Unarguably, the Stargate franchise has quickly become one of the most popular brand names in the sci-fi genre, rivaling the success of Star Trek and Star Wars. In fact, in the last two decades the franchise has produced a feature film; Stargate, two direct-to-DVD movies; Stargate: The Ark of Truth DVD and Stargate: Continuum DVD, three TV series; Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate Universe, and even an animated cartoon. The latest in the series, Stargate Universe, has just begun airing its second season on Syfy. Airing Tuesday nights, the series was created as a completely separate, third entity of the franchise and while it does feature characters from the other series; it is not a direct spin-off of the other shows.
The series revolves around a multinational exploration team that is unable to return to Earth after an emergency evacuation to the ancient ship, Destiny, which is traveling in a distant corner of the universe. The series, created by Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper, stars an exceptional cast of actors, which includes Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty), Justin Louis (Grey Gardens), Brian J. Smith, Elyse Levesque, David Blue (Ugly Betty), Alaina Huffman (Smallville), Jamil Walker Smith, Ming-Na (Vanished) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Young Guns).
Last month, we had a rare opportunity to visit the set of the show, which films at The Bridge Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia. We had the chance to meet the series' co-creator, Brad Wright, who gave us a special tour of the massive set, and we also spoke with several members of the cast.
We began our visit by taking a tour of the incredible Destiny set, which is the spaceship on the show that the characters are trapped on. The stage is massive and we first were brought into the main room where the Stargate is. The Stargate is huge and even bigger in person than it looks on TV. We were given a chance to walk through the Stargate, which is a little less impressive with the green screen behind it, but we used our imagination that it was transporting us to another world. The interior of the ship has been constructed with amazing detail and truly looks like a centuries old spacecraft that has been floating in space forever. The stage alone is immense, big enough to home two control stations and a double helix staircase.
Next we toured the cool hallways of the ship, which are beautifully designed. Writer/producer Brad Wright explained that when he and co-creator Robert C. Cooper came up with the idea for the show, that it was crucial to them that they be able to secure enough money in the budget to really make there wild ideas look authentic and unlike any Stargate show that they had previously done.
Finally, we were given a tour of the Destiny's bridge, which was not seen in the first season but will play a large role in the second season of the series. It has that futuristic feel that you would expect along with the classically placed Captain's chair dead center. Since we were allowed to take pictures, we couldn't resist getting one in the chair. The bridge also has all the "bells and whistles" that you would expect on the command center of a spaceship, including lots of buttons and flashing lights. In fact, Wright mentioned that what he is most proud of about the design of the set is that all the "bells and whistles" actually work. Fans really spin and lights really light up. He said that he thought the production team really out did them selves with the Bridge set and that fans will be amazed when they see it this season.
After we were done touring the set, we sat down with Wright for a few minutes and talked about the show. He began by discussing the differences between writing for this series and working on his past shows. "Our characters don't always do the right thing. In Stargate Universe we have to save ourselves and the battle is therefore more internal and sometimes the enemy is the other guy. That is a huge difference fundamentally in how we approach the writing."
Wright also mentioned that episode four Pathogen, was the first episode shot for the second season and we asked him if that was because the episode was heavy on visual effects? "No. The reason we did episode four first is because Robert Carlyle directed it," he replied. "When you are directing you can be in the episode you are directing but you can't be in much of the episode before it because you are preparing for the episode you are about to direct. So if you go first you have lots of time. I wanted to give Bobby the most time that he had." We followed up by asking the producer if it was difficult for the actors to begin shooting the season with the fourth episode? "Yes, but everyone knew what was coming. We had half a dozen scripts ready to go out. It's not like, where am I going? They knew where they were going in terms of the scripts. We had a big stack of scripts to read and they did," Wright answered.
When we finished speaking with Wright we had an opportunity to sit down with most of the cast to discuss the series. First up, we talked with the show's star Robert Carlyle, who plays the strange and mysterious Nicholas Rush on the series. We began by asking the actor what it was like to change jobs and direct an episode? "When you're involved with something like that, there's a show style. You are not going to move too far out of that style," Carlyle explained. "So what was important was to go back and look at the twenty episodes we had just done and go, all right I see what we are doing here. I was nervous you know, but it was surprising how much I knew. I knew more than I thought particularly with the actors. That's always been my thing. I was able to unite a bunch of actors and push the ensemble forward."
Carlyle, who is an extremely successful film actor in his own right, with credits that include The Full Monty, Eragon and 28 Weeks Later, discussed his reluctance to become a regular on a weekly television series. "When it first came up, I wasn't interested at all. I didn't know what this "Stargate" was? My manager knows me very well and he told me that the character was very interesting. So, I agreed to read the synopsis, and I thought he was very fascinating. I mean we're talking about a guy that doesn't want to come back! That was it for me," Carlyle said.
Carlyle's character, Rush, can be described as "grey" at best, and his true motivations aren't always clear. We asked the actor if Rush's intentions would be explained in this new season? "There are two episodes, one is called The Greater Good the other's called Malice. That's when the whole thing comes together," he explained. "There's an eleven page scene with myself and Louis; it's fantastic. Everything is really on the table in that sequence. At this point he has to reveal about the mission. What he's done is horrible up to this point but if they came to me in the first place none of this would have happened and they kind of agree. The degree of the mission is so incredible, that they have no choice but to follow him."
