Torri Higginson

Torri Higginson was born in Burlington, Ontario. When she was 18 she moved to England where she studied acting at Guildhall in London. In 2000 she won a Gemini Award for her performance as Katherine Stracham in The City. She has had numerous lead roles in television productions including Stephen King's Storm of the Century, Balls Up, Hidden Room, Family of Cops III and TekWars. She has also guest starred in shows including Canada: A People's History, Twice in a Lifetime and The Outer Limits. She is also remembered for her portrayal of Mary in the movie The English Patient. She currently plays Dr Elizabeth Weir in Stargate: Atlantis. Darren Rea caught up with her as Season One of Stargate: Atlantis starts its release on DVD...

Darren Rea: What was it that attracted you to the role of Dr Elizabeth Weir in Stargate: Atlantis?

Torri Higginson: Er... A purpose in life [laughs]. I didn't know the show Stargate, so I wasn't aware of that sort of connection with it. I thought she was a cool character. She was a very strong ethical character.

It's always nice to play those sort of roles. As a woman, characters tend to be, especially in television, a little bit manipulative. So it was a combination of these things that attracted me to this role... that and the money [laughs].

DR: Were you apprehensive about starring in a spin-off show?

TH: Er... You know I really don't think in those terms. All I do is think about the day to day job. It's funny because people sort of talk about: "You must feel great because you're in a show that's already got a huge following because of Stargate and you must feel really confident that you've already got the fans." And I was apprehensive on that level.

I didn't think that that was the case, because if the fans thought that we were coming along to take the place of Stargate there might not be a whole lot of warmth. There might have been a whole lot of animosity because they love Stargate so much. So at first I didn't think it would be helpful at all. I thought that it could be a hindrance to us.

Then I actually got out there and met some of these fans - who are so passionate and so adorable - and I realised that we are very lucky because Stargate gave us a sort of step up, which made it much easier for a new show.

DR: Do you think that Atlantis has the potential to be as popular and last as long as SG-1 has?

TH: My line of the day, and my line in life actually, is: "I live as a pessimist". I do that, not because I'm negative, but because that way I'm only pleasantly surprised [laughs]. You know, you don't want to be disappointed.

I think that as far as shows go, we have all of the tools to do that. Because Stargate has done it; because we are created by the same people that created Stargate; because we already have this fan base that seems to be embracing us with loyalty and warmth, because of their loyalty and love of Stargate.

The television medium is very fickle, but the sci-fi fans are so loyal and dedicated. So if any show has a chance, then we have to be up there with... er those chance... [laughs]. Does that make sense? [laughs].

DR: Dr Weir was originally played in Stargate: SG-1 (in the two-part episode The Lost City) by Jessica Steen. Had you seen how she'd played the role and did you make a conscious effort to make your Weir different in any way?

TH: This is the one question I am really bored with now! [Laughs] And I'll tell you why. At this point I've now done 24 episodes of this show. She did one. So, at this point for me, it's like if people are still comparing me then I've not done a good job.

I understand that a lot of people won't have even seen the first episode yet, but I'm just so frustrated with answering that question [laughs] but I do understand why people ask it.

To answer you question though... When I was offered the part I didn't know that the character had been played by another actress before. Once I said I'd do the show was when they told me that the character had appeared before. At first, yes it was daunting, and I thought: "now do I second guess my choices?"

I spoke with Brad [Wright - Atlantis's creator] and he said: "No. We hired you on your audition, so don't second guess anything."

If I had known before, I would have been going in with questions of what did they liked about her?; what didn't they like about her?; what do I do? I then watched her episodes because I wanted the information about the character. It was a tough decision to make, because I knew that it would make me insecure. We all see our own warts and everyone else's halos - it's much easier to do that. I saw some very interesting choices and I liked what she did with the part and I made the decision that I couldn't get stressed about it because we are very different actors and we both made very different choices towards Dr Weir.

