Exclusive: Ming-Na on SGU: Stargate Universe

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Ming-Na first got attention when she appeared as part of the ensemble cast of Wayne Wang’s adaptation of The Joy Luck Club and she provided the voice of Disney’s Mulan before she became a regular on NBC’s hit drama “E.R.” for nine years. Besides providing her voice for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, “SGU” is Ming-Na’s first foray into science fiction, which is surprising considering what an admitted sci-fi geek she considers herself. (She was even the President of her Sci-Fi Club!) Even so, with the likes of Ming-Na aboard, it’s almost guaranteed the quality of acting will be elevated, making this a more character-driven television series than the previous two shows. Here’s what she was able to tell us about the new show and her character, Camille Wray.

ComingSoon.net: What was your first exposure to “Stargate”? Did you ever see the old movie with Roland Emmerich?
Ming-Na: I have a vague memory of the old movie, but I was not a follower of “Stargate” when I was approached about this project. I was more the “Battlestar Gallactica,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars”… I was a sci-fi geek in the respect, but I was really impressed when I found out how long the series had been running.

CS: Right, did you go back and view any of the other shows?
Ming-Na: Absolutely. I do my research. I gotta figure out if I wanted to work with these people. Actually, if I was gonna be in a sci-fi project. I wanted it to be different than what I was seeing from the two series because having done “Final Fantasy” I just love a certain quality in sci-fi and Robert Cooper had a wonderful conversation with me and he told me the direction he wanted to take the new “Stargate” was gonna be more character-driven. He described my character a little bit better than what was in the original pilot script and he convinced me and I cannot be happier to have taken on this job.

CS: Tell me a little bit about your character.
Ming-Na: My character is Camille Wray. She’s an IOA officer, heads the Human Resource Department. I didn’t realize that she is actually going to be “Stargate’s” first openly gay character. I love her because she is ambitious. She cares about the people that she’s hired and all these people that are now trapped with her on Destiny. These are people that one can either help her or hurt her because she has a lot of secrets about them. Two, she really do care about them and want to get them home and the military kinda gets in the way a little bit.

CS: I understand a lot of it is being shot almost in documentary style ala “Cloverfield.”
Ming-Na: No, not that bad. (Laughs) Yeah, not that intense. I mean, what’s so great about the feel of it is that there’s almost like a voyeuristic quality. In this day and age where reality television is such a big part of our entertainment we have become a more voyeuristic society. This just has that sort of feel where you as an audience member feel like you’re kinda like a fly on the wall and you’re looking in on these people’s lives and the struggles that they have to deal with. What I love about it as an actor is that usually we have like three or four cameras and sometimes we don’t even know where they are. We have this soundstage, this incredible set where we get to move and act very naturally, but we have to always be on our toes because if you think that all the close-up is only going to be on one person you’re mistaken, so each and every take we always have to act fully committed.

CS: This is in Vancouver?
Ming-Na: This is in Vancouver, yeah. So that’s a very different style of acting for television where each and every take, you have to be fully – just to the point where you can’t just like, relax and just say your lines off-camera.

CS: It’s almost like the old guerilla filmmaking where you don’t really know where it’s coming from.
Ming-Na: You don’t know, yeah. I mean, sometimes they’re up there, sometimes they’re hiding like in a little corner down there. It’s incredible. I think it really helps to create this amazing film-like look to the project.

CS: “District 9” had a real documentary style fly-on-the-wall vibe to it, which is becoming more and more popular.
Ming-Na: Oh yeah, somebody was just talking about it. Well, you know, I just recently saw Steven Spielberg’s film, “Saving Private Ryan,” and that beginning war shot – oh my. You just feel like you are… you really feel that moment when that door opens up and the experience of what these soldiers go through when they’re going into the water. I think when it works well, when you feel like you’re part of the action it’s the best way to entertain someone.

