CCI: Stargate Universe

A familiar SyFy show with a brand new cast and theme was introduced on Friday at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, as the new cast and old creative team presented "Stargate Universe."

The panel started off by sharing a new clip from the upcoming show with the audience. We open with the character of Eli Wallace, played by David Blue, seen playing a video game. Stargate team members come knocking on his door, and it is explained that a puzzle has been hidden within his game. His aptitude at the game is an indicator that his skills are needed by the Stargate operations.

Upon getting filled in on what the Stargate project is about, Wallace arrives on an alien world to proceed with his new work, but, the location is attacked. Fleeing on an SG ship, the combined military and civilian crew arrive at an unknown location, without a means of jumping back to earth, and facing an alien and unknown universe.

That wrapped up the preview, and led straight into the panel where Bard Wright and Robert Cooper introduced the panel members. Stating that, for them this is the 16th season, and for many this is the project they have been working on their entire career, Wright and Cooper are old hats at hosting this kind of panel.

Comparing the new show to what's come before, Wright said "It is quite a different feel [from the other shows]. It will give you a whole new sense of the Stargate scene. But it will also reward the Stargate viewers with some old faces, like Dean Anderson and Amanda Tapping."

Cooper agreed, "I think we've tried to bring back...trying to make the characters identifiable and at the same time put them in a situation where they could really face challenges and deal with a sense of exploration, and a sense of humor, and hope. It's not all going to be depressing and dark."

Jamil Walker Smith and Elyse Levesque, two of the new cast members of the show, said they were new to the convention, and apparently the convention is new to them as well. Wanting to check things out, they went on the convention floor yesterday to the MGM booth, and as Walker Smith said "We took pictures in front of the big Stargate [display]. We went to the Stargate, and someone approached us and said'Hi, would either of you like to take a photo and enter to get a chance to have a guest appearance on the new Stargate [show]?'" laughed Levesque, to which Walker Smith replied "We already won!"

Concerning chemistry between the cast members, Cooper replied: "We are twelve episodes in, and everyone still likes each other. It's the most exciting experience I've ever had in my career, and that chemistry we are getting is ending up on the screen. I really feel like, right from the get-go, right from the pilot, you're going to see these characters emerge in all dimensions."

The panel was asked by an audience member "Why didn't this series get on NBC instead of being on the SyFy channel?," to which Wright replied "While it would be great to be on a major network, we're home at SyFy. This is our eleventh season on SyFY, and you know, we are happy to be there. But we do appreciate the sentiment."

Robert Carlyle, perhaps the most well known actor on the panel, was asked about the difference between working on a franchise like Stargate compared with working on feature films. "Its been very very easy for me. They were very welcoming to me in the beginning and kept me up on the plot," replied Carlyle.

Cooper added "[We wanted Carlyle] because we wanted a type of character very different from the franchise. Someone who is not the hero, and not the villain, but more of a complex character. He is first and foremost an actor who is not only brilliant, but plays the character with courage."

Carlyle, asked what drew him to this role, responded "You know last year I was looking to do something different. It is kinda a struggle to me to be perfectly honest, and I was looking for a challenge and something fresh, and this was completely left field for me. And to be honest, I didn't know much about Stargate, but through chatting with Robert and Brad, I found this is very much a character driven piece. They were looking for someone who people dislike but who is quite likeable."

The three women on the panel were each asked to say a little something about their character. Starting with 1st Lt. Tamara Johansen, or "TJ," Alaina Huffman said "TJ is a strong woman. They have their flaws, my character has her weaknesses."

Ming-Na, speaking of her character Camile Wray, said "Camile is a strong, intelligent, lesbian!"

Elyse Levesque, on her character Chloe Armstrong, said "Chloe is also a strong woman, in the physical sense. You know, what is all touching about all these female characters is about how they work together." Levesque later explained her character is one of the military members of the crew, along with 1st Lt. Matthew Scott played by Brian Smith.

Moving on to the male members of the cast, David Blue explained his sci-fi background: "Being someone who has seen every episode of SG-1 and every episode of Atlantis - and nearly every other sci-fi show out there - for me it's a matter of pride to be part of it, but also an immense responsibility to make sure we get it right."

Brad Wright added "Little things about how does a Stargate work, David already knew the answer."

Brian Smith discussed the task of preparing for his role: "First you have to be responsive to the writing. For me, it was important that I was playing a soldier, I did a lot of research on what his training would be like, how he holds himself, walks, and talks, and to me that was important."

Asked about what appeared to one audience member to be a premature ending for "Atlantis" after five seasons, Cooper responded "I agree with you to a certain extent, in terms of there were more stories to tell, but in another sense, five seasons is a lot, and we are really grateful to have explored those characters and world for as long as we did. Some days we think to ourselves hey, our second series went five seasons, that's pretty good. So, 'premature' is probably not the right word. At the same time, we are still keeping all of the elements of the franchise alive as well as we can."

Asked about the level of serialization in Stargate Universe, Wright said "We never reset back to zero, but we wanted always for the casual viewers to be able to access the show...you miss a couple of episodes and turn it on and say what the hell is going on. It does have a broader storyline however."

Cooper expanded on the subject of serialization in the series, saying that "The serializing will come more from the character stories. We've done 300 and some episodes of 'Stargate,' and you do start saying 'We've done that one before.' But what's new is seeing some sorts of experiences from these characters point of view. We want you to be able to say 'I can't wait to see what Dr. Russ does this week,' as opposed to the specific adventures."

However, Cooper wanted to make it clear that casual viewing will only take a viewer so far for this show, "Big things are going to happen very quickly, in terms of what happens and what unfolds in the show, even in the first ten episodes, so you're going to find that if you do skip an episode, you might miss something huge. There are going to be big changes."

In terms of how "Stargate Universe" relates to other series within the Stargate shows, and their adventures with near-humans and English speaking aliens, Cooper discussed the nature of the alien challenges the SGU crew face in the show. "We wanted this to be somewhat realistic. There was a rationale for there being human beings in the prior Stargate anthologies, and there was kinda an explanation for why there were humans, but in the 'Universe,' there are sort of 'alien' aliens, and certainly not human."

Wright added, " In 'Universe,' all of our characters are both heroes and villains. It's really interesting to watch and for us to write it. It's still very much a science fiction piece - there is this beautiful ship, and there is still a Stargate."

Added Carlyle regarding the ship set "It's like a major budget feature set."

Asked if Stargate Universe will hold up the tradition of starting out with the doctors and then killing them off later in the show, Cooper laughed and said "Oh, we kill him off right away in this one!"

"Oh, he's not kidding!" Wright added.

Wright added a final note that "There's actually a few actors still missing from this panel, like Alaina Kalanj and Lou Diamond Phillips, so hopefully you will see them next year at this panel!"

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