I did store that in the back of my head and maybe on some level it can texture what I'm doing. But I can't let it feed me, otherwise she would still be here. I'm here for a reason and I have to trust that and go with what I would do instinctively.

DR: Are you starting to get recognised as Dr Weir now? And if so how do you deal with that?

TH: No, not at all yet. I've had little bits of experiences in the past and I don't really embrace celebrity - I find it a bit awkward and strange, the idea of it. But, at the same time, it's a weird thing because there's a part of you, no matter what you do, that feels great when somebody comes up to you and says: "Hey! I applaud what you do," be it if you're an accountant or no matter what you do. Somebody validating what you do is a great feeling. I think our society is so strange about celebrity. I have a hard time with it - I struggle with it. On the one hand you want to be appreciated and on the other hand you want to say: "I'm not saving children's lives so don't applaud too loudly." It's a weird thing.

I did a show a few years ago in Toronto and that was very funny because my face was on the side of buses a lot. I had a lot of people coming up to me saying: "Oh aren't you..." And I dealt with it by lying. I would say: "No that's not me." And they'd look close and go: "Oh, you look a lot like her."

I'm like a ragamuffin in real life. I don't wear makeup, I don't brush my hair. I'm a bit of a scrubmuffin So if I say that it's not me, it's very easy for people to believe me. I've found that the sci-fi fans are so loyal and so committed that I'm kind of straight forward with them and I feel very grateful for them.

I had my first experience at a convention recently and I was just blown away by their commitment and warmth. So at this point I say: "Thank you very much and bless you for liking the show." I found the whole convention experience really intense and exhausting. After three days of it I spent the following Monday just hiding in my hotel room - I didn't want to smile or shake a hand. But, I was really blown away by the really interesting questions that were asked by people and by their absolute commitment.

DR: What characteristics would you say, if any, you share with Dr. Weir? Would you be happy stuck on the base, or would you want to be out there exploring the galaxy?

TH: I'd like to be out there doing the exciting stuff.

I did a lot of action films in Toronto for a while. I did about five or six "d" movie action films over about two years over there. I had great fun doing them. I find that stuff is enjoyable - the jumping and running and shooting guns and all that kind of stuff. It's a lot of fun. It's very childlike - like playtime again.

I miss that to a certain degree, but I understand that my character, Elizabeth Weir, will never do that. She comes from a point of criticising the military. I think she would like, and I would like her, to go out more often in terms of meeting the different cultures. I think her interest is in human nature and having different cultures see each other as individuals and learning from each others cultures. I think she's missing doing that. Right now she does feel stuck in this place and she can't leave. She's missing, what comes naturally to her - human relations.

DR: Do you get any input on how your character develops? And if so is there any areas that you'd like to see her develop?

TH: Yes, you get a little bit. The first season is a learning curve for everyone. These guys that do the show are amazing. They are a great bunch of people and you can go up to them and say: "I want to do this..." and they'll say: "No! It's never going to happen." [laughs] "Get that out of your head! It's never going to happen." And then you can go up to them with something else and they'll go: "Oh, okay that's interesting, maybe. Maybe we can use that."

So they're very open but they won't pander to you. They're not afraid to say: "Get out of your head right now," and they're not afraid to say: "I hadn't though of that. That's a good idea." Or sometimes they'll say stuff like: "Yeah, we have thought of that, but we're waiting until the end of Season Two because that's an arc and we want to get there slowly because we have these other ideas of how we are going to get there."

It would be great to see her have to deal with a situation that went against everything she believes in - if she had to physically defend herself, or another person. I think that would be a really fun episode to explore - making the decision, having to go back on what her politics might be and then the repercussions of that decision and whether she was able to pull it off. I think that would be a fun thing to explore.

DR: TV production has changed in recent years with the introduction of DVDs. Now not only are you expected to make a show, but also there are camera crews filming behind-the-scenes documentaries. Is that something that you are at ease with or do you sometimes just want to get on with making the show?

TH: Yeah, it's all sort of new at the moment. There are always cameras floating around on set and there are certainly days when you don't have it in you to be funny or quippy and you just want to focus on the next scene.

But you have to understand that it's a franchise now. The more successful the franchise, the more likely the show will continue, and the more likely I have a job [laughs]. So, I've been in it long enough to understand how it's all connected.

There are days when it's great fun too. You might have a day that's not very interesting as an actor and the DVD camera comes up, and you get to have fun ribbing the director or taking the piss out of the best boy, and it actually invigorates you and keeps you inspired. It all balances out, I think.

DR: Are the cast and crew from SG-1 close by? And is their door open to you if you want to go over there for advice?

TH: Yeah. When they're not on location we're in the same building and we bump into each other all the time. They're great - so playful and so much fun.

I'm going to get them in trouble, because I keep saying that the best advise they've given us is to start drinking now and by Season Nine we'll have a high tolerance level and be able to hold our liqueur. We sort of shame them now because we complain about our hangovers and they say: "Get over it!" [laughs]

DR: One of the elements of SG-1 that goes down well with fans are the comedy episodes where they take themselves out of the normal show format and put a twist on the series - have a bit of fun with the format. Is that something you'd like to see happen on Atlantis too?

TH: Yes. We've been much too sincere in the first season, but it's something that we talk about. Every thing is still being established on Atlantis. I think that's one of the elements that makes SG-1 so successful - that absolute irreverence and that wonderful fine balance they have of exploring things seriously and having great ideas, but at the same time stand on the side and take the piss.

Richard Dean Anderson's character does that so beautifully. It's a very hard balance to achieve and I think with Joe's [Joe Flanigan - who plays Maj. John Sheppard] dry sense of humour and Hewlett's [David Hewlett - who plays Dr Rodney McKay] very manic and self depreciating character, we have the ability to explore that more. I think that it's a very important thing to do and the more we do that, the more successful we'll be.

I think we have laid more on the sincere side this season and I truly believe that they will lighten up a little more next year [laughs].

DR: Of all the roles you've played which would you say you're most proud of?

TH: Two come to mind. Both are theatre. One was a production of Mill on the Floss, which was actually a British theatre company that adapted it from the George Eliot novel and we did the Canadian premier. It was directed by Robin Phillips and it was such a joyful experience - it was my favourite experience ever, ever, ever.

The other was an Edward Albee play called Three Tall Women which was another remarkable cast and a great director and I did that in London and in Ottawa, Canada. Those were my two favourite parts.

Torri Higginson, Anna Hagan and Stephen Ouimette in Mill on the Floss
Torri Higginson, Patricia Hamilton and Maggie Huculak in Three Tall Women

DR: Would you like to go back to theatre in the future?

TH: Yeah. I've done two television series in the past, this is my third one and I think when you do a series that it's really important to do theatre in your time off. How ever much fun it would be to do a short film, I think the balance of theatre and television is a very healthy one. The two teach each other a lot and they both appease to different parts of your creative and playfulness and the result is a really healthy balance.

DR: If you hadn't gotten into acting what do you think you'd be doing now?

TH: When I was a kid I wanted to be an optometrist - I was obsessed with eyes. I was seven when someone mentioned the word "optometrist" to me and I went: "Ohhh! That's what I want to do."

Now I talk about wanting to get involved with photo journalism. If I ever stop acting, I think I would somehow want to get involved in that profession. That interests me, travelling the world and trying to do something in that field.

Everyone's going out and buying digital cameras and I'm still going and buying lenses for my old 35ml and I really love that whole process.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Alex Smith at DNA

Stargate: Atlantis Volume 1 (Season 1 - Vol 1) is available to buy on DVD from MGM from the 14 March 2005

Buy this DVD for £13.99 (RRP: £19.99) by clicking here

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