Being led up to the hotel room where I’m to interview Amanda Tapping, I’m told shortly beforehand that I’m the only journalist she’s sitting down with today. ‘No pressure,’ I tell myself. This is only a woman who has been idolised by many sci-fi fans across the globe for over a decade to the point where she is referred to by many as ‘The Grand Empress of Sci-Fi’. No pressure at all. Meeting Tapping though, all those nerves soon melted away as we sat down for a chat; she liked my necklace and mentioned that she was soon to be off to the beach with her family to get some tourist time in before hitting up Oz ComicCon over the weekend. Not even a minute in and I felt completely at ease, pushing the imposing thought of the huge Stargate and Sanctuary fandoms to the back of my head for 15 or so minutes.
“I like this organisation [Oz ComicCon],” Tapping says of her time in the country so far. “I’ve been to Sydney and Melbourne with Oz ComicCon before and they’ve always been really good to me. They treat the guests well and they treat the fans well. I think the fans get enough of an experience…Because we’ve come so far and the fans pay so much money, I want to make sure that they have the experience and that I take the time, because that’s why we’re here, to say thanks for watching the show and thanks for your support over the years. This is a convention that I don’t feel rushes people through; I feel like people get the opportunity and they seem to time it really well. That’s important. You’d hate to end up at a con where time is running out and fans are being pushed through and you’re like, ‘Hey, see ya later…’. That’s kind of a rip off. You want to actually look someone in the eye and say hi.”
As ‘Sam Carter’ in the successful Stargate franchise, Tapping’s following grew considerably over the original decade long run of SG-1 and then through her appearances on Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: Universe. A strong female character that would be come a model that many of the show’s contemporaries would be influenced by, Tapping discusses the effect the character has had through time and how she’s been able to move on to different roles within the same genre.
“With Stargate, when I read the initial script and went to audition, I fell in love with Sam Carter and I honestly didn’t think I would get the part.” she admits. “I thought it would go to an American and I thought it would be some name, so gobsmacked was I when I got the call saying, ‘It’s down to eight of you, send in your demo reel…’ and then getting further along, when I did actually get the part I was like, ‘Wow! What?’. I fell in love with her and I fought really hard for her, in that we worked really closely with the writers. The writers were really amenable to making sure that we were comfortable with the characters that we were playing, all of us. They were great in that regard with us. Once you play a character like that, it’s really hard to play somebody who’s not as strong! It’s like, ‘Awww!’. Damian Kindler wrote Sanctuary and obviously I knew him from Stargate and he sent me the script and said, ‘Let me know what you think’. I read this pilot script in like, 40 minutes and phoned him right away and said, ‘I have to play this part [‘Helen Magnus’].’ We sat down and talked about what she should look like and we talked about changing her so that she wasn’t Sam Carter, hence the whole physical transformation. Again, it was a huge responsibility to play this very strong female character.”
“It was the same with Supernatural, although with Supernatural I had far less say – I was handed the scripts and every time, I had no idea what her [‘Naomi’] agenda was. I had no idea what was going to happen to her; it was a three episode contract and they just kept inviting me back and every time I’d get the script I’d go, ‘They’re gonna kill me, oh what, I’m still alive? Right on!’ What I love is the number of women and young girls and fathers with girls and mothers with their girls, who come forward and say, ‘What a great role model you’ve been for my daughter.’ – that’s phenomenal. The number of families who’ve watched Stargate together and who have watched Supernatural together or who have watched Sanctuary as a family, you know what I mean? That’s really cool.”
Talk to any sci-fi fan about their favourite shows and undoubtedly, a popular topic will be tracking the development of the show’s filmed quality through the years. Of course, as a genre, sci-fi has benefited greatly from the improvements and developments in film technology and special effects; Tapping uses her time on Stargate as a perfect example of how drastic changes in the way shows were filmed affected schedules and broke new ground.
“We started on 35mm film and to get the Stargate going was a 45 minute set up, with the way they lit it and the green screens. By the time we’d wrapped Stargate, we were shooting on digital and they barely did anything, it was like seconds and they’d go, ‘Okay we’re gonna go through the gate now!’. Usually that would mean, ‘Okay we’re gonna go into our trailers and have a cup of tea’ and by the end we’d go, ‘Oh okay!’ and literally seconds later, the cameras would be set and we’d be walking through the gate. I mean, the technology came so far and then we took it further with Sanctuary in shooting entirely on green screen and shooting with the red camera – we were the first TV show to shoot with that camera in the world and we were the first television show to do that much concentrated green screen. It was entirely possible because of how much the technology had changed.”
