After spending more than a decade playing the character of Lt. Col. Sam Carter on the long-running Syfy Channel hit Stargate SG-1 and its spin-off Stargate Atlantis, Amanda Tapping has found a change of pace portraying Doctor Helen Magnus on Sanctuary. Her short blonde hairdo has been dyed and grown out into long, dark locks, and her personality switched from spunky, dimension-jumping astrophysicist and soldier (an American) to mysterious, ageless scientist (a Brit) who oversees an urban refuge for mutants good and bad. She’s still grappling with plenty of unusual phenomena; this time it’s more supernatural than otherworldly.
While she’s reveling in the change, the actress still maintains a fondness for her former character. When I caught up with her recently, Tapping opened up about both roles, her other film work and the comedic side she likes to bring out. The second season of Sanctuary, which she promises will delve into darker sides of Magnus, premieres this October, shortly after Season One arrives on DVD.
Helen Magnus is a different role for you, a bit darker than Samantha Carter. Are you enjoying it?
I absolutely love it. I loved Stargate and I loved playing Carter, and I’m certainly not going to let her go yet, but this is such a change of pace. She’s so eccentric and dark. There’s so much depth to this character.
You’ve gone from being the All American Girl to the All American Goth Girl.
Albeit with a British accent. How do you feel about the way you’ve transformed yourself with this role?
It was important to me as an actor creatively to completely reinvent myself, but I also felt out of respect for the character of Sam Carter that I didn’t want there to be any vestige of her in this new character. I had long discussions with Damian Kindler, who created this show, about how to transform her, and we just decided that a whole physical transformation as well as where this character’s been [would work]. It’s interesting because I knew the fans’ reaction would be very mixed, but for the most part they’ve been very supportive. They like their Sam Carter. They don’t want her to be touched, and now they like their Helen Magnus.
What do you think of all these brainy women in sci fi lately who are sexy because they’re also smart?
It’s wonderful because women are smart. Women can be smart and sexy and savvy and interesting, and not so linear. Every human being is so complex, and sci fi seems to build up the complexities of the human characters, especially the women, whereas other shows try to be very linear. When sci fi started out women were the sexy space babes, and now it’s so much more evolved.
You have a comedy background that you use here a little bit. Will we be seeing more of Helen’s funny side in the future?
What’s interesting is that will always be there, and I definitely want to develop that more. But we’re going really dark with her off the top, and I think there has to be a revelation part way through where she lightens up. I love comedy and always try to find a place for it, sometimes but not so much in Sanctuary.
Are you working on some non sci fi films as well?
I’m attached to a project called Water’s Edge that should be shooting in the fall. It’s a totally different thing for me; a mother and a wife. [It’s] a supporting character, but I don’t know how much I’m allowed to tell you about that. I recently did a film called Dancing Trees, and I play the mother of an autistic girl, so it was a real departure. It was a very small part, but it was with a director I have wanted to work with forever, Anne Wheeler. So when I got the call, I said, “I don’t care what the part is, I’m in!” This [character] is a woman who struggled by herself to raise her severely autistic daughter. It’s a complete departure from anything I’ve played before.
What did you learn about autism from it?
I have a nephew who’s autistic, so I had an edge going into it. I understood the dynamic of that world.