Amanda Tapping as Dr. Helen Magnus.
Just when you thought sci-fi legend Amanda Tapping couldn't get any cooler...for eleven years, she starred as Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter in Stargate SG-1. Colonel Sam also appeared in twenty five episodes of Stargate Atlantis. She's guest starred on Stargate Universe. And she's currently starring in one of my favorites, Sanctuary. If you're not watching it, and you should be, Tapping plays Dr. Helen Magnus, a hundred-and-fifty-seven-year-old English scientist who runs a sanctuary for non-human creatures (vampires, mermaids ... the kind you don't see in zoos). The show is largely filmed in front of a green screen and was the first North American show to use the RED camera exclusively.
Tapping has just started a charity called "Sanctuary for Kids,” which will raise money for smaller charities, the ones that have suffered the most during this economic mess we find ourselves in. They'll be auctioning off a Sanctuary set visit, props from the show and a Skype chat with Tapping and the show's creator Damian Kindler. Tapping tells us that she knows how generous sci-fi fans can be, and that she knows they'll be willing to help out. Tapping also gave us some great info on what's coming up on the show, whether or not she'll be appearing on another episode of Ghost Hunters and reuniting with SG-1 costar Michael Shanks during his guest appearance on her show. (Check out our exclusive first look at photos from the episode, "Penance" with Shanks below, and a sneak peek of Friday's episode, "Fragments.")
The sonic stunner will be part of the "Sanctuary for Kids" auction.
I watch the show and love it. I've been watching it from the beginning. But for people who haven't seen it yet, what do you think makes it so compelling?
I think, oh wow. I think a lot of things. Its look and its feel. It doesn't look like anything else on television right now. I think what we tried to go for was a real graphic novel take on things. And I think that's given us so much to explore. We're dealing with ... we do have vampires and that seems to be the hit thing. But we had them before anyone else did. [laughs] But I think the fact that we're taking modern day mythology and turning it on its ear. And the fact that we have these really cool characters. I mean, I'm 157 years old. I'm the oldest woman on television right now. [laughs] It's kind of cool. A little depressing, but kind of cool. There's a lot of shows out there exploring the paranormal and exploring mythology and exploring thinking outside the box, and I just think that we do it well. I'm very proud of this show. I'm proud of the way it looks and I'm especially proud of this season.
There have been a lot of changes this season. Will is really a part of the team now and Ashley (Emilie Ullerup) ... well, Ashley isn't with us anymore. Tell us a little about the changes.
Well, I think for one thing, everyone is a little more comfortable in their own skin. The first season was about introducing you to everybody. And introducing you to the place and the characters and the mythology. And now we just have this massive playground we can play in. You see Will (Robin Dunne) really come forward this season. He knows how he fits into the Sanctuary. He sort of pushes back at Helen and he's more poised to take over. He feels like much more of a leader this season. Henry (Ryan Robbins) is much more in the forefront. We're doing a lot more stories with Henry. We bring in this new character, Kate (Agam Darshi). Ashley is [laughs] not dead, necessarily, because no one really dies in sci-fi ... I'm actually trying to pitch a story for season 3 which would have her come back for a bit, so yeah. A lot of big changes, I think, interpersonally, everyone has suffered this incredible blow since the beginning of the season, with trying to find Ashley, and potentially losing her, and how we're all coping with it. This season is a lot darker in some ways. But then we just did an episode last week that was hilarious.
That cracked me up. I loved that episode! “The Adjustor”!
Wasn't Chris Gauthier terrific?
He was amazing! I watch Eureka and Smallville, and I love him.
He could read a phone book and have you on the floor laughing. He's just one of those comedians who ... just his regular talking voice makes you laugh your ass off.
I actually wanted to ask you about your upcoming guest stars. I just spoke with Michael Shanks
and he talked a little about his role on Sanctuary. He didn't really give me any details though. Can you tell me about his episode?
Oh, it was awesome to have him. And there is actually a really cool scene where Helen and Jimmy, the character that Michael plays, see each other for the first time in the episode, and it's so genuine. We're both just grinning from ear to ear. It was really sweet. It was a really nice moment for Michael and I. But what we did ... we really wanted to get him on the show because he's such a good actor and a friend. And we didn't want it to be the Amanda and Michael show. We didn't want it to be Daniel and Sam. We didn't want to fall into those old rhythms. And for Michael too. He felt the same way that we did. We wanted to bring him back but not make it just about the two of us. So in actual fact, we don't have a lot of scenes together. Most of his scenes are with Agam who plays Kate Freelander. And he plays this abnormal who is carrying a rather volatile creature, and it's sort of about his escape from the mob and the history between him and Kate and their backstory. You find out a lot more about Kate's backstory, and a lot about Jimmy's backstory. It's a really sweet episode. It's a tough episode. But he blew us away. He did a great job.
Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping in "Penance." (Exclusive first look photo)
I know the last time I spoke to you at Comic Con, we talked about guest stars that you'd like to have on Sanctuary. And when I spoke to David Blue from Stargate Universe, he said he loves you and he'd love to be a guest on your show.
Would he really? That's awesome! [laughs] We'll have to get him on the show then!
I actually wanted who else you have coming up or who you'd like to get.
Jonathan Young comes back as Tesla in a big way.
I love him!
Yeah! He's phenomenal! I just watched the episode called “Sleepers” which is a very vampire episode and oh my god, he's so brilliant! He's so brilliant! So we have Jonathan coming back. The end of the season we have Callum Blue who comes to our Mumbai Sanctuary. And Callum's on Smallville ... there are so many “S” shows! [laughs] If you want to have a successful sci-fi show, you have to start with “S”.
That's actually true. Michael Shanks told me that he was told that he must only be on shows that start with “S”.
[laughs] Was it his speech therapist?
Michael Shanks in "Penance". (Exclusive first look photo)
[laughs] So Callum's on the show. Wait, Eureka isn't an “S” show and it does well. It's out of the box there. Erica Cera from Eureka is on. She's in the episode that I directed called “Veritas” (airs November 20th). That's the seventh episode of the season. And it was great. I'd met her at a lot of SyFy events and we flew back from New York together and we just hit it off. We just had such a great time hanging out in the airport and flying together. I said, 'I've got to get you on Sanctuary.' And then when I was directing I thought, well, this is the perfect part for Erica.
I actually wanted to ask you about directing the episode. I'm always fascinated by people who can direct and act at the same time.
It's not my first choice of things to do. [laughs] You just feel so schizophrenic, Jenna, because I'm acting in the episode and I'm directing it, so I've got to see the whole thing and then I'm also producing. When we initially talked about me directing, it was November, it was in LA, we were meeting with the network...Mark Stern (SyFy's Executive Vice President for Original Content) said, 'Hey, that would be great.' And I was like, yeah! Because I was relaxed and we'd finished the season and everything was good. But as it became closer to the time I was directing, I turned to Martin (Wood) and Damian (Kindler) and said, 'Forget it. I can't do this. This is ridiculous. I'm too busy.' Helen is insane this year. As you've seen so far this season, it's pretty torturous for poor Helen. And so, by the time we came towards that episode, I was freaking out.
For me, the biggest thing is prep. I have to know my shot list, know how I'm going to edit the show and so when I go into shoot it, I'll explain to the DP exactly what I want. I'll set it up with second team and then I'll go in. The beauty of the episode that I directed was that Helen is a bit crazy.
As the show progresses, she looses her marbles more and more. So no acting required, right?
I just let myself go slowly insane, so it was good. [laughs] It actually worked out really well. I'm actually really proud of the episode. And I usually don't stand on the rooftops and go, 'Yay me!' I'm usually much more humble than that. But I'm super proud of this episode. I just saw it mixed with the effects and the music and yeah. It's a good episode.
I also hear you have one episode that was shot almost entirely in the water.
Yeah! This is the torture Amanda and Robin season! [laughs] I think that Martin and Damian go out for dinner and cackle in a corner about how they can torture us. This was one of those episodes. It's called “Next Tuesday” (airing December 4th) and it takes place in an abandoned oil rig. Will and Magnus are on a helicopter that crashes...so we're hanging from these wires just above the water. And of course we fall into the water. There's a mutated vampire squid and a scorpion fighting it out. So we spent five days in a huge pool, seventy feet wide and fourteen feet deep. It was used for a feature and we managed to piggyback on the end of the feature and use the pool, which was brilliant. So yeah, we spent five days in this pool. It was fun and exhausting. You know, it's always fun, but we were bagged by the end of it. And it was right after the episode I had directed, so, yeah.
You need to do an episode where Magnus just stays in bed and everything happens around her!
I think that would be really cool! She just talks on the phone. 'Will, go do this!' You're brilliant! We could do, like, Charlie in Charlie's Angels! Everything over the intercom!
Ryan Robbins and Amanda Tapping in "Fragments".
So I know you've recently joined Twitter, because I follow you...