Tapping’s work has seen her go behind the camera as well, flexing her creative muscle as a director too, helming episodes of Stargate, Sanctuary, Primeval and Continuum. She threw her support behind the now disbanded ‘Save B.C Film’ campaign, which was established in order to be positive advocates for the struggling film industry in British Columbia (the industry has picked up considerably, hence the wind down of the campaign) and explains the state of the Canadian industry of the time.
“How strong or weak the Canadian dollar is is a huge factor,” Tapping says of how the industry is affected. “The weaker the Canadian dollar is, the more US production will come up. The States are competing with each other more than they’re competing with Canada for tax credits. If Louisiana suddenly introduces a great new tax credit, a lot of shows will go there. New York had an amazing tax credit there for a few years and shows went there, Fringe being one of them. When they pulled the tax credit because it wasn’t sustainable for them, they moved to B.C [British Columbia]. It’s a bit of a governmental war of who is going to give the better tax credits, as to who’s going to come up. I think that with B.C, we have really incredibly seasoned crews. We have great post-production and we have incredible locations and I think we’ve got a really strong talent base. I think that sci-fi lives up there so strongly because so many people know how to film it. There is so much experience doing it.”
“‘Save B.C Film’ came about because we were trying to get our government to understand that the film industry was one of the top producing film industries in the province. We weren’t wanting them to give us free money, we were saying that the ancillary revenue from the film industry with the lumber yards building the sets and the hotels and the food industry…the revenue from the film industry in any centre permeates so far. We were basically saying, ‘Understand the viability of this industry’. We compete, provincially, with Ontario and Quebec for tax credits, so it’s the same as in the States. It’s hard to create a sustainable industry. The thing I wish we had more of in B.C was indigenous product, as opposed to being a service industry for the States. Sanctuary was done there and Continuum, which I’m directing, is very much a Canadian show, which looks anything but! You have it here too, right? You probably have it more here and than we do, because you’re so far away from other centres that what you produce is intrinsically Australian product, which is fantastic.”
Aside from all of her film and television commitments, Tapping is passionately involved in charity work, most specifically with Sanctuary For Kids, the charity established by Tapping, Damian Kindler and Jill Bodie back in 2009. With the aim of improving the lives of children in need around the globe, the charity has raised a phenomenal amount of money in recent times in affecting this important change.
“What’s important for us was that we created a charity where we worked really closely with our charities.” Tapping explains. “We didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin, we wanted to make sure that the relationships we had were being serviced properly. It’s ongoing. With the Nepal Orphans Home, we set up a capitol fund to try to help them find one building; right now, they’re in four different houses, one of them being Sanctuary House. We want to put all the children in the same place so we’ve set up a capitol fund for that. Right now, the ongoing is their nutrition, so we provide the money for their food – rice, vegetables and meat. It’s been amazing what a difference that better quality rice and more fruit, vegetables and meat have made. Their pharmacy bill went down 70% in the first year, based simply on getting better food. Five of the kids are going to college, there’s a new baby…so that’s an ongoing project for us too, making sure that Hope gets the medical help that she needs, whether it be prosthetics or whatever to help her walk or to help her reach the milestones that she should be able to reach.”
Being a mother herself, the enthusiasm Tapping speaks with about the achievements of Sanctuary For Kids and their ongoing work is evident on more than one level. She acknowledges the influence she’s been able to have from her acting career in terms of spreading more awareness, but has nothing but shining praise for the fans who have taken on what she has been able to do and take the good work to another level.
“What we set out to do is happening. We wanted to make sure these children had a future, so the kids are going to college and not just at NOH, but at Next Generation Nepal and our Watari program in Vancouver. The kids are actually finding trades are starting lives and they’ll pay it forward a hundred fold, which is amazing. It’s been very rewarding, but perhaps the most rewarding thing is how the fans have taken up the mantle. The number of initiatives the fans have done. The number of fans who have now gone and volunteered in Nepal is amazing! They never would have thought about doing that before and there they are, they get involved and suddenly, they’re working at the orphanage for a month. It’s amazing. I think the sci-fi fandom is a unique community; they’re more socially aware and they’re more socially connected. They’re incredibly generous and they’re incredibly supportive, not just of the actors that they like or the shows they like, but of each other. It’s beautiful. This fandom is unlike any other that I can possibly imagine. I’m super proud to be a part of it.”
For more information on Amanda Tapping’s work with Sanctuary For Kids and how you can be involved, visit http://www.sanctuaryforkids.org/.