Life aboard Destiny, the Ancient alien spaceship in Syfys Stargate Universe is often like playtime for Ming-Na. The actress, who plays Camile Wray, the top-ranking civilian among Destiny's mix-and-match crew of soldiers, scientists and civilians, describes herself as being a "Star Wars kid" and a life-long sci-fi geek. So it doesn't get much better, she says, than doing a show like this. "I feel like I'm a 5-year-old pretending that I'm in outer space," Ming-Na says. "How great to be doing that as an adult." Not that it's all fun and games. Making a TV series is demanding work and Camile is a complex character. "Of all the shows I've done, this has been the most challenging role," the ER alumnus says. "Playing a gay character, someone who's a quadriplegic [which happened when Camile switched bodies with a disabled woman in Season One] and some of the other stuff that we're doing in Season Two, it's great for an actor to be challenged this way." That said, there's no escaping that she's having the time of her life. "It's fabulous!" SGU airs at 8 p.m. CT Tuesdays, with big plot revelations coming in the November episodes.
It's still early in the second season and your character already has grown and changed quite a bit.
"Camile started off as someone who really wanted to maintain the status quo of what she was used to on Earth and on Icarus Base. She's had to throw that book away and be more instinctual and think more on her feet. And I find it fascinating that she's had to resort to tactics that she normally wouldn't use, find allies and make friends with people she normally wouldn't make friends with, especially the military. She has come to terms with her situation. For Season One, her ultimate goal was to get everybody, including herself, back to Earth. Now, 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.
When you were cast, did you know that these Ancient communications stones would create a body-swapping/consciousness-swapping aspect to playing your character, that there would be a frequent back-and-forth where sometimes you were yourself and other times you weren't?
"No. Oh, my goodness, the stone thing! Even by the third time of doing it, I was still thoroughly confused. I was like, 'Wait, wait. Now who? What? How?' A lot of times, it's like, 'OK, I'm wearing the other person's clothes there. But why is my hair up and her hair is down?' "
I gather you wouldnt want to try that kind of consciousness swap in real life.
"We sign a waiver every time we have to use the stones!"
What were some of the acting challenges when Camile switched with a paralyzed woman?
"When that was first brought up to me, I was quite nervous. I've had no experience with someone with that condition or even just understanding it. So I had to do a bit of research. I went on YouTube and looked at Christopher Reeve. His was a little bit more severe, because he couldn't move his head at all. Camile was able to move just ever so slightly her head. So that was a lot of from-the-chin-up acting, conveying the emotion with just your head. But ultimately the challenge was to portray someone who's not used to that body. That was the hardest thing and not to bring the sense of doom and gloom into it. Because, as we see from someone like Christopher Reeve, even when they're in that situation, they do the best they can to live the best life that they can. He had such a positive approach. I wanted to respect all that."
When you watch Stargate Universe on TV, given the many visual effects involved, is it almost like you're experiencing an episode for the first time, even though you're in it?
"Yes. Because a lot of times, we're just looking at green screens when filming it. Then, when the vis effects people are adding this amazing tableau of artistry, it blows my mind. In its finished condition, I'm looking at the ship, I'm looking at the aliens, I'm like, 'Oh, my God, this is my show!' "
What's it like to film scenes opposite a visual effect that will be created later?
"There are times when it's just the director yelling while we're looking at nothing. He'll be like, 'OK, you see something light up! And now it's coming at you really fast! And now it zooms up overhead!' The challenge is to really believe in that moment and sell it. Although I have been in theater where we have [an empty stage] and we have to make something out of it."