Mommy’s not very good with anxiety that’s always building throughout the day! (laughs)
PCZ: Right! I was gonna say, kids generate enough of that without work doing it as well!
MN: Yeah, exactly! So it’s nice to know that oh, if I mess up, there’s a second take!
PCZ: So I ask everybody this and I’m gonna ask you as well. Any ambitions to do any writing or directing?
MN: Oh wow. No, never directing. Again, it’s that same anxiety every day. Right now I am writing some books. It’s non-fiction, it’s more lifestyle books. I’m busy doing that. I have other ambitions that I want to work on. I have some project ideas to help out senior citizens and so that is sort of where my head’s at right now. Every time I watch the Oscars I’m like, “Oh, I’ve gotta get back into film. I’ve really gotta get back into film.” It’s just so inspiring. I just love the Oscars.
PCZ: Do you feel like going into the second season you can now offer things as far as your character when you’re doing a scene like, “Y’know maybe she wouldn’t do it this way, or maybe she might say it this way instead?”
MN: Aw, hell, I was offering that in the first season! (laughs)
PCZ: That’s awesome! (laughs)
MN: Whether they liked it or not! (laughs) No, we have a very collaborative, really appreciative group of people and it’s very nice. Brad [Wright] and Robert as well as all the other writers, Carl Binder, Joseph Mallozzi, they’re all really, really open. Their office is always open to us. That’s nice because for them it’s like a family there. They’ve been doing it for 15 years together, so it’s nice to come into that fold. A lot of series don’t have that, a lot of new series especially, definitely don’t have that. So it’s a very good environment to work in.
PCZ: Excellent! Well that is all I have for you for now.
MN: Well all right! Well, I will be twittering you! When the article comes out, I’ll be like, “I did not say that Joseph!”
PCZ: “Everything he said was lies!”
MN: Everything you wrote has been twisted into lies! (laughs)
PCZ: (laughs) Excellent! I can’t wait! Well thank you so much for your time and talking to me.
MN: Oh thank you!
Stargate Universe returns to Syfy on Friday, April 2nd at 9:00 PM!