CS: Tell me about life aboard a dead ship.
Ming-Na: Dead ship. (Laughs)

CS: It’s an ancient war ship that went around trying to place these Stargates? I understand you have no control over it.
Ming-Na: No, we don’t understand it. I mean, maybe Dr. Rush, the character that Robert Carlyle plays, maybe he has some real knowledge about the Stargate technology that no one else does because he has a different agenda in the show. But yeah, we end up being stranded on this ship, but we also have a chance to still use the Stargate; it’s just that we don’t have the power to dial back to Earth, it’s too far away, but we do have the power to dial it to the planets in the galaxies that we’re in. It’s interesting because it’s still set in present time like all the other Stargates, you know? At the same time we do deal with Earth in some ways, but it’s great that we get to explore so many other new planets that we haven’t had a chance to.

CS: So it’s like you’re able to jump into the Stargate and whichever planet nearby also has one you can jump through, too?
Ming-Na: Yeah, because this particular ship actually can locate where the ancients have put other Stargates.

CS: So it kinda moves on it’s own?
Ming-Na: It does.

CS: But you just don’t have any control.
Ming-Na: We just don’t know how to control it yet, yeah. It’s on automatic pilot. That’s right.

CS: What about some of these planets? Can you give any indication about what people may see?
Ming-Na: Well, the trailer shows one where they’re like on a desert planet. Each time we go down there it’s just to try to find things – food, water, things that we can survive with, hopefully deodorant too. (Laughs)

CS: Yeah, I read somewhere that because the ship is so old you have to figure out the life support system, is that right?
Ming-Na: We have to figure it out because apparently for some reason it has sleeping quarters, it has a mess hall, but nobody’s on the ship and it’s so huge, the ship is so huge that who knows? We might find something on the ship that we haven’t…

CS: I also understood that right as the crew jumps in through the Stargate the Riddle of the chevrons had been figured out, but this attack comes and you have to either fight and possibly die or jump into the unknown. Is that what happens?
Ming-Na: Yeah, when we’re attacked–I’m sure David Blue will be able to explain it to you far better than I can–but basically it was a surprise attack. We weren’t prepared for it. We didn’t have the man power to handle it. The only option that the people in Icarus Space had at that time was just, “Take whatever you can get your hands on and get through the Stargate.” So that’s the basic premise at the start of the pilot.

CS: I see. How many episodes have you filmed already?
Ming-Na: Twelve and we have eight more to go.

CS: Eight more?
Ming-Na: Yeah, and it’s been so much fun. I wish everyone gets a chance to come visit us in Vancouver.

CS: What’s life like on the set there? Is it boisterous, serious?
Ming-Na: It’s very serious.

CS: Mischievous?
Ming-Na: All of it, because when you’re dealing with life and death issues a lot of the times or the intrigue of, “Who can I trust? Who can I not trust?” We have the best cast, I tell you. This has been so much fun for us to get together. We had a long hiatus. We had three weeks off, so when we’re all back together it’s like family reunion time. It’s great.

CS: I haven’t watched “Stargate” since the Kurt Russell movie, and from what I understand this is a separate, independent deal.
Ming-Na: Oh, so you know what? This will be really good, because you don’t need to watch the other (shows). It’s totally independent, yeah, but I’m telling you, CGI has come along. It’s incredible. We see a lot of green screens and stuff and we’re always like using our imagination, but when I’ve seen some of these trailers and some of these tidbits, being a sci-fi geek I feel like I’m one of the lucky people that had a passion when I was younger. I was like President of my Science Fiction Club in high school. To have this as a project for me to work on, it’s fabulous.

CS: Going back to “District 9,” I was impressed with what they did with CG and effects with just $30 million, showing that you didn’t need a $200 million budget.
Ming-Na: It’s not necessary and I think the studios in this economic situation, I mean, as far as I’m concerned, I wasn’t expecting this. You know, we’re on a good budget, but it’s a tight budget and you see every dime of it on the screen. It’s really amazing. I’m very proud, very, very proud to be associated with the show, otherwise I wouldn’t be here promoting it, seriously. (Laughs)

CS: What about other projects for you beyond “Stargate?” Do you have anything else going on?
Ming-Na: I’m a Mom. I have two kids and when I decided to take this role it was with the promise that I would be able to get home on the weekends to see the kids. I’m away a lot and I’m looking forward to just being full-time mom during the hiatus breaks. After next year we’ll see what happens, but yeah, I don’t want to do anything else. I’m trying to find the balance.

Stargate Universe premieres on Syfy on Friday, October 2, at 9 PM. Check out our interview with Robert Carlyle here.

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