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Rachel Luttrell interview
Date of publishing: 25th January 2006

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, Teyla Rachel Luttrell was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada with her family at the age of five. Her mother is from Lushoto, Tanzania, and her father is a Louisiana native of British descent. Her classical studies included ballet (she trained at The Russian Academy of Classical Ballet) and music (she plays the piano and sings, having been trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and by her father). Rachel got the role of Teyla in Stargate Atlantis where she learned martial artsfor the role. We had the opportunity to hear her voice talent in a recent episode "Critical Mass" (SGA 2x13). The Scifi World had the opportunity to speak with Rachel about this episode and more.

Gilles Nuytens: Well, let’s begin by talking about yourself.
We don’t know much about you, in fact.

Rachel Luttrell: Let’s see, I don’t even know where to begin. I was born in East Africa, in Tanzania. My mom is Tanzanian, and I guess that means I am as well.My father is from Louisiana, and I have 3 sisters, two of my other sisters were also born in Tanzania. I grew up in Toronto, Canada, where I started performing, doing television in the beginning, and a then lot of stage as well. Fairly recently I moved to Los Angeles, because I’m also an American Citizen and started working in Los Angeles, and somehow managed to persuade the rest of my family to move to California. So now they’re all happily in the warmth. Then I moved here for the show. I did a lot of dancing when I was younger, and that’s pretty much how I started in the performing arts. And then started singing, everyone in my family sings. It was just natural. I just always wanted to be a performer. So that’s little bit of me in a nutshell.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens: What do you do in your free time?
Rachel Luttrell: Oh my goodness. Well, right now I’m training like crazy in my free time. I’m up here and I’m working with a personal trainer who is also a martial artist, and I’m working with a couple of other people up here who are skilled in various martial arts, particularly the one we use in the show. So a lot of my free time is taken up with that, but also I love to go see movies, I’m a movie freak.

Gilles Nuytens: What kind of movies?
Rachel Luttrell: Pretty much any kind. The only ones that I stay away from is horror. I can’t see it. I have far too good an imagination, and I carry it home with me. So, any other type of movie I really enjoy. I just recently saw MatchPoint, the Woody Allen movie, for the second time actually, I enjoyed that one. But I try to see as many of the new releases as possible. I also enjoy reading. My family, they are big readers in my family and they kind of instilled that on us. Aside from that I’ve got this adorable doggy of mine, we go for walks, and we go for jogs, and we go for hikes, and I hang out with friends, and I like to cook, and lots of things.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you already practice martial arts before Stargate?
Rachel Luttrell: No, I didn’t. As I said, most of my physical training in the past has been dancing, and no, I had never done any martial arts whatsoever. When I got up here, our stunt coordinator, whose name is James Bamford, I was introduced to him, and he saw I had an athletic form, so he decided he would start teaching me the basics of a martial art, called KALI, which is a martial art out of the Philippines. That was my very first introduction to it. When he showed it to me originally, I was quite concerned because it looked like something I would never be able to do, but I practice, and practice, and practice. I think because of my dance training, it’s a little bit easier for me to pick up the choreography. I break it down as if it were a dance when we are doing fight sequences, and that is how I learn it. I’m learning more, but I was a novice when I started.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens:
Do you like to do Marital arts?

Rachel Luttrell: I really do. Yeah, I do, I’m a physical person, I like to be physical, and I like to keep my body strong, and any other physical activity that I can do, I always embrace. It’s been very very interesting, I’ve gotten to meet quite a few interesting people, and learn about different martial arts disciplines, their background , their history, and philosophy. It’s been quite fascinating. I do enjoy it quite a bit.

Gilles Nuytens: I saw the last Stargate, where you sing.
Rachel Luttrell: Oh, you’ve seen that? I haven’t seen that episode, I think I might be watching it this evening. My parents called me, they are my biggest fans, and they liked it. I’m glad that you enjoyed it. I do like to sing, I definitely do, it’s something that I’d like to do more of.

Gilles Nuytens: It was one of my favorite scenes of the season.
Rachel Luttrell: Ahhh, thank you so much, that really makes me feel good.

Gilles Nuytens: I didn’t know you could sing so well.
Rachel Luttrell: I love to sing.

Gilles Nuytens: The music of Joel Goldsmith, it was really perfect.
Rachel Luttrell: Ahh, thank you very much.

