Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Interview with Lou Diamond Phillips and Ming-Na from SGU

Photo by Streiber/Syfy

Stargate Universe returns tonight with the crew onboard the Destiny realizing that this season is not about returning to Earth but going further. Ming-Na is back as Camille Wray, the civilian leader aboard the ship, and Lou Diamond Phillips reprises his reoccurring role as Colonel Telford, the main contact between Destiny and Earth.

The show has moved to a new time slot Tuesday nights at 9:00 PM (8:00 PM Central). We spoke with Ming-Na and Lou in a recent conference call. After the jump, see what they have to say about the evolution of their characters and what to expect moving forward.

Lou Diamond Phillips Talks About Colonel Telford

Q: Telford went through a lot at the end of last season. Are we going to get to see the evolution of him dealing with what he's done?

LOU: I think it's more in how he responds and reacts and deals with the people on the ship, on the Destiny. He certainly has a history that's hinted at. What we've seen is a change in the dynamic especially between himself and Colonel Young. 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 yet it's all very true to the character and very layered into what we've seen of him before.

Q: What can you tell us about the relationship between Telford and Young in Season 2 and how maybe that further develops?

LOU: It's interesting because in Season 1 it was only ever 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, we see Telford sublimate himself to that. I mean the fact that he's on, I'm sure quite overcome by guilt, for the things that he did that were beyond his control he still has memory of them. And so it certainly affects how he approaches his position on the Destiny now.

Having said that, Telford’s still ambitious. He's still full of confidence and cockiness to a certain extent that he is the best man for the job. And so that edge never really goes away. He does not 100% just bow down and say, "I'm not worthy." He tries to be a contributor to the survival of the ship and to the decisions that will hopefully save these people one day. I still think he's got a very high estimation of himself and thinks that perhaps fate led him down the wrong path.

Q: How is Telford going to deal with the fallout from being brainwashed?

LOU: Once again, I think that what's really 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. 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 certainly will have residual guilt. I think he certainly will have responsibility. But in that respect that almost galvanizes him more into accomplishing what it is he set out to do. And that is to save these people and to bring them home at times almost at any cost. In a way I really think this because his obsession, and in some ways a way to vindicate himself, to save others when he obviously has cost other lives in the past. So 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.

Q: Since Telford has had such an interesting journey can you talk about how you really get to know him as a character? What do you hang on to in terms of consistency?

LOU: 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 2 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-aggrandizement or not he still feels very, very committed to this mission. I think that he feels very frustrated that he was not able to perform the duty that he was called to perform. I think when it comes to being a soldier and an officer that he has a very strong code and must adhere to that. 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 we get to know him a little bit better. We sense the dynamic between himself and Rush and Young and Camile Wray—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 we haven't gotten a lot of details about his personal life just yet so that I find that very intriguing and that, we'll see if it ever becomes important to the storylines.

Ming-Na Talks About Camille Wray

Q: Can you tell us about the development of Camille?

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. That was something that was proposed to me very early on that Camille Wray 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 don't certainly get paid to be a writer. I'm thankful for the writers for bringing such a strong female character to light.

Q: Where is Camille emotionally at the start of the season?

MING-NA: I think for Camile, she has to come to terms with her situation. I think for Season 1 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 2 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 2 is having this mission that they feel genuinely will help Earth and protect Earth from a Alutien Alliance attack.

Q: What about your role keeps challenging you?

MING-NA: Wow, 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 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 life in the workforce. And now it's meshed into where her life and her work is just on Destiny. And so she's had to let her hair down. She’s had 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.

Q: 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 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 woman 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... In a way we, not just the actors, but the crew aboard Destiny, [have] to become tribal and learn to live with each other and work with each other. And I think in that sense 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, she cares about these people and actually to show it is also part of her strength to be able to be more herself.

Q: Looking at it as an actor from the outside in who do you think should be in charge?

MING-NA: I think ultimately it still should be Young because he has the persona and the personality for it personally. I believe Wray has tried out of necessity, not out of ambition, and realized that it's just something that she's not comfortable with. I don't think everyone can handle making life and death decisions for someone else. It takes special military mind I believe. And I think Young can handle that. Rush, he doesn't seem to have much of a consciousness for it. And I think Wray has too much. She would be too emotionally devastated if she has to send someone to their death, yes.

The Ins and Outs of Body Swapping

Q: What are your thoughts on the controversial issue of body swapping since both of your characters have experienced it?

MING-NA: Controversial, hey bring on the controversy, 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 it had to have started up 15 years ago or whenever they did introduce those stones.

LOU: I think it's interesting because it does put your consciousness into someone else's body. And, 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 are inhabiting so to speak. From my point of view it’s the only love scene Telford’s had, so hey I can’t complain. But obviously for Telford it's really been his way to stay involved which is great. I mean it's been [a] very interesting, device and one that 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 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 2 in a way that I find just amazingly thought provoking and interesting and intriguing. And it's one of the things that Syfy does very, very well, to give you an idea and then to expand upon it and make you think, "Wow, is that kind of thing possible?" It's very cool.
MING-NA: And 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. 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.

