Stargate Universe: Ming-Na Q&A

ming-naBefore STARGATE UNIVERSE, Ming-Na was most well known for her role on E.R. However, the acknowledged STAR WARS fan has numerous genre credits listed on her resume: STREETFIGHTER with Jean-Claude Van Damme; the 2008 remake of PROM NIGHT; and PUSH with Chris Evans. She contributed vocal performances to the animated series SPAWN and THE BATMAN, and provided the voice of Aki Ross in FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN and of the title character in Walt Disney Pictures’ MULAN. SyFy’s SGU series casts her as Camille Wray, a civilian leader often locking horns with the military over the course to take aboard the Destiny.

As part of SyFy’s promotional effort to launch Season Two of STARGATE UNIVERSE, Ming-Na participated in a conference call interview with Lou Diamond Phillips, who has a recurring role as Colonel Telford on the series. Ming-Na’s portion of the transcript is included below.

QUESTION: Can you talk about how you came to work on the show?

Ming Na: I met with the casting director because I was very hesitant about wanting to do a show that shoots in Vancouver. I haven’t taken a job outside of LA in a whilem since my kid was born. So that’s like what, eight years. But after speaking with Robert Cooper and him describing the character and the direction that they wanted to go with the show I was pretty much convinced from that conversation to come on board. What about you Lou?

QUESTION: What was it like for you all 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, you know, a lot of times when you’re starting a new show there’s many bumps and hiccups and, you know, chaos in everyone figuring things out and, you know, what goes where and who does what.

And I think when there is that – that – 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, you know, the tone and the feel. And, you know, 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.

ming-na-in-stargate-universeQUESTION: Was it always intended that Camille would be such an integral character or did that 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 don’t certainly get paid to be a writer. I’m thankful for the writers for bringing such a strong female character to light.

QUESTION: What about your role keeps challenging you?

Ming Na: I think Camille is interesting because she starts off as 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 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 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.

The-Destiny-on-Stargate-UniverseQUESTION: What’s it like workign with the green screen, acting to effects that are added later?

Ming Na: I always feel like there’s two – 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.

QUESTION: 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, 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, you know, of a Alutien Alliance attack.

QUESTION: Of the episodes that you filmed for season two so far which is your favorite?

Ming Na: You see, when you ask questions like that you’re just fishing. You’re fishing for some… [spoilers?] My favorite episode is the one that I get to do a lot of stuff.

QUESTION: You’ve worked on film, television, and stage. Which do you prefer?

Ming Na: It really depends on, you know, from what perspective you want us to answer that, financially, emotionally? I love theater and sitcoms because I get an immediate feedback from the audience. That’s something that I always get a high from. So I think as an artist that’s very fulfilling. But also for me right now working on a Syfy show where I pretend that I’m in outer space billion… I’m a Star Wars kid, you know? So to actually be able to say that I’m on a show where I’m billions of light years away is so satisfying. I don’t know if that’s the artist in me or just the kid in me but yes, very happy about this ensemble work I’m doing.

Ming-Na-of-Stargate-Universe_gallery_primaryQUESTION: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the acting challenges you found playing the paraplegic role?

Ming Na: Yes, when that was first brought up to me I was quite nervous about playing a part where I really – I mean I’ve had no experience with someone with that condition or even just understanding it.So I had to do a bit of a research and I went on to YouTube and looked at Christopher Reeves. His was a little bit more severe because he [could not] move his head at all. And Camille was able to move just ever so slightly her head. But ultimately I think for me the challenge was to portray someone who’s not used to that body.That was the hardest thing and to be able to kind of not bring the sense of doom and gloom into being a paraplegic. Because I think as we see from someone like Christopher Reeves, even when they’re in that situation, they do the best they can to live the best life that they can. And he had such a positive approach to that. I wanted to respect all that. So and the challenge is pulling it off. So I hope I did a decent job. But it was very challenging. I was quite nervous about doing it all right…and….conveying the emotion with just your head. That was a lot of from-the-chin-up acting.

QUESTION: You called Camile a strong character. What are her strengths and how does that affect your performance?

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 woman who has to play in a man’s field and succeed in it is strong.

But 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 the crew aboard Destiny has to become tribal and learn to live with each other and work with each other. I think in that sense she has to force herself to take that leadership role in guiding or helping the civilians.