Gilles Nuytens: The scene, you must see it, it’s really emotional.
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, absolutely, that particular episode was really wonderful...

Gilles Nuytens: It’s one of my favorites of the season in fact. Especially this scene.
Rachel Luttrell: Oh, thank you, that really does mean a lot. I appreciate that. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to be seeing it. Sometimes I don’t watch the episodes, because I don’t necessarily like watching myself. But yeah, I will watch that. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens: Did you work with Joel Goldsmith for that scene? Or how did that happen?
Rachel Luttrell: I did, yes I did. They flew me to Los Angeles twice. I had a few conversations with him over the phone about the feel of the piece, what I had envisioned, what he had envisioned, and we came to a common ground. I had a lot of fun working with him. It was really exciting, because we built the song from the ground up, put various instrumentation to it, and discussed how we wanted the song to feel. It was really, really good. The funny thing is, I flew to Los Angeles and recorded the song with him, then immediately flew back to continue shooting in Vancouver. Then one of my producers, John Smith, came up to me on the set, and said, Rachel, we’re going to have to fly you back to Los Angeles to re-record the song because it sounds too good. So they then sent me back to Los Angeles to rerecord it and to not to make it sound quite as polished. That’s what we ended up with. It was a very interesting experience working in a sound booth, and working beside the composer, the musicians and what have you. There is a lot that goes into recording a song, but I really did enjoy working with him.

Gilles Nuytens: Who came up with the idea for you to sing?
Rachel Luttrell: I did, because I love to sing, and it was always something that I thought we would be able to use in terms of a link her people, to Teyla’s people. It would be very interesting, kind of a historic look into who her people are, and their beliefs. I went and I talked to Brad Wright about it, and how I thought song and dance have been historically used for funerals and grief, and spiritual purposes, in various different cultures. I thought it would be an interesting way to incorporate it, and also to get to know a little bit more about the assertions. Which I’m always anxious to learn more about, Teyla's history and their people. (Brad) was game, and incorporated it. Something that I brought forth.

Gilles Nuytens: Are we going to hear another song soon?
Rachel Luttrell: I don’t know, I don’t know how keen they're going to be write it. We shall see, I hope so, but I don’t imagine it’s something that we are going to see a lot of. I certainly hope that we do some more of it.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens: We have seen a lot of backstory for Sheppard and McKay, but not for Teyla. We know a bit of her past, but not a lot about her personality.
Rachel Luttrell: I’m so anxious and excited about really looking into her past, why she became the leader, how she really feels about it, who are her relatives, where are they, what happened to her father and mother, and does she have siblings. I mean there is so much that we could dive into, and hopefully will. I take my hat off to the writers, its tricky for them because they have a lot of pressures that they have to cater to, and I think that although she presents many wonderful possibilities, she also is maybe a little more difficult to write for because there are endless possibilities for her. Where do we begin, whereas some of the other characters, it’s a little more easy to write for them because the writers can obviously think, Ok, they are from Earth, their history is similar to something that I would understand. Their sense of humor is something that perhaps mirrors me, so yeah, I’m hoping that this year there will be a bit more. I’m going to be up in the office more this year, talking to (the writers), helping them with ideas!

Gilles Nuytens: Do you have an idea on how your character will evolve in Season 3?
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, absolutely, part of that I will keep as my own little secret, but I have certain ideas about why she is the way she is, how she was influenced in her past, and what she hopes for. Yeah absolutely, that informs how I portray her. I’m hoping that we get to see a lot more of that on screen. I do have a good sense of who she is, and why she is the way she is.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you already know something about your role in Season 3?
Rachel Luttrell: No, you know what, I don’t. We haven’t received the first scripts yet, and we start shooting in a little less than a month now. I was just out the other day with one of our writers, Martin Gero, who is a wonderful writer on the show, and who is a really good friend of mine. No, he didn’t tell me anything, I’m not really sure where we are going to go, or how we are going to proceed, but I’m excited. I hope they are open to ideas, as well, and most of the time they are. Our writers and producers are quite open to any ideas we might have, or hopes where we see the character going. But I don’t know, I don’t know what the season is going to bring. Hopefully good things.