I got roped into Twitter. I actually quite enjoy it! But I don't go on as often as some. But Ming-Na (Stargate Universe) said to me, when we did this Stargate ladies lunch, she said, 'You're not on Twitter? What, are you crazy? You've got to get on Twitter! You've got your charity coming up, your show...it's great! It's so much fun! Oh my god! It's not that hard. It doesn't take a huge amount of time.' Because I'm a luddite. I'm happy chiseling my grocery list into a rock. Like, I have an iPhone and it tells me what I'm supposed to do. It speaks to me. 'Amanda, today you have to...' Because I'm not a technology-driven girl, which is astounding. But Ming-Na got me onto Twitter. And I enjoy it. It's quite fun. I don't follow a lot of people right now. I'm still trying to figure it all out. I tweet!
I've just gotten on fairly recently and I'm a little bit obsessed! David Blue told me that he was the one that got Ming-Na on, so you can blame him.
And David Blue is obsessed. Do you follow him?
I just turned on my phone and there's like fifty messages from David Blue. I know everything that guy does! [laughs]
Actually, a bunch of my followers had questions for you.
There were seven separate questions about your hair color change.
They all want to know about how it is to be a brunette after all those years as a blond.
I love it! I love it, actually. I felt the need, obviously, when we started Sanctuary, to reinvent myself. I didn't want there to be any vestige of Sam Carter. So I felt really strongly that Helen should be completely different. So when I initially did it, I was kind of depressed. Because it's such a change. I kept looking in my rearview mirror and almost getting into accidents because I kept thinking, 'Who's driving my car? Oh right! It's me.' But now I like it. I think it's actually sexier.
Amanda Tapping in "Penance". (Exclusive first look photo)
I've had a ton of hair colors so I know what you mean. It really does mess with you.
Women are nicer to me.
Men, not so much, but women are nicer to me, which is cool. And weird. [laughs]
When you're blond, people speak a little slower.
And louder. Like you somehow being blond makes you deaf. [laughs]
One of the questions was about how you feel about being able to play such a different character. Since you were Sam Carter for seven years. They're so different.
I felt completely revitalized. When we shot our webisodes, we were still shooting Stargate. So we shot these test scenes in our little mini-hiatus while we were shooting Stargate. And I felt like an actor again. It felt kind of weird because I always felt like Sam Carter kept me totally challenged, but you realize that it's so comfortable. I put on the Army boots and I am Sam Carter. And I feel really comfortable. So to break outside of that box was really so much fun. And now the challenge is just trying to understand Helen, because she's so weird. She's such an enigma and she's so eccentric. She makes these crazy choices that I don't always understand. So I have to step back and understand that she's a very flawed hero, which I love, but it's a lot more to wrap your head around. Sam was easy to understand. I got Sam. Helen, I go, huh? Really? Wow, weird!
It's got to be great to do something different. After playing a role for eleven years, some people would get stuck.
I mean, all I can say is that I've been totally blessed. To have Sam Carter at that time in my life that I got that part, and as long as I got to play her, what a blessing. Because she's an amazing character. And I sort of thought, well, how do you top Sam? Where do I go from here? And then Sanctuary came along and Damian handed me the script with this amazing character, and now, at this time in my life, is sort of perfect timing. So yeah. And now I'm saying to myself, where would I go after Helen?
Speaking of Sam, I wanted to ask you about your guest spots on SGU and how many of those you're going to do.
Well, I've done two episodes. I did their first two-parter and I'm at the very end of their season. And I just shot that a few weeks ago. So I started their season and I'm ending their season, which was very cool. But I didn't get to play with anyone. That was my one, you know...if they were ever to have me come back, I'd want to be with people. [laughs] I'm kind of off on my ship, which I think is awesome. I have to say, when I got to work, and I saw the uniform and the General Hammond crest on it, I teared up. I think it's a great honor to, not only Don, but to the character. (note: Don S. Davis, who played Major General George Hammond passed away in June, 2008.) So that was very cool. But I'm up in my ship and I don't get to play with anyone.
Well hopefully they can get you on the SGU ship sometime.
Well, maybe we can crash the “General Hammond” into the “Destiny”. Without doing too much damage. [laughs]
I just got the press release about your charity “Sanctuary for Kids” this morning. Tell me about it. (The website is http://sanctuaryforkids.org)
It's a new initiative. We've actually been working on it for almost a year. The idea was born out of the fact that, with the financial crisis, so many small charities are really suffering. I mean, the big charities are suffering. People just don't have as much to give. But the small charities are just being obliterated. And there are so many really small grass roots organizations that work directly with children and youth in crisis. And not too many people know about them. So we decided we wanted to set up this initiative. Very simple, grass roots based initiative, where we find out about all these different smaller charities through our fan base, and through our research, where five thousand dollars actually makes a massive difference, as opposed to having to raise a huge amount of money. So they're charities with small operating costs and they're working directly with people in need. And we decided to use the fan base. I've always found that sci-fi fans are unbelievably generous.
I totally agree.
And every time I've done a fund raiser, I've been blown away by the amount of money and the generosity that our fans have. So I thought, her we have this opportunity to not only work with the show Sanctuary and with that fan base, but with the Stargate fan base and the people I've met around the world, and actually make a difference with small charities.
We chose as our first two charities, the Nepal Orphans' Home, which the gentleman who runs my website, originally from Poland, now lives in England, has worked at this organization. And they rescue young girls, some boys, but mostly young girls in Nepal who have been abandoned by their families. And they give them an education. They actually make them a part of the community, so that they give back to their community, so it's an ongoing relationship they've fostered with these girls. It seemed to me that it spoke to so many different initiatives that I love. It checked a lot of boxes for me, so we donated money to them and we're raising more money. We've actually raised enough money to build one of their homes...and we're working with a local organization and charity program that works with homeless youth who are also parents, and getting them into sustainable housing. And getting them set up. So we're providing starter kits for these young people and their babies. And again, it's where five thousand dollars actually makes a huge difference.
Amanda Tapping, Damian Kindler and Martin Wood.
We're launching a charity, an online auction on November 12th, and we're giving a set tour, a Skype chat with Damian and myself and a prop, and a fan gets to name a character on the show.
Yeah, and that's just our first. We've actually raised money already. We did a template fundraiser for a local school, just to see how it would work, and it was so successful, that we raised even more money than we expected. And people were saying, 'Give my donation to Sanctuary for Kids.' So even before we launched the website, we've raised money for the charities. So that's how the charity in Nepal was able to build a home...and Vancouver was able to help homeless youth. So we've just launched the website and we've already raised a ton of money.
Damian Kindler is involved with it as well, and Damian and I are donating all the start up costs, so that one hundred percent of the donations go to the charities. And we're going to continue to do that for all the administrative costs. We'll cover them so every penny goes where it's supposed to go. But we wanted to foster a relationship. The idea is not that this year it's the Nepal Orphans' Home, and we're never going to see them again or talk to them again. We want to foster a relationship with all of the charities that we bring on board. And I think that's important. It's not just about giving. It's a relationship. It's about the sense of community. But what I've also done on my website is, I've started a community charity forum so that people around the world can talk to each other about their smaller initiatives. And may support each other and potentially offer each other help. The example I used is, if you're in Brisbane, Australia, and you're gathering gently used baby clothes for people in need, you can get in touch with someone in Burlington, England who is also doing the same thing. Maybe you'd be able to share resources and share ideas. It's the idea that small charities can connect with like minded people and create a sense of community there.
This next question is completely off the subject, but since I've been ghost hunting with you at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, I have to ask. Are you going to be appearing on Ghost Hunters again this season?
I would love to. I would love to. I mean the live show was pretty insane. I loved the Stanley Hotel. [laughs] On the live show, I barely got to spend any time with Grant and Jason. I was pretty bummed. So if I do it again, I'd want to stick with them. Find out their technique.
I'm really hoping to get to do it again. It was so cool!
Something flipped my earring. I don't know what it was, but it was really neat.
See? I've got to do it. And I mean, we've always joked about doing a cross over where Helen's walking through the Sanctuary and she opens a door and they're there. 'Have you found it yet?' 'No.' And I'd close the door. [laughs]
You should do that!
I know! Just a tiny cameo.
Before you go, I want to ask you about next week's episode.
Agam Darshi and Robbin Wood in "Fragments".
Next week's episode is called, “Fragments”. It's the week before my directing episode. “Fragments” gives you a little bit of back story on Henry, which is really interesting. And it also deals with an old love interest of Henry's. And a creature that she's dealing with. And it's sort of questions whether the Sanctuary is doing the right thing at times. Like whether our techniques are right, and whether we're dealing with these creatures in the right way. So it opens up some questions. But there are also some interesting dynamics between Big Foot (Christopher Heyerdahl) and Magnus. His medicine and what he chooses to believe in and what she chooses to believe in. But for the most part, it is a nice Henry story. Really, really sweet Henry story.
Sanctuary airs Fridays at 10/9c on SyFy.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter at @amandatapping and Sanctuary for Kids at @sanctuary4kids .