Back to deep space with 'Dark Matter' director Amanda Tapping

It wasn’t long into Stargate SG-1’s 10-season run that a passionate fandom began to form around Amanda Tapping and her character, Captain Samantha Carter.

Some of these fans can trace their adoration for the Vancouver-based actress (and her on-screen alter-ego) right back to July 27, 1997, when the pilot episode aired for the very first time on North American television.

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They loved that Carter was an equal among her male colleagues. They loved her chutzpah. They loved her brain. They loved her bravery.

“She was a strong, smart, and capable woman who proved her worth to all those who took her lightly,” wrote Tapping fan Mike Carvalho on Twitter when Reel People asked fans to articulate what it was that made Sam Carter worthy of their devotion. “She had guts and compassion.”

Soon these fans dubbed Tapping the Grand Empress of Sci-Fi. They grew in numbers over Stargate’s various incarnations, as well as the four seasons of Tapping’s other sci-fi television series, the Vancouver-shot Sanctuary, on which she starred and co-executive produced.

Since Sanctuary went off the air in December 2011, Tapping has logged guest gigs on shows like Supernatural and Motive.

She’s also directed episodes of a diverse range of locally produced TV fare, including Arctic Air, Olympus, Continuum, Strange Empire, and an upcoming Hallmark Channel original Christmas movie starring Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls).

Despite her forays into other genres, Tapping – being the Grand Empress of Sci-Fi and all – is inextricably linked to science fiction.

Now, nearly 18 years after Sam Carter first appeared on television screens, Tapping is, once again, back in the sci-fi sphere.

“Sci-fi is an amazing place for female characters,” says Tapping over tea in Kitsilano. “And there are really strong women on this show – three strong female leads – which made me happy.”

The show in question is Dark Matter, a television series about the crew of a derelict spaceship who awake from stasis with no memories of who they are or how they got there.  

Dark Matterpremiered on Space earlier this month and stars Marc Bendavid, Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr., Roger Cross, Jodelle Ferland, and Zoie Palmer.

The Toronto-shot show is the brainchild of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, both of whom served as screenwriters and executive producers on various projects in the Stargate universe.

And Tapping? This time around, Tapping is making her mark from the director’s chair.

“It was interesting, having come off of Olympus and Strange Empire, to go right back to true sci-fi with space and a ship and an amazing set,” says Tapping. “It felt, in a way, like going home.”

As a veteran of a hit sci-fi show, Tapping proved to be a valuable resource for Dark Matter’s newly formed cast.

“In some ways, I was like the old broad who comes on and everyone is like, ‘So what’s it like to be on a successful TV show?’” laughs Tapping, before affecting an old lady accent. “‘Well, kids, what can I tell ya – ow, my back!’

“I could speak to them, and especially to the women and say, ‘gird your loins, this is what’s going to happen.’”

Just like Tapping’s Sam Carter was often the lone woman in the Stargate team, Tapping too is one of a small number of female directors working in the industry today.

“Episodic is probably one of the nicer places to women, and even then the statistics are abysmal,” says Tapping.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, women constitute only four per cent of feature-film directors, 11 per cent of writers, and 13 per cent of editors.

In television, BuzzFeed News analysis found that women directed 12 per cent of the highest-rated scripted shows – even though they’re graduating from film school at the same rate as men.

But change is afoot, says Tapping.

“I think the industry is changing, and I think there are more opportunities for women than there were,” says Tapping.

“The statistics, yes, are abysmal for women behind the camera, but there is more public accountability,” she says. “It’s the fact that we’re talking about it. It’s not changing very quickly, but I believe it is changing.”

What will it take to level the playing field once and for all? In Tapping’s view, “[nothing] is ever going to change for us until we support each other.

“If we actually started to talk about it with each other, navigating this life day to day as women and the obstacles that we come up against, and the fears that we have, and the triumphs that we have, and really talked about how difficult it is sometimes to navigate that, that shared experience would give us so much more strength,” says Tapping.

It’s one of the reasons that she serves on the advocacy committee of Women in Film and Television Vancouver, and mentors emerging female directors (like actress Luvia Petersen, who shadowed Tapping on Continuum and recently wrapped production on her directorial debut).

When she’s not advocating for women in the industry, or directing, or fully engaged with her family, Tapping is deeply involved with the charity she founded, Sanctuary for Kids (S4K).

S4K works with children-related charities in Vancouver, Haiti, and Nepal. In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Nepal, S4K raised $39,000 for earthquake relief. The money was divided between three charitable organizations: Nepal Orphans Home, Next Generation Nepal, and Asha Nepal.

“[The charities we support] were fortunate,” says Tapping. “There was no loss of life. There was no major damage. It’s the day-to-day now. It’s getting clean water. It’s getting food. It’s keeping the kids in school.”

Oh, and she also managed to find the time to accept a pretty major award from ACTRA: 2015 Woman of the Year.

“I was shocked, and I thought, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’” marvels Tapping. “I feel like there are women in the industry who are doing far more than I am, and are more deserving, but I’ll take it. It’s a wonderful accolade. If anything, things like that make you want to step up your game even more.”

However you look at it, Tapping’s game is tight: directing; mentoring; fundraising; parenting. Her plate is full, and yet, despite her countless passion projects and obligations, Tapping isn’t done with acting. Not by a long shot.

“I know I need to get back in front of the camera,” says Tapping.

Before that, she’ll be directing two episodes of CBC’s nail-biting spy thriller X Company, which will take her to Budapest for two months this fall.

Tapping’s episode of Dark Matter airs July 3 on Space. For information about Sanctuary for Kids, visit SanctuaryForKids.org.

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