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Jenna Busch

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Stargate Universe's Ming-Na Shows Us Her Geek Chic

Posted: 11/17/09 12:56 PM ET

I'm always thrilled to find fellow geek girls.  I watch Stargate Universe and I absolutely love it.  So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that Ming-Na is a geek!  Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons...

I also got some info on what's coming up on the show.  Ming-Na plays Camille Wray, an IOA officer stuck on the ancient ship, traveling around the universe with no way to go home.  Camille is also the first openly gay character on a Stargate series.  In Friday's episode “Life”, we finally get to meet her partner of twelve years, Sharon, played by 24's Reiko Aylesworth.  Ming-Na (who explains why she dropped the “Wen” from her name) talked about playing a lesbian for the first time, why the show is so popular and what it is about sci-fi and fantasy that appeals to her so much.  We even talked about Twitter!  (You can follow Ming-Na here:  @mingna)

2009-11-14-0mingna


I told my Twitter followers that I was interviewing you and everyone wanted to know why we don't see more of you on SGU.

Ah, wow.  You'll see more of Camille Wray later on.  I think in the beginning she was definitely a character that was still in development, and I think once they latched on to her voice and who she is, she became a more integrel part of the show as things go on.

It's funny ... you're still listed as a guest star.  So everyone is wondering when you're going to explode onto the screen.

[Laughs]  I know!  I mean, I can't talk about it because it's a contractual thing, so let's just say that that all aside, you will see more of Camille, especially in the next episode.  November 20th.  The episode called, “Life”.  You'll really get to see a personal side of who she is.

I had read that your character will be visiting her girlfriend Sharon...


Right.

And I heard that Reiko Aylesworth is going to be playing the character.  Tell me a little bit about what we're going to see.  About their relationship.

Well, I think for those who don't follow Twitter or any of the Stargate blogs and websites, for the few who will be surprised to find out that Camille is gay, that will be a big opener.  But what I think you see in the relationship between Camille and Sharon is just a lovely, stable, warm, long term relationship and you get to see a side of Camille, you know, her more vulnerable side, that she doesn't really show in the work place.

I know you weren't aware that your character was a lesbian when you were cast.  What sort of acting challenges, if any did that pose for you?

Well, I've been really fortunate as an actress to have so many opportunities to play everything from comedy to major dramas and all different types of roles, but I've never played a gay character before and to me, that's a huge challenge, because for one, I know being a minority, being an Asian-American, and a woman, a lot of times there are a lot of sensitive issues and you're dealing with a minority group that is extremely vocal and want to have a good portrayal of a gay character.  So shouldering those responsibilities along with the writers, I felt that it would be a challenge on a social level, but on a personal level as an actor, it's like any other job.  I'm just trying to understand who she is, what her strengths are, where she's coming from, what her greatest fears are and what her motivation is from day to day.  So as far as those challenges are concerned, it's pretty much the same.  Except I've never kissed a woman before, on or off camera, so that was the only other new challenge.  [Laughs]

So, how was that?

It was good.  [Laughs]  You know Reiko, I'm so happy they cast her.  We just instantaneously had great chemistry.  Both of us had never played gay characters before, so it was really exciting for us to explore all that, and talk about who these two people are.  I mean, they've been together for twelve years.  So I've been in a long term relationship, so I've been able to offer up a lot of insight into what that would entail.  And for us it was just great to have such a comfort with each other, because that was really, really important for the characters.

 

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Ming-Na, Alaina Huffman and Elyse Levesque.


Now, I've heard that you're something of a geek...

[Laughs]

So what kind of geekiness do you encompass?  Are we talking video games, science fiction...?


Oh yeah, you know, anytime I bring up Star Wars or talk about Star Trek, my husband is like, 'It's all geek to me!'

[Laughs]  That's the name of one of my columns, so I appreciate that!

[Laughs]  Yeah, he's big on puns.  But you know, I just have always loved it, and I realize now that I'm older that a lot of geeks come into great success and so now instead of feeling like the odd man out, I'm feeling very proud to be one of the power players.  Because, you know, there's geek power.   I think it's really great!

So you're a fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars?

Oh yeah!  Yeah!  I appreciate both ... for me, I think Star Wars is more science fantasy and is based on a lot of great legendary heroes and morality plays and stuff.  And Star Trek is just pure fun.  Pure science fun.  And I've always appreciated both.  I've always enjoyed watching silly sci-fi series like Buck Rogers and, you know, just devour Alien.  Just anything that's fantastical, to me, is such a great use of the imagination and takes me to places that are not pure everyday life on Earth.

So it must have been really cool to be cast in this.  Were you a Stargate fan?

That's the only thing!  No, I really wasn't!  I think at the point when the series had started, I was so much focused on my career and working and then the kids came along, so it was definitely a love of mine, like so many other things, that I put on the back burner.  And it's kind of been great because, now that I'm in the show, I'm being reintroduced to one of my great loves, which is science fiction.  And I'm meeting all these great sci-fi fans, either on Twitter or at conventions ... I love it!  I feel like I've kind of come around full circle and I'm back to my high school days.  It's great!  [Laughs]

Well, the Twitter fans want to know when you're going to the next convention.

Yeah, I think, depending on how things go, this year was really, really tough because there was so much adjustment for my whole family with me traveling to Vancouver and traveling back and forth, and being away.  And so, I think for me this year, I don't want to go anywhere else.  I just want to stay put and spend time with the kids.  And especially the holidays.  And then we'll see.  You know, next year they'll be a bit older and maybe I'll take them along, because my daughter is a huge Star Wars fan and my son even knows what Star Wars is.  It's hilarious!  We just got a game.  The Star Wars version of Battleship.  It's so much fun!  [Laughs]  So maybe they'll be old enough where I can take them with me to the conventions and we can have a good time together.

