The unstoppable Amanda Tapping
In January 2013, Amanda Tapping and I sat down for an interview in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. I had never met her before, but being a lifelong geek, I was more than familiar with her work and reputation: beloved star of ‘Stargate SG-1’ and ‘Sanctuary’ whose fans had dubbed her the Grand Empress of Sci-fi. ‘Sanctuary’ had wrapped in 2011, and Amanda appeared to be turning her attention to directing episodic television, and so my editor at the Westender asked me to track down Amanda for a cover story that would answer the question, “What’s next for Amanda Tapping?” That question became the headline.
The sweeping 2.5-hour conversation that followed was a game-changer for me, then a fledgling film and television industry writer growing into her voice and confidence. It was a satisfying deep-dive into the many ways that art and artist and woman intersect and co-exist in the same skin; it was my first Reel People story a year before I even had my branded Reel People column. Five months later, we’d collaborate on what I consider one of the most important articles I’ll ever write: a lengthy piece entitled “Amanda Tapping on coping with miscarriage,” in which Amanda spoke publicly for the first time about her eight miscarriages. We sat in a North Vancouver coffee shop and cried together as she recounted her devastating journey through loss and heartbreak and the shame that, sadly and maddeningly, usually accompanies miscarriage. Amanda laid herself bare in this way to help other women and break the silence that feeds the debilitating shame of pregnancy loss. Exactly one year later, I’d send her an email thanking her for sharing her story, because doing so had prepared me for what I now faced as I too mourned a lost pregnancy.
I would write about Amanda on numerous occasions during my tenure as Reel People columnist for the Westender, as directing gigs took her to new cities and heights and there were more lessons to share, challenges to dissect, and questions to ponder.
Which is why I wanted Amanda to be among the first people I featured on YVR Screen Scene (and I was grateful that she was able to find time in her packed directing schedule to do so). We revisit some of the same questions I asked during that first interview. And I’m sure there will be more similar conversations in the future. Watch this space.
Amanda Tapping can’t remember exactly how many episodes of television she’s directed. “I’d have to count it out, but – 40-something? It’s definitely upwards of 40,” she says over coffee one rainy morning in downtown Vancouver. “It’s been great, and I could work nonstop, which I know is a very privileged position to be in.”
The bulk of those 40-something directing jobs occurred over the last five years, and encompass a wide range of genres and tones: science fiction (Travelers; Continuum; Dark Matter); horror (Van Helsing); historical drama (X Company; Anne); fantasy (The Magicians); espionage (The Romeo Section); action-adventure (Arctic Air); light-hearted holiday fare (Family for Christmas).
Tapping is currently directing on Supernatural, the hit series about two brothers who fight monsters, demons, and gods that is currently in the midst of its 13th season; she recently wrapped on Freeform’s upcoming mermaid-centric show Siren, which premieres in March. After Supernatural, she’ll head to Toronto for more Anne – known to international audiences as Anne with an E – the popular series from showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad) that serves up a fresh take on L.M. Montgomery’s iconic Avonlea characters.
“I feel in some ways like I’ve come into my own,” says Tapping. She’s felt this way before: when she was cast as Sam Carter on Stargate SG-1 and she “felt like I came into my own as a woman, and then I had a daughter, and I felt like there was a transformation there about being a mother and being a woman and feeling really powerful, and yet more vulnerable than I’d ever felt in my life.”
Transitioning into directing, says Tapping, “there was a massive amount of insecurity and certainly having to prove myself and coming up against, not always, but coming up against a patriarchal view of things, and being that actress who became a director, and now I’m that director who sometimes acts. I feel like in the last five years, I’m stronger as a director, I’m more confident, and I’ve found the joy even in the mistakes.”
There are milestones in the last five years: moments in which Tapping felt herself honing her craft and confidence. Chief among them was when she headed to Budapest in 2016 to direct two episodes of CBC’s World War II espionage drama, X Company. Going in, Tapping says she had “knots in my stomach. I didn’t speak the language, it was a period piece, it was a team where I didn’t know anybody – and it was formative,” recalls Tapping. X Company became one of those “moments that scare you the most that also put the most air in your lungs at the end of it,” she says, adding, “I’m scared a lot, which I’m very happy about. I get offered a lot of shows, which is wonderful, and it scares the shit out of me, which is wonderful, too.”
The conversation turns to the #metoo movement, which over the last three months has grown beyond the whisper network and into a full roar and shone a bright light on the darkest corners of the film and television industry. "I can not say enough about how proud I am of the women who have come forward," says Tapping. She's experienced harassment in her career, even within the last five years. “I remember a male director saying to me when I was starting to get a lot of directing work, ‘Well, who did you blow to get on that show?’ And being so deeply offended but also going, ‘Oh, so I kind of have power – because of course I didn’t blow anyone to get this job, but I got it and you didn’t, and that must bug the shit out of you.’”