Gilles Nuytens: What influenced you to become an actress instead of a singer or a dancer?
Rachel Luttrell: I’ve always considered myself to be kind of all of the above. I guess I was most drawn to the art of acting because of storytelling, and because I’m such a fan of movies and the theatre, and naturally there is some good television out there as well, but I love telling stories. But I also love telling stories thru my singing as well. I put one foot in front of the other and see where life takes me, and at this point this is where I am. But who knows, maybe in a few years, I might be singing more, I don’t know. I certainly love to perform, I love to incorporate different characters and tell different stories.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens: Incorporating the 3 things you like at once, to dance, to sing, and to act.
Rachel Luttrell: They are called triple threats here, if you can do it all. I wouldn’t say I’m the most amazing dancer in the world certainly, because there are dancers so amazing and skilled. When I was dancing professionally, I was always able to get by, but I never really considered myself to be the most polished. It’s something that I really love to do, and that I think I can get away with, but I’m certainly not... I can’t think of the female equivalent. Baryshnikov, he is absolutely amazing. But I do love it, it’s just a completely different art. Telling stories through music and through your physicality, it’s beautiful.
I love it.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you like the most in Teyla?
Rachel Luttrell: Her mystery. What I love is her mystery, her untold story and depth. I think she has so much depth, whether it be compassion, or, I love that there is so much yet to be discovered about her, and that she is just brimming with possibility and intrigue and that makes me very excited. When I auditioned for her, that is what drew me to her. That there is so much sadness in her life, and so much that is different (in her) from our own sensibility. And that makes me excited about playing her.

Gilles Nuytens: Some people see the beginning of a relationship between Ronan and Teyla. What’s your opinion on that?
Rachel Luttrell: I don’t know, we shall see. I don’t think that that’s invalid. The two characters are definitely drawn to each other, because out of all the characters, they share the most in common. That they are of the same place, and do have a similar history. And they do have a similar way of surviving, or have been surviving in the past. I think they share a respect for each other. Who knows, in the beginning it was a bit more of a brother-sister thing, I think. That she is just trying to keep Ronan in line, but we shall see. Maybe that’s what’s in store for this next season.

Gilles Nuytens: There was also something between Sheppard and Teyla, but we haven’t seen much in season two except that kiss.
Rachel Luttrell: I know, our writers haven’t taken…

Gilles Nuytens: How could this evolve?
Rachel Luttrell: I think that Teyla sees something in Sheppard, and is very comfortable with him, and puts a lot of trust in him, and I would love to see there be some sort of romance for Teyla, I think she needs it. I think it’s interesting for the show.

Gilles Nuytens: In TV shows, when there's a woman in the main cast, there's often a romance between her and someone else.
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, I think they have been hinting at it, I don’t know whether it’s going to be one of our main characters, it could be somebody from her past. But I like that. I think it’s good it helps to deepen the character.

Gilles Nuytens: What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you on the set of Stargate?
Rachel Luttrell: The funniest thing, oh, yes, many, many funny things. I always tell my friends, and my family members that I love going to work because I end up laughing virtually every day. I know, its just so wonderful because we all get along so well, and we have a wonderful group of people. Our cast, as well as our crew and directors, and there’s always some mischief or some foolishness going on that makes the day really funny. I can’t think of one particular moment.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens: Who is the guy who is the most funny?
Rachel Luttrell: It would be David, David Hewlett, he’s got a very sharp quick wit about him. He’s constantly making jokes of things, and turning moments that could be really, really difficult into pure hilarity. He is constantly teasing me. If I’m in his view then I am being teased by him. And most of the time it's very funny. I’d point my finger at David, and say that he is definitely the one.

Gilles Nuytens: What was the most challenging scene you did in Stargate?
Rachel Luttrell: There have been so many challenges. I will say this about bringing Teyla to life, she presents so many challenges, but one of the biggest ones to me is that she is meant to be human, but is meant to be other worldy from a different galaxy. So there has to be something about her that sets her apart, though she is human. That was a particularly interesting challenge for me when I started to portray her to make sure there was always that balance, the fact that she was human, but she’s different. And then the second largest challenge, to me was learning the martial arts and starting to incorporate that into who Teyla is. The physicality of that was also challenging. But both of those have added to my enjoyment of portraying her. They were two things that I had to surmount, but I’m still finessing them but when it comes to the physical element.

I’ll share this funny (story), or I think it’s funny, the day we shot the kiss, it was a day when my parents happened to be up visiting me from Los Angeles. They had come up for a few days and they wanted to be on set. (So) they were there front and center, and even though I love them and they are so supportive, it was very very nerve-wracking, and it was a particularly challenging scene to shoot because it was a fight sequence that ended up in a kiss, and my parents were right there watching every moment, so that that was a unique situation...