And I think what is part of the great intrigue and fun of Stargate Universe, you know…[is] when you are thrown into a situation where you have no other support system but what is in front of you, it does [force] you to have to have a better awareness of yourself.

Ming-Na with Robert Carysle

Ming-Na with Robert Carlyle

QUESTION: Robert Carlyle directed an episode. What was 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.

QUESTION: Any plans to return to the theater?

Ming Na: Oh sure. Unfortunately it’s more tough to do it in LA because…just the commute alone would kill to get to the 7 o’clock call.

QUESTION: The ancient communications stones have been used more in SGU than any of the other Stargate series. What are your thoughts on body swapping?

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…? It’s like okay now okay, I’m wearing the other person’s clothes. But why is my hair up and her hair is down? And do we keep the same hair? I don’t wear the jewelry because I’m not in my body; okay I don’t wear that jewelry. So, you know, it just took a little getting used to whose body I was actually in.

I think 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.

QUESTION: It provides interesting acting opportunities.

Ming Na: Yes. I have to say that of all the shows I’ve done this has been the most challenging role because a lot of times, you know, whether playing a gay character or someone who’s a quadriplegic and, you know, and some of the other stuff that we’re doing in season two, it’s great for an actor to be challenged this way.

Ming-Na-ALO-078716QUESTION: SGU is different from the other shows with more of a Battlestar Galactica tone. How do you think SGU furthers the Stargate franchise?

Ming Na: Wow. Well, you know, in a weird way, we are a show that stands on its own in its style and in its story telling. And that’s one thing that’s very different from the other Stargates. But I think it pushes the envelope so much more. I mean our show is quite serious and dramatic in a really dark way. I don’t know is – I think it moves it in a whole other direction but for the better in its storytelling and furthering the whole idea of what – who created the Stargate, what it’s about, you know, what is it for, you know, what is the ultimate wisdom and reason for these Stargates. I think, you know, we’re still searching for that answer.

QUESTION: Your character along with Telford, Rush, and Young all seem like they think they should be in charge. Looking at it from the outside, who do you think is right?

Ming Na: I think ultimately it still should be Young because he has the persona and the personality for it personally. I believe Ray has tried out of necessity, not out of ambition, and realized that it’s just something that she’s not comfortable with, you know. 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. You know, Rush, he doesn’t seem to have much of a consciousness for it. So and I think Ray has too much. You know, she would be too emotionally devastated if she has to send someone to their death, yes.

QUESTION: Are you still fascinated by the level of detail and believability in the sets?

Ming Na: Oh yes absolutely. You know, I think because we do have to use our imagination so much when it comes to the green screens or the aliens and, you know, these situations that the writers put us in, it’s fabulous that they have spent the time and the energy and the artistry to create such a beautiful set for us. You know, it helps; every little bit helps.

And there’s this sense of importance in contributing because, you know, you see someone put so much work and detail into the set you’re like well, then I have to really put in my 200% to yes, to be respectful of it. Although I have been in theater where we have just like a cheesy block and we have to make something out of it…

And it’s so much fun. I just – I’m always tickled every time I go on our set and go wow, this is our sandbox. How much fun is it!

QUESTION: Is it fun having these great guest stars in?

Ming Na: Yes. Kathleen Quinlan and, you know – I didn’t realize French Stewart had been in the original. So I had to rent that movie again just to watch him, you know. And the man really, he hasn’t changed that much, his face. It’s all – it’s still the same. But what a wonderful little bit of history that is.

Stargate Universe Ming-NaQUESTION: Why do you think people keep turning in to watch the show?

Ming Na: Oh because it’s so good. Am I being modest? I – you know what? I am so proud of our show. I just watched the season two trailer. And I never – I’m not the type of actor that like toots her horn or, you know, or like oh please, I’m on this commercial or oh I’m going to be on this talk show and I email and bombard everyone with an email. But I just watched the season two trailer and I’m so proud of our show and everyone who works on it that, you know, I’m sitting here this morning like sending out this trailer say 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.

And when I watch that trailer – because a lot of times we’re just looking at green screens and then when the vis effects people are adding this amazing tableau of artistry – it blows my mind as a Syfy geek. I’m looking at the ship, I’m looking at the aliens, I’m like oh my God this is my show. It’s fabulous.

QUESTION: For people who have never Stargate, 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.

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About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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