As a director, Tapping makes sure that everyone – regardless of gender – who “steps onto one of my sets feels safe and valued and comfortable.” Recently, she sat down with an actress who had to do a scene in a tub. “I said, ‘This is how we’re going to do it, and this is what we’re going to do for you, do you have any concerns, and what are they? Great; let’s deal with them. I want to take every single thing that makes you uncomfortable off the table so you can just be and relax and enjoy and explore and take risks and be creative.’” Tapping wants everyone to feel safe: not just physically, but also “emotionally safe so that they can play and feel joyful. That’s what I can do, and I can protect every single person who walks onto my set and make sure they feel that way.”
Last year, Tapping stepped back in front of the camera herself to play a character named Dr. Perrow on Travelers. But even though she'd spent 15 years as a series regular on two different series, Tapping was “petrified about getting in front of the camera. I questioned my looks, my body, my wrinkles, my hair.” She sighs. “We’re terrible to ourselves. I want to sometimes take my self-image and wrap it up in a cozy blanket, kiss it on the forehead repeatedly and go, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ But what I do instead is look in the mirror and go, ‘You don’t look like them.’ I would never do it to somebody else, but I can look in the mirror and go, ‘You don’t look like them.’”
In the end, despite the negative self-talk, Tapping says she loved the experience of being back in front of the camera. “It was like a muscle memory: ‘Oh, I haven’t used that in a while!’ Doing a scene with Enrico [Colantoni], I love him, he’s such a good actor, and crying on camera, and crying on cue – and then seeing myself on camera and being mortified and going, ‘Oh, fuck, I do look like that, right, I don’t look like that anymore, I look like that,'" she says. "I can be super-proud of my directing, and super-proud of what I can accomplish on a set, but I can still look at myself on screen and burst into tears. It’s crazy.”
And it’s also strength, as the things that hurt and challenge us often are. Says Tapping: “For all the great support that I’ve been given as a director, and the great support of women in this industry, I remember the guy who said, ‘Who did you have to blow to get the job?’ That’s embedded in my flesh, and that’s okay, because I’ll carry it and it will give me strength. I’m sure men do that, too, but I know when talking with my women friends, we carry it in our flesh, under our skin, we carry our scars and our wounds and our joy and our pain. We carry it. You just have to scratch the surface sometimes and out it comes, and I admire that so much.”
Follow Amanda Tapping @amandatapping.
MORE FROM AMANDA TAPPING
On how women directors can’t afford to make mistakes: “You can’t. You can’t afford to make mistakes. It’s really interesting because I hear about male directors and it’s, ‘He’s just this way, he always does that, drives everyone crazy, that’s just him,’ and that would not be tolerated with a woman, and yet when I hear my fellow women directors being talked about, it always seems like there’s a bit of surprise: ‘Oh, she’s really good! We love having her.’ It’s still there. There’s a level of surprise when a woman succeeds as a director, and there’s a level of surprise when a man fucks up. But if you were to shift that paradigm completely, it would not be the same. If a woman fucks up, [they say] ‘She’s not ready.’ They’re very quick to jump on that.”
On her love for the titular character in Anne with an E: “You know what I love about her? And this is what Moira explored more with Anne than we’ve ever seen, is she came from a place that was so painful and so dark. She was a mistreated orphan, and so her only escape and her great gift was her phenomenal imagination and this incredible verbiage, so when you hear her telling these stories and creating these spaces around her and finding this wonder and magic in everything, it’s beautiful, but what makes it poignant, what makes it sit on your chest is that it comes from this dark and painful place. That’s what I love that Moira did. She created this Anne that had history and depth and still the same lovely, wonderful, plucky little orphan that everyone hopes for, but with this really wonderful, deep history, and that’s what I loved about her, and that’s why I was so excited to be asked back, and yeah, I can relate to her. I can relate to trying to find joy in darkness, and I can relate to circling pain and drawing from it. Our pain is a strength and I think, men and women, where you come from a place where there’s darkness, to be able to draw on that and to be able to use it and move forward and not be the victim or bitter or angry but to be able to move forward and still find joy, that’s when you know you’re strong. That’s when you really go, 'Oh, yeah, I am actually strong in spite of being kicked in the teeth.’”
On what she admires most about women: “What I admire so much about women is our ability to carry all of that and still shine. So when I meet with my women friends and I know our collective experience and I know the struggles that we’ve been through, not just in this industry but in life and in marriage and in children, I’m so immensely proud to be this gender and to know that there’s so much strength. It’s deep in our guts, the strength. And I look at women, women I don’t even know: you see the way we carry ourselves, you just know. You know. And it’s beautiful. If only we were kinder to ourselves and as kind to other women.”