Gilles Nuytens: What did they think about the scene?
Rachel Luttrell: They thought it was great, they were champions of it, they thought it went wonderully well. They thought Joe looked great. They’re big fans. They were happy, they were pleased.

Gilles Nuytens: Would you be interested in writing a script focused on Teyla?
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, I would be interested, I have many ideas, in terms of story, so yes I would be interested. At the moment what I’m more interested in doing (is) my own writing, I love to write and always have. I’m struggling between whether or not I’m going to write a novel, or write a feature film, but it will be separate from Stargate, something else that feeds me creatively. I will certainly come up with story ideas and bring them to our writers, and who knows, maybe one day write something. I also think It's important to make sure that you are constantly creative in terms of other stories, and other possibilities, so that’s what I do when I write on my own.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens:
Do you have some ideas for Stargate?

Rachel Luttrell: Yes, absolutely I do.

Gilles Nuytens:
Can you speak about one of them?

Rachel Luttrell: Yes, I suppose I could. I have an idea about a relative, a family member that Teyla thought was dead, and isn’t, and encounters a difficult situation, and this relative, who ever they may end up being, somehow has turned against her, and has become a bit of a nemesis in a way. But I think it will be able to delve a little bit more into her past and history. I’m a little bit vague about it, but that’s one of the ideas I have.

Gilles Nuytens: Why don’t you suggest this to the writers?
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, I will. I will absolutely, I promise you. I’m actually heading to the studios shortly, so I may actually throw them that idea.

Gilles Nuytens: I'll look forward to that.
Rachel Luttrell: You may end up seeing this year, who knows.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you know something about the fans opinion of Teyla?
Rachel Luttrell: No, I don’t go online, and I don’t look into that. I tend to stay away from that. I do entirely, I completely stay away from that. The only way I know, (is through) our writers (who) tend to follow that, and are interested in it. I get fan mail, and do get input through that but other than that, I really don’t go through it. I just hope that when I shoot what I do, and if I feel good about it, then I leave it at that, and I hope that it translates in the editing room, and that people enjoy it. But I don’t read about what people think.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you sometimes see your colleagues on SG-1?
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, I do. I see a lot of Amanda, and I see a lot of Chris and Michael in particular. Actually, Amanda’s husband is going to be helping me with a home project. He’s going to help me build a deck off the back of my house. So that’s lovely. And Chris has been wonderfully supportive in the past. I’ve been involved with him, he’s put together a calendar, called the women of sci-fi calendar, and I’m in that. But, I do see them, not as often as you would think, even though we are shooting on the same lot, but we are starting to spend time together when we are not working as well. They are a good group of people.

Rachel Luttrell interview - Stargate Atlantis, TeylaGilles Nuytens: What are you the most proud of in your life, or your career?
Rachel Luttrell: I think what I’m most proud of is my relationship to my friends and my family. I'm most proud of that. I think I’m a good friend, and I think I’m a good person. I have a lot of people in my life who I care about and who care about me. Hopefully I’m a good person, and that’s what I’m most proud of. In terms of my career, I’m most proud that I have continued to pursue my dream, and that I’m able to do what I love to do. Not lot of people can do that. I am quite fortunate in that I have a vision of what I want in my life, and my career. I’m able to live it and continue to pursue it, and that makes me very happy, and very proud, and I figure I must be doing something right.

Gilles Nuytens: Outside of Stargate, do you have other projects?
Rachel Luttrell: Yes, it’s a little difficult since I started working on Stargate. Our hiatus is itself at a time when it’s a little bit difficult to get other work, and what I usually ended up doing over the past few seasons is spending time with my family who I don’t get a chance to see that often, and with friends. But I’m hoping that this year, I will be doing other things, and that’s certainly something that I want to do. To be able to dive into different characters, tell different stories, and I’ve acquired a new agent, and hopefully we are both of the same mind and on board to do other things.

Gilles Nuytens: Thank you very much!
Rachel Luttrell: You have been a lovely, oh my goodness what time is it there?
Gilles Nuytens: It’s near midnight.
Rachel Luttrell: Oh my gosh go to bed, you’ve been lovely, and I’ll look forward to talking to you again.

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Interview by Gilles Nuytens for The Scifi World.
Special thanks to NetRanger & Eric Chu for their precious help with the transcript.


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