Stargate Universe is undoubtedly the darkest member of the extraordinarily successful Stargate franchise, and what strikes you when you chat with two of its stars, Lou Diamond Phillips (Colonel David Telford) and Ming Na (Camile Wray), is that the set must be a considerably lighter environment because they laugh constantly. That was just one lovely feature of our chat with them when they called to talk to the press to promote the kickoff of the show’s second season on Syfy this Tuesday.
Both actors came to SGU from well-established careers that span stage, film and television, and neither was particularly looking to step into a regular TV role, much less a sci-fi ensemble that would take them to Vancouver for several months a year, but both are giddy that they were even approached. Phillips’ character, Telford, went through the ringer in Season One, and Phillips says he had been clued in that he would have a big arc. “They told me that [he would start out] very slow in part one and two [but] there would be a future with the character … that he would have some interesting things to do and would become a player as far as the dynamic of the show is concerned,” he says. “So, I definitely took a leap of faith and jumped in there.”
The use of the ancient technology that has many of the regular cast swapping consciousnesses and bodies with other characters (and actors) was an added layer of complexity that neither actor had been prefaced with when they signed on, but which they both embrace as exciting when they open each new script. Na had to tackle the role of a quadriplegic, and there were definite butterflies for the actress. She found that videos of Christopher Reeve helped her get her head in the right place to do the role.
“When it was first brought up to me, I was quite nervous [because] I’ve had no experience with someone with that condition or even just understanding it,” she says. “I went onto YouTube and looked at videos of Christopher Reeve [and] the breathing aspect[s]. Ultimately, I think, for me, the challenge was to portray someone who’s not used to that body [and also to] not bring the sense of doom and gloom [to the part].” She said she learned from Reeve that regardless of his physical situation, he did the best he could to live the best life he could. “He had such a positive approach to that [and] I wanted to respect [it],” she adds. “I hope I did a decent job.”
There are also logistical aspects to sort through when shooting the consciousness-swapping between two characters. Na points out things like hand placements and sliding one actor out of frame and the other one in have to be blocked out. On top of the performance, she’s had to sort out which clothes she’s wearing, the hairstyle, and the jewelry. “It just took a little getting used to [to understand] whose body I was actually in,” she says. “[Of] all the shows I’ve done, this has been the most challenging role … it’s great for [me] to be challenged this way.”
The show involves a fair amount of special effects work and Na says that aspect has been no end of fun for her inner five-year old who loved Star Wars. She’s s a self-confessed sci-fi junkie, and pretending to be out in the deepest recesses of space is immensely enjoyable. “When it’s such dire life-or-death situations, that challenge is to really believe in that moment and [sell] it,” she says. Phillips agrees that you have to commit to what you’re supposed to be seeing because if you’re apologizing for it or distancing yourself, then the audience will never buy it and the effect itself will never work. “Everything has to go to that place of completeness and utter believability” he says. “What’s really nice is that not only are the directors very descriptive in what we’re supposed to be seeing … but many times the art department and the effects department will have renderings and can show you at least in a two-dimensional plane what it is you’re going to be looking at.”
They both have the highest praise for Mark Savela and the effects team. “It’s really, really beautiful to watch. And what these guys do for television, it’s comparable to anything out there” says Phillips. “And I’ll go on record saying Mark should have won the Emmy.” Na thinks he’ll get it next year. “The visual effects people [add] this amazing tableau of artistry; it blows my mind as a sci-fi geek. I’m looking at the ship, I’m looking at the aliens, I’m like oh my God, this is my show. It’s fabulous,” she says.
Love what you’re reading so far? Be sure to check out Part 2 of “Destiny Rises” tomorrow! And don’t forget that Stargate Universe returns tomorrow night at 9 pm EDT.
Photo Courtesy of Syfy