 

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The cast of Stargate Universe.


The Twitter questioners were also curious about why you decided to drop “Wen” from your name.

I did it for a lot of personal reasons.  At the time ... I always hold on to my father's name, Wen, even though my mother got remarried and everything, I never changed it, and that's because they got divorced when I was real young and I never knew who my real father was ... and then when I got married, then my last name was my husband's last name, Zee, I just felt that it no longer held a place in my life and I didn't want it in my professional life as well.  It was just all for very personal reasons.  I'm like Madonna, I'm Ming-Na.  [Laughs]  Just my first and middle name.  That's it.  Pure and simple.

I appreciate that.  My name is Jenna Busch, and with the whole president's daughter thing, I thought about changing my name when I got married ... I totally understand the name thing.

Exactly!  Right?  It's very interesting, the name thing.  Also, when I had children, I just didn't want them to go, 'Well, why isn't your name Ming-Na Zee, like with us?'  There wasn't a place in my life anymore for it.  I like Ming-Na.  [Laughs]

I just spoke to Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis, Sanctuary) and she said you got her addicted to Twitter!

Yeah!  [Laughs]  I love her!  How is she doing?

She's great!  I just interviewed her about her charity, Sanctuary for Kids.

That's great!  Wait, I'm going to follow you on Twitter ... I love Twitter!  It's an amazing way to keep in touch with fans as well as the news around the world.  

It's true!  I'm a little obsessed with it.  [Laughs]  Your costar David Blue told me he was instrumental in getting you on Twitter.


Yes he is!  And he won't let me forget it either.  [Laughs]  I told him, I said, 'You're like a drug dealer, man!  You get people hooked and that's it.  We're hooked for life.'  I'm very grateful that he got me on this thing.  I've got to keep up with the times!  I've got to know what's going on around the world here!  [Laughs]

It's taken over my life.  They also wanted me to ask you about cooking.  I hear you're a big cook.

Yes I am.  Both my parents are chefs ... I grew up in a restaurant and was always surrounded by cooks.  I love food.  [Thank] goodness I have a fast metabolism because I eat a lot.  And it's great.  I love cooking at home, and in a weird way ... I just heard on the news that more families now are cooking at home and staying at home because it's more economical.  For me, I love hearing that, because I think it's so important for families to sit down, and for kids to smell a home-cooked meal.  There's just so much love that goes into home cooking and I think it will really help the American family overall.  I'm hoping to maybe get a cook book out one day because I've got some great family recipies.  

I hope you do that!  I'm sort of just learning.

Yeah, I'm thinking about it.  

Finally, you know I watch the show and I love it, but what do you think it is about the show that is so appealing to people?

I think ultimately, aside from all the sci-fi stuff, which ... the amazing special effects have been blowing me away.  I can't believe the look of the show.  It's fantastic.  Really, the CGI guys that we have are incredible.  And the music is amazing and the writing, but ultimately I think it's a combination of a lot of things.  The characters are really relatable and the people fall in love with each different character and they're intrigued with each different character in their own way.  And I think the chemistry that the cast members have on and off the set also contributes to it.  Sometimes it's one of those intangible things that happen in a series, and I'm really thankful that it's happening to us.  It just makes life and work so much more fun.

Each episode seems to have it's own signature in some ways.  And there's so many surprising twists and turns.  One episode you're getting a real character-driven, dramatic storyline and another episode it's all pretty much all crazy adventure.  And there's still a lot of humor sprinkled throughout the show, so I think a lot of Stargate fans are getting hooked on all of that.

I certainly am!

I'm so glad!  I love that you love the show!  Are you a sci-fi geek too?

Huge!

Absolutely, right?  

Video games, sci-fi, fantasy, World of Warcraft ... hardcore geek!

Yeah, did you ever play Dungeons & Dragons though?

Oh yeah!

Because that's starting to come back!  I just went to a bookstore and I saw all these cute Dungeons & Dragons characters, figurines, and I was like, oh my god!  D&D is coming back!  [Laughs]

I've been playing since I was a kid.  [Laughs]  I love seeing it in stores.  It makes me feel slightly more legitimate.  

Exactly, exactly.  It's like, it's getting into the mainstream again.  Cool!

Did you ever play it?

Oh yeah!  My ultimate dream is to ... I've always wanted to produce a movie that is based on it.  And now with the CGI that's available, I don't see why it can't happen.  So I'm actually going to try to pursue that now.  It's a childhood dream.  

That's so cool.  You know that has to go on Twitter.

[Laughs]  I hope they don't steal the idea!  But oh well.

Once it's out there, they can't take it.  It's on Twitter.  You have evidence.  [Laughs]


Right!  

So what type of character did you play in D&D?  Were you an elf?

I was always ... yeah.  [Laughs]  But every so often I loved being the mage.  The Merlin of the group.  Because magic was another thing that I really loved.  So to be able to cast spells and things was great.  

You realize you just got a whole new group of fans, right?

Oh really?  [Laughs]  Bring 'em on!  It's so great to know that it just never really went away at all.  It was just ... I mean, when I went to Comic Con in San Diego, I was astounded at how huge it was.  Because I remember going to sci-fi conventions when they were just sort of ... they were OK, but nothing like that.

It's crazy there.

In Japan it's even crazier.  You know?  We have good taste.  That's the important thing.  We're a great American nation.  We never want to grow up, and it's fantastic.
 
Geeks rule.

We do.  We rule.  [Laughs]

Stargate Universe airs at 9/8c on SyFy.

 

 

Follow Jenna Busch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennabusch