Lou Diamond Phillips and Ming Na Talk Stargate Universe Season 2
Stargate Universe kicks off its second season on the Syfy Network on Tuesday, September 28 at 9 PM ET and two of the main cast members spoke out about the show. Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Colonel David Telford, and Ming-Na, who portrays Camille Wray, recently held a conference call to discuss Season 2 and here's what they had to say below:
Lou, it's great to see you the last few episodes and the first two of the season back on the show. I was wondering, can you tell us are you going to be on a lot of the episodes this season or is that not going to be kind of back and forth or how's that going to go?
Lou Diamond Phillips: Presently I'm still technically a recurring guest star. Without giving too much away, I mean I will be much more present in the second season. But don't look for me in every episode.
Your character has a lot to go through with being compromised and (creating) everybody. Are we going to get to see I guess kind of that evolution of him dealing with what he's done?
Lou Diamond Phillips: I think it's more in how he responds and reacts and deals with the people on the ship, you know, on the Destiny. He's certainly has a history that's hinted at. What we've seen is I think a change in the dynamic especially between himself and Colonel Young and the lovely Ming-Na is with us and she becomes a bit of a confidant to him because I think they both care very much about the welfare of the Destiny and how the decisions are made aboard the ship. So we'll see a side of Telford that we haven't seen yet but I think it's all very true to the character and very layered into what we've seen of him before. The fact that we're going to see more of him I'm actually very happy about and we get a little bit more insight what makes him tick. But it's not about him. I mean the storylines don't revolve around him. So I mean there are definitely, you know, he's definitely a team player in that respect.
Ming I wanted to ask you, you've got certainly one of the meatiest roles I think on TV, let alone on this show. Was it kind of (Art)'s intent that Camille was going to be such an integral character to everything or did that kind of evolve as you went along?
Ming-Na: Well I'm very happy that the character has evolved the way she has. And it's probably one of the most complex roles I've had the opportunity to play. Yes that was something that was proposed to me very early on that Camille Ray will be a more integral part of this series. And so far that's come true. I don't have any say as far as where the character goes. And I certainly don't get paid to be a writer. I just so thankful for the writers for bringing such a strong female character to light.
Ming I was wondering what about your role keeps challenging you?
Ming-Na: Wow, you know, I think it's Camille is interesting because she starts off someone who really wanted to maintain the status quo of what she was used to on Earth and on Icarus Space. And, you know, she's had to really learn to throw that book away and be more instinctual and think more on her feet. So for me I find it fascinating that here's a woman that she feels like she can compartmentalize her two worlds, her personal life and the life, you know, in the workforce. And now it's kind of meshed into where her life and her work is just on Destiny. And so she's kind of had to let her hair down. She's kind of have to resort to tactics that she normally wouldn't use and finding allies and making friends with people she normally probably wouldn't make friends with especially the military I think. She works alongside them but it's interesting how those challenges have been brought to light with the character.
One of the things that really stands out about Stargate Universe is the fact that it's an ensemble show which I mean is typically okay if you bring a bunch of unknown actors together and put it together. But here we have a show where there are people who stand out. There are people that we've known from other things. I mean how is it as an actor to try to help maintain the dynamic of keeping the ensemble nature of the show?
Ming-Na: Well Lou and I try to keep them down as much as possible, right Lou?
Lou Diamond Phillips: Oh God yes, absolutely.
Ming-Na: Right King?
Lou Diamond Phillips: I won't let them look us in the eye.
Ming-Na: King Lou. No, I mean Lou and I are both from the theater background. And I think for us an ensemble is key to any successful endeavor in art especially in creating a show or a play or a musical. So I love it. I love the dynamics of an ensemble.
Lou Diamond Phillips: And I think we got very, very fortunate. I mean sometimes, the chips fall differently and you get different personalities put together literally from day one. And all of us, Ming and myself included, worked from day one on this show. No matter the level of experience, the ensemble treated one another with respect, had expectations of high standards and nobody was a diva. And that hasn't changed. I mean and that comes from Robert Carlyle. That comes from the people with a lot more experience than others. And yet, the actors with perhaps not as much experience on their resumes still come with their A game and they come with a lot of respect. Everybody is very supportive of one another and I truly feel like that's reflected in the final product.
Well now you started to talk a little bit about kind of how the effects look after the fact. But can you both talk about kind of acting with the green screen and how that's challenging?
Ming-Na: There's two things that I feel sometimes. One is wow, I'm really being a five year old kid pretending that I'm in outer space and how great is that to be doing it as an adult. And then two, just when it's such dire life or death situation that challenge is to really believe in that moment and selling it.
Lou Diamond Phillips: Yes I would say the same thing in that you truly have to commit to what you're supposed to be seeing because if you're apologizing for it or if you're distancing yourself from it then the audience will never buy it. Then the effect itself will never work. Everything has to go to that place of completeness and, you know, utter believability. And as a result what's really nice is that, you know, not only are the directors very descriptive in what we're supposed to be seeing and they help, you know, set up the shots, but many times the art department and the effects department will have renderings and can show you at least, you know, in a two-dimensional plane what it is you're going to be looking at.
Ming-Na: And then other times it's just director yelling while we're looking at nothing. He'll be like okay you see something light up and now it's coming at you really fast. And now it zooms up overhead.
Lou Diamond Phillips: I've got to relate one story. Was it (Andy)? I think it was (Andy McKee) talking me through something once. And sometimes it's really hard to keep a straight face because it's like and oh, okay here, here comes one here. Oh Jesus well oh my God they're all around you. Over there, there's one. Oh, oh, no. And you're having to keep a straight face. But, you really appreciate your enthusiasm and support but you're cracking up.
Lou, since Telford has had such an interesting journey can you talk about how you really get to know him as a character? Like what do you hang on to in terms of consistency?
Lou Diamond Phillips: That's a very good question because you're actually brainwashing. You go man, am I somebody entirely different? No, I think the writers have done an incredible job of maintaining a core of integrity to Telford. His mission from the start and even through season two quite honestly is very, very specific. And that is to be the hero to save these people to get them home. And whether that's self (agrandizemant) or not he's still feels very, very committed to this mission. I think that he feels very frustrated that he was not able to, you know, perform the duty that he was called to perform. I think when it comes to being a soldier and, you know, and an officer that he has a very strong code and must adhere to that. You know, I think we get to see him operate a little differently once the brainwashing has been taken away. But once again at his core he's very, very focused and he doesn't waiver from what he wants to achieve ultimately. What's been interesting is that, you know, we get to know him a little bit better. We sense, you know, the dynamic between himself and (Rush) and Young and Camile Ray how he operates with them become slightly different. But what we haven't discovered about Telford yet -- and I don't think I'm spoiling anything -- is, you know, we haven't gotten a lot of details about his personal life just yet so that I find that very intriguing and that, you know, we'll see if it ever becomes important, you know, to the storylines.
Ming can you talk about coming back to Camille for season two and the challenges of finding where she is emotionally at the start of the season?
Ming-Na: Yes I think for Camile, you know, she has to come to terms with her situation. I think for season one her ultimate goal was to get everybody back home including herself back to earth and back to a world that she's comfortable in, she's familiar with. And now I think with season two it's the realization that perhaps there is something else that is going to take over as the more important mission in her life and to just start moving forward and embracing that as her world for a while. Because if she can't then I don't think she's capable of leading the civilians to adapt and have a better frame of mind. So I think that's going to be a new change for a lot of the characters for season two is having this mission that they feel genuinely will help Earth and protect Earth from an Alutien Alliance attack.
Lou I wanted to ask if maybe you could tell us -- and I know you can only speak in very general terms -- perhaps a little bit about the relationship between Telford and Young in season two and how maybe that further develops?
