By most accounts, SyFy’s Stargate Universe is going to be the hip, edgy relative in the franchise family. You know – the one that stays out at all hours, possibly drinking heavily, definitely skulking in the shadows for reasons unknown, and riding a motorcycle without a helmet in order to get there. The more conventional plot descriptions indicate that the show shall follow the adventures of a crew who are forced through a Stargate after their present-day base on Earth is attacked. They find themselves aboard an Ancient (with a capital “A) ship called the Destiny. Unfortunately for them (or at least for some of them), the Destiny doesn’t seem to consider returning to Earth a huge priority. Oh, and Trainspotting’s Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is on board.
Ming-Na Wen plays Camile Wray, member of the International Oversight Committee (IOA) and intrepid HR gal on the (accidental) go. In an interview Monday, Ming-Na opened up about embarking upon the newest chapter in the beloved Stargate franchise, the trials and tribulations of Twittering, and playing an openly gay character.
What’s your frame of mind on the verge of the show’s debut, when there’s so much history and buzz behind this franchise?
Ming-Na: I’ve got a pimple on my chin. That’s always an indication! Everybody’s feeling the butterflies. It’s like before you get on stage. But it’s exciting. We’ve been working on it since February, and for our producers and writers, they’ve been working many, many months prior to that. It’s sort of unbelievable that it’s here, this week.
If you had to describe your character, Camile, in three words, which three words would you chose?
Ming-Na: I would say she’s “strong,” “intelligent,” and a bit “unsure.” But that’s a quality of hers I don’t think is revealed until later.
Stepping into such a well-established franchise, are you planning on keeping abreast of what the fans think and feel about the show, or is that too distracting?
Ming-Na: It can be, yes. [Laughs.] But at the same time, I am inviting it into my world now. I started Twittering in….I want to say three months ago? And I find it so interesting to be getting such support and feedback. You don’t usually get that when you’re doing a series or a movie. You only get it in the theater. You get the immediate response, whether something was funny, whether something worked. And I’ve really enjoyed the Twittering. I’m excited to hear from the people who’ve been following me – what they think, especially ones who are fans of the show. It’s nice. To me it’s like internet theater. You do get an immediate response. And they’re most helpful and supportive. So you feel a lot of love, and we can all use that! If you Twitter, mine is MsMingNa. I’m still trying to get my name back. I think I screwed it up myself. I was trying to register, and I kept registering it wrong, and Twitter just went, “Oooh, we’re going to suspend this – it sounds suspicious.” So I personally suspended my own Ming-Na. “There’s suspicious activity!” No! It’s me trying to learn how to register. So now I have to be Ms. Ming Na. I’m trying to get the other one back. I have to do [this stuff] though. I’m forcing myself to do it so I can keep up with my kids. I don’t want to be like my mom, where I can’t even work the answering machine or the VCR.
This premise of having a group of characters stranded in one place – the sort of classic Lifeboat scenario – that’s usually effective in bringing out a character’s true nature that much more quickly. Can you comment on how that plays out with this show?
Ming-Na: Well, it’s two-fold. One, they’re in a dire situation. We don’t have the basic necessities, and we have to figure out a way to survive, and how to get back to Earth. So those are really life or death situations on a minute by minute basis. That lends itself to a lot of decision making that could be immoral or inappropriate if you were within the realm of society, but that’s completely stripped away – along with everything else. Along with your loved ones, your own personal safety net, your identity at work – all of it is pretty much stripped away. I think it definitely heightens everyone’s awareness of what they’re capable of, and incapable of. Camile surprises herself in that, in the very beginning, she’s a little bit paralyzed by the fact that she doesn’t have anything by the book to follow. She has to go by instinct, and think on her feet, and yet try to maintain some semblance of what she knows as her world.
Robert Carlyle’s character, Dr. Rush, is being built up to be the inscrutable, mysterious cornerstone of everything that’s going on. Does he have the best poker face, or are there other dark horses in the running who are going to surprise us as the show unfolds?
Ming-Na: There’s a couple of others, for sure. But most of the characters reveal themselves to be on the more genuine side. Robert just plays it so beautifully. He can be charming, on the one hand, and yet completely heartless, and just all science and personal goals. He doesn’t have the best poker face. He doesn’t need to. He doesn’t have to try to charm anyone.
In an earlier conference call with David Blue and Elyse Levesque, they might have mentioned something about a fart machine playing a large role on this set. They attributed ownership to Louis Ferreira (who plays Col. Young). Have you fallen victim to this gadget?
Ming-Na: Yes I have. Without giving anything away – it was a pretty intense scene we were doing, and he let out a little fart, and at first I kinda looked at him like, “Ohhh!” And then I realized, oh – no. It’s Louis! Usually you try to be polite at first, and try to ignore it, if someone lets one go on the set. But no – it was Louis. I’m sure if the producers could take it away, they would. We might have a ban on fart machines on the set one day.
From Camile’s perspective, which other characters would you say she trusts the most, and who does she trust the least?
Ming-Na: I think in the beginning, she trusts Col. Young the most. No…well…gosh, I can’t give anything away there either. Scratch that. She puts on a facade of trusting him. For the person she definitely trusts the least: Rush. And she’s not very trusting of the military, either. She knows she needs them. But who does she trust the most? As time progresses, definitely more the civilians, because I don’t think she feels they have the agenda. Especially David (Blue)’s character, Eli. It’s so hard to answer that question, because there’s so many plot twists. I’ll say she gives the impression of trusting Young the most.
Playing an openly gay character has obviously sparked a lot of interest. Do you welcome that dialogue, or do you feel it distracts the audience from focusing on her as a fleshed-out character?
Ming-Na: Since I’m new to this arena, I’m finding it kind of fascinating when I talk with some of the gay and lesbian magazines, or do interviews specifically for those particular traits. I’m still learning. I’m still figuring out the types of issues they deal with, and it’s all really fascinating to me. I’ve had gay friends my whole life, so it’s not a foreign subject to me at all. In fact, I love and welcome that people are asking me questions other than, “What’s it like to be an Asian-American actress?” [Laughs.] Suddenly I have another pedestal to work on!
You’re a sci fi fan yourself. Are you raising your kids to be sci fi fans?
Ming-Na: I’m not forcing them. They’re just really smart kids, and they have good taste!
Stargate Universe premieres this coming Friday, Oct. 2 with a special two-hour pilot at 9/8 c on Syfy.