Ming-Na and Lou Talk About the Cast, the Fans, and the Green Screens

Q: Stargate Universe is a very ensemble show. Can you talk about how you try to help maintain the dynamic of keeping the ensemble nature?

MING-NA: 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: 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. And that comes from Bobby Carlyle. That comes from Louie Ferreira, 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. And everybody is very supportive of one another. And I truly feel like that's reflected in the final product.

Q: Robert Carlyle directed an episode. What it was like working with him as a director versus a cast mate?

MING-NA: Oh, he was just fabulous. 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 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.

Q: Can you talk about acting with the green screen and how that's challenging?

MING-NA: I always feel like 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: 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 utter believability. And as a result what's really nice is that not only are the directors very descriptive in what we’re supposed to be seeing and they help set up the shots, 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.

Q: Why do you think people keep tuning in to watch the show?

MING-NA: Oh, because it's so good. Am I being modest? I am so proud of our show. I just watched the Season 2 trailer and I'm so proud of our show and everyone who works on it that. I'm sitting here this morning sending out this trailer saying, "You guys you have to watch this trailer. I'm so proud of my show." So I think that an actor that's actually in it gets so excited there must be something that's happening that's right.

Q: Lou you're an active participant on Twitter. Why is that such an important place for you to connect with the fans?

LOU: I’ve actually loved connecting with them on Twitter. That way I’m never quoted out of context. I can say what's on my mind. But at the same time I'm not given to ranting or going off on long dissertations. It allows me to share some thoughts. And I think, I hope, it allows the fans to get a peek not only into my life but into what they might be interested as far as I'm doing.

And when it comes to SGU the fact that so many of us are on Twitter I really, really do feel as if it's a little gift to the fans out there to be able to peek into our real interpersonal dynamics and get a little bit of scuttlebutt about what's going on behind the scenes without spoiling anything. And it makes the relationship very special.

And interestingly enough I think the relationship between a science fiction show and its audience is different than any one of the other types of shows that are out there.

MING-NA: Yes. It’s so intimate, yes.

LOU: It's very intimate. It has this loyalty to it. It has this trust. They care about the characters and where the stories go. And it continues long into a future. It's got a very long shelf life. So it is, it's like a little romance that we’re maintaining with the fans of the show.

Lou and Ming on the Stargate Franchise

Q: How do you think SGU furthers the Stargate franchise?
MING-NA: In a weird way we are a show that stands on its own in its style and in its storytelling. And that's one thing that’s very different from the other Stargates. But I think it pushes the envelope so much more. Our show is quite serious and dramatic in a really dark way. I think it moves it in a whole other direction but for the better in its storytelling and furthering the whole idea of who created the Stargate, what it's about, what is it for, what is the ultimate wisdom and reason for these Stargates. I think we’re still searching for that answer.

LOU: And I think that's a very good point because it does raise the big questions. And as I’ve said before, good sci-fi does that. It really against a backdrop that is virtually Shakespearean or larger than life asks very human questions. And where do we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? And without sounding too pretentious, Stargate Universe attempts to do that and yet bring in the introspection of how do we survive, how do we relate to one another in a way that's going to ensure that we stick around. And I think that is the extension of the legacy that Stargate gave us previously. They had the action adventure. They had the larger than life characters. They had the sci-fi. And I would like to think that what Stargate Universe adds to the mix is a great dose of humanity and perhaps philosophy.

Q: What was it like for you to step into an established franchise like Stargate?

MING-NA: I was just thankful to be coming into a show that was such a well oiled machine. Because a lot of times when you're starting a new show there’s many bumps and hiccups and chaos in everyone figuring things out and what goes where and who does what. And I think when there isn't that panic or frantic energy it just gave us all a chance as the actors to come together and be relaxed and have fun and really figure out—the tone and the feel. And the focus was very different. So I really appreciated that coming into the franchise because I really didn't know that much about the Stargate franchise prior to.

LOU: And to me it's very much the same thing. I was not all that familiar with the television series. The film was done by a good friend of mine, Dean Devlin. So I certainly had respect for the tradition and the legacy of it all. But it was a win-win because as I said before, I could tell that they wanted to do something different. I could see from the script that they were going in a different direction than they had in the past and the kind of people that were already attached. So you're dealing with something that has an expectation that has a through line to it but the added plus of saying okay we’re going to do it differently. And in today's television landscape you see how quickly things come and go. They can promote the hell out of something and then it's gone in a month. If anything had a chance to survive it was certainly something that had the track record of a Stargate. So as far as future employment was concerned it was a good bet.

Q: How would you get people who have never seen Stargate to tune in this season?

MING-NA: 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 life and death situation. And it's got humor and just some really great characters to sink your teeth into so I think for all those reasons. And it's just a great looking show.

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