Lou Diamond Phillips: It's interesting because in season one it was only adversarial. And once he kills me and brings me back, that tends to change a relationship. But we get a sense of the fact that they were once friends, that they were in the academy together, that they had served together and have respect for one another as leaders. And I think there's a window into that. And there, you know, we see Telford sublimate himself to that. I mean the fact that he's on, you know, I'm sure quite overcome by guilt, you know, for the things that he did that were beyond his control he still has memory of them. And so it certainly, you know, affects how he approaches his position on the Destiny now. Having said that, you know, Telford's still ambitious. He's still full of confidence and cockiness to a certain extent that, you know, he is the best man for the job. And so that edge never really goes away. You know, I mean he does not 100%, you know, just bow down and say you know what I'm not worthy. He tries to be a contributor to the survival of the ship and to the decisions that will hopefully, you know, save these people one day. I still think he's got a very high estimation of himself and thinks that, you know, perhaps fate, you know, led him down the wrong path.
Ming Na, I was actually - I was very happy to hear you refer to Camile Wray as a strong female character because I don't feel like she gets talked about as such. And when it comes women in sci-fi, these are women who are, you know, leaders of state and physical fighters. And those are the ones that are usually anointed as strong female characters. And then there are women like Camile Wray who certainly are strong in other ways but they don't get talked about in the same terms. So what are your thoughts on Camile's strengths and how does that affect your performance of her character?
Ming-Na: Well I think in the beginning, she comes off as someone who really wants to muscle her way into situations or have her voice heard. And I think it's just probably her reality in achieving the level of success that she's had at the, you know, in the IOA and going by the books and doing all the right things and being the right diplomat in all the situations. So in that sense I think any woma who has to play in a man's field and succeed in it is strong. But then now she's also in a situation where on Destiny there are really no rules. You have to sort of re-create the rules and the guidelines. Like there's a word that Lou just mentioned, tribal. In a way we not, just the actors, but the crew aboard Destiny has to become tribal and learn to live with each other and work with each other. And I think in that sense, you know, she has to force herself to take that leadership role in guiding or helping the civilians. And the warmth for her to bring another side of herself out which is to care, you know, she cares about these people and actually to show it is also part of her strength, you know, to be able to be more herself.
Lou, in the season finale I was so impressed with your performance. There was one scene in particular where Telford was finally coming to terms with what had happened with him realizing he was brainwashed, realizing the actions that he had done under that brainwashing. I imagine there's going to be some fallout from that later on. How is Telford going to deal with this?
Lou Diamond Phillips: Once again, I think that what's really sort of nice and it's one thing I really truly appreciated about those last three episodes which played very much like one long movie and it certainly felt like it when we were shooting it, was the fact that we got a glimpse into the humanity behind Telford. You know, we've seen him in an official capacity. We've seen him as a soldier and a figure of authority. But to understand that this effects him emotionally on some levels as well I think was a real treat not only for myself but for the audience. And I think it's going to become complicated as time goes on. He's certainly will have residual guilt. I think he certainly will have responsibility. But in that respect that almost galvanizes him more into accomplishing what he set out to do. And that is to save these people and to bring them home at times almost at any cost. I mean in a way I really think this because his obsession, you know and in some ways a way to vindicate himself, you know, to save others, you know, when he obviously has cost other lives in the past. So it he fortunately is not just a cardboard cutout of a villain or the guy that's going to be the fly in the ointment. Telford has very interesting motivations and a lot of very interesting layers to how he will continue to be involved with the people on the Destiny.
Ming-Na: And I think what is part of the great intrigue and fun of Stargate Universe, you know, for me I think whenever you are thrown into a situation where you have no other support system but what is in front of you it does bring you, you know, to have to have a better awareness of yourself. And I think, you know, for Telford now that he's on board Destiny.
We know that Robert Carlyle directed an episode. And we we're wondering what it was like working with him as a director versus a cast mate?
Ming-Na: Oh he was just fabulous. And, you know, and I had no doubt from the start that he would do a great job. I mean because he's just such an instinctual and yet at the same time analytical actor that I just knew that he would do a thorough job as far as what he was going to be as an actor and also bringing some of his insights, you know, to guide us as actors. But ultimately for me it was just fun to see Robert like he was a little kid in a candy store. He just had such a great time. And I really enjoyed him as a director.
We've seen a practical use of the ancient communications stones more in SGU than any of the other Stargate series. But body swapping can be seen as a controversial issue. What are your thoughts on it since both of your characters have experienced it?
Ming-Na: Controversial, hey bring on the controversy, you know, makes for a lot more drama and more interest and intrigue for any storytelling. And I think because most of the Stargate's have used this, these ancient stones that's already been established. So if there were any controversy, you know, it had to have started up 15 years ago or whenever they did introduce those stones.
Lou Diamond Phillips: Well I mean I think it's interesting because it does put your consciousness into someone else's body. I know for Ming it's been very challenging and gives you a different perspective, makes you work very, very closely with the other actor, you know, you are inhabiting so to speak. I mean from my point of view it's the only love scene Telford's had, so hey I can't complain. But what...
Ming-Na: And you know we sign a waiver every time we have to use the stones so...
Lou Diamond Phillips: Yes exactly. You won't to leave anything behind, you know, yes that kind of thing. But obviously for Telford it's really been his way to stay involved which is great, you know. I mean it's been very interesting, you know, device and one that, you know, I'm sure he finds very frustrating. What I think in the bigger picture what I think is very, very cool and I don't mean to spoil it is to say that in exchanging consciousness we are putting forth the theory that, you know, that consciousness is something that can transcend space and time, that it can transcend the physical. And this is a concept that will play out in different scenarios during season two in a way that I find just amazingly thought provoking and interesting and intriguing. And it's one of the things that sci-fi does very, very well, you know, to give you an idea and then to expand upon it and make you think wow, is that kind of thing possible? You know, it's very cool.
Ming-Na: I think also it's really relevant and important for the Stargate franchise. Because one of the main elements of this show for all three shows is that there is always an attachment to Earth and in its current timeframe. You know, this show isn't set in the future. It's not set in the past. It's set in the now. And it's quite important I think to the Stargate fans to always have that reminder and to maintain that connection with Earth.
You both said you were approached and you had sort of a general idea of what you were jumping into. Did they explain to you that the sort of, for lack of a better term, body swapping and the consciousness, swapping would be an aspect of playing your characters that there would be that back and forth where sometimes you were yourself but you weren't?
Lou Diamond Phillips: No, I had no clue either. But I mean that's the thing, you know. I mean it's fun but it's a little daunting because sometimes you have no idea what you're going to get when you crack open that script. I mean Ming knows firsthand what that's like.
Ming-Na: Oh my goodness well, you know, the stone thing, even by the third time of doing it I was still thoroughly confused. I was really like wait, wait, wait. Now who... what - how - what? Okay why... I might not be the quickest when it comes to, you know, coming to terms with because, you know, the way we shoot it a lot of times, you know, we put our hands there and then we have to like slide away and let the next person come in. And a lot of times to me it's like okay now okay, I'm wearing the other person's clothes there. But why is my hair up and her hair is down? And do we keep the same hair?
For people who've never seen Stargate or people who haven't seen your Stargate - your show, why should they tune in this season?
Ming-Na: Because if you're looking for a show that has a lot of action and great writing and acting and is even if you're not a sci-fi fan I think you would really enjoy Stargate Universe because it just has so much to offer. It's got the love stories. It's got the, you know, life and death situation. And it's got humor and just some really great characters to sink your, you know, teeth into so I think for all those reasons. And it's just a great looking show.
I think people will be able to, judging from the episode I saw the - you know, the premiere, I think people will get what's going on.
Ming-Na: Yes because, you know, and it interestingly, it starts off with so much of the aftermath of the prior situation. And so I think there shouldn't - you know, I mean it's always good to start from the beginning so you kind of have a real understanding of who these characters are and you can care about them. And maybe if somebody catches the premiere episode of season two it will interest them and excite them so much that they're like oh I got to get, you know, season one and 1.5 and catch up. Because that's what I do with Battlestar. You know, I came into it in the middle and just like ah, I've got a watch it from the beginning.
Stargate Universe's second season premieres on Tuesday, September 28 at 9 PM ET on Syfy.