Actor Justin Louis, who plays Colonel Everett Young on the series said, "Expect the unexpected," when it comes to season two of Stargate Universe. "You sort of scratch the surface in season one. We came on this thing (Destiny) and we are shot out into this place. There's nothing here. We are stripped of everything and you got this community that's built against your own wishes. You are stuck. We gather necessities," Ferreira explained. "In season two we come upon the psychological aspect, the duality of every character. You're a man in the mirror, what's looking back at you? You are now naked and exposed in every way, looking and finding yourself, your truth and figuring it all out. I think it's a decline psychologically for everyone. That relationship in your own head will affect the relationships you have with everyone else. It could become a thriller in a sort of way."
The actor continued to discuss the political struggle that fans will witness this season on the show. "That's a beautiful foil to where Young is at. Young's biggest moment in season one, if you watch the original Stargate, Kurt Russell starts to contemplate suicide. There's almost that aspect in Young. He does not want to be on base, he figured out the picture but a little too late. That life was love and love was at home and that he blew that. That's the weight that he carries around amidst the fact that that's the job he's got to do." We continued by asking the actor if the love/hate relationship his character had with Rush in season one is still alive in season two? "Oh it's you know; fight hard, fuck hard."
Since Carlyle had mentioned a twelve page dialogue scene that he shot with Ferreira, we asked the actor first hand to describe how he prepared for that day of work. "This is the thing when you do TV, it really is a grind. That is a hell of a challenge just based on the schedule. But we had gotten the script a little ahead of time. The reality was on the day we were so prepared we asked for no rehearsals. We were ready to roll and that's what they did. It becomes exciting because you are doing a piece of theatre." We followed up by enquiring if they provide extra cameras for a dialogue heavy scene like that or if the actors were just working with the standard two? "They will and they have done that. Yeah they've brought some cameras in. They are aware that if there's an emotional place you have to go to ... they have been caring enough to say; we're going to bring an extra camera so you don't have to stay in that space for five hours," the actor explained. "We are going to try to do it in two hours. That's incredibly gracious, thoughtful and giving when they go another direction, I think that is courageous."
Actress Alaina Huffman, who is also known to many for her role as Black Canary on Smallville, plays the Destiny's chief medical officer Tamara "T.J." Johansen. Last season, after the death of Dr. Simms on the Icarus base, Johansen found herself taking on a new role as the ship's doctor and we asked Huffman if her character was going to become more comfortable with her leadership role this season. "Absolutely," the actress replied. "It also gets a little more stressful because she is given more responsibility which adds more stress. I think she's a very capable, strong character who is maturing. She spent the last season maturing and I feel like she's there now. I think she's still unsure of herself but there's a support there she feels confident in." We continued by asking the actress what has been the most challenging aspect so far of shooting season two? "T.J. cries a lot in Season two. When there are heavy emotional days, it really does weigh on you because you are really involved in the character and the emotion behind it is real. Even though it's fake you have to emote. With that being said, I think T.J. should kick more ass," finished Huffman.
Actor Jamil Walker Smith plays Master Sergeant Roland Greer on the series and the character would be best described as tough, strong and intimidating. In fact, the actor had very little chance to show the character's funnier side in the first season and we asked Smith if he would have more of an opportunity to show Greer's softer side in the new season? "I do have to say yes I do. Series life like real life, things can happen over time. On a show things develop over twenty hours instead of two hours like in a movie. It's more at a pace of life. As season two progresses you'll see more changes in all the characters and seeing different sides," the actor answered.
Actors Elyse Levesque and David Blue, who play Chloe Armstrong and genius Eli Wallace, respectively, talked about the challenges of shooting episodes out of order on such a serialized show. "I only know what my character is doing so I have no idea what anybody else is doing," joked Levesque. "I liken it to being cake day and all the corporate executives come that you haven't seen in years and you're like, hey that's right you work here too. That's what it's like on set for me," answered Blue.
We also asked Blue if Eli's teacher/student relationship with Rush will be changing at all this season? "I've always loved that relationship and it's what drew me to the character. I always thought that Rush and Eli looked at each other as different versions of themselves," the actor explained. "Rush looks at Eli as himself before he was formed; before he made the choices he did. Eli looks at Rush as a cautionary tale, if he didn't trust other people and put himself out there then this is what he could become. That actually forms a lot in season two. There's a few things that happen where he's about to become Rush and the people around him have to pull him back. It's one of my favorite types to play. If you were to compare Eli now to Eli in the pilot, it's unrecognizable." We continued by asking if he feels like Eli is gaining more respect from the other members of the crew? "I think a lot of that comes from Young trusting Eli more than Rush. Nobody distrusts Eli," Blue replied.
Blue's character, Eli, has had a crush on Levesque's Chloe since the beginning of the series and revealed his true feelings to her last season, so we asked Blue where we would be seeing that friendship go in season two. "Eli and Chloe had a connection from the beginning," explained Blue. "A real true connection that has grown into a friendship and she found a great guy in Scott. I think for a while Eli didn't know how to deal with it, especially in that moment. It was an acceptance. It was then allowed to grow into a trust. I'm not saying the door is closed on that but there is a new love interest. It's honest, sweet and true. It's a really great storyline and I didn't think it was a betrayal of the Eli/Chloe thing," the actor confessed.
Finally, we asked Levesque if we would be learning anything new about her character this season? "This season she goes on a very different journey. She undergoes a change as a result of something that happened to her last season. You watch this affect her as well as the other people on the ship, especially with her relationship with Mathew Scott (Brian J. Smith)," she explained. "It's interesting to see her deal with this situation. The Chloe in season one would have not had the tools or the strength to survive it. I feel like she's a grown-up and more of a woman in season two."