Amanda Tapping finds Sanctuary

Amanda Tapping talked about her TV work in this 2008 interview

When actress Amanda Tapping began work on Stargate SG-1 back in early 1997, she wasn’t even sure the series would even last beyond the initially-contracted two-season run on Showtime.

So of course, the idea that the show would ultimately last more than 10 seasons and break Neilsen ratings records was too far-fetched to even consider.
Now starring in her own series on the SyFy Channel, Sanctuary, Amanda Tapping shared her thoughts with us about projects past and present, the best and worst parts of her job now, and whether or not we’ll ever see her again in the Stargate realm.

amanda-tapping-sanctuaryby Nancy J Price

Given how seemingly every media outlet in the world drenches us with 24/7 celebrity updates, it’s no wonder we envision the life of an actress to be oh-so-sweet.

You know: Between shooting scenes, hang out on-set in a posh trailer. After “working” for a few hours, take a limo back to fancy Beverly Hills home, go out at night to party with Hollywood hotties and other celebs, head back home… and then do it all over again.

But for actress Amanda Tapping, such a lifestyle is truly the stuff of fiction. Apart from the fact that she lives and works in Vancouver, Canada — some 1200 miles north of Hollywood — you can forget the parties, the hotties, the limos and the leisure time. She’s much too busy, and too goal-oriented, to bother with all that.

In fact, this “Queen of Sci-Fi” (so dubbed by the fans) has just two things on her agenda right now: family and work. And that short list consumes pretty much every moment of every day, whether or not she’s actively shooting her show, because — as you will find out — Tapping has thoroughly earned her new Executive Producer title.

From Stargate to Sanctuary

After 10 years and 200 episodes of Stargate SG-1, Tapping served one more year on Stargate Atlantis as Major Samantha Carter before leaving that universe to create another.

Stargate fans who tuned into her new TV series, Sanctuary, were surprised to see “their” Sam with dark hair, speaking with a British accent and going about her new duties with a wise, almost matronly, manner. (Guys, you’re in luck: The new gal knows her automatic weapons, too.)

Although Sanctuary airs on the Sci-Fi channel, it’s set on Earth, primarily in the modern day, with nary a means of interstellar travel in sight. Still, the program offers viewers a healthy helping of science with its fiction.

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Leaving the world we know behind

In the new series, Tapping plays Dr Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old woman from England’s Victorian era who hardly ages due to… well, let’s just call it a little college drug experimentation. She runs the titularSanctuary — a home for creatures great and small, legendary and supposedly mythical, some dangerous… and all freaky. (Seriously: The Loch Ness Monster and Harry Potter’s house elf have nothin’ on some of these beasties.)

These “abnormals” live among us regular humans, and are largely feared because they’re misunderstood, à la Wicked. By housing the abnormals at the Sanctuary, Dr Magnus keeps them safe, stops them from harming the populace — and, since they’re there anyhow, carries out some research and cataloging.

One thing that truly sets the show apart are the visuals, which are magnificent both in style and in scope. This small-budget venture is able to create elaborately-detailed scenes and sweeping views because it shot against a green screen. In post-production, the background is replaced with realistic digital renderings of almost anything the writers and producers could imagine: catacombs under Rome, the middle of the Bermuda triangle, a plane crash on a snowy mountaintop, and the Gothic architecture of the vast sanctuary itself.

We had the chance to talk one-on-one with Ms Tapping, and found out how, over the course of a decade, her career has grown from chasing spaceships and System Lords to include babies and balance sheets.

Amanda Tapping interview: New show, new skills

Nancy: So, beyond acting, how involved are you with Sanctuary? I know you have the executive producer credit, but this is really very much your project, isn’t it?

Amanda Tapping: Yes. Damian [Kindler] conceived of the show, and when he brought it to Martin [Wood] and me, the three of us just took it and ran with it. So on a day-to-day basis, from being involved with pre-production when we were mapping out the stories for the first season, and now we’re doing it again for the second season, white-boarding all the stories, putting together the crew and the cast and the financing.

That was a big part of my responsibilities — getting that together. Because we don’t have the backing of a major studio, and we’re actually doing something quite unorthodox — creating a high-end product which we’re then selling to a world marketplace, so that’s been a huge job. The corporate end of it is the part of my responsibility, and that has been the least fun.

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Nancy: Is that something you’ve had experience with in the past, or how did you end up with that?

Amanda Tapping: No, it’s sort of a trial by fire, but it’s been good. I have a good head for business, and I understand the nuance of business, and I’ve certainly been in the entertainment industry long enough to understand the minutiae of how all that works, so, that’s been an education.

Then beyond that, with the actual day-to-day shooting — not only being the lead actor on the show, but also I feel like my job on set was to make sure everyone was happy, and that the crew was taken care of and that everyone was respected and heard.

amanda-tapping-as-sam-carter-stargateAnd then post-production: I’ve learned about color crafting shows and doing sound mixes and pulling back and all sorts of things I’ve never had the opportunity to do before — editing. So I’m actually heavily involved, from start to finish, and it’s been amazing. I just feel like, as an actor it’s been a great education, but now as a woman. I’m in my 40s and I’m now looking beyond just being an actor, and this has been a great way to sort of branch out my career.

Nancy: I was going to say it would really help your resume — you could go into all kinds of things at this point.

Amanda Tapping: Absolutely, absolutely — and you should get a feel for how the whole machine works, and then pick your specialty, if you will. For me, I love seeing the whole process.

Nancy: Is there any particular element, apart from acting, that just really appeals to you, that is fun, not tedious…

Amanda: I feel I would love to direct again — I like the scope of a job like that. I like the scope of producing, too — going into the office and sitting down with the guys and sort of looking at the overall picture. It’s like having a big wide angle lens on the entire show. I love that. The directing for me is very much the same: You get to take your vision and put it out into every single department, and then put all the pieces together. It’s like putting together a massive puzzle, and so I hope to get the opportunity to do that again.

Nancy: So, you’ve been Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1 for ten years, and then you had the year on Atlantis. Did you ever imagine actually playing your character there for that long? And do you think you could play Helen on Sanctuary for that long — do you think there’s enough there?

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Amanda Tapping: I didn’t — I can’t. But you know what’s really funny is I couldn’t have imagined playing Sam Carter for that long, either. It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re having fun.

It sounds like a lame little old adage, but it’s absolutely true. Stargate was so joyful, and even for all our ups and downs, it was a great show to work on — an amazing family — and so the ten years didn’t feel like ten years. It honestly didn’t, and people go, “Oh my God, you were on that show for a decade!” and I’d say, “Yeah, but it went by really quickly!”

And season one of Sanctuary was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life, in terms of wearing so many hats. It was exhausting, yet at the end of it I was. “Oh wow, that was great!” So you’re ultimately exhausted and revitalized by the amount of work. So can I imagine playing Helen for ten years? No. It could possibly happen — sure — and would those ten years go by just as quickly? Sure, they probably would.

Amanda: You know I’m very lucky in that I’m working with two men, particularly Damian and Martin, whom are my best friends, but beyond that they completely respect and admire women, which is a unique position to be in when you’re in a very male-dominated industry.

They will defer to me, and say, “Well, okay, Amanda, what do you think?” As opposed to, “This is how it’s happening.” I love that! It’s very invigorating, and you must find that to be working in a creative environment with people you enjoy working with. There’s a symbiotic relationship, there’s cohesion of ideas and it doesn’t feel like there’s any one-upmanship. We’ve all talked each other off the ledge, and we also know that at any given time that’s gonna happen, but we’re all there for each other.

It’s been almost three years we’ve been working on this, and it’s not only seeing what you build grow, but the joy of watching it start to blossom.

On the next page: Playing against a blank wall, 100 years of history, and what makes her giddy with excitement

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