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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Tony Amendola

Tek Ma'Tek Tony
Sally Allan, London Film and Comic Con, March 2004

Our grateful thanks to Tony for his time, his patience and his kindness.

Interview by Sally. Questions by Alison, Helen, Karen, Sally and some nice man who came over while we were recording.

As well as playing Bra’tac on ‘Stargate’, Tony Amendola has worked extensively in theatre, film and television. His film credits include ‘Shade,’ ‘Blow,’ and ‘The Mask of Zorro,’ and on television he has appeared in ‘Angel,’ ‘The West Wing,’ ‘Charmed,’ ‘Babylon 5,’ and ‘Ally McBeal’. Recent projects include ‘Dragon Storm,’ a television movie which also features John Rhys Davies (Gimli from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy) and which Tony describes as “a sword and fur type movie, medieval and chasing dragons and quite wonderful.” His interests include yoga, Italian cooking and visiting museums and art galleries. He speaks Spanish and Italian.

We met Tony at the London Film and Comic Con where he told us about his hopes for Bra’tac, future projects, and Bulgarian fertility festivals.

Do you have any movies coming out this year?

“I did one called ‘Forbidden Warrior’ which should be good…I just finished it this summer. I play a blind magician-type teacher who raises a little girl who is the Forbidden Warrior. It’s really sweet because I raise her, I get her as a child and at twenty-one she has to leave.”

You have a long list of credits. Which of your roles have you especially enjoyed playing?

I like the variety. I’m a theatre-trained actor, and I did that for many years so the notion of going from genre to genre and character to character is very appealing to me. I loved doing ‘The West Wing,’ clearly I love doing ‘Stargate’ otherwise I wouldn’t return. It’s just variety, change of pace, I love the experience of working in different countries or visiting different countries; being here in England for this event is great.

I just did a second film in Bulgaria, so I enjoy that. At the moment it’s called ‘Graveland’ but I think the title is going to change because it sounds so like a horror thing and it’s really not, it’s more sci-fi. Who directed that? A guy named Dave Flores, who was the editor on ‘Dragon Storm’…he’s a young director.

What work are you proudest of?

Well, obviously ‘Stargate’. Some of my movie stuff, I’m very proud of a movie called ‘Lone Star,’ ‘Blow,’ ‘Mask of Zorro,’ on television outside of ‘Stargate,’ ‘Angel’ was great fun, ‘Babylon 5,’ ‘West Wing’. My true spirit is in the theatre, it’s made me who I am. So those are things that have shaped me.

How do your experiences doing guest spots differ from being a series regular on ‘Stargate’?

It’s much easier on ‘Stargate’ because you feel like you are a part of the family and you know what the temperature of the set is, who’s who, etc. It’s very hard to go in on a guest spot because you’re sort of new and you feel ‘on the spot’ a little bit although I had a marvellous time doing ‘Angel’, how could you not, it was just a glorious dark, evil character who I got to play, with a kinda sense of humour. [Tony played a Thesulac Demon in the ‘Angel’ Series 2 episode ‘Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.’] They are very different. Obviously I prefer the second, which is to keep going back so you know who people are.

The welcome wagon is really Teryl and Amanda, they really make you feel at home, but Chris, to me, has been such a gift…he writes things for me and he’s just a joy…he’s bright and filled with life. Pretty much everyone right down to Jan Newman who’s the make-up co-ordinator is just extraordinary and it truly is like returning to a group of people you really enjoy to be around.

It’s so easy to go up there and work and when I’ve had conflicts in my schedule that may have made it impossible or may have made it difficult they’ve always gone out of their way to accommodate it. I can’t say enough about Brad Wright, who’s the executive producer, in terms of stuff he’s written for me and Peter DeLuise and Martin Wood the directors, it’s right down the line, Michael Greenburg and Richard who keep asking me back.

Do you have any say on what your character does?

[Tony thinks of an example from ‘Maternal Instinct’ in which Bra’tac talks with the monk on Kheb.]

There was a great thing where I come out of that and I have a premonition of death, that maybe my time has come, and then I get revitalised and I’m ready to continue. I went over to Michael Greenburg and I said “I think I should say “I feel revitalised, I feel like a man of eighty,” and he said “yeah, yeah, yeah, put that in,” so you can, and it makes sense for the character.

They’re very open to it, and Peter DeLuise, being an actor, is really useful when you need that. A director in television is a very technical job, they’re dealing with shots and sizes, but it’s nice to know that if you have a problem they can help you because Peter was an actor, Martin Wood is very good as well, and it’s very nice, very comfortable.

Bra’tac has some great improvised moments such as the “bald” gesture that accompanies “Hammond of Texas”, and the moment when Bra’tac meets Daniel and bites him:

I have no idea where that came from except the director. Part of Bra’tac is loosely based on what they gave me, but the guy who directed the first episode I was in was a guy named Mario Azzopardi…he was a big Maltese man and everything was big.

Acting is very schizophrenic because you’ll have one director who’ll say “no, smaller, smaller, you’re doing far too much, you’re doing far too much, smaller,” and then you’ll have a director [saying] “what are you doing? You know, give me something” and Mario’s larger than life, and I have to make that adjustment…I’m watching him and he’s a bear of a man, much bigger than I am, so I said “this take I’m going for it. I’m going for it. I don’t care, what are they gonna do? If they don’t like it, they’ll cut it.”

That’s the one where, you know, you puny humans…(mimes biting Daniel’s hand). So it was really spontaneous. It was one of my completely unscripted…that’s an example too. They could have said “woah, wait, wait, we didn’t write…you’re biting him? We never wrote that!” and Michael didn’t flinch, he played it within the [character]…I had just met him maybe three hours earlier!

Would you like to write or direct?

I did some theatre directing, but I’d have to really get my technical skills really, really up to do television directing, it’s very quick. I’m very content to be an actor. I have ideas and character ideas that I will share with them, and talk to them and they are responsive – and as an actor, it can’t really be about them being responsive because they may disagree, it’s just about being heard and feeling like you are taken seriously…and I know I’m taken seriously because changes are made occasionally. Like those lines, and saying “do you think he would do this instead of that?"

They’re very open because they know I know the character. I always try to do what they wrote first and I try not to second-guess it, try to really make sense of it, and if it doesn’t work, then I have a question, and they always answer it, and it’s terrific.

How would you like to see Bra’tac’s story resolved?

I’d like him to continue, and I’d like to see the resolution of the Jaffa warrior and Chu’lak freedom thing; for Chris and myself, I’d like to see that developed and resolved in a grand sort of way, and the beginning of whatever kind of democracy or whatever kind of governance is going to happen on Chulak, to see what that is like, maybe with Chris as a kind of president or a kind of leader and myself as an advisor. Or, if I have to go I’d love to go in a blaze of glory…I hope if I have to go out, I go out fighting, staff weapon in hand.

Do you watch your own performances, and are you a critical viewer?

Yes, I am a critical viewer, you can’t help but be as an actor. Sometimes when I miss the episodes, when I go back to do another, I’ll ask for a previous tape. It just puts me in the mindset of the character because some of the cast members continue doing those roles so it’s fresh, and for me I may have been off doing a cowboy or doing a diplomat, or doing something else, and I have to just readjust my mental state and get into that world again, and it’s really useful, they give me a tape or a couple of tapes, and I watch them and it puts me right back. I get to watch them again and it’s kind of a refresher.

So do you ever sit there and think “oh, I should have done that instead?”

Oh, of course. Actors are the worst. The only thing actors are more critical about than themselves are other actors!

What’s it like working with Chris Judge?

The end of…the previous season, we were shooting ‘Changeling’, we were on the banks, and they weren’t sure if we would be coming back for a seventh season at that point. It’s sort of golden light and we’re on the banks of the Fraser [river] which leads into the oceans, and the salmon are running, and when they run they jump up out of the water…and I said, “Chris, the show’s definitely coming back.” He said, “how do you know that?” and I said “trust me, it’s coming back,” and he said “well, how do you know that?” and I said, “well look, even the salmon are jumping out of the water to get a look at ‘Stargate’!"

You have to imagine, they’re setting us up and we’re in the water, it took hours to set up that shot because it was a crane shot with fifty people in the water, the tide is coming in and some waves are fine, they’ll just go up to our shoulders and other waves, we’ll have to get up, and I told him that just as they’re getting ready to shoot and he’s cracking up and has to get up out of the water.

In ‘Changeling’ you played Bra’tac and also Brae, Bra’tac’s human alter ego. How did you prepare for that, and what did you do to differentiate the two characters?

I didn’t do that much because they didn’t want Bra’tac to be so different…so I gave him just a little bit of an Eastern American accent, an East Coast American, just slightly more than I use on my own. I think part of it was the fact that these two similar people can exist in different worlds, and I tried not to make a huge difference. They wanted it subtle, which I think is good.

What is your favourite episode in ‘Stargate’?

‘Threshold’, an episode Brad Wright wrote and Peter DeLuise directed: it’s a brilliant episode because it’s Chris going through the ritual but it also tells our backstory, and I loved working in the snow…we’re going to go off and shoot in the snow and Chris – we’re always thinking how can we make it interesting – he says,

“Tony, I want to do this barechested, it’s training.”

So I go “good, good, Chris, you do it barechested and just to make it seem like you’re really suffering, I’ll get a big cloak, so the student is barechested and the master’s all warm and it’ll be really good.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

And then, about an hour into shooting I couldn’t get the smirk off my face because he was shivering and I’m just like the old master. We had some goofy stuff that they let us do, here’s these two warriors and you think they’re going to be challenged and you’re just waiting for this fight but just the notion of [Teal’c] bowing, and giving him the thump in the head, it’s almost like Three Stooges but it’s perfect because it’s unexpected at that point.

On learning the script:

What happens is that you get a schedule. I get a script and then they’ll say “okay, here’s a seven day schedule: Day One, we’re shooting this and you have scenes A, B and C; Day Two you’re off; Day Three you have C, D and E; Day Four you have F,G and H,” etc. The only problem with that is inevitably, some are outdoor scenes and some are indoor scenes, so they have what’s called a ‘rain cover’, meaning that if there’s bad weather they switch to another set; they have to because they can’t close down.

So I learn from day to day, four, five scenes, and then I get a sense of the overall arc and then I concentrate on the stuff that’s coming up first because the more familiar you are, the more confident you’ll be when you’re shooting it. But I also have an eye for, I ask what is going to be the rain cover, or where they’re going to go if there’s rain so that I’m prepared. It’s not unusual to not be prepared and they give you time and you’ll learn it, but I want to be ready.

Theatre is long-term memory, because you do it for eight months of the year, and film – you shoot it one day, you’ll never do it again so it’s a different kind of memory, but it’s equally difficult and equally interesting.

Will Bra’tac be in Season Eight?

I hope so, but 100% certain? No. I’m in the next episode that’s airing next week (‘Lost City Part 2’). My fate is in the hands of the Gods and the MGM executives! Let’s hope.

Tony was wearing two red and white wool bracelets. We asked if they meant anything.

I just got back from Bulgaria, I flew in this week. In Bulgaria, March 1st is called Martenitsa. Friends give these to each other. It’s a very old ritual that symbolises fertility and abundance and hope for the new year. They give it to you on March 1st and you’re supposed to wear it for thirty days or until you see a stork, or your first blossoms. So I was in St. James’s Park walking and I saw blossoms, so I had three [bracelets] and I took one off, and you tie it to a limb on the tree. So somewhere in St James’s Park on the South side there’s a little violet blossom tree that I tied this onto.

Sally Allan
© 9 Mar 2004


For audio interviews with cast and crew from ‘Dragon Storm’ including Tony Amendola and director Stephen Furst (who played Vir Cotto in ‘Babylon 5’):

For more information about Martenitsa:

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