Amanda Tapping, or the Grand Empress of Sci-fi as she is affectionately known by her legions of loyal fans, has been a mainstay of the Vancouver film industry for many years, having starred in such TV shows as Stargate SG-1, Atlantis and Universe as Captain/Major/Colonel Samantha Carter, along with executive producing and starring in Sanctuary as Dr. Helen Magnus. She currently stars as an angel, Naomi, on The CW’s Supernatural.
Behind the camera, Amanda has directed episodes of Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary, Arctic Air, Primeval: New World and upcoming episode 12 of Season Two of the locally set and produced Continuum.
I had the pleasure of chatting with the talented Canadian actress, producer and director about not only work on Stargate, Sanctuary and the Sci-fi genre as a whole, but also the Save BC Film campaign as well.
Andres: How did you get involved with the Save BC Film campaign?
Amanda: Well, I was asked if I would be interested in helping out with the PSAs, and of course I said yes. It was actually phenomenal. All on one day, all volunteer, and there were hundreds of people involved, and I think the equipment was given for free by William F White. People even brought their own cameras, and it was just an incredible initiative. The day was actually really exciting because there were people coming in and out, professionals from all manners of the film industry, volunteering their time.
Considering the political climate and global economic uncertainty, why is this cause such an important and passionate one for the industry in British Columbia right now?
The reason I think its important is just to get the message across that BC Film isn’t asking for free handouts. What we’re asking for is a competitive marketplace. What I think is currently happening with the government is that they’re saying it costs too much money. And the fact of the matter is that its not just the film industry that benefits but its all the ancillary revenue streams that are produced when film is shot here. I think its important because the information the general public is getting is that the film industry is whining and that we want more handouts, and that simply not the case.
So many shows have simply gone to cities like Toronto because they have better tax credits. What’s also important to note is that we are not asking the government to match the Ontario tax credits because I think that’s asking too much, but we are asking to at least stay competitive.
Having talked to people down in LA and studio heads, they’ve all said that even to meet half way makes Vancouver a more viable option. It’s in the same time zone, and we have fantastic seasoned crews up here, along with lots of talent and great locations. And they would continue to come to Vancouver if they felt that it was at least competitive.
But furthermore, our own indigenous product is important to promote here too. And most Canadian shows are now shot in Toronto. We have a few exceptions here, which is fantastic, but a lot of the “Canadian shows” are filming in Toronto because you can just put more money up on the screen. So I guess my involvement was primarily to support the initiative, but also to get the message across to the general public that we’re not just whining here and asking for handouts, but we’re just asking for a competitive marketplace so we can just stay viable. And considering it is a multimillion-dollar industry, it seems prudent to keep it here.
Switching gears to Sci-fi, over the last decade or so, you have worked on the Stargate franchise, Sanctuary, and now Supernatural, respectively. Was Sci-fi always a genre you were interested in?
Its more like a decade and a half of science fiction shows that start with the letter S haha. They’ve been very good to me.
Honestly, not specifically. I had done some science fiction shows, but when Stargate came along, though it is pure science fiction, I didn’t really view it as that, but rather saw this amazing female characters, and went wow what a great show. Of course there was the working with aliens, traveling through the wormhole, and the huge science aspect of my character and her techno babble, but still even with that, for me it was primarily about a great story and an amazing character.
Then I was introduced to the sci-fi world and sci-fi fans, and learned how broad the reach is. Its funny how it’s a maligned genre, and people sometimes cuckoo it, but we’re still telling stories and still making television the same way everyone else makes television, and often with more difficult circumstances with special effects and visuals, and it’s a genre that I’ve just grown to love because I think its just so limitless.
Stargate was just a massive 11 year gift. From there I went on to develop Sanctuary, which was such a passion project for me because I was so involved with it from the ground up. And now I have a recurring role on Supernatural.
With Stargate SG-1 especially, starting in 1997, there would have been some major changes in the technology and techniques used to shoot television. Was this something that you carried on with your work on Sanctuary?
Absolutely! Stargate was a 10-year PhD education in that regard, and I spent a great deal of time on set watching what everyone does. When I started on Stargate we were shooting on 35mm film, and then we went to 16mm, and later HD. And so we literally saw the changes of how film and television were being shot. For example, when we used to set up the wormhole, it was a 40 minute set up. And by the time we finished season 10, it took no time at all, because we technology changed the way we did it. And of course green screening developed much further and we developed a plug for the stargate that looked like the wormhole. The technology in general over those 10 years changed drastically, and so going into Sanctuary, which was at least 70% green screen, we had a great education from Stargate to help us do that.
Both of your two most recognizable characters, Dr. Helen Magnus and Samantha Carter a both very strong female characters. What was that part of their appeal to you?
Oh absolutely. I like smart, strong women, and like the challenge of it. And its something that I gravitate too, possibly because I’ve never been seen as particularly super sexy haha.
Oh, I’m sure the fans that attend the conventions and so forth would disagree.
Hahaha, well, fair enough. But ya, I’m thrilled to have had characters that have challenged me and help me personally grow not only as an actor, but also as a woman, and human being. So I’ve been very lucky.
A subtle over arching theme within Sanctuary, and similarly within other shows you have worked on, has been of not judging people based on first appearances, and welcoming those that are marginalized. Was that purposely written in:
Certainly, with Sanctuary, yes. It was the idea of taking what society perceives as normal and turning it on its ear. And we did look very closely at the respect and inclusion of people that are marginalized, and it went across the board from sexual preference to religion to just in general what people may perceive as abnormal. We saw that we have a great way to tell a story, that has that message in it, and not make it too heavy handed. It’s interesting because a lot fans have responded to that in a great way; in how Sanctuary is after all not an empty motto, but that we should try to be more considerate to our fellow man. And sci fi fans often feel marginalized, and carry that antiquated stigma of being a geek in your parents basement watching the original Star Trek. That has changed a lot, but still there’s that sort of lingering perception of oh you guys are weird, you dress up in costume, etc, but in fact it’s a great community – a really vibrant community. Fan Expo Vancouver is coming up and you meet all manners of people. Some love Star Trek for example, or Stargate or Sanctuary, and they gravitate to each other and create international groups and friendships around the world just because of this one genre, which is really special.
Have you noticed a change in the attendance demographics, in regards to seeing more girls:
More girls and more children! A lot of parents come up and say that they watch Stargate with their daughters because they think the characters are so great. I was at a convention and there was a woman who was in her 80’s who just loved science fiction, and loved strong female characters. And at the same time there are little kids who are 4 and 5 years old, who are just starting to watch Stargate now. The genre has opened up and changed a lot, and is much more broad in its perspective, and not just space ships and all that anymore.
Thank you for your time.
*End of interview*
Amanda Tapping will be in attendance at Fan Expo Vancouver, on Sunday April 21, 2013 only.
Fan Expo Vancouver is an all ages pop culture convention for fans of comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming. Launched in 2012, the expo hosted near 17,000 fans its inaugural weekend. Fan Expo Vancouver is the sister event of Fan Expo Canada (Toronto), the largest event of its kind in Canada with over 90,000 fans in attendance in 2012. Guests include: Stan Lee, Michael Rooker, Sean Astin, Nichelle Nichols, David Prowse and more.
Fan Expo Vancouver April 20 and 21, 2013 at Vancouver Convention Centre, in Vancouver, BC.
More information visit: www.fanexpovancouver.com.
Written by Andrés Markwart, a Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Connect with Andrés on Twitter